MOVIE REVIEW: Green Lantern


You know, to watch any comic book movie, you have to suspend a great deal of disbelief.  You have to be able to buy a guy with a cape, wearing his underwear on the outside, that can shoot heat rays out of his eyes and fly.  You have to find a way to accept that a billionaire playboy would be willing to get involved with society's problems by either dressing up as a flying rodent with laryngitis or the coolest looking Tin Man this side of The Wizard of Oz. You have to sit back and enjoy an angst-ridden teenager that climbs walls, swings, and spins web, no matter how ridiculous the idea sounds.

Now matter how filmmakers dress them up (leather instead of spandex) or tone them down (the reality-leaning and plausibility-seeking Christopher Nolan Batman films), all of comic book films are preposterous, but that's the point.  Comic books and their movie adaptations are pure pulp science-fiction fantasy and shouldn't be taken any more seriously than that.  You don't get a Academy Award nominee and winner like The Dark Knight every time out.  Don't forget, he's still that billionaire moonlighting as a flying rodent with laryngitis.  That brings us to the latest superhero movie, Green Lantern.  

Unlike the trend to make comic book movies plausible and realistic, Green Lantern makes no qualms about being out of this world, literally.  You'll be getting starry galaxies and faraway planets, more colorful costumes than a Spider-Man flick, and the most alien species since a Star Wars prequel. You know what.  Let it be.  It's true to its source material, but, again, you're going to have to suspend your disbelief... not just a little bit... a lot of it...

Green Lantern is the origin story for Hal Jordan (People's "Sexiest Man Alive" Ryan Reynolds), a daring test pilot who doesn't lack courage or cockiness, but does lack self-confidence and commitment (in typical Top Gun "Maverick" fashion).  Hal works with his old flame, fellow pilot and heir to the company, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively of the CW's Gossip Girl), a past victim of Hal's lack of commitment.  That all changes for Hal, when he's summoned to the crash site of alien Abin Sur, a dying member of the Green Lantern Corps.

Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush was kind enough to narrate the opening credits earlier to inform the uninformed that the Green Lantern Corps are stalwart warriors assigned to every sector of the known universe.  They are endowed with the emerald green energy of Will in the form of special rings to defend for good.  Their homebase is the distant planet Oa, overseen on high by the immortal Guardians.  Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) was fatally wounded battling an enemy, Parallax, he thought he contained long ago.  Parallax feeds from the opposing yellow energy of Fear and inhabits a nasty Moon-sized cloud of soul-absorbing energy.

Yup, there's a chance we lost you already, isn't there?  Remember, turn your brain off. 

Anyway, Abin Sur bestows his ring to a summoned and skeptical Hal, who doesn't feel worthy.  The ring takes him to Oa where he's trained by a trio of Green Lantern leaders, the poetic Tomar-Re (Rush), the hulking Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan's unmistakable voice), and the tough Sinestro (Kick Ass's Mark Strong), who has become the top Lantern in Abin Sur's passing.  He soon learns that the ring feeds off of his mental will creating anything he can imagine, but carries the responsibility of being the first human member of the Green Lantern Corps.

When Hal returns to Earth, he is troubled with what to do with this power, until the chance comes to save the day.  However, the yellow energy of fear has taken over an old friend of Hal and Carol's, sniveling high school science teacher Dr. Hector Hammond (indie actor Peter Sarsgaard), granting him an evil agenda and psionic powers.  Hector's up to something and it has the potential to bring Parallax to Earth.

There it is.  Now you're lost for sure.  You know what, go watch the trailer.  That will help.  

In any case, Green Lantern is, as aforementioned, true to its source material.  The real thing is just as space-age and cartoonish as it sounds.  However, director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale and The Mask of Zorro) and the very expensive special effects nail the proper look perfectly.  The power ring's visual constructs of emerald imagination, from the modernized costume to the wild energy props, are spot-on to what it would take to bring the comic to life.  Ryan Reynolds (who bested the likes of Bradley Cooper, Justin Timberlake, and Chris Pine for the role) has charm, charisma, and balls to spare in playing a hot-shot pilot and superhero. 

Those two elements of the movie are perfect.  Luckily, that's the title character.  The creators better have gotten that right to begin with or you don't have a movie.  The rest of Green Lantern is a borderline plane crash.  If you're not into it with that required suspended disbelief, that meandering plot is going to lose you for sure.  The big action ending redeems some of the slow place, but not enough.

No offense to Peter Sarsgaard's talent (go watch his calculated work in Boys Don't Cry and Shattered Glass), but Hector Hammond is the worst comic book movie villain since Topher Grace's Eddie Brock/Venom ruined Spider-Man 3, and maybe even ever (and you know how much I hate Topher Grace, click further).  His big-brained mutation induces audience laughter, not fear.  No matter the movie, comic book or not, every hero is only as good as his villain.  Just look at either incarnation of the Joker, be it Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger.  Those guys posed a legitimate threat and creeped you out like a good villain should.  Hammond is an absolute vacuum waste of plot time when Parallax is the only villain that poses a real threat.  His scenes grind the movie to a screeching halt.   

Green Lantern also terribly suffers from, what I like to call, the "Spider-Man school yearbook syndrome" where everyone, hero and villain alike, preposterously has to be related or connected to each other from youth.  It's too convenient that Hal, Carol, and Hector all grew up together and that Hector's dad (a wasted Oscar winner Tim Robbins, collecting a paycheck and bringing fellow Oscar nominee Angela Bassett down with him) just happens to be a powerful Senator that has acquired Abin Sur's alien body for autopsy for Hector AND just happens to also front Hal and Carol's test pilot work.  It's just as bad in the Spider-Man series when Peter, Mary Jane, and either Green Goblin (father or son) all know and mess with each other.

Can one still enjoy Green Lantern?  Yes and no.  The effects are dazzlingly unique and Ryan Reynolds fits the bill.  After that, it lacks being able to keep your interest going with a plodding story and a terrible villain.  At least the equally space-hopping Thor from earlier this summer kept your attention better.  Speaking of ThorGreen Lantern and DC Comics parent company, Warner Brothers, would love to do what Marvel Comics is doing right now. 

Through several years of creative unity and control, Marvel has astutely interlaced their solo movies.  Next May, they are teaming up Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk into a giant Avengers movie (mark May 4, 2012 on your calendars).  Warner desperately wants to bring Green Lantern together with their big-hitters Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and others into an equally-huge Justice League project.   With the obligatory tedious origin story out of the way, Green Lantern hints at the potential of a sweet sequel (stay into the end credits to see), but it has overcome a pretty rough start before we start talking Justice League.  It is definitely going to need a strong detergent to get out the green grass stains from this drag of a start.

LESSON #1: THE POWER OF WILL-- Sure, the comic and the movie visualize the idea of free will and willpower to a basic coloring book level used by movie westerns (bad guy black hats vs. good guy white hats = green for will vs. yellow for fear), but it's true.  A person's will is untapped power.  Our imagination is strong and creative beyond our physical boundaries and limits.  When we visualize, focus, and put our mind to something, we can be powerful beings.  Just make sure you get jewelry to match.

LESSON #2: THE POWER OF FEAR-- The yang to the power of will's yin is fear.  Much like will, fear can take over a person and is powerful motivator.  You can argue that fear is stronger than willpower because, in order for fear to be present, one's will has to be broken to some extent.  Again, even if the movie does this in a galactic Crayola visual way, the definitions and mantras are true to form and function in life.  It's no different than the light and dark side of the Force in Star Wars mythology.  Their dichotomy is basic, yet pertinent.

LESSON #3: THE COURAGE TO NOT WALK AWAY FROM SOMETHING-- Hal gets this a lot in Green Lantern.  He doesn't walk away from an impossible situation in a fighter jet, but blows it every time he gets close to Carol.  He has the courage to try and save Abin Sur, but can't handle the potential responsibility of possessing the ring.  You can say his fears defeat his will, but it's more about having the courage to stick to something, stand for something, or not turn your back and walk away.  Only when Hal gets this idea does he become a hero.