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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review: 'Green Lantern'

I've mentioned before that in reviewing a movie I think in terms of personal enjoyment, if I could recommend it to other people and if it was actually a 'good' movie; Warner Brothers' Green Lantern fails in all 3 counts unfortunately. It's a leaden, awkward and inconsistent mishmash of several elements that never even come within the same radius of each other, much less into anything resembling a coherent film.

More After The Jump.

I’ve mentioned in the past how I believed Ryan Reynolds to be miscast in the lead role of Hal Jordan but I can say that he’s not the problem here. He seems to be actually trying very hard with the materials he’s given but it’s a hopeless struggle; what parts of the script left in by the shotgun editing are such a bizarre mishmash of weak concepts and reluctant whining that I’m not sure if any actor could make it work. We’re just meant to accept things as being exactly how we’re told they are for 90% of the film. We hear that Hal’s an amazing pilot but there’s only one scene of him flying and the most impressive maneuver he makes is flying straight up really, really high. We’re told of how amazing the Green Lantern Corps is and how their rings are incredibly powerful but we never really see much to demonstrate either. The only indication we have that Hal has known weird villain Hector Hammond in the past, is a passing glimpse and a ‘Hi, Hector’ given at a cocktail party. As a result, any sort of personal gravity their eventual conflict is meant to have gets totally lost in the shuffle of ungainly set pieces presented for them to do battle in.

The entire film is stunted and small despite trying to deal with large-scale concepts like planetary genocide, intergalactic struggle and ancient alien races weighing in as to the value of humanity as a whole. Of course, that isn’t to say that the smaller elements are equally fumbled as well. Hal’s transformation from totally irresponsible (and arguably dangerous) uber-jerk to doubting hero and finally into one of the (supposed) greatest members of the Corps is utterly graceless. Reynolds does best with the smug jerk aspect but his emotional exposure to Carol Ferris over his questions of self-worth are completely uninteresting because the script makes us neither believe nor care about his conflict. We’re treated to several discussions between Blake Lively as Ferris and Reynolds that basically amount to “I’m a jerk but never really cared until I was told I could be more than that”. To her credit, Lively does a lot better than the trailers would have made you believe; she gets some of the cheesiest lines but remains steadfast in light of nothing around her working.
Ironically, one of those emotional scenes is probably one of the best shot in the movie. Martin Campbell was a strange and ultimately bad choice for director; all the scenes on Earth basically feel as if he just put the camera in two or three spots then had the actors perform their scene over and over while he went off to get lunch. The parts on Oa are better but it’s a completely digital environment populated with CGI characters; how responsible Campbell is for the few good choices made in these scenes I can’t be sure. It does seem like he was much better prepared for them than anything on Hal’s native world what with its bland sets. The aforementioned cocktail party scene gives off an overwhelming vibe of indifference on the filmmaker’s part that you can only hang your head in shame as it becomes the public debut of Hal’s new identity.  It says something when two of your three major confrontations are shot inside of warehouses especially in light of how one of the character’s main abilities is flight. To give an idea of how weak this feels, it would be like having Batman run around on the street during broad daylight trying to catch jaywalkers.

Despite only running about a 1 hour and 50 minutes, the movie feels very long. It doesn’t help that it works at establishing elements that go absolutely nowhere. For example, Hector Hammond gets a huge amount of setup as the primary antagonist despite no real introduction, scant motivation and little impact to the course of the film. That’s sad because you sense that Peter Sarsgaard is trying despite how little he has to do. Literally our only introduction to the character is that he has an unkempt, tiny house where he plays MMORPGs and Computer Chess in a dark room. Then he’s swept away to join Amanda Waller in unnecessary character land to go do whatever in a subplot that gets plenty of screen time but amounts to nothing. If Hammond was ever meant to be sympathetic in the time before he was a villain, we never know; the film introduces him and builds him towards being the villain, expecting us to accept that fact without question. Parallax is the major bad guy but being a big goofy CGI cloud doesn’t make for a compelling nemesis; as a result they shoehorn Hammond in, obviously trying to work him as a foe Hal has personal connections to akin to fellow comic movie baddies Obadiah Stane, Loki or Harry Osborn. However, we never end up caring about him the way they’re trying to make us. Taika Waititi ends up being really distracting in his role as Hal’s only friend, Thomas Kalmaku; his goofy reactions and geekiness over the ring are grating in a way topped only by the awful pandering present in the scene where Hal tries to activate the Lantern for the first time. He ends up being as pointless as Tim Robbins Senator Hammond character does, making little impact on the plot both serving only as something for their respective scene partners to bounce reactions off of. When Kalmaku disappears about 2/3 through the film you don’t even really notice he’s gone anymore than some audience members will end up caring about Angela Bassett’s turn as Amanda Waller despite getting more background on her in a few brief shots then we ever get on most of the principals. DC’s transparent attempt to replicate Marvel’s use of Nick Fury in their movies actually ends up shooting themselves in the foot here; its one more thing they’re going to have to work around when they do the damage control for the next DC film. The one positive aspect of Waller being in the movie is that John Ostrander will hopefully get some royalty money from her usage.

When you’re working with big concepts, such as an intergalactic police force made up of several thousand extraterrestrial races, you probably should make an effort to show how grandiose those ideas are. Parallax is meant to be the biggest threat to the Green Lantern Corps ever, a being that consumes whole galaxies as it feeds off the fear of their inhabitants; we’re told all that but all we see is a big smoke monster that sucks digital skeletons out of a bunch of random extras while waiting alternately for the Corps or Hal to come after it. It’s the dumbest CGI boogeyman in recent memory despite Clancy Brown doing his best with voicing the creature.

Speaking of doing your best, Mark Strong turns in a surprisingly adept performance as Sinestro despite having little to work with. The fact that he does such a good job despite his character ultimately making little sense in the context of the film does a big credit towards making the scenes on Oa better than all the other ones in the movie. He could’ve been played as an obvious Snidely Whiplash type but Strong makes him interesting while showing very little emotion in the process; he was the perfect choice for how this movie ended up being, confident in his role while still managing to make a lot of a confusingly written role. We hear how great and powerful the Corps is but Sinestro is the only one among them who helps us believe it in any capacity. Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan also fare pretty well but they’re only vocal performances in the roles of digital creatures Tomar-Re and Kilowog, respectively.  They end up being the only memorable characters in the movie that aren’t Sinestro despite only existing to give exposition.

It’s ironic that the 3 alien characters overpower the main cast in no small way since so much time is spent reflecting on how worthy a human is to join the much hallowed Corps. But that’s the movie’s downfall is employing relatively capable actors to tell you the exposition but never has any of them make moves to get you to care about the actual events that transpire afterwards. The only time the film ever gets creative is in coming up with bizarre ways to have Ryan Reynolds run around in his underwear; the first scene on Oa where he’s treated to some bizarre Cronenberg-style physical probing might be the most transparent attempt at this sort of thing ever made. Just Go With It and Thor managed to play things like this for laughs, better to break up the tension built for the opposite gender. It makes for a good metaphor for the movie’s quality though, teasing you with plenty of things but never quite finding a way to puncture the embarrassment you feel for seeing what’s on the screen. The score of this movie alone makes you want to roll your eyes so much you might end up having a detached retina. James Newton Howard obviously did not care at all about the work he was doing here as the score jerks from silly Top Gun lite in the Jet scene to ridiculous 70’s buddy cop chase music when Hal runs from the authorities in Thomas’ jeep, to inept synthesizer orchestrations when we’re told of the grand tradition of the Lantern Corps.

Some reviewers are terming Green Lantern as 'harmless summer popcorn fare' but I think that's a disservice to movies of that classification. Just because a movie is meant to be light summertime entertainment doesn’t mean it has to be simple or self-deprecating to the degree that this film is. It talks down to its audience in a major way as Hal’s story is treated with vague contempt both for the actual material and towards the audience. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, except the most dutiful of fans. It’s a sad failure, worse than other disasters like the Fantastic Four films. As awful as X-Men: The Last Stand is, it at least tried to be ambitious despite its many bizarre and insane choices. There’s nothing even resembling those aspirations here; much like Hal’s Jet fighter, the movie stalls after a few minutes and never really recovers outside of a few flickering spurts of barely passable effort. Lantern not only fails to entertain as a good movie, it can't even be interesting as a bad one.

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