Movie Review: “Green Lantern”

22 Jun

I really wanted to like this movie. It has all the elements of a great-sounding superhero adventure…a reluctant hero forced to accept towering responsibilities, a complex underlying mythology, and intergalactic metaphysical monsters bent on destruction. But unfortunately, something went wrong with the execution – and next to “Thor” and “X-Men: First Class,” “Green Lantern” ends up looking like a bad TV pilot.

The film opens with a prologue explaining the backstory: the universe is protected by an organization of space-policemen known as the Green Lanterns, who draw their energy from the willpower of sentient beings. Their power rings allow them to create virtually any object they can imagine, which they then use to enforce the will of the Guardians (ancient aliens allegedly responsible for creating the cosmos). Unfortunately, one of the Guardians went rogue and attempted to draw upon the power of fear, which turned him into the soul-sucking monster Parallax. Now, released from an ancient prison, Parallax seeks vengeance upon the Guardians and Lanterns who banished him. (It’s probably worth noting here that the color green represents willpower, and yellow represents fear…no real explanation for this is given, but it’s an important plot point.)

Cut to Earth. Test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a risk-taking daredevil (a la Tom Cruise in “Top Gun”) working for a defense contractor. After a particularly rash misadventure, he finds himself out of a job. Shortly thereafter, he discovers the body of a dying Green Lantern (the victim of an encounter with Parallax), who entrusts him with the ring of power.

The rest of the film plays out almost exactly how one might expect. Hal travels to Oa, planet of the Green Lanterns, for training…but quits after his first attempts are met with failure. Back on Earth, he tries to abandon his Green Lantern identity, but must ultimately assume responsibility when Parallax attacks Earth. In a year of superhero movies driven more by plot than by effects, “Green Lantern” is a sad regression.

But there’s a lot more to “Green Lantern” than its predictable plot.

The biggest problem with “Green Lantern” is the jarring disconnect between its two worlds. I found myself thinking that “Green Lantern” really should have been two completely separate movies: a story about alien warriors battling an ancient fear-monster, and a story about a reckless daredevil who learns about maturity. When “Green Lantern” doesn’t try to connect the two concepts, it’s not bad at all – some of the early scenes on Earth are genuinely well-done. And to be fair, it’s a good-looking science fiction movie. But when the two worlds collide, the movie takes on an unbelievably hokey feel.

Perhaps a contrasting example is in order. The great strength of “Spider-Man” is that Peter Parker lives in a realistic world and deals with realistic issues (not being able to pay the rent, problems with girls, etc.). Postulating an elaborate alien civilization distracts from the human element, rendering the film choppy and convoluted. At the very least, the film is far too short to adequately develop its storyline: a 3-hour movie would’ve been more appropriate, if most of that extra time was allocated to character growth.

Given the whole fear-versus-will conflict, there are certainly a lot of interesting worldview elements here. Most notably, the film takes a sharply existentialist turn as Parallax approaches Earth: when the Guardians (“gods”) refuse to help Hal save his planet, he promptly chooses to go it alone. In the end, it’s human willpower (literally) that trumps divine planning. At no point are the Guardians portrayed as sympathetic or even involved with their creations…and Hal’s act of defiance is the catalyst of ultimate victory.

Unfortunately, much of the metaphysical complexity in “Green Lantern” is quickly jettisoned. Parallax isn’t so much an embodiment of fear as he is a giant smoky octopus-monster…which makes Hal’s battle much simpler. The simple message “be brave and have willpower!” is substituted in place of real character depth. And for that matter, Parallax is criminally underused: a villain of this size and scope should be reserved for a trilogy-ending final battle, not an inaugural outing.

Now, to be fair, there are some really interesting directions the filmmakers could take this franchise. If green is the color of will and yellow is the color of fear, how about introducing some Red Lanterns that draw their power from anger? Blue Lanterns that draw power from hope? There’s clearly a lot of potential in the “Green Lantern” universe…it’s a shame that this had to be audiences’ first impression.

Objectionable content isn’t any more pronounced than, say, “Spider-Man.” There are a few innuendoes, a few swearwords, and a fair amount of stylized comic-book violence, but nothing that pushes the PG-13 rating. It’s not as squeaky-clean as “Thor,” but it doesn’t have the content issues of “X-Men: First Class.”

Should you see it? Probably not. There are far better films in theaters right now, and unless you absolutely can’t get enough superhero action, “Green Lantern” is one to skip. Save your money and see “Super 8” instead.

VERDICT: 5.5/10
A woefully underdeveloped comic-book adaptation.

Normalized Score: 1.0

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Posted by on June 22, 2011 in Sci-Fi


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