Monday, June 20, 2011

Brightest Day or Blackest Night?

Are we getting sick of comic book films yet? That question will have been answered this past weekend when the take from the opening of DC Comics' Green Lantern has been counted out. Reported to be a $200 MILLION picture, its creation represents a huge risk, especially since there are only a handful of films released this year that earned that much. A large number of superhero/comic book films have been released this year as well, as titles from the mediocre Green Hornet to the excellent X-Men First Class making 2011 unparalleled for like releases. To top things off, Green Lantern has always been a B-class superhero for DC comics, with the company rotating the emerald mantle among a number of different characters to attract readers (Alan Scott, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Kyle Ranier; take your pick). The point is that Green Lantern is a nice idea for a movie, but doesn't quite pack the anticipation for an audience comprised of more than your local fanboys (you know who they are). Despite these concerns I was still interested in seeing this film (and scoffed at by any who were told), not only because I'm a pseudo-comics fan, but because I was also attracted to the talented cast that featured Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively and Mark Strong. I also heard nothing but good things about Peter Sarsgaard as the film's villain, and with those combined talents I simply couldn't say no to an opening weekend show. I was surely only one of a few (my theater was sadly half-full) but sometimes you go into a film anticipating little more than visual spectacle; sometimes that's all you get. Other times you may come away with something more.

I hereby induct you into the Society of Bro's
After panicking and mentally freezing during a training exercise, test pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds) is grounded and unable to come to terms with the fear that has plagued him his whole life. That makes the next series of events even more unbelievable, with the arrival of a dying alien, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), and a cosmic power ring that he hands to Jordan, naming him the newest recruit to the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic police force that protects the innocent. One of the Corps' greatest enemies, a being powered by fear called Parallax (Clancy Brown) has escaped imprisonment and is building strength before attacking the Lanterns outright. With Earth square in Parallax's path of destruction, Jordan must overcome his fears and save the universe, proving he has the mettle to be a true hero.

Hal's awkward prom years...
Though this title is far from the first comic book film released this year, Green Lantern did have one distinct advantage out of the gate; it was the only major property from DC Comics to have a release for 2011. In the past, the products of DC's rival Marvel Comics have often made for poor films, while DC has enjoyed great success, especially with the franchises born from their greatest heroes, Superman and Batman. For a long time, it seemed like their products could do no wrong (Yes, I am ignoring Steel, starring former Celtic Shaquille O'Neal). In recent years, it has been the opposite, as DC has barely maintained a minimum quality to their theatrical releases, with the obvious exception of the Batman reboot. Green Lantern gives the comic company a potential frontline unit, to build not just one but a series of films around.

Yeah, if I were you I'd get that looked at...
On the casting front, at least Green Lantern sports the right names for the job. Hal Jordan for years as a comic character was kind of square, so shoehorning Reynolds into the part works out exceptionally well. Reynolds brings the same blend of talent and humor that he brings to every role, resulting in an entertaining performance that screams "leading man". His natural charisma of course is the reason he's been so successful in the first place, but he really tries to stretch himself to new heights here. It's too bad all his best jokes were revealed in the film's several trailers; many funny moments elicited nary a titter from the audience. Lively again forces herself away from the Gossip Girl spotlight in a more mature role. After being underrated in last year's The Town, Lively doesn't quite ascend to those lofty heights; however, she still acts beyond her years as Carol Ferris, who thankfully is no mere love interest for Jordan, as she's too smart, strong, spunky and brave to be stuck in that gutter. She would probably be seen as the best part of the cast, if it weren't for Sarsgaard. The actor, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for the 2003 film Shattered Glass, does a wonderful job playing Hector Hammond, an acquaintance of Jordan and Ferris who unwittingly becomes exposed to the influences of the film's main villain and becomes one of Green Lantern's nemeses. It helps that the role is sympathetically written, as you actually feel sorry for Hammond over the course of the film. Sarsgaard takes that aspect and runs with it, and how this man hasn't had a high-profile leading role astounds me (mayhaps our good friend Elmo has something to do with it, Sarsgaard being married to Maggie Gyllenhaal, his longtime object of affection). Some of the supporting roles are chocked with talent, but don't do a whole hell of a lot. Angela Bassett is wasted on DC supervillain Dr. Amanda Waller, who doesn't do much more than deliver dialogue in a sardonic manner. Same with Taika Waititi, who plays one of Jordan's best friends but only appears in the few scenes where Ferris doesn't fit in. Morrison may be best known as Jango Fett but does a good job in the small role of dying alien Abin Sur. The Green Lantern Corps as a whole doesn't really do much more than that, with Strong once again putting forth a strong (sorry) performance as Sinestro, and Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan doing some suitable voice work on the side. You get the feeling that if there are future films, they will hold a larger role, but here don't have as much of an impact.

How does one best admit that he has a magic lantern and flies around in tights all day?
And impact is mostly what's missing from Green Lantern, both in the visuals and in the narrative. It's obvious that a lot of money was spent rendering and polishing all the animation and converting it into yet another 3D film. More than a few of the visuals however look unfinished, especially those that take place in space and on the Green Lantern planet of Oa. Though the imagery is better than several similar films over the course of 2011, this was already a film that relied on visuals more than story, and to falter even slightly in that respect makes for an underwhelming experience. The main story's focus on overcoming fear is hardly strong enough to stand on its own, although it is at least done in a realistic manner. Green Lantern also takes some darker turns in the final act which feel out of place amid the rest of the story. Finally, the film doesn't feel like a standalone product, with Parallax and Hector Hammond seemingly holding the fort until a real villain comes along, presumably in a sequel.

A childhood dream of being known as "The Crimson Avenger goes unfulfilled
But a sequel would seem unlikely, given the circumstances. Instead of introducing a new superhero to the masses, Green Lantern only manages to appeal to diehard fans of the character, and even the groundbreaking comic series Sinestro Corps and Blackest Night over the past few years hasn't raised his popularity to the point where a movie is necessarily a great idea. Still, the film is better than it probably has any right being, and overall I enjoyed myself in the theater despite its multitude of flaws. It will probably be remembered as among the weakest superhero films of 2011, but people shouldn't take that as a sign that is a bad movie. It had a good if not great time, and if you can't wait until it comes out on DVD, do yourself the favor of at least not paying premium rates to see it in 3D.

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