A Trying-to-be-Impartial (and Spoiler-Free) Critique of the Green Lantern Movie

NOTE: I’ve decided to write two reviews for the Green Lantern movie: one where I try to shed my fanboyishness, and another where I embrace it. I did this because I realized writing as a fanboy necessitates spoilers, and some folks might not appreciate that.

Green Lantern, like X-Men: First Class, was another superhero flick I wasn’t looking forward to. For starters, I was appalled by the selection of Ryan Reynolds to play the Hal Jordan/Green Lantern (he’s more Flash than Green Lantern), and that very first shot of him in costume didn’t help assuage my reservations. As the months went on, I grew less and less enthused about the flick; Oa lacked its grandeur, the film had two villains (never a good sign) in Hector Hammond and Parallax, and early shots of the CG looked too artificial – almost cartoonish. As a fan of the comics, I lost more and more faith in the film, with the numerous negative reviews surrounding its opening reducing my expectations for a good time to absolute zero.

Because of that, I surprisingly found myself not hating it.

The Review

Let me set this straight – I’m not happy with it as a Green Lantern movie. It is, however, a serviceable superhero flick. It helps introduce viewers to the most basic elements of the Green Lantern mythos: cocky test pilot is chosen by a dying alien to be a space cop armed with a ring that manifests willpower into any object the wielder can imagine; love affair with the boss’ daughter/future boss; fear as the ultimate foil to willpower; Sinestro’s a fucking badass. What makes the movie fall flat, however, is that the movie sticks to just these elements without any of the complexities that make Green Lantern such a rich product of the imagination. It’s as if the studio didn’t trust the intelligence of its viewers, choosing instead to pound the same things into the viewers’ heads over and over again.

There’s a basic philosophy in writing that demands good writers, “Show, don’t tell.” The movie doesn’t seem to grasp that fundamental principle. It starts off with a long narrative telling the audience what the Green Lantern Corps are, how they were formed, and how they operate. Rather than show the viewers the impressive spectacle of emerald warriors policing the vastness of the universe, we are treated with images of floating rings and planets, with a disembodied voice talking us things we can’t see. In the film’s climactic battle, Hal Jordan sees an opportunity to apply something he learned during training. Instead of allowing the audience to make the connection themselves, the film replays a sound bite of that lesson, as if we couldn’t recall scenes further back than just twenty minutes ago.

The lack of respect for the audience’s intelligence doesn’t stop there. Faced with a great threat, one of the core characters of the Green Lantern mythos suggests attacking the opponent with its own power; just as you would fight fire with fire, they should fight fear with fear. That’s all well and good, but there was nothing in the conversation that established fear was more powerful than willpower. The foe was strong, yes, but there was no logical argument for harnessing a fraction of its own power to defeat it.

As for the performances, they were a mixed batch. The gems of the cast were Mark Strong as Sinestro (he totally deserves his own movie) and Peter Saarsgard as Hector Hammond. Strong is clearly a stickler for faithfulness to the source material – even demanding that the art team scrap their proposed redesign of the character – and we see Sinestro make a direct leap from the comic pages to the big screen as a result. Saargard, on the other hand, was delightfully nebbish and manic at all the right times. Some critics say he channeled a little John Malkovich into his performance, and I have to agree.

WHAT WERE THEY THINKING???

The star of the movie, Ryan Reynolds, was better than I expected. At his most subdued, he managed to pull off the Hal Jordan I’ve grown to know and love all these years. In the scenes where he displays stronger emotions, however, the illusion falls apart. The woo-hoo’s and “I know, right?” instantly brought him back to his frat boy comfort zone, reminding me of just how perfect he would’ve been as the Flash.

Other characters, such as Blake Lively’s Carol Ferris and Angela Basset’s Amanda Waller were decently portrayed. I have a feeling the writing had more to do with their forgettable roles than their acting abilities, though. I mean, if you can make Tim Robbins play a character made entirely of cardboard, you’ve got a talent for producing mediocre scripts.

Visually, the ideas were there but the execution was lacking. Making the suits almost purely computer-generated was an extremely bad choice, as many times the Lanterns looked like floating heads superimposed on cartoon bodies. The more spectacular scenes set in Oa, the base planet of the Green Lantern Corps, only helped make the actors stand out. The constructs, however, were excellent – some things have their awesomeness multiplied a thousand times when they’re made of green energy.

James Newton Howard’s score did nothing to differentiate Green Lantern from any generic superhero movie. A total miss there.

Regardless of the numerous criticisms, though, I found myself not having a terrible time. It wasn’t the greatest experience, but it wasn’t something I regret seeing, either. It’s neither good nor bad, just meh. If you want to watch this movie, go right ahead – you won’t lose anything seeing it. Of course, you won’t lose anything not seeing it, either. I’ll give this movie a 2.5 out of 5, since middle-of-the-road seems to be the most apt description for it.

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