Friday, March 23, 2012

Film Friday: Green Lantern (2011)

This may surprise you, but I did not hate this film. Don’t get me wrong, Green Lantern is an awful film: generic pointless plot, bad acting, bad effects. . . but somehow, I didn’t hate it. And in today’s Hollywood, that’s a pretty big victory.

** spoiler alert **

Based on the comic book series of the same name, Green Lantern is the origin story of the Green Lantern. . . shocker, right? In this version, Hal Jordan is an irresponsible slacker who just happens to be a supposedly great test pilot who can’t show up on time, can’t follow instructions, uses his wingman as bait, and crashes multi-billion dollar jets because he freezes up whenever he thinks of how his father died as a test pilot. Yeah, right. As Hal waits for the movie to start, a big purple alien crashes on the planet. . . we’ll call him Barney. Barney is a member of the Green Lantern Corps, a group of galactic do-gooders who possess rings which tap into the “willpower” energy generated by all living things. They use this power to conjure stuff to fight bad guys. Coincidentally, if you ever find yourself unable to summon the willpower to resist a donut or cookie, this is why. . . they’re stealing your willpower. . . like a neighbor running an extension cord to your house.

One thing leads to another and Hal is transported to the homeworld of the Green Lantern Corps, which is called CGIbluescreenica. There he meets Barney’s cousin Sinestro, some midgets, and the aliens from the Star Wars Cantina. Meanwhile, some blobby thing attacks the Earth because that’s what the plot calls for. Hilarity ensues.
Problems, Problems, Problems
Oh where to begin. The acting. I like Ryan Reynolds, though this was not a strong performance. He had no real screen presence and didn’t seem to know if he’s supposed to be the bad boy, the misunderstood hero, or Butthead. . . or is it Beavis? Blake Lively, uh, well, she was miscast because they asked her to speak.

The characters. Even beyond the bad acting, the characters just didn’t make sense. No one as irresponsible as slacker-boy Hal will ever be made a test pilot. It just isn’t done. He never would have made it through the military to become a pilot and no one would have hired him. And they certainly aren’t going to hand him an expensive plane. Lively’s character Sweetcheeks doesn’t make sense either because she’s a little too Buckaroo-Banzai-like: hot chick who provides Hal’s conscience, who just happens to be a top fighter pilot and an incredible businesswoman who somehow saves the company from Hal’s mistake, and is a villain magnet. This was too much to pack into one character and Lively certainly wasn’t up to the task of carrying it off. And most of the other Green Lanterns were CGI-thin and their training program was incompetent to say the least -- ten minutes of hazing followed by the head guy whining that your SATs aren’t high enough.

The effects. I was expecting cool effects, but it was not to be. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen in made- for Sci-Fi Channel films. And CGIbluescreenica (the Green Lantern Homeworld) frankly sucked. In fact, this was less impressive than things I’d seen in videogames five years ago.

The plot. That’s funny, they’re dusting plot where there ain’t no plot. Let’s just say they photocopied well from every other origin story.

The writing. There was dialog, but none of it stuck with me. To paraphrase a quote about Praxis, “while I can confirm the location of the dialog, I cannot confirm the existence of the dialog.”

So basically, what you have is a story that is entirely a regurgitated version of every other origin story: hero discovers his power as does villain, hero has to decide if he wants to be a hero, bad guy attacks Earth and kidnaps hero’s girlfriend, they fight and then set up a sequel. The acting was atrocious, the characters unbelievable, the effects dull, there was nothing memorable at all.

Yet. . . I didn’t hate it.

What makes this movie work is that it isn’t actually an effects film in the modern sense. Yes, every single scene relies on effects. His powers are all about effects. The villain is a giant effect. Even the Lantern’s very cool suit is an effect. But they are small effects and the scenes aren’t there to show off the effects. To the contrary, most of the scenes involve real people talking to each other or punching each other or chasing each other. Even the big fight scenes don’t involve lots of CGI things duking it out. To the contrary, all the fights are basically one on one and the “effects” largely involve people getting shoved into walls or dropped from heights. Punches are thrown. There’s very little wire-fighting. All of this gives the film a human touch which many of the modern Superhero films are missing. Even when he’s fighting in space, it feels human.

Mark Strong also does an excellent job of making Sinestro a real person. And I have to credit Reynolds with bringing a genuineness to his character Hal. While Reynolds seems confused about the nature of Hal’s character, this oddly works to his benefit by resulting in a rather believable portrayal because he’s not an archetype like most film superheroes -- he’s not obsessed like the Dark Knight or perfect like early Superman or a conflicted metrosexual like more recent Superman. He’s not angry, hopeless, torn, complicated or anything else. He’s just a guy. And that makes him rather unique and easy to relate to -- though I wish they had dropped the idea that he’s irresponsible, which doesn’t make sense and which wasn’t necessary for the story.

The director also does an excellent job of pacing the film. The scenes don’t drag. The story moves effortlessly between a variety of scenes. There is nothing in the story which feels gratuitous. And there aren’t forty-minute effects scenes or fight scenes meant to numb your brain so you can’t tell your friends how bad the film was. Don’t get me wrong, the director stunk, but he didn’t turn the film over to CGI-autopilot.

So what you have here is a story that is objectively awful, but by comparison to what is out there and what our expectations have become is actually rather decent. It’s hardly great cinema nor is it something you’ll remember after watching, but it’s a fun way to kill a couple hours. As I said, I did not hate this film.

55 comments:

ScottDS said...

References to Buckaroo Banzai and Star Trek VI in the same review? Have you always been this geeky or is my presence having some kind of effect on you? :-)

I just watched this movie a few days ago and I must concur: I didn't hate it either. Ryan Reynolds can usually get by on charm and good looks but they weren't enough for this movie. The raw materials were there; they just needed refining.

Not to divert attention away from your review but when the film was out in theaters, I sent this link to BH: 50 Reasons Why The Green Lantern Sucked, though I don't agree with all of them, it does raise a few interesting issues:

-The filmmakers erred by showing us the homeworld before Jordan sees it... usually whenever there's some big alien world, we get to experience it for the first time along with the character.

-The filmmakers also erred by not establishing the friendship between Jordan and Hector sooner.

-Jordan is speeding and trying to wrap a present, yet the birthday scene takes place much later in the day. Methinks some things were rearranged during editing.

-Speaking of the birthday scene, Jordan's family simply disappears and we never see them again.

I agree with all of these. Not to mention the boring music score: where's my Green Lantern theme? I didn't hear one.

I didn't think the FX were that bad. At this point, it's becoming harder and harder to surprise people.

One last thing: I wish people would stop picking on Brandon Routh/Superman! I thought he was one of the better things in that movie; he wasn't well-served by the script or his director.

DUQ said...

Andrew, My thoughts exactly! I didn't hate this film. I wouldn't say it was a good film and i wouldn't recommend it, but I didn't hate it.

DUQ said...

Scott, I thought the homeworld sucked. It was dark and dull and nondescript. It was also horribly two dimensional. Andrew's right, I've seen so many better worlds in videogames that this really seemed like a poor effort. Look at anything in the "Final Fantasy" series and you'll see stunningly cool worlds. This was like an asteroid with some huts on it.

T-Rav said...

I was never interested in seeing this movie. Green Lantern never held my attention as a kid, so it was kinda hard to get psyched up at all for it, especially after the previews made it look lame. Maybe it doesn't totally suck, but that doesn't make me want to shell out a few bucks to watch it.

So is it better or worse than either of the Fantastic Four movies? (Assuming you've seen either of those, which if you haven't, congratulations.)

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I wouldn't shell out money for this one either, but it was entertaining enough to watch for free.

I would say it's slightly better than the Fantastic Four movies, but about the same. The character feels more real and the story is more straightforward in the sense that they aren't trying to create fake tension by having the heroes in-fight.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I was thinking about the "Final Fantasy" worlds as well -- very well done, visually stunning and yet also believable worlds. "An asteroid with some huts on it" describes the Green Lantern homeworld quite well. I think it also didn't help that they never got anywhere near a real building or went inside anywhere. It made the whole world seem like a giant space campground.

I recommend this film to the extent that you're looking for a little time to kill, if you like superhero films generally, and you're up for something light.

This isn't near as good as most of the X-Men franchise, but it's better than the Superman reboots and most of the second tier guys.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Geek out! :)

I agree about Ryan Reynolds. He can usually get by just on looks and general personality, but it didn't work here. He was ok as serious-Hal, but his attempts to come across as charming felt shallow and unbelievable. Also, whenever he put the mask on, he reminded me too much of Will Ferrell.

Those are certainly valid criticisms, though I think the homeworld was a problem either way because it just wasn't well done. The effects were poor and it just wasn't "wonderful" like you would hope. Effects don't have to surprise, they just have to impress -- and this didn't impress.

Superman sucked. Sorry, but it's true. Superman should not be a metrosexual. Plot should go somewhere. We should care about characters -- I wanted these people to die. Watching that film was a chore. I literally kept feeling like fast forwarding through it because it was just so dull and pointless. There is nothing good I can say about that one.

ScottDS said...

Re: FX, you're right and instead of "surprise" I meant to say "impress." It's getting harder and harder to impress people because we've seen everything already.

And I'm not saying Superman was a good movie; in fact, every time I'd see it, I'd like it less and less! I'm just saying Brandon Routh did the best he could with what he was given.

T-Rav said...

Superman should also not be emo, as the new comic books/graphic novels/whatever are trying to make him. He's supposed to be in a cape and tights, not a hoodie. Why would anyone want to alter him to reflect my generation?

AndrewPrice said...

Oh barf, I didn't know they'd made him into an emo? I'm not surprised, but barf. Is nothing sacred? Not everything needs to end up the same conflicted garbage -- there is room for a genuine hero.

In fact, I think Lantern would have been better if they didn't try to make Jordan this quasi-slacker. It just didn't make sense as a character goes.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, The thing about impressive though, is when I look at a game franchise like "Final Fantasy," you see that they build 5-6 different city environments into each game and they are always impressive. A lot of it is actually recycled, but you can't tell unless you study it because the beauty and the depth of it overwhelm you and just make your jaw drop.

That's how a CGI alien world should be built. Or look at Chronicles of Riddick where they overwhelm you with a realistic world -- you see actually end up in streets that look distinctly alien, but are also very believable.

They never even tried that here. Here they just tossed some generic temples in the difference, implied a city in the background and then staged the rest on a moon-like surface. There was nothing to draw the eye in, there were no detail or color to overwhelm you. There was no reality to it. It felt like a blue screen world.

Re: Superman, I'm not sure I buy the "he didn't have much to work with." He could have re-worked the script, he could have demanded different takes on the material from the actors, and he could have done something much more creative in almost every scene. There is absolutely nothing in that film to tell me that he has the talent to make a good movie out of it.

tryanmax said...

I had about the same reaction to Green Lantern. Not great, but not nearly as bad as I had been led to expect. Unfortunately, I actually dropped a dollar at Redbox, but now I can write that off as the entry fee into this conversation.

I was actually somewhat impressed with the incorporation of the CGI effects (even if they weren’t that great), just because I have somewhat of an idea the challenges involved in using them so heavily. I mean, they were everywhere and yet they weren’t distracting. So kudos to the director for striking that balance. I suspect part of the reason the CGI environments were “degraded” was so that Reynold’s Lantern suit wouldn’t look out of place. I don’t think the technology behind the CGI bodysuit was quite there.

That said, the Hot Wheels track sequence was ri-DIC-ulous.

I need to react to Scott’s link, but before I do, I want to share a link of my own: LINK

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Your link doesn't work?

tryanmax said...

I accidentally put a space before the "www" Try it now.

AndrewPrice said...

"the entry fee into this conversation" -- LOL! Hmm. Perhaps we should start charging people to visit the site! ;)

I agree about the CGI effects. I thought the homeworld was crappola, but the rest of the effects were quite good because you barely noticed them because even though they were everywhere, they never stole the focus from the humans. I think that's something filmmakers need to learn -- CGI should help the story, not become the story.

I really liked the fact they avoided the temptation to end up with a huge battle between thousands of CGI creatures. And I liked the fact that so many of the CGI effects were understated. For example, they would blow a hole in the wall and it would be quick and clean -- there wouldn't be five minutes of flames. They would knock people around the room and again there wouldn't be five minutes of flight time. Nothing was done in painful slow motion. Etc.

That said, the racetrack was stupid. But at least his friend chastised him for it.

AndrewPrice said...

Ah. Now in fairness, the film actually doesn't say they are dead. It just doesn't do the usual thing of showing them all being ok.... "dude, what happened?" I suspect they are alive though. In terms of killing people, I actually suspect he was more like to have killed people with the helicopter crash, but there are no bodies.

Individualist said...

I guess they could have made it more beleivable if they had him be a dedicated responsible military guy trying to follow in Daddy's footsteps who becomes an irresponsible drunkard womanizer after his family is killed or some such nonsense.

Then when he gets his powers he finds out the death of his family was the villians doing. Then you have the hero/villian hatred thing going without the need for a hot chick....

Wait... this is a film for 17 year boys .... have to have a hot chick... what was I thinking

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, The thing is, the whole irresponsible angle isn't needed for the story and doesn't make sense. How about just making him a hot shot who has to learn a little humility or a guy who just isn't living up to his potential. Either one would have served the character better. Instead, they created a faux-slacker: a guy who supposedly had slacker traits, but doesn't look or act like a slacker, who has a job no slacker could have, and who everyone someone respects despite they fact they all tell you how there's no way they should respect him.

I guess that's the answer though, they were trying to market the film to slackers.

T-Rav said...

By the way, does the logic of this movie mean that if the world has no willpower--that is, if we, like Europe, turn into a bunch of self-centered and oblivious welfare recipients--then the Green Lantern people have no powers? Also, what kind of energy conversion technology are they using for this? Isn't this kind of an unfair draining of people's energy?

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I think the idea is similar to "the Force." It's just a mystic energy source. In this case, they mention two energy sources. The power of will, which is green, and the power of fear, which is yellow. Somehow, they tap into the power of will using the rings, which let them turn energy into matter and temporarily create anything they can imagine. For example, a large green fist or a green jet or a green race car. (They never say that this hurts people's willpower, that was my logical conclusion.) :)

The bad guy uses the yellow power of fear.

But to answer your question, I would say yes -- if the world goes all Europy, then yellow shall prevail and the Green Lanterns will need to find a new line of work.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

One last Superman comment. In your last reply to me, when you say "He" in the last paragraph, are you referring to Brandon Routh or director Bryan Singer? Singer had all the power and exercised it poorly. Routh was a young actor who had been given the break of a lifetime and I doubt he had the clout to change much of anything.

And considering there's at least a decade's worth of failed attempts at making a Superman movie, it's a miracle they managed to make something at all! :-)

Seriously, what is it with this franchise that makes it so hard to pull off?

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Sorry, I was unclear. I meant Singer. Singer had a huge, huge hit with the uber-creative and daring The Usual Suspects, but (IMO) never really showed that level of creativity again. Apt Pupil was an exercise in failed potential. His work on X-Men and X2 was competent, but hardly inspired. And his work on Superman Returns was incredibly paint by numbers. And I think he made a lot of very bad decision at every turn in that one.

I have no real opinion of Routh himself. He looked the part, but beyond that he was forgettable.

As for why Superman is difficult to make, its because Hollywood doesn't like the character. He's the perfect hero, which makes him hard to write for because stories are about overcoming failure and adversity. That's hard to fit into Superman's world. I think the best thing to do with him is to make the movie from the perspective of another character -- like Lois Lane and treat Superman as the white knight who comes to the rescue, rather than doing a story about him personally.

tryanmax said...

Scott, what timing! I can react to your link and your last comment at the same time!

To answer the comment first, the writer of the article almost lost me on the first point because he seems succumb to idealizations of Superman ’78. He calls the opening “succinct.” I just re-watched Superman last weekend and the opening is anything but “succinct.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great movie. But much like Reagan’s legacy has grown larger than the man, so has Superman’s.

I think Superman as a film franchise is hard to get off the ground because of the insanely high expectations people have. Despite the twists and turns that his comic has taken, in the popular mind, Superman is supposed to be the "perfect" superhero. That's a huge problem because, from a storyteller's POV, that makes him the worst superhero ever. (I've got Stan Lee to back me on that assertion.) Heck, Jerry Siegel himself realized he had goofed and conjured up "K-Metal" as a fix.

On the article,

I think its best point is about the audience seeing Oa before Hal, and it’s emblematic of what is wrong with much of the film. We don’t experience the movie with Hal, so we remain conscious of the fact that we are watching a movie. Even for all of cinema’s inherent ability to “take us there,” without that connection between character and audience we are just looking through a window.

He also makes a really good point by hammering on the film’s own insecurity. “A movie that is all about overcoming fear is afraid to take itself seriously.” Wow! That might be the harshest critique possible. Instead of making a 50 point list, maybe he should have just written about that.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, to build on your suggestion of making Superman a supporting character, one thing that I would like to see (and I'm sure many, many fanboys) is a Superman/Batman movie. The contrast between the two heroes should drive a compelling conflict. Unfortunately, I don't see Hollywood greenlighting such a project without successful independent franchises of each already going.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I just said the same thing about Superman! I think it really is a problem to have a perfect hero. And the best way to handle that is to focus on someone else. OR, rather than invent fake weaknesses, put him in unwinnable situations.

That was the real genius of the 1978 version -- he's faced with a no-win scenario. Also, the real stars of that film were Lois Lane who gives us the love story and Gene Hackman who makes Lex Luther just incredibly fun to watch.

On the article, I actually think not taking itself seriously was a good thing because it gave the film a lightness which you don't often find in superhero films, and that made the film more enjoyable... not as dour as the others.

AndrewPrice said...

trynamax, I think Hollywood won't green light a film like that because it's too deep into fanboy land. The general public can accept a Superman or a Batman, but not together. Although, we'll see how the Avengers works.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, I agree on the lightness, but I think the article makes a fair point that, taken with the other "safe" choices that the film make, it adds to an overall sense of insecurity.

One other reason why we'll likely never see a Superman/Batman movie is that, even if it isn't too fanboyish, most folks know that Superman works Metropolis while Gotham is Batman's beat. Getting them into the same space without doing something corny would be a feat in the opening minutes of a film.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I think the other problem is that the Batman character undermines the Superman character. Superman is presented as a positive character who roams the world stopping even petty crimes. By and large, he is successful and everyone is happy until some super villain comes along. Batman puts the lie to that world. In Batman's world, the petty criminals have overrun the world.

Also, they are incompatible. Superman plays by the rules and defends law and order. Batman fights chaos with chaos. Superman would essentially see Batman as a villain. So the two of them working together doesn't work.

P.S. I agree about too many safe choices.

Doc Whoa said...

Fun review. I like this one enough, though I forgot about it almost the moment the credits began running.

Doc Whoa said...

How come nobody cares about Aquaman? ;)

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Doc! It is a forgettable film, that's for sure. But it was entertaining, which is probably the best you can do from a summer blockbuster these days.

No... no one cares about Aquaman. :(

Tennessee Jed said...

I think I'm going to just have to settle for reading your review on this one and skip the film ;)

Tennessee Jed said...

wait, damn it. I care about Aquaman! How can you NOT care about Aquaman. Green, orange, and yellow

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, You won't miss anything if you skip it. It's an entertaining distraction, but little more. Really the only thing that's stuck with me is his suit -- which is really cool. It's like Tron on steriods.

So there are people who care about Aquaman! Who knew? LOL!

Doc Whoa said...

Jed, No offense to Mr. Aquaman, but he's not really a useful crime fighter unless you're comitting a crime on a body of water.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, He is a bit of a specialist. LOL!

Plus, isn't his supervillain the Gorton's Fisherman? ;)

Tennessee Jed said...

just Whoa a minute there, Doc! (l.o.l.) What, there are never any crimes commited on the high seas?? Aquaman would have made a great S.E.A.L. :)

Doc Whoa said...

Jed, Good point, LOL!

Doc Whoa said...

"Whoa a minute there, Doc" -- I just got that. LOL! :D

Ed said...

This was ok, nothing special. Fun review though! I hear they're making a sequel now.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I read that, that they're ok'd a sequel despite the poor return on this one. Believe it or not.... I have some hope for the sequel. From what I've seen, once these superhero movies get away from the origin story, they typically get better. I would expect the same here.

Ed said...

Have you heard what the sequel is about?

AndrewPrice said...

Nope. But I'm pretty sure it will be about Sinestro. Sinestro will probably kidnap Blake Lively because of her villain-magnet properties. Beyond that, who knows? Now that we're out of the origin story, we're in rarely-ventured turf.

DUQ said...

I heard about the sequel too, but heard no detail. I would bet there are no details yet. It will be interesting to see if you're right Andrew, if the sequel will be better. In some ways it almost has to be because they'll be pass the "info dump" mode of the original. But then sequels are notorious for being worse.

T-Rav said...

"From what I've seen, once these superhero movies get away from the origin story, they typically get better."

And then they make a third one, which completely sucks.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Ah yep. That seems to be true too. And now they are breaking out into prequels. The jury is still out on those.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I would actually bet this sequel will be better. The villain is cooler -- and the actor playing him has already impressed in this film. Plus, I'll bet they focus more on the story than on the ancillary stuff.

But you never can tell. Conan II was nowhere near as good as Conan. But Superman II rocked and so did Empire Strikes Back. I like X-Men II better as well... though 3 stunk.

ScottDS said...

Andrew and tryanmax -

Re: Batman and Superman, WB was all set to make Batman vs. Superman some time in the early 2000s, with Wolfgang Petersen directing based on a script by Akiva Goldsman. They had trouble with casting and Petersen eventually left the project so WB decided to make two separate films and the results speak for themselves.

You can see a fake Batman vs. Superman billboard in I Am Legend.

As for a Green Lantern sequel, I didn't think this film made enough money to justify a sequel but I think the studio's thinking about it.

T-Rav said...

By the way, since I didn't bring her up beforehand, I have never been able to like Blake Lively. She looks good, and is rumored to have acting chops by some people, but because of her being the lead on that show "Gossip Girl," she's always kinda come off to me as a slut. Oh crap, that's a bad word now, right? Blake Lively has always kinda come off to me as an empowered and sexually confident young woman.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, It sounds like that role is a Fluke! ;)

I actually see zero acting ability. She reminds me of the female Zoolander -- she has one pouty look which she uses for all scenes. She has no ability to project her mindset through her voice. And she's too "valley-girl" looking to be taken seriously.

She's cute and all, but she's not an actress. And I guess she might be ok as some sort of vapid teen, but that's about the extent of what I'd trust her with.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I'd read that they had already green lighted the sequel (no pun intended) even as people were calling this film a bomb. I have no more information than that at the moment, but it sounded like they were serious. I thought I'd even heard they were in production, but I could be remembering that wrong.

As for Batman v. Superman, I would put my money on Superman. Batman just can't compete against a man who is basically all powerful unless you just happen to be holding kryptonite.

Individualist said...

Andrew

So you are saying that the target market for this movie is slackers who like hot chicks I can see that......

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, That would be my guess. I suspect they decided the superhero market is for nerd-slacker types and they wanted them to be able to relate to Jordan. They probably feared that if he were more perfect, then they would dislike him.

Doc Whoa said...

Andrew, I think that is exactly the market Hollywood thinks sees comic book films. So it wouldn't surprise me if they started trying to reshape all their characters to relate to that. Hence, Superman in a hoodie.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, I think that's true.

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