Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review - Green Lantern

The Green Lantern Corps are intergalactic peacekeepers who have harnessed the power of will to defend the universe for centuries. When one of the strongest Corps members is killed by a powerful force known as Parallax, a being who is driven by consuming the fear of others, the order of the Universe and Earth is in left in the hands of the Green Lantern Corps' latest recruit and first human ever selected, Hal Jordan.

There is a definite agenda in "Green Lantern" to make the superhero approachable for everyone. That approach however ends up feeling far more directed at kids. Everything from the character development to the action just comes across a bit watered down. This isn't to say that adults won't enjoy the origin action, there is just reason to believe that they could find things just a little bit too easy. Take the stakes for example. Early on the audience is made aware of the risks Earth and the Universe face. These stakes (even at their fullest potential) never feel real, tangible or all that dangerous. It makes me question whether producers balked at how traumatic the events of the movie could be on children then choosing to lessen the blow. Simply put, it was a disappointment to have a villain as destructive as Parallax is set up to be never feel imposing or the slightest bit menacing. Instead he comes across feeling like nothing other than a big dust cloud with a scary face.

For a number of people this Martin Campbell directed movie is their first introduction to the Green Lantern Corps and Hal Jordan. This is no easy feat considering this is an aged character who has been around since the Golden Age of comics. He's been a core member of the Justice League and has miles of history that DC comic fans are knowledgeable in. You also have a demographic that have no clue who he is other than being a DC superhero. They don't know his backstory, how many versions there have been or how the Lantern powers even work. This reads back into the idea of making the superhero approachable for everyone. The Green Lantern and the Green Lantern Corps' reason for protecting the Universe is not all that hard to comprehend. They harness the green power of will to defend the order of the Universe. No big deal right? They use green energy to keep the peace in space, but a massive amount of odd looking members and the intergalactic background could be a tough sell for some general audiences initially. With all that taken into consideration, I felt that "Green Lantern" did a decent job of setting up the Green Lantern Corps and their mythology. It is not too complex while also being easy enough for small children to decipher. To start the film the audience gets a very simple introduction explaining creation of the corps all while bouncing around the galaxy in eye-appealing visuals. Later when Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is first transported to Oa (the home planet to the Green Lantern Corps), viewers get a crash course in their mythology along with Hal from Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) and other key Corps members. These snippets of the Lantern mythology are engaging however the blend comes together in such a neat package things begin to feel like a paint by the numbers storyboard.

Like so many other comic book heroes learning one's full potential is pivotal to the crux of the character. Hal Jordan is no different. The only limit to a Lantern's power is in the potential of the power ring wearer and his own strength, so learning how to harness that potential is again, vital. Hal's learning feels watered down and rushed like so many other things in the movie. The audience gets a very limited window of Hal being trained and recognizing how to make constructs out of his mind wielding the power ring on Oa, the rest of the time it really feels like Hal is sort of winging it. Defending this aspect of the film to a certain degree should come naturally. Hal is, like some the audience, a newbie to all this power. For most of the film he is acting off instinct, leaving his constructs to be very generic. These constructs however are things that Hal is familiar with and are easier for him to create i.e. cars, jets, guns and fists. On the other hand, there are a number of moments where you are left saying, "that was it?" He has all this potential power and that was all he did? Getting back to potential, "Green Lantern" is less about Hal learning how to harness his potential and more about him learning why he was chosen. The power ring chooses someone who is fearless yet Hal knows he is afraid, so he repeatedly doubts himself. This is where I found the superhero origin to dip way too deep into kiddie pool. Every facet of Hal being a mess-up or second-guessing himself is spoon fed to the audience in a variety of melodramatic/quasi-comedic sequences. Scenes that felt like they were only there to make sure everyone is still following along.

As for the cast of "Green Lantern" we have direct hits and one big miss. Ryan Reynolds is spot on as Hal Jordan. Reynolds did a great job in the role. Reynolds pulls off most of the emotion without ever having to say a word. Something that I give him a lot of credit with considering how much green screen work he did. His initial pull to Oa is a perfect example. Watching as Reynolds tussles with the green energy orb pulling him out of the atmosphere and into the deepest reaches of space the audience see's Reynolds go from bewilderment to awe and he is spot on throughout. Mark Strong does a remarkable job in the role of Sinestro with minimal screen time. Sinestro is a huge character in the Green Lantern world and lets just say Mark Strong leaves the audience begging for more. Peter Sarsgaard delivers a interesting portrayal of Hector Hammond, one that is sure to divide audiences. Sarsgaard's performance much like Hector Hammond is a bit of a oddity. You don't know whether he is serious or just about to laugh the entire time. I can see some enjoying the strange vibe he brings to the action while others may be completely pulled out of the movie by it. Also on the positive side of things is the voice cast. Geoffrey Rush (Tomar-Re) and Michael Clarke Duncan (Kilowog) both are instantly recognizable yet welcomed additions to the cast. The shaky ground comes with Blake Lively as Carol Ferris. She is definitely easy to look at but paying attention and staying engaged while she's performing is a little bit harder to do. Especially in the emotional beats between her and Ryan Reynolds. I found myself struggling to believe her in every scene other than when Carol and Hal are having a drink at the bar and reminiscing.

The planet Oa and all of the animation throughout space looks gorgeous despite feeling restricted. All of the Lantern Corps look polished as well. Fans of the comic are sure to notice a number of familiar faces while newbies will probably enjoy taking in all of the odd creatures who harness the Lantern's power. I really enjoyed the flying simulations with Hal Jordan. Both with him as a test pilot on Earth and with him harnessing the power of the Green Lantern. The 3D utilized for the flying sequences really tickled the senses but it also created a nice sense of depth in all of the environments throughout the 114 minute origin adventure. The action throughout is thrilling, but like Hal Jordan's potential, you spend most of the film waiting for it to reach its full ability which never comes to fruition. "Green Lantern" spans across the Universe however the film doesn't really have a very grand scope. We really only see 3 or 4 locations on Earth outside of Hal's apartment and while on Oa, things are very limited as well. I should note how impressed I was by Coast City. Regardless of the fact we do not see much of it, the production team did a nice job of making sure Coast City looked authentic instead of just another backlot or cgi town.

When it comes to superhero movies I always hope for a film that feels complete while also leaving you wanting more. "Green Lantern" half-achieved that. I want more, but I never felt this origin tale reached its full potential. Instead it allowed itself to worry too much about reaching a general audience versus telling the best story it could. It is ironic that a movie centered around a man learning his full potential does not have the power to reach its own full potential, but that is the result. The DC action does the job by setting the table but instead of serving a fulfilling portion it only serves up an appetizer.