Monday, 20 June 2011

Colour Blind: Green Lantern review


Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non- Functional.

Dir: Martin Campbell
Star: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Mark Strong, Peter Sarsgaard, Geoffrey Rush
Running Time: 105 mins 

Ragging on Green Lantern seems to be a popular sport at the moment, although I don't really see why. For sure, it's not very good, but its faults are almost to a tee exactly those which have afflicted more acclaimed superhero movies such as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Thor. Like them, Lantern is not particularly bad, just flat average in every way. I'd be interested to hear the justification for why people enjoyed those previous three movies but didn't get much out of this one.

Perhaps it's because Lantern doesn't have a stand-out strength to redeem its flaws. Iron Man was carried by Robert Downey Jr.'s charisma and Thor's Asgardian power struggle offered something a little different to the norm, whereas this movie's best qualities just simmer at 'good enough' without threatening to convince you that you're having a better time than first thought. As with Thor, the more fantastic environments are where the best stuff takes place, this time a planet called Oa, thanks to the greater demands on the imagination proving a vital distraction which the Earth-bound scenes noticeably lack. This makes the by-numbers writing all the more apparent, most irritatingly in having not one but two characters suffering from movie daddy issues, and yet another hotshot protagonist having to learn the value of taking responsibility. Even the main villain, a giant insterstellar cloud o' pure evil, seems to have been half-inched from elsewhere, in this case the equally drab Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
Ryan Reynolds takes a respectable enough stab at making Hal Jordan likeable in some way, or at least worthy of the audience's attention, but he's fighting against the script at every step. Everything is relayed and expected to be taken at face value, even when the contradictions start to pile up. Hal has daddy issues because he saw his father die in a plane crash, which made his want to follow in his footsteps and become a fighter pilot. That's fine - very thin, yes, but at least it makes sense - but what brought about his inability to take responsibility for anything? His father's death is used both as inspiration and hindrance in ways which never fit together.

It seems illogical that the event would be enough to spur Hal onto becoming the most talented pilot in his corps, while simultaneously meaning he's sloppy enough to ignore crucial deadlines and take risks which almost kill him because his memories paralyse him at the crucial moment. Does that happen every time he's in danger? If so, it's a tough sell that he'd be so good a pilot if he freezes at the first sign of danger, especially ones so easy to resolve as when the conflict is first introduced. (And hey, there's that 'fly high enough into space to disable the enemy' trick on loan from Iron Man). Reynolds defaults to his charming smartass persona, a role he plays well, but the script demands so many changes in tone and unexplained turns that he's unable to lay any foundations for who exactly the character is.

Even the mythology, which should have been where the writers were at their most careful, is confusing for newcomers to the material, like me. What's the relevance of the lantern, exactly? It seems to just be a mobile recharging station for the power ring, and perhaps an excuse for a snazzy superhero logo on the costume. Additionally, what's the point in the Green Lantern corps residing on Oa (which I assume they do, seeing as how there does not appear to be any native inhabitants, despite plentiful buildings) if each one is alone responsible for their segment of the universe? Surely if they fought evil as a unit, they would all band together to fight against the evil Parallax when it attacks Earth, just because it's their main enemy? If their goal is to defend peace, surely they'd protect the Earth regardless of their considering its inhabitants young and foolish? Why allow a single Lantern to go to his seemingly certain death? I could fill an entire review with these questions, which is a shame because the core ideas - coloured emotional energies, and so on - are exciting. Unfortunately, there are only so many gaps that arresting visuals can cover up.

The scenes on Earth don't enjoy the benefits of those fantastical visuals, laying bare the problematic writing. Even though the scenes on Oa aren't necessarily all that strong (Hal seems to gain all his Green Lantern skills within a single short training session, for one thing), there's at least a shared excitement with the character at being thrown into a colourful new environment where an army of funky alien soldiers take residence. The cast on Earth, meanwhile, consists of Peter Sarsgaard as your garden variety spiteful nerd scientist (apparently motivated by jealousy, but given under a minute of screentime to establish it) and Blake Lively's dead eyes. If ever you've wanted an example of why acting is more than just diction and facial expressions, Lively's Carol Ferris is it. She says most things in roughly the appropriate tone, but never feels part of the story or its universe. Like everyone else, she has next to nothing to work with, but that doesn't excuse her inability to put the slightest bit of substance into her performance.

Though I singled out Lively as the weakest of the main cast, her faults are really just symptomatic of the entire experience: it looks nice, but doesn't give off any signs of life. As happened with Thor, another movie which had to deal with presenting wildly fantastical scenarios within some sort of realistic context, the tone is inconsistent and moves between unconvincing, self-conscious comedy - although the scene where Carol immediately recognises Hal beneath his mask was fairly amusing - and po-faced seriousness, with the two cancelling each other out. How is the peril expected to feel authentic when the fantasy behind it has previously been treated as a bit of a joke? Is it really right to be expected to laugh at the elements which hold the story together?

The action is just about enjoyable, but not helped by the most utilitarian of soundtracks and CGI which works well enough in long shot, but looks like plasticine - plasticine lit from a different source to everything else in shot, in fact - when pulled in close. I appreciate the vivid colours, huge variety of alien species present during Jordan's first visit to Oa, and the spectacular final battle in space which is only possible courtesy of computer imagery, but using it to create things that could have easily been done with practical effects just feels intrusive. Hal's Green Lantern suit is the worst of these, because there's no reason the green energy effects couldn't have been added onto a practical outfit. As it is, the main character often looks like the worst effect in his own movie. Martin Campbell has made a career out of being a competent journeyman director with no identifying traits shared between his work, and while that anonymous directing style can be an advantage in providing a platform for a movie's strengths without getting in the way, there's nothing here to provide the flavour or identity so desperately needed.

Like so many of its superhero-related predecessors, Green Lantern is trapped between trying to be accessible for newbies but not frustrating long-time fans, resulting in everything feeling watered down and under-developed. It is yet another comic book adaptation written around the banal formula which has structured virtually every such movie not directed by Christopher Nolan or Bryan Singer, and the results are as uninspiring as has come to be expected. Yet where the likes of Iron Man could hide those conventional roots to an extent behind a few outstanding strengths, nothing in Green Lantern rises far enough above average to grant it similar grace. In a genre which deals with the brave and the extraordinary, this is yet another movie in the modern superhero canon which can only embody the opposite of those qualities. [ 5 ]


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