Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summer Movie Round-Up: Green Lantern

Okay, I'm a comic book fangirl and more significantly I'm a Hal Jordan Green Lantern fangirl.

It' probably best for the uniformed to understand that there have been a number of Green Lanterns from Earth -- John Stewart (who featured in the Justice League animated series as well as the follow up series Justice League Unlimited, Guy Gardner, and Kyle Rayner. But for me, Hal's my favorite.

The other thing you should probably know is that Hal was created in the 1960's and at the time he was introduced he was pretty much like a lot of DC heroes of that era -- square-jawed, stand-up, establishment authority figure. Over the years Hal's backstory has been tweaked to give him a few more flaws -- recklessness, irresponsibility, and a wandering eye when it came to the ladies.... Alright, so he's a himbo.

Anyway, it's the more modern Hal we meet in this movie.

As far as sticking to the comic book origins... well, as I've said, he's had tweaks to his over the years and this story pulls a bit from several of them but it isn't a page-to-screen direct translation... but then again, I can't remember the last comic book movie I watched that was.

The plot is pretty simple: Hal Jordan is a reckless test pilot who, as a child, watched his own test pilot father die in a plane crash. In the wider universe a war against evil is being waged with the alien Green Lantern Corps acting as a police force for the universe. A dark and terrible force was once imprisoned but has now escaped and it targets the Green Lantern Corps member that imprisoned it -- Abin Sur. Wounded and dying, Abin crash lands on Earth and orders his ring to find a successor for him. The ring chooses Hal Jordan.

Now Hal is thrust into a world he never dreamed of and one he feels ill prepared for. There is no time for him to find his way slowly -- he must either rise to the task of being a hero or else die along with all the Earth.

So what did I think?

Well, the film has some flaws. A lot of the humor is rather sophomoric and really not that funny. Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond chews more scenery than an army of termites and his villain set-up is poor and lacking. And speaking of villains -- the movie suffers from having one too many and not developing either quite well enough.

The CGI costumes all the Lanterns wear took some heat from fans and non-fans alike but overall they didn't bother me for the most part. The only place where they really didn't work was the necklines (really noticeable in close-up shots) and with the masks.

The story also follows the pretty standard "hero's journey" trope -- so no surprises there -- but I found Ryan Reynolds' Hal Jordan to be rather charming and genuine in the scenes where Hal lets his guard down. Which is another thing the film does well -- show how much of what we see of Hal is bravado and bluster hiding a vulnerable core.

Most of all, though, what I walked away from this film with was a 'cosmic' feeling. It really hadn't occurred to me how many superhero movies lately have followed this trend of being "grounded". It's like filmmakers feel as if the movies won't be taken seriously enough unless they keep at least one foot firmly planted in the dirt. It's also why I've been skeptical of talk of an Avengers movie or a Justice League movie. If you're bringing together a team of heavy hitters then they can't just be battling some villainous corporate raider or some big city mob boss. The heavy hitters need Earth shaking, nay universe shaking threats. The heavy hitters need something that is worthy of a team of some of the most powerful beings. Green Lantern finally delivered at least a little peek at that kind of scope. I also enjoyed that the filmmakers fully embraced the idea of the Corps instead of shying away from it. One of the franchise's strongest elements has always been this idea of other beings from other planets who do this job as well.

Here in the film we meet Sinestro, Kilowog,and Tomar-Re, and in the background of scenes are others Lanterns recognizable to comic book fans like Stel and Bodikka. Back in the day the comics would occasionally swerve off and do an entire story about one of these alien Lanterns. Eventually there was entire spin-off book that focused on nothing BUT these alien Lanterns. We got Mogo -- who is a living planet (Yeah, seriously, a living planet... and it's coool!), Rot-Lop-Fan -- an alien from a planet that exists in perpetual darkness and so his people are all born without eyes. He is completely blind and has no concept of the color green therefore. They get around this creatively by translating the color into a musical tone -- F# -- and so Rot-Lop-Fan considers himself not a Green Lantern but rather a bearer of "the F# Bell". Trust me, it's not as weird as it sounds... Okay, it IS as weird as it sounds but it's weird in a GOOD way.

So, yeah, I really enjoyed the fact that the filmmakers went full-bore and didn't just divorce Hal from the Corps for this first film.

Final summation -- the film has problems, it could use a tighter focus, but it was a lot of fun and it brought back some of the epic scope I've found missing in superhero films lately. And I think that, given a chance for a sequel, the filmmakers could build and improve upon this and tell and even bigger and better story. In the meantime -- go see this, don't bother springing for the 3-D, get a bucket of popcorn and turn your brain off for two hours. There are worse things you could do... And judging from the trailers there are worse films coming...

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