Tuesday, June 27, 2017

'Green Lantern' movie review (flashback)

"In brightest day/in blackest night,
no evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might
beware my power
Green Lantern's light!" 

The Green Lantern oath is the coolest ever written; it's just a shame that the 2011 "Green Lantern" movie doesn't come close to living up to it.

It doesn't take the keenest of observers to realize that GL — and the Hal Jordan version at that — is part of DC Comics' new introduction to its feature films. And this leads to this natural question: When exactly will DC and Warner Bros. introduce Green Lantern to to the DC Expanded Universe?

My educated guess remains that we'll see him in "Justice League" and that either could be in the closing minutes, in the climactic battle, the very last seconds of the Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon film or even in a rare DC after-credits scene. (I mentioned this briefly in my January preview of the 2017 genre films.)

But back to the hit-and-mostly-miss "Green Lantern" movie starring Ryan Reynolds, which for some reason I recently decided to rewatch.

As with many flicks I own and watch again, my original thoughts on it haven't changed over time and its problems remain as prominent as when it was released.

Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) offers his Green Lantern ring
to Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard).
The biggest problem with "Green Lantern" is it crams too much into a story. Here's a short laundry list of elements that director Martin Campbell had to include: Establishing what kind of person Hal Jordan is, what exactly the Green Lantern Corps does, defining that the power in a Lantern's ring comes from the owner's will and fearlessness … and so on.

When the screenplay is written by a committee — as is the case with "Green Lantern," that's a massive problem.

That means for one, there are too many cooks in the kitchen and two, that other writers were hired to compensate for, clarify and/or correct what a previous writer produced. In the rare instance that a committee of writers actually works together (i.e. with a common goal and in concert), that usually means that the result is a story with a lot of everyone's contributions, but lacks a specific vision. And that makes for a big, honkin' mess.

So it's no surprise that when the story jumps from one subplot to another, "Green Lantern" is unfocused.

Blake Lively plays Carol Ferris in "Green Lantern."
We go from Jordan (Reynolds) struggling over being chosen as the first Earthling to be a Green Lantern, to a very unnecessary subplot about nerdy college xenobiologist professor Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), to the intergalactic threat of Parallax (an evil entity that thrives on others' fear) and back again for a good portion of the film.

Add in the complicated relationship between Jordan and fellow pilot Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) who was once his lover and is now his boss (kinda) at Ferris Aircraft and you'd be hard pressed to find a fan — much less the average moviegoer — who can keep track of it all.

Reynolds has a lot of charisma, but trying to make Jordan so brash and snarky is a bit of an insult to the character. Jordan is supposed to be noble and slightly cocky and Reynolds doesn't quite pull it all off until well near the conclusion. It's the equivalent of trying to fit a round object into a square hole. At the very least it's DC and WB's weak-sister attempt to replicate the success of Marvel Studios with Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark/Iron Man.
Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) attempts to power up his Green Lantern ring.
Jordan comes off as Reynolds playing a slightly subdued version of himself playing a reckless Hal Jordan. And his early scenes as Green Lantern are just as disingenuous. Reynolds doesn't truly find his groove until way past the time that even the most patient moviegoer might have given up caring.

Lively's chemistry with Reynolds is all over the place, going from awkward to something close to intimate. Of course, an actress can only do so much with what she's given and honestly, neither the script nor Lively's acting chops are up for making the other any better.

Lively is lovely on the eyes and while she won't ever be considered a great actress, the scenes in which her chemistry works with Reynolds make it believable that Ferris and Jordan still have a thing for each other.

Sarsgaard's Hammond is embarrassingly cringe-inducing. Hammond's transformation into a disfigured, literal big-brain is anything but subtle and even halfway through often has me fast-forwarding to the next scene. Just as bad is the oddly designed Parallax, basically a gas cloud with a skull-like face that resembles a shadowy spider with creepy eyes.

The CGI for the space scenes too closely resemble matte paintings. This puts an exclamation point on everything looking like a low-budget film that is attempting to fake the cinematography of its much more expensive cinematic siblings. The intergalactic scenes equates with DC going for vibes from the "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" universes — but falls far short.

On the other hand, the green glow surrounding the "constructs" Green Lantern creates using his ring are a pretty close onscreen interpretation of what's in the comic books. GL fans will appreciate the hurling fist, a common creation of Jordan's imagination, and Ferris' code name as a fighter pilot, Sapphire.

The CGI team largely succeeds with translating Green Lantern's costume to the screen … but fails with Jordan's mask just as the prop team does with GL's lantern, which looks like poorly made paper weight.

Much more than three minutes of screen time is needed to be spent on Jordan being rigorously trained by Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan gives him an impressively, booming, gruff voice) and Sinestro (a truly slimy Mark Strong, which is a compliment, actually!).

The story sets up Sinestro establishing his own sneaky coup inside the Green Lantern Corps as an evil Yellow Lantern, but there's not enough screen time dedicated to the experienced warrior-newbie relationship between Sinestro and Jordan. The resulting battle between Green Lantern and Sinestro would have made a great sequel!

"Green Lantern" finally finds its legs about a halfway through, but only after a large portion drags. By the conclusion, comic fans won't be pumping their fists — much less be overwhelmed with great filmmaking.

We end up rooting for Jordan/Green Lantern and believing he can save the day — and Earth. However, the movie never quite finds the sense of fun we're accustomed to seeing in blockbuster action flicks. I expected much greater quality from Campbell, who has delivered such enjoyable popcorn fare as "The Legend of Zorro" and introduced a complex new world for James Bond in "Casino Royale."

"Green Lantern" arguably is the worst superhero film since "Batman & Robin." Campbell's flick did moderately well at box office despite being slayed by critics and fans.

DC's experiment to kick off its collective universe around a superhero mostly known to the public as a B-lister, as Marvel did with "Iron Man," failed miserably. So in the end, "Green Lantern" is similar to "Superman Returns" in that it ends up standing on its own. But just barely.

So is it any wonder that DC is holding off on making any decisions about the onscreen future of Green Lantern and his fellow space cops?

2011 grade: B-; 2017 grade: C-

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