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Green Lantern Review, Second Take: Like Every Hell But Kind Of Green

By TK Burton | Film | June 20, 2011 |

By TK Burton | Film | June 20, 2011 |

There are really only two questions to ask when it comes to this film: Is it a good movie, and is it a good Green Lantern movie. The answer to that is sort of complicated, but here’s the short version:

It’s OK. It’s no Dark Knight, nor is it the war crime that Dustin made it out to be. It’s a surprisingly difficult film to gauge, because it does do some things right. It’s one of those movies that I mostly enjoyed as I was watching it, but when I left the theater and began to really think about it and deconstruct it a little, it began to fall apart. It ultimately fails to elevate itself to the level of more well-remembered superhero flicks due to some lazy writing, a failure to understand the nature of the origin story as a narrative device, and Blake fucking Lively.

I won’t bother with the plot synopsis, since you’ve either seen the movie or read Dustin’s review by now. It’s not a terribly complex plot, and that ultimately is its undoing. The fault doesn’t lie with the story of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps itself — ignore Dustin’s nerd-baiting statements about the superficiality of superheroes. There’s an incredibly complex, labyrinthine and fascinating history to the Green Lantern comics, and that’s perhaps part of the problem — the failure to really examine that history and mythology, and instead rushing into things, bypassing any real sense of history or development.

Sure, Ryan Reynolds does a passable job as Hal Jordan. Everyone in the film has daddy issues, apparently, and Reynolds handles his with a rather uninspired series of lonely puppy looks. His character doesn’t develop so much as it makes abrupt leaps — he’s a cocky pilot with a fear of failure, but a couple of winsome looks and passionate speeches and he’s ready to take on Parallax. As a semi-fan of the comic, that’s the film’s other stumble in terms of development — there are thousands of Green Lanterns, and humans have always been viewed as too young and brash and undeveloped a species. And yet Jordan somehow makes vaults the chasm between unprepared young loudmouth to someone trained and powerful enough to defeat what is inarguably one of the most dangerous entities in the universe. And he does it in about 72 hours.

I’m sorry, but that’s a hell of a learning curve.

It’s not aided by Lively’s abysmal turn as Carol Ferris. I was actually one of the few defenders of her performance in The Town — after growing up around those girls, she actually kind of nailed it. But here it’s pursed lips and wide eyes and occasionally pulling out the petulant frowny face and I’m sorry, but that’s just not fucking acting, Blake. I don’t care how short your skirt is.

Once you look past her, the cast is summarily excellent. Reynolds is good when he’s in cocksure adventurer mode, and Peter Sarsgaard really is amazing in the film. It’s a testament to his skills — Hector Hammond felt a bit like a hastily cobbled-together addition, and yet Sarsgaard imbues him with a very real pathos and sense of anguished, resentful bitterness that his is one of the character arcs that actually make sense. Mark Strong is terrific, and for the most part, really feels like Sinestro — for the whole ten minutes he’s onscreen.

Actors aside, the film has some genuinely fun parts. The suits are imperfect, to be sure, but I admire what director Martin Campbell and company were going for — a literal embodiment of the power of will, reflected in their every movement. If the costume design stumbled, it’s due to the technical limitations of the idea, but I appreciate the idea enough to work through that. The action sequences are remarkable at times — the opening dogfight is breathless and fun, and the initial confrontation between Jordan and Hammond is pretty intense.

What truly prevents the film from moving into higher planes is that it simply lacked imagination. This is manifested twofold — first, in the handling of the origin story itself. There’s a problem with origin stories of this type, wherein the character inherits great power. Superman is born with it, so you can attribute his modern day badassery to growing up as a near-god. Batman trains for years, and you can either simply ignore that and show him in full kit, ready for action (aka the Tim Burton version), or you can devote part of the film to showing his grueling, years-long training regimen (a la Batman Begins). Green Lantern literally becomes a superhero overnight, which is understandable given the power source. But the problem is, as I mentioned above, that he goes from unsure and overwhelmed new recruit to defender of the universe in what feels like 20 minutes. The transition is too quick and there never feels like there’s any real character evolution. The film benefits by sticking relatively closely to the canon, but it does it in via such cursory, unimaginative methods that canonical consistency ends up being the least of its problems.

This lack of imagination is the second issue that will likely be a sticking point, particularly with fans. The planet Oa is reminiscent of Asgard in the recent Thor — it feels a bit too cartoonish at times, but it’s still nifty to look at — Green Lantern has some impressive and frequently effective CGI, to be sure. Yet the whole idea is that the will and the imagination creates an almost-bottomless power. The constructs that they build are the manifestation of the Green Lantern’s will, and yet that will never really forms itself into anything other than some incredibly pedestrian creations. It makes such a point of emphasizing that the limits of a Lantern is only within your mind, and then they end up creating swords and guns and steel plates. It just felt so uninspired and in many ways seemed the very opposite of the wisdom that they were trying to impart.

I’m focusing on the negative, to be certain, and yet I didn’t dislike the film. Green Lantern is a relatively lightweight bit of superpowered fluff. If anything, the disappointment lies with their simplistic approach to the material. The film is a decent action-adventurer, it just never bothers to try hard enough to be more than that, and there’s plenty of ways it could have easily achieved greater heights. Instead it settles for being another lukewarm effort, with some fun one-liners, a couple of solid performances and a few whiz-bang effects. Not bad, but not even in the same universe as what it could have been.

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TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.