Green Lantern (2011)
DC Comics have certainly languished behind Marvel Studios in bringing their popular characters to the big screen in the last decade. At times, I had thought it was because Warner Bros. wanted to take their time to do things right, and make good movies instead of cheap, fast cash grabs. Marvel has had plenty of those. Of course, you need to have not just good talent, but the right talent behind a project to make it all it should be. With Batman firmly established and a Superman reboot rigorously in the works, Green Lantern would’ve been the springboard for other DC Comics film adaptations, but its box office performance was not what was hoped for.
There have been many Green Lanterns throughout the decades, but Hal Jordan has been the most popular one for over fifty years. I have some fond history with Hal Jordan originating back to the time of The Reign of the Supermen event which set him on a path from fallen hero to super villain to spirit of vengeance to redemption and resurrection. I enjoyed this journey which took a whole decade to see fulfilled. It has since made me a fan of Hal, and I became a supporter of having a Green Lantern movie made. We finally got one, but it wasn’t all I had hoped for. The resulting film has some serious flaws in it, but very satisfying elements do exist. Let’s set the stage, first.
Billions of years ago, the Guardians of the Universe divided the universe into 3,600 sectors to be policed by their Green Lantern Corps, assembled from the most fearless beings throughout the universe to maintain order and justice. When one of their finest, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) is attacked by the yellow fear-essence entity Parallax, he is mortally wounded, and crash lands on Earth. He commands his ring to find a worthy successor here. That person is the reckless and cocky aircraft test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) who is no stranger to fear. As Jordan slowly learns to use his power ring when he is whisked off to the planet Oa, the home of the Green Lantern Corps. Here, he is trained by the best Lanterns including Sinestro (Mark Strong) and Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan), but also has his failings and fears brought to light. Meanwhile, Parallax creates death and destruction as it moves through the universe towards Oa. The Corps’ attempts to thwart this enemy fail with more casualties, and they consider harnessing the yellow power to fight fear with fear. On Earth, scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) is summoned by his father Senator Robert Hammond (Tim Robbins) to do an autopsy on Abin Sur’s body at a secret government facility, and is infected by the yellow fear entity developing telepathic and telekinetic powers. Hal returns home where he must combat Hector’s increasingly dangerous and villainous behavior, and confront his own insecurities before he can become a true Green Lantern. Soon, the fate of Earth and the entire universe will be in the hands of Hal Jordan.
What I need to say first is that I do not believe Ryan Reynolds was miscast as Hal Jordan. Yes, there could have been better choices, but Reynolds was not a bad choice. I have seen him in dramatic roles such as in Buried where he portrays a man buried alive in a coffin in the middle east. The raw, wide range of emotion he put on display in that film solidifies my faith in his acting abilities. The problems in this film that diminish his effectiveness here were far beyond his control.
The main problem here is how unbalanced the film is, and I can entirely pinpoint all the aspects. Fundamentally, the film is divided between the Earth-based scenes and the intergalactic ones. They both follow different plotlines and carry different tones and scopes. Everything involving the Green Lantern Corps on Oa or elsewhere in the universe has a serious urgency to it, and a vast wondrous visual landscape for an epic adventure to take place in. The Earth scenes have a lighter tone with no such urgency to the storytelling process and a fairly contained scope. Events in one setting do not have enough effect on those in another. It can feel like two different films meshed together with Hal Jordan as the only linking thread between them. There is no cohesion to bring the plotlines tightly together, and when they do converge at all, it’s done too late. To boil it down simply, everything that didn’t take place on Earth happened to be the best parts of the movie. Every time the film cuts away from the cosmic, intergalactic part of the story, I couldn’t wait to come back to it. I had no such anticipation for the Earth-based scenes.
The story involving the Green Lantern Corps and Parallax is so compelling because it deals with a threat on a large, epic scale. Billions could die, and so many have already perished in its wake. Therefore, every action and decision the Corps makes has the weight of that menace bearing down upon it. There are strong characters and fleshed out personalities in these extraterrestrials that easily dwarf those of the human characters. Sinestro stands out as the strongest and most compelling character in the entire film for me. I would’ve liked more time spent with him than anyone else to delve deeper into his psychology and emotions. Knowing that Sinestro becomes an enemy of the Green Lanterns in the comics, he would’ve been a deeply fascinating character to explore in detail before he became that enemy. Mark Strong does an amazing job with him reflecting many subtle nuances, and he does leave me wanting a hell of a lot more. It’s a wasted opportunity that more wasn’t done with such an excellent actor in this strongly written role. On the lighter side, I’m sure fans gained enjoyment from Kilowog, who is particularly entertaining. Michael Clarke Duncan has a good amount of fun playing this character that he is so much a fan of. The Guardians themselves have some gravitas to them because of their looming, stoic manner. They are mysterious, but much can be read into them, as Hal does late in the movie. They set a very ominous tone that is integral to building up the threat of Parallax.
The visual effects that create these alien landscapes are beyond gorgeous! In those respects, I can see where all those millions of dollars went in this inflated budget. They are breathtaking vistas filled with rich depth, color, and textures to create worlds that are enveloping. Green Lantern is given a strong cosmic sense to it with a universe filled with millions of years of deep history. The visuals offer a massive scope along with a perfect visual tone to compliment the story. I have not often seen interstellar science fiction cinema with this amount of extraordinary, beautiful detail. They surely put the CGI in the Star Wars prequels to shame, in most regards. All of the CGI aliens in the Corps are fantastic looking! They all have their own textures, body language, and unique character traits that give the film a wealth of visual personality. Although, the motion capture animation can tend to appear lacking in realism, mostly in wider shots. There is not enough weight (or mass) given to their movements in these instances is what I perceive. However, it’s only in brief, sparse moments. Conversely, when the shots get in close on Reynolds while wearing the energy suit, the effect is not very convincing. It can look cheap at these moments, and since Hal Jordan is the main character with a generous amount of close-ups, these moments are frequent.
Over on the Earth based story, so much feels like throwaway content. It might be necessary content to develop Hal’s character, in theory, but so much fails to have any worth. The girlfriend is the girlfriend. Carol Ferris provides the usual emotional support, and she has some amusing moments. However, I failed to see much depth in the character. She fulfills a role in the story, but there doesn’t appear to be much potential for her to be more than that. She’s also the damsel in distress that the hero must save because she must be used as a hostage for the useless villain in Hector Hammond. Peter Sarsgaard certainly does an excellent job with the quirky, bizarre, and twisted Hammond. Everything he does is great and dead on the mark, but Hector really has no purpose in the story. His sinister actions do add a certain dynamic to this part of the story as he slowly mutates into this whacked out super powered agent of Parallax. It creates conflict amongst a few ancillary characters, but his inclusion gives way to a bunch of unnecessary elements that get in the way of the main plot. There was no need for the covert organization Checkmate or Amanda Waller in this story. They exist here only as a conduit for Hammond to become accidentally infected by the yellow fear entity via an autopsy on Abin Sur. Waller herself is not presented well. Angela Bassett has all the skills to bring Waller to powerful life, but she’s not given enough meat to sink her teeth into. Pam Grier did a perfect job with Waller on Smallville, but Bassett could’ve given her an impeccable performance to rival. Still, what matters here is that the story of Hal Jordan becoming a hero and defeating Parallax requires neither the presence of Hector Hammond, Amanda Waller, or Checkmate. Hammond is there as a physical adversary for Hal to combat until Parallax actually arrives on Earth, but once that occurs, Hammond is disposed of promptly. While he does a serve a purpose in attracting Parallax to Earth, a creative screenwriter could’ve easily reworked plot elements to achieve that same result if Hammond were excised from the film. I feel it would’ve been wiser to save Hammond for a more focused story in a later sequel. Frankly, all of these extraneous elements only serve to chop up the story, creating more fundamental problems. There are too many subplots going on detracting from the potential streamlined flow of the main plot.
The unevenness of the movie is further attributed to the more lackadaisical pace of the Earth-based story. While there is impending doom tearing through the universe, Hal Jordan returns to Earth to talk with his jokey friend, deal with his girlfriend, and have some fun being a superhero. No dramatic pressure is put on Jordan until the final act when Parallax diverts to Earth because of its link to Hector Hammond calling him there. This should’ve happened much sooner in the film. If so, it would’ve put that needed pressure on Jordan to overcome his fears in face of an inevitable doom over a longer period of time, and thus, creating a correlating urgency with the rest of the film. As it is, the fear element in Hal’s character evolution is not well executed, and the ending feels weak and rushed.
I can’t help but compare Green Lantern to Batman Begins due to this similar theme of fear. Where Batman Begins explored the concept very thoroughly as both an internal conflict for Bruce Wayne to overcome, and then, an external element to be utilized and combated, Green Lantern just kind of talks about it over and over again. Nothing is really explored or exploited. You never see Hal actually be defeated by or struggle with fear. It is something talked about. He talks about being afraid, and others talk about him having the courage to overcome it. You don’t see the struggle he has to face to actually triumph over those things. It should have been a weakness that takes away his confidence while battling an enemy. It would force him to face a crushing defeat that would motivate Hal to rise back up as a confident hero by the end, but it hardly happens. There should be emotional conflict to punctuate this story element, considering it is fear. Batman Begins showed us, in many ways, how Bruce Wayne confronted fear, overcame it, and was able to turn it back around as a weapon against his foes. There is not enough adversity thrown at Hal Jordan either by his own internal struggles, or anything external to really build up dramatic suspense or tension in his ascension to superhero.
Breaking away from plot elements, I do want to credit the score by the always impressive James Newton Howard. It truly gives the film the big, epic scale it demanded with some strong and mysterious themes. Everything Howard seems to do is sure gold, and he truly reaches for the stars on this one. Like all great film composers, he is able to adapt himself to the needs of the picture pulling on all his diverse musical skills to create a unique experience. It is surely one constant throughout the film that did not falter.
Action sequences are nicely handled. Martin Campbell has done two James Bond films before along with other rousing action pictures, and so, he has the skills to put together coherent action sequences. Dion Beebe’s cinematography maintains an integrity throughout by not giving into clichés of the genre. His cameras hold to the grand scope of the story by giving us shots with depth and patience. This is a stark contrast to the work he did on the mostly handheld digital video-shot Michael Mann movies Collateral and Miami Vice. As with Howard, it seems Beebe is able to adapt his style to the needs of the picture.
Making my final story related notes, there is a lot of repetitive dialogue reiterating exposition as if we didn’t get it the first or second time. The script really could’ve been tighten up to make way for more poignant character or story elements to be fleshed out. Not to mention, tightening the script could’ve balanced out the urgency of the plot. The character stuff is very drawn out, and the plot elements are very short. The good things were really good, but too much of the film is too light and clunky for the good elements to win out. It was enjoyable, but it’s a little too forgettable. I don’t think it has anything to do with Ryan Reynolds. It’s all in the script and direction. Reynolds can pull off the kind of performance this film needed, but he either just wasn’t pushed into it or the script didn’t call for it. The movie needed more dramatic momentum to make itself work right. Director Martin Campbell has had many excellent and successful films to his credit including GoldenEye, Casino Royale, & The Mask of Zorro. Of course, he has the off-the-mark Mel Gibson revenge thriller Edge of Darkness more recently to his credit, but Green Lantern is even further from the mark. It really is a combination of an unrefined screenplay, loose editing of the various plotlines, and his direction that leave the movie feeling lopsided and ineffective.
Green Lantern had the makings of a really good movie, but it didn’t go deep enough with the characters to make Hal Jordan’s ascension and success epic enough. It had potential, but it was too uneven to succeed. There are other bits and pieces I could criticize, but they are pretty inconsequential when there are such larger problems to address.