Green Lantern: Where This Film With Super Potential Went Wrong

I think people are just disappointed– or just sick of superhero films. The massive outcry against Green Lantern isn’t really justified. It’s not nearly as bad as Batman and Robin or Catwoman, or even other recent misfires like Daredevil or Fantastic Four. I didn’t even leave the theater angry, like I did after Superman Returns. There are a number of things Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern does right, primarily in the casting department. However, this is perhaps the most obvious case to date of studio interference and/or creating a film by committee. Character development from a well-received first draft script is gone, transitions make no sense, and most sensible human behavior is replaced with “movie character behavior.” It’s nowhere near as bad as people are saying– in general, it served as an okay summer diversion. The high budget and potential being wasted are why people are trashing it.

Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a cocky fighter pilot. He feels invincible, until he thinks about his dead father Martin, who died in a plane accident, and then fear seizes his body. He flies with his longtime friend/one-time flame Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), whose father (Jay O. Sanders) is trying to get a military contract with Senator Hammond (Tim Robbins). That’s just on Earth– space is far more complicated. The Green Lantern Corps is a group of intergalactic guardians, powered by the green energy on the planet Oa. Green is the color of will, and they use this energy through power rings to create whatever they can imagine to defeat evil. They charge their rings in a lantern, because even though they can master wormhole travel, traveling faster than the speed of light, and the manifestation of anything one can comprehend, it still runs out of juice. A force of evil called Parallax (Clancy Brown) had been imprisoned by Abin Sur (Temuera Williams), but it escapes with the intentions of destroying the Corps.

It injures Abin Sur, who comes to Earth and tells his ring to choose the next Green Lantern. It chooses Hal, who is transported to Oa, where he trains with current Green Lanterns Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush), Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan), and surrogate leader of the Corps, Sinestro (Mark Strong). Back on Earth, Senator Hammond’s son Hector (Peter Saarsgard), a scientist and childhood friend of Hal and Carol’s, is brought in by Dr. Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett) to do a biopsy on Abin Sur’s body. Hector is infected by Parallax, gains the ability of telekinesis and mind-reading, and begins taking out his own brand of daddy issues on everyone around him. Parallax discovers Abin Sur’s ring is on a human on Earth, so instead of taking out Oa, taking out Earth first will make him powerful enough to destroy the universe… or something. One problem: a Green Lantern must have no fear in order to defeat this evil which feeds on fear, and Hal has his dad issues to work out before he can save the galaxy.

Complicated? You bet it is. However, it’s made ten times more complicated by the downright bizarre editing. We feel great gaps in character development and story structure. We get no sense of the relationship between the Ferrises and the Jordans, nor the relationships between Hal and his father, Hector and his father, or Hal, Hector, and Carol. There’s no connection. We get a really cringe-worthy, borderline-funny flashback to Martin Jordan’s death– nothing indicates why this sends Hal into trances, or what the issue with his family before and after was. Instead, it’s just another one-note dead movie dad. Hal also has a scene with his nephew that has a lot of build-up… and then the nephew is never seen or heard from again after the film’s first ten minutes. Hector has zero reason to hate his dad on screen; maybe it’s because he’s away on Capitol Hill a lot? Hector’s dad pulls the strings to get him an important job, and Hector basically spits in his face about it. Even stranger is the revelation that Hal, Carol, and Hector all went to school together, which takes place approximately five seconds before it’s important for us to realize– it’s the film equivalent of when someone is telling a story, and right as he gets to the climax, he says, “Oh, by the way, for this to make sense, you should know…” 15 minutes of character development would’ve done this film a world of good.

Except that assumes the film is well-written, which it’s hard to tell if it is or not. Example: after Hal Jordan is exposed to Oa and trained by the Corps for five minutes, he then immediately is seen back on Earth in his apartment. He tosses his keys onto the table and sighs. The movie then cuts to the next scene. Now, is this an example of writers ignoring the fact that learning you’re now part of an intergalactic peace-keeping coalition you never signed up for is a big deal… or is this an example of editors wanting to show Hal getting back to Earth before moving to the next thing, cutting any traces of human behavior in the interest of time? Unless I could obtain a shooting script from the actual filming of the movie, I can’t say. But you’re telling me screenwriters are uninterested in seeing how a human reacts to this news? You’re telling me screenwriters are uninterested in seeing a training sequence on Oa of more than five minutes? You’re telling me screenwriters are more interested in jam-packing exposition where it doesn’t belong than revealing characters that we care about over time?

The other big problem obviously is the inconsistency of the special effects. I heard that the movie wasn’t finished until a couple weeks ago, which leads me to a theory that might explain why some of the effects look sharp and fun and other effects look like the ending of The Mummy Returns (still the standard for the worst special effect in a big-budget film of all time). Several shots are framed as if they shot an empty room, just in case, they needed something to be added in there with effects later. There are a few effects sequences in which actors are obviously replaced by CGI facsimiles in the next shot, only to go back to live actors conspicuously in the shot after that. Odds are they were jiggering around with the story in the editing room until a late date, switching around the order of things and re-arranging sequences, so they needed some last-minute or haphazardly-done shots added. Here’s the one that stood out for me personally– choose your own at will. There’s a shot of the spaceship in the bay; it’s obviously a real practical spaceship that the crew built for an actor to sit inside. Abin Sur is an actor in makeup; again, he is real. There’s a shot in which Ryan Reynolds has been transported by a giant green bubble (another terrible effect) to the spaceship. He looks over, and in the spaceship, an alien arm faker than anything in Grand Theft Auto goes limp. Reynolds runs over and sees the alien, our actor friend sitting in the actual ship. If they can make the shot of the Green Lantern in front of the sun look really good, why can’t they make an arm going limp look good? Because at the last minute, they took a random shot of the spaceship and said, “Add an arm there. Hurry.” That’s the ONLY explanation I have. The movie is full of these kinds of frustrating inconsistencies.

Ryan Reynolds comes astoundingly close to making his one-note character work in a way I didn’t think he would. He’s charismatic, the charming jerk who we come to sympathize with. Many great character actors like Jay O. Sanders, Tim Robbins, and Angela Bassett (why even introduce her character?) are totally wasted, but Mark Strong and the voices of Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan are absolutely perfect in the corps. Peter Saarsgard gives the best performance, in what feels like something brought in from a different film. His presence isn’t necessary, but he elevates the film every time he appears. This performance is like John Malkovich at his scene-chewingest. I loved it. Blake Lively is the weak link, since she looks nothing like a pilot/savvy businesswoman/hot babe, primarily because I suspect that kind of woman is a rarity in this world. More alarming: depending which angle she is shot from, she’s either strikingly gorgeous or strikingly like a Sarah Jessica Parker doppelganger. The moment at the ball in which she wears a fancy gown is supposed to be a knockout moment… but she looks so angular and jagged in the face that it doesn’t work that way. Cinematographer Dion Beebe does her no favors.

We really need to care about these characters in order for the film to work, because, quite frankly, Green Lantern is a very silly premise. There’s a planet filled with green light which charges lanterns of power around the universe, which only can be countered by the power of fear within yellow light, and all of this is contemplated by ancient blue immortals who seem to make worse plans than Ryan Reynolds for all their supposed “wisdom.” (Example: you have a guy named Sinestro asking you, out of the blue, to create a ring harnessing the evil yellow light… and you don’t even hesitate?!) If we don’t feel for the characters, root for them, and put ourselves into their shoes, a premise like this has zero chance of working. I think the cast works incredibly hard, and I admired what they did with what they were given. I would see a Green Lantern 2 with this cast– just not this creative team. Maybe their performances are good because while shooting, this movie still seemed like it might be great. It’s amazing what bad editing and bad special effects can do to a film of great potential. This could have been a really fun hero franchise, the powers and scope of Superman mixed with the humanism of Spider-Man. Instead, we have the complex story of Top Gun mixed with the effects of the Star Wars prequels. Could be worse, of course… but could be waaaay better.


~ by russellhainline on June 19, 2011.

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