Tuesday, August 2, 2011

TBG Sees: Green Lantern

Off to see Green Lantern. The comic book geek in me is REALLY rooting for this to be good. Every critic in the country can be wrong, right? -- from my Twitter feed, July 8

I'll admit it...I'm biased.

I grew up reading DC Comics and watching the Saturday morning and syndicated cartoons featuring their superhero characters. As far back as I can remember, Batman was always my favorite with Green Lantern firmly established as the silver medalist. Superficially, it was easy to understand Green Lantern's appeal to us comic book kids. He could fly (fantasy!), he could create anything with his ubiquitous power ring (imagination!) and...well, we didn't need much else in the early 1980s.

Of course, I'm oversimplifying the guy. The Green Lantern character was part of a seminal
sociopolitical story arc in the 1970s and written in ways throughout the 1980s/1990s that mined many more mature plots. The character's inherent problem, however, is that ALL comic book superheroes are oversimplified to some degree. Superman? He's the guy with all those powers. Flash? He runs really fast. Spider-Man? Spider, man. Green Lantern? He's got...a ring.

In the build-up to the theatrical release of Green Lantern, non-fans who'd never heard of this admittedly second-tier superhero derided the character's obvious absurdities such as the ring thing and the "Green Lantern" appellation. Oh, and
the oath. My favorite diss came from my friend Joe Reid who wrote at his Low Resolution blog:

"... the more I see about the mythology and the aliens and Ryan Reynolds intensely reciting that 'neither rain nor sleet nor glowing-green snow' credo -- I guess I'm really drawn to un-gritty comic book movies this summer."

The film was released on June 17 and despite pulling in more than $150 million in worldwide box office receipts, the critical consensus was "meh". And, that's probably being kind.

But, as I said, I'm biased. I liked it.

Many of the reviews I read appeared to have an
ax to grind with Ryan Reynolds -- for his past sins on Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place, I presume. But, as the title character, he does what he can with a haphazard script and some especially creaky dialogue. In the opening aerial sequence, his Hal Jordan test pilot alter-ego plays as a campy mishmash of ham and bravado. He "freezes up" while flashing back to memories of his late father. It actually reminded me of Charlie Sheen as Lt. Topper Harley in the 1991 Top Gun spoof, Hot Shots.

Reynolds spends the first and second act going through the standard superhero movie motions (discovers power, doesn't know what to do with it, makes public debut by saving something/someone), but he brings it together for the film's choppy -- but, effective -- final act. Let's be honest: he's riding shotgun with a mystical piece of jewelry. Some of the film's most crowd-pleasing moments involved a giant green toy racecar track and a bad-ass green machine gun.

The film's lack of structure keeps any chemistry from developing between Reynolds and Blake Lively, who plays Carol Ferris -- Hal Jordan's love interest. She's even less convincing in the cockpit than Reynolds during the first scene, but the character is written in way that seemingly keeps her one step ahead of the superhero at all times. (She figures out Green Lantern's secret identity in short order with a clever little line about cheekbones.) Reynolds and Lively just never click, not even during the obligatory damsel-in-distress moments.

So, what did I like? Well, there's Peter Sarsgaard as the psionic villain Hector Hammond. Before Hammond's eventual corruption, Sarsgaard plays him with a gentle hand. The restrained enthusiasm he exhibits during his autopsy of an alien corpse is a hoot and Sarsgaard pairs it with a simmering bitterness just under the surface. The full-on transition to big-brained bad guy doesn't work nearly as well. (Similarly, the build up for the primary antagonist, Parallax, is much better than the payoff.) Mark Strong plays Jordan's distrusting mentor Sinestro with a warrior's nobility and, though it was woefully underdeveloped, the fanboy in me squealed with glee at the conceptualized mythology of the Green Lantern Corps.

The film never ascends anywhere close to greatness, but Green Lantern was actually a lot of fun. It moves in fits and starts, hastily blowing through developments that seem kinda-sorta important (near as I can tell, Jordan is formally trained by the Green Lantern Corps for two or three minutes) on its way to pay lip service on more serious matters (wait, the good guys are willing to sacrifice planet Earth to save themselves?) Reynolds makes for a likeable hero with just enough self-awareness to make the whole thing seem comic-book believable.

Now, the comic book geek in me is REALLY rooting for a sequel.


SHough610 said...

1) Supposedly they're making a sequel.
2) Were there a decent amount of Black super heroes in the '80's? When did Cyborg, Jason Rusch, and John Stewart come around? I know Steel was the early-90's.
3) I can't believe no one mentioned being weakened by yellow as the lamest thing about Green Lantern.

Aaron C. said...

Without the anchoring of the backstory to the first act, I think a sequel could be pretty good. There are flaws that need fixing, but I'm optimistic.

Black superheroes in the 80s in the DC Universe was pretty limited. Cyborg was arguably the biggest (debuting in 1980 in New Teen Titans) then getting a tie-in with the "Super Powers" line of toys and TV shows. Not much else back then. John Stewart got a brief solo run and there was Black Lightning and...I guess, Vixen in JLA Detroit.

As a kid, I loved the "yellow" weakness thing. But, yeah...

The English Major said...

As a diehard X-men fanatic, it pains me to admit it, but I liked Green Lantern just about as much as First Class.

And the Superman-hating root-for-the-underdog in me hates admitting even more that Captain America was up there, too.

My favorite part of Green Lantern, though, was the appearance, however brief, of Amanda Waller, which gives me hope that the Suicide Squad movie is more than just a rumor.

Jag said...

My Green Lantern is John Stewart. The JLA cartoon solidified it for me.

thai said...

just can't watch ryan reynolds.

has the comic book geek in you visited amazing comics of late? huh, traitor?

Tom said...

Was his training more or less ridiculous than the day or so Luke spent with Yoda? That's really the measuring stick of absurd training time.