Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lowlights from the Lantern

I confess I'm not familiar with the whole Green Lantern comic mythology, but I strongly suspect the recently released film adaptation didn't do it justice, considering the richness of the source material. Overall, it felt like Green Lantern was given a very shallow treatment, from the opening "once upon a time" voice narration all the way down to the fast and flimsy way in which the villain was dispatched. More critically, as an origins movie, it failed in its primary purpose to give a clear picture of not only how a superhero came to be, but also WHY.

Sadly, even after an hour and 45 minutes of Ryan Reynolds making puppy dog eyes at Blake Lively and the camera, the movie doesn't satisfactorily explain why of all the people on Earth, Hal Jordan was chosen to become a Green Lantern (because Bruce Wayne was already busy being Batman?). Hal's characterization follows the formula of reckless rogue with a heart of gold, but his mandatory moment of redemption isn't clearly defined. What exactly prompts his transformation from irresponsible lout to noble hero?
There appears to be no trigger, no catalyst, even after he spends the first half of the film struggling with the psychological scars left by the death of his father, a hometown hero who perished in an accident. Not even his relationship with co-pilot and the boss' daughter Carol Ferris seems substantial enough to inspire the sudden change of heart. One minute Hal's telling the Green Lantern Corps he's not up to the task, the next he's already manned up and pleading the Guardians of the Universe to help him save his planet from the fear-feeding entity Parallax.

From start to finish, the whole plot feels disjointed, even choppy. There's a sweet but totally superfluous scene at Hal's nephew's birthday party. There's the obligatory too-short training sequence where Hal goes through GLC boot camp, supervised by Tomar-Re and Kilowog. There's the implied history-- and flimsy establishment of a love triangle-- among Hal, Carol and meek-turned-mad scientist Hector Hammond. There's Hammond's unshown abduction of Carol, and oh look, there's Hal just knowing to show up in the exact hangar where Hammond is keeping her hostage. There's Parallax wreaking the minimum required amount of havoc in downtown Coast City, before Hal quickly (too quickly) leads him away. Green Lantern is one of those movies that attempt to mask weak writing with flashy special effects, but just like a lame superhero disguise, it doesn't fool everyone.

Furthermore, the film suffers from the limited acting prowess of its two stars. Unlike Chris Hemsworth, whose blinding screen presence helped distract from some of Thor's flaws, Ryan Reynolds has the charisma but not the command to hold Green Lantern together. Strangely, I was more impressed by his turn as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine-- there his douchey comicality was tempered by the sinister nature of his character, and he worked the wiseass role well. As Hal Jordan though, Reynolds lacks the grit and emotional depth to make the character believable or sympathetic. He's the buddy you want to knock back a few beers with, not the badass hero you look up to. Is he amusing? Yes. Amazing? Not by a long shot.

As for Reynolds' leading lady, for someone named Blake Lively, she strikes me as oddly... sedate. No question, she makes for a gorgeous damsel in distress, but this graduate of the Jessica Biel school of acting is certainly not credible as a skilled fighter pilot, nor a savvy business executive. I get the need to cast eye candy for the predominantly male target audience, but someone with a little more spunk would have been better suited as Carol Ferris, and might have been able to draw out a stronger performance from Reynolds.

So much more the pity that the rest of the cast is so damn talented. The always brilliant Peter Sarsgaard is a standout as Hector Hammond; an unrecognizable Mark Strong is perfection as Sinestro, a leading member of the GLC; Tim Robbins' prodigious range is wasted in the role of Senator Hammond, Hector's father; and the distinct voices of Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan bring life to the CGI characters of Tomar-Re and Kilowog, respectively. That Geoffrey Rush's mellifluous diction conveys more drama than Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively put together says a lot about the deficiencies of the 2 leads.

Green Lantern fell short in many aspects, but I welcome the prospect of a sequel (stay for a bit midway through the ending credits for the promise of a second GL movie) if only because I would love to see more of the other GLC members in action, as well as their dynamic with Hal Jordan. And now that the origins are out of the way, I can only hope the writers of the next film would be able to come up with a more coherent and interesting screenplay. Because I think it's too late to wish the casting director had gone with Bradley Cooper instead.


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