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June 20, 2011

Movie Mondays: Green Lantern

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Written by: AHudson
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Title: Green Lantern
Director: Martin Campbell
Writers: Screenplay: Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Goldenberg/Screen Story: Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim (Created by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell)
Distributed By: Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, and Tim Robbins
Release Date: June 17th, 2011

Ace test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is on the rocks with both Ferris Aircraft and long time friend and ex-girlfriend Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) after a stunt of his nearly lost their contract with the military. However, his fate is about to change, when dying Green Lantern Abin Sur’s ring chooses Hal Jordan as the next successor. Soon, Hal Jordan gets sent to the planet Oa for some tough training by Sinestro (Mark Strong), Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush), and Kilowog (Michael Clark Duncan). And if that’s not enough, Hal’s childhood friend Dr. Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) is being transformed by the yellow energy of fear, and the unstoppable Parallax (voiced by Clancy Brown) is heading for Earth.

Welcome to a special edition of Movie Mondays. Today we have not just one, but two reviews of Green Lantern. One by guest writer Aaron Nicewonger, and the other by yours truly. With all the negative reviews out there, some of you may be asking, “Well, how bad is it?” How is it to those of us who aren’t the caviar critics? Does Green Lantern shine like the brightest day? Or is it the Green Lantern’s blackest night? Let’s find out.

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 Good:

I’m really surprised to see so many negative reviews for this film. I honestly loved it. I’ve seen it twice now, and I walked out of the theater the first time very pleased, and I’m happy to say I liked it just as much the second time around.

So, the actors were all really good.

At first I was really worried that Ryan Reynolds was going to ruin this role, especially considering the first choice years ago was Nathan Fillion (of Firefly fame). But he totally nailed it! He completely owned this role.

And the supporting cast does a fine job, as well. Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, Mark Strong as Sinestro, and Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond (I’ll come back to him). Michael Clark Duncan wasn’t given a lot to do as Kilowog, but it was fun hearing his trademark “Poozer” phrase getting used. Geoffrry Rush was entertaining with the few scenes he was given, and absolutely nailed the narration, bringing a extra level of gravitas to the film.

I’ve heard people talk about the characterization/character development. Which I think is one area where my co-critic and I diverge. I’ve heard a lot of talk about this film focusing more on action/plot than character/theme.

I disagree.

Personally, I felt there could have been more action. It’s not Fantastic Four bad, in terms of lack of action scenes. But it’s not quite up there with the first Iron Man, which seemed to get the mix just right. But we get lots of character development from Hal Jordan, our focus. And in an interesting turn, we get the back story for our MAIN villain Parallax, and a fair bit of character development from his infected “henchman” Hector Hammond. Which, to me, could be taken as a sort of hint at what Parallax’s descent into madness might have been like.

For everyone else, I didn’t need or want character development. There’s a fine line to tread. Too much, and people get bored. Too little, and people are annoyed. Personally, I felt that we only needed development from Hal and Hector. The other characters were already developed, and this was just a glimpse into their lives.

The special effects were quite spectacular and very, very well done, except for one thing (which I’ll get to later). But the CGI suits for the Lanterns were very detailed, and the entire planet of Oa, which we don’t get to see enough of, was gorgeous. The really trippy redesign for the Guardians was amazing. I loved the long flowing robes and the long earlobes that gave them a sort of Indian Shaman look.

All in all, this movie takes themes and plot-lines from the original 60s run on the Hal Jordan Green Lantern, Green Lantern: Secret Origin, and Green Lantern: Rebirth, and mixes them together remarkably well.

The Bad:

James Newton Howard’s score. For the most part it was great. The pulsing bass line sending a tremor throughout the theater was superb. The ambient background pieces, the creepy “villain” music, the “action” music, all were great. The problem here is the fanfare. Which seems to be trying really hard to recapture the grandeur of John Williams’s Superman fanfare.

Whenever Green Lantern does ANYTHING slightly heroic, the music kicks in, in this loud bombastic way that completely overpowers the scene and ruins the moment, and just makes me chuckle at how silly it comes across, and then cringe as I realize the music just ruined what should have been a friggin’ cool moment.

The Ugly:

Two main complaints from me.

First up are some aspects of the Hector Hammond portrayal.  While I thought Sarsgaard performed his role well, I had two major gripes. His constantly high-pitched, shrill screaming. Whenever the infection was growing, or when he’s getting hit by Green Lantern, and once after the fight is over, for seemingly no reason at all (which we get in slow-motion, also for no reason at all),  he lets out this eardrum-piercing scream.  Now, I accept it, because the choice to go for a high-pitched scream instead of a low one showcases his weakness and allows for more sympathy. Since this version of Hector is a rather sympathetic pawn of the movie’s real villain, Parallax.

My second gripe goes toward the design staff.

Hector Hammond’s “new look.” Thankfully more menacing and less funny than his original comic design, but combined with his powers/abilities, and his mannerisms, it kept reminding me of The Dark Overlord of the Universe from Howard the Duck (which also featured Tim Robbins in an annoying supporting role). And the last thing you want to do when making a comic book movie is conjure images of Howard the Duck.

My second complaint is about the Mask design.  While the CGI for the superhero suit looked GREAT, and the mask looked really good and detailed on movie posters…it did NOT look good in the movie. It looked rushed, tacked on at the last minute by a totally separate design team. It just looked bad. Now the effect for Ryan Reynolds’s eyes washing to a pale green when his powers kicked in and whenever the mask went on looked good. But the actual mask itself was so bad it was jarring, and even Carol Ferris has Hal take it off, and comments toward it being completely useless.

Overall, I really enjoyed the film. A lot more than I thought I would, given the fairly negative reaction. Strong characterization, good development for the main characters (main, not major), good special effects, good story line, decent musical score, and only a few real complaints.

All in all, I’d give it a 7.5 or 8 out of 10. -Aaron Nicewonger

Green Lantern is perhaps DC’s most important project this whole year. This is the film that shows if DC can have a great film outside of the Batman and Superman franchises. It also answers the question, “Can DC compete with Marvel on the silver screen?”

Now, if Green Lantern is any indication for future DC films, it shows that DC isn’t better or worse than Marvel, just different. Unlike Marvel’s more naturalistic, character driven films, DC tends to lean more towards mythological and plot driven films (like with the comics). Which is what I think is driving critics bananas with Green Lantern, since they’re probably expecting a The Dark Knight or Iron Man.

The plot here is well thought out enough (if you don’t over analyze it), and it’s definitely more of a love letter to fans of the Emerald Knight. After all, it was co-written by Marc Guggenheim and co-produced by Geoff Johns.

While it’s a good thing that it’s fairly faithful, a faithful film doesn’t necessarily mean a better film. Some of the things such as over-the-top action, pseudo metaphysics, and almost comic book-style dialog don’t translate to the screen as well as they do to the panels.

Fortunately, it’s a decent enough script carried out by a surprisingly good cast.

I know that Ryan Reynolds is the butt of every joke for being People Magazine‘s Sexiest Man Alive, but he does a good job here. Reynolds plays Hal Jordan as arrogant, but at the same time we can see that the arrogance is masking Hal’s fears. As well as the fact that Reynolds comes across as a naturally likable hero.

I also liked Blake Lively’s performance as Carol Ferris. The difference between Lively and other contemporaries such as Megan Fox, is that Lively can actually act and she doesn’t act pouty or immature on screen. I also liked the chemistry between Reynolds and Lively, who both made Jordan and Ferris’s childhood friendship and amiable exes background believable.

Everyone else here did a good job, too. Peter Sarsgaard kept Hector Hammond from being a cheesy and clichéd villain; I really liked Mark Strong as Sinestro; and Tim Robbins and Angela Basset added some depth to the “civilian roles.”

However, what kept me from thinking, “Wow, what a fantastic film!” were two things.

One was the special effects. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an old school puppetry and scale size purist. I understand that the CGI is necessary here. And for the most part it works well, such as Parallax’s reign of terror on Coastal City (which I think we can all agree is an allegory to 9/11), or the beautiful rendition of Oa. But some of the effects here, such as the scene where a group of aliens find the imprisoned Parallax on Ryut, feel almost like a CGI scene in a video game.

But the biggest flaw here, its Achilles’s Heel, was the lack of heart. Having heart is the most important factor in making a great superhero film, whether it be sadness, excitement, or something else. Scenes such as the Magneto scenes in X-Men: First Class, the various conversations between Aunt May and Peter Parker, or even the final battle between Batman and The Joker atop the bell tower, really elevate a film. Of course, this is also the most subjective factor in the film. But for me, I didn’t find myself emotionally engaged anywhere near how I felt visually engaged with Green Lantern. Although I will give credit where credit is due with the “we’re only human” scene.

All in all, though, it wasn’t a bad film at all. It was an entertaining film, a popcorn flick. It many ways it reminded me of the mid to late nineties roller-coaster films (Batman Forever, Armageddon, etc.) that fired all barrels to keep you entertained. And if you can dig that, than perhaps you can also enjoy Green Lantern. -Andrew Hudson

Aaron Nicewonger

Andrew Hudson