“Green Lantern” review

I took the day off yesterday to see the “Green Lantern” movie. With the massive power of my will, I have generated the following (SPOILER ALERT!) review.

Summary: Ryan Reynolds and an all-star cast of computer generated characters meander through a disjointed script on the way to overcoming fear and some other stuff and when does
“Captain America” come out?

Full review: The central anxiety for a comic book geek upon hearing that one of his or her favorite characters is going to make the jump from the printed page to the silver screen is “Will this suck”. Because the worst thing possible is to take a cherished, iconic character and seeing it destroyed right before your ever-loving eyes.

I had this exact anxiety upon hearing they were making a “Green Lantern” movie, as Hal Jordan was one of my favorite characters growing up. The whole concept of the power ring is vaguely silly, after all — a ring that makes giant catcher’s mitts and boomerangs that’s powered by will and can’t affect anything yellow? Seriously?

But the idea of an interstellar police organization patrolling space and protecting alien races was right up my combination super-hero / science-fiction alley. And it worked, partly because Hal Jordan was such a good “straight arrow”, no-nonsense, “Right Stuff” kind of guy. Remember, the series was (re)launched in the Sixties, when astronauts were the cream of the crop of American manhood, and stood for everything noble and pure about honor, integrity, and professionalism. Guys like Chuck Yeager and Neil Armstrong were the honest Boy Scouts who were leading our nation into the next century.

Hal Jordan, test pilot, was absolutely in that same mold. Boring and straight-laced, maybe, but also iron-willed and pure of purpose.

Ryan Reynolds, actor playing Hal Jordan in the “Green Lantern” movie, is none of those things. He has a sarcastic demeanor, much more suited to irony and mocking humor than a “Right Stuff” kind of guy. And the character as drawn in the movie follows suit. Not quite sure of himself, a little off balance, not terribly responsible or serious-minded enough, cocksure and irreverent. As written and acted, he’s much more “Top Gun”. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I can see how such a template would work for a more modern and jaded audience, but D.C. characters don’t tend to work when combined with that kind of modernism. At core, DC characters are supposed to be pure distillations of the heroic spirit. Even their “gritty” characters, like Batman, are boiled down to their absolute essence.

This Hal Jordan, though, is a more complex mix of doubt and assurance, cockiness and humility. And it doesn’t really work, because the script we’re given is so disjointed and unsupported we’re left not with a believable human being doing his best to rise to the (literally) astronomical level of heroism required of him, but rather a confusing and unbelievable hodgepodge of unrelated moments that we’re expected to make something out of on our own. As a result we have not a conflicted or complex character, but rather someone who just seems confused and weak. And that does not a hero make.

Furthermore, seeing a ring making giant nets to control what looks like the worst dreadlocks in the universe or making a big anti-aircraft gun or generating a chainsaw for a sword fight ended up, when seen “live”, as just … silly. The flying was cheesy, the costumes were vaguely cheesy, the whole concept of this kind of ring was cheesy. It made me kind of embarrassed that I think it’s so cool. This is the fundamental challenge when taking the more ultra powerful, almost fantasy-like characters of the DC Universe into the real world. I mean, the entire Marvel stable is built on the fundamental conceit of “These are real people living in the real world”, but which makes them inherently more believable when you see actual actors playing them on-screen. Not so with DC (Batman aside). It’s a four-color universe that is difficult to translate into real life, because it’s built on such a different foundation.

Ultimately, though, the failing of “Green Lantern” as a movie is an editorial one. I’ve read comments on other blogs that what we have is not the movie as it was filmed, written, or conceived, that key character and plot development scenes were left on the cutting room floor, and I can believe it. For instance, it’s apparent (if you read between the scenes) that Hal Jordan, Carol Ferris, and Hector Hammond were childhood friends. That relationship has repercussions for a major chunk of the movie. And yet, we never see it and we’re never outright told or shown that such a prior relationship existed. You have to infer it, from somewhat vague clues. That nullifies a major driver of the emotional action.

When Hammond first appears, it seems completely random. Even when you discover why he was chosen for the task over what the character himself admits would have been better-qualified scientists, you’re still left with the puzzle as to why it matters that we’re watching this guy. Had we known that he and the other two protagonists were friends, it would have made much more sense and we’d have been invested in his success or failure.

Similar problems occur throughout the plot. Why does Jordan have to fly back to OA just to get permission to fight what he was going to fight anyway? If he quit, why does he retain the ring? In some scenes we jump from day to night without any explanation of why.

Other problems, probably only noticed by obsessive-compulsive geeks like me, are things like “How can an alien ship crash-land on a beach right next to some big buildings, and no one notices for hours and hours? If one of the greatest Green Lanterns in history dies, why would the rest of the Corps not send someone to fetch his remains home for burial in state, instead of leaving them to be autopsied by the primitives who live there? Why does the Corps have no “First Contact” style rules in place? And why do they wear the ring on the second finger instead of the ring finger?

The special effects are, as you’d expect, pretty good. The aliens looked neat, the energy ring “constructs” were relatively convincing, and the world of OA was cool. There were, unfortunately, two exceptions. The first is the Jordan’s GL costume. Every time you were in a close up shot of his face, you could see the seam where the CGI suit met the real neck. And it was completely distracting. I kept thinking, “Surely they could have had a REAL suit they put on him for these kinds of shots?” Despite millions of dollars of research, there remains a bit of fuzziness at the border where computer effects overlay real shots. You could see it sometimes when Carol’s fingers were over Hal’s suit, or when Hal was up against a real sky background.

The other really bad special effects moment came during the almost painful “Let’s fly” training scene on OA, when Jordan swoops up beside the very cool-looking (and even better-voiced) Tomar Re and they’re laughing and chatting. It literally looks like a “Jib-Jab” movie, where photos of heads are cut and pasted on top of dancing animated figures. It was horrible.

Nitpicking aside, we have the bones of a good movie here, but they were never knitted together into a compelling narrative. I’d love to see a “Director’s Cut” some day, as my impression is that a lot of the elements necessary for making sense out of this were filmed but not shown.

Actor Reviews: Ryan Reynolds was surprisingly inoffensive in the lead. He fits the role as written, but as I said in the beginning, the role as written was, in my opinion, a mistake. In other words, they cast the right guy for a bad part. He does as much as you can expect with the role, I suppose. At least, I didn’t want to punch him in the face at any point, which was fairly surprising to me.

Blake Lively has caught a lot of crap in other reviews, but I thought she was fine. She didn’t come off as wooden or unbelievable in any way, at least to me. I thought she, again, did about as much as you could expect given the role as written.

Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond was great. He had a perfect mix of nerdy self-loathing and big-brained bad-assery. You vaguely sympathized with him even as you wanted to see him get his teeth kicked in. At certain points he reminded me of Vincent D’Onofrio’s “Edgar” in “Men in Black”, which is one of my all-time favorite villain acting jobs. Definitely the best performance of the movie, although that happens a lot with the lead villain role.

Mark Strong nailed the Sinestro part. Someone else described him as “Spock with a gangster movie mustache” but I didn’t get that at all. I thought he was a good blend of arrogance and strength.

Tim Robbins as the Senator was bad. Pretty much any other middle-aged actor would have been better there. His hair looked fake, he hammed it up in every scene, and I just wished he’d have taken longer to die, in an even more painful fashion.

Grade: C- for a lackluster, even boring movie that did not hang together from a narrative standpoint. The elements of a good movie were wasted in the editing room. I don’t know if the suits got too involved or what, but what we were left with was a fairly disjointed mess that didn’t make any sense.

23 Responses to “Green Lantern” review

  1. Thanks Jeff. I’ve really been on the fence about this one, and I think I’m gonna pass. And as bad as it’s doing, It’ll probably be on Netflix by September.

  2. We all owe Jeffrey our thanks for taking the bullet on this one. Now I just gotta wait four more weeks for Cap.

  3. I saw it a few days ago and had much the same reaction. (See my review here: http://doornik1142.deviantart.com/journal/41679118/)

    To be honest, I always thought a Green Lantern was pretty much unfilmable. I didn’t think there was any possible way to do this and not have it look completely ridiculous. I figured they’d have to play the whole thing tongue in cheek and end up robbing the source material of the dignity it deserves.

    Looking back on it, I’m not sure which would have been worse. A tongue-in-cheek version or the poorly edited slipshod mess we got.

  4. Totally agree with the pace and editing. Especially when it came to the relationship between Hal, Hector, and Carol. The way the movie was put together, I’m willing to bet the editor suffered a severe case of ADD. This movie had plenty of promise, but due to bad decisions in story, editing, and FX, its joined the ranks of many failed DC comic movies. If DC really wants to come out of the shadow of Marvel, both in film and in comics, they need to get their act together and right soon.

    Mr. Q

  5. I really do want to see the longer director’s cut version that you could see lurking under the film we got. I also would have prefered that they defer Sinestro taking the yellow ring until the sequel, assuming there is one. It kind of came out of nowhere. If you’re a comics fan and you already know Sinestro as a villian, you can fill in the blanks and explain his motives to your own satisfaction…but the people in the audience who only know him as a somewhat jerky hero were probably a little puzzled.

    I found the fuzziness of the costume forgivable, simply because it’s made entirely of will-energy, and who knows how that should look. What was weird is that Abin Sur is apparently a nudist. When he died and his costume went away, he had no clothes; when Hal Jordan’s costume goes away, he’s wearing what he was wearing before. Where do his clothes go, and how do they come back?

  6. X-stacy (5)

    Yeah, that bugged me too. You’d think they could’ve at least thrown some briefs on him or something.

  7. I saw it last week and thought it was fairly meh, although reading your points has made me reflect my experience.

    I didn’t like how they changed Paralax from an engery lizard to a smoke octopus… they didn’t they just have Hal say “hello beastie” when he fought it.

    I didn’t actually know there was an end credits scene when I saw it, so had to check it out on youtube later… what was that? I mean they already made the yellow ring – that alone set’s up Sinestro’s change, why did they need an extra 5 seconds for him to go “ooh, I’m evil”

    Apart from the various background lanterns, and Carol’s codename being “Saphire”, I didn’t see that many comic references / in jokes. I was expecting at least some subtle refernce to Alan Scott / John Stewart / Guy Gardner / Kyle Rayner.

    (why didn’t they just adapt the Secret Origin comic?)

    I think First Class was probably better, that Thor was definately better and my hopes are much higher for Cap

    Thought I do want DC to keep trying… just so we can eventually get the awkward conversation when Tomar Ra is asked by Superman “so what planets do you protect?”

  8. I would definitely rank the movies this summer so far as:

    1. X-Men: First Class (A/A+)
    2. Thor (B/B-)
    3. Green Lantern (C-/D+)

    With a fairly wide gap between all three places.

  9. I want – WANT – Cap to be an A plusplusplusplussityplusplusplus. But that’s the overly enthusiastic geek getting ahead of himself. Tune in in four weeks, eh?

  10. You know, I would have put my money on Thor not being an easy hero to adapt to the screen – I think the public is all cool with Spiderman, Batman, etc – but I didn’t think they (The general movie going public) would buy into a Norse God as a superhero. But apparently it was pretty good. (Only seen x-men so far)

  11. Jeff (8): I have to agree with the ranks you just gave, although maybe a little harsher on GL than I gave it. Still, that one’s a movie best left for the local Redbox (hopefully the Blu-Ray version clears up a lot of those missing parts). First Class was, to my surprise, an excellent movie, as long as you were willing to leave your comic book continuity expectations at the door.
    I missed a lot of what you said here in my earlier review, and I wish I hadn’t, because now having read what you wrote, it makes perfect sense.
    The suit was brutal, and I actually got a few other scenes where I thought Reynolds’ head didn’t look like it connected onto his neck the right way other than the flying scene.
    I want DC to keep trying, maybe they can make a decent non-Batman movie. It’s just sad that the only thing they can still do right is animation (credit Bruce Timm and Andrea Romano on that one), and Marvel’s nearly caught up to them on that.
    Also, strangely psyched for the Captain America movie, despite my non-American background. I think this could be a good one.

  12. I agree with your points, but even if it wasn’t the best, I still enjoyed it greatly. It was fun and that’s all I expect out of a summer blockbuster. I also enjoyed how little Hal’s costume worked to surprise his identity. Both of his friends knew it was him within a minute and that was great.

  13. I went with a few friends, and we thought it was a pretty enjoyable movie. Full disclosure, none of us are hardcore Green Lantern fans, so this is from the perspective of people who just casually know the character. (Also, the theater we saw it at was serving a delicious Green-Lantern-themed mixed drink, so maybe you should take that into account too) But still, it made for a fun watch, though the pace felt a bit rushed, and the final fight with Parallax was a touch anti-climatic.

    And X-stacy, I completely agree there. The post-credits scene would’ve worked 100 times better if they just cut to black before he actually put the ring on. It would have established the temptation, and the sequel could reveal why he wants that power. As it is, Sinestro’s heel-turn was just sudden and unjustified.

  14. I just saw that movie yesterday and didn’t like it. I haven’t read the comic or whatever but i still didn’t like it. I thought it was to short and the girl and the villian and the green lantern guys should have been it it more. I also though DC did a bad job with the green screen. :^D

  15. Gene (10)

    You’d think so, but Thor is actually a pretty uncomplicated superhero. He’s a god on Earth. That’s about all you need to know. He’s practically the poster boy for “It’s magic, we don’t have to explain it”.

    Green Lantern on the other hand is a very complicated character. There’s a lot of rules you have to know in order to understand him and his mythos, hence the copious amounts of exposition in the GL movie.

  16. Pandademic (13)

    I think it would’ve been better if they had instead moved the “We must construct a Yellow Ring” scene to after the credits.

  17. Ditto on the rankings (6) Jeff…Hollywood never learns. It’s like dumpster diving, for every half way decent piece you get you have to shovel through mounds and mounds of crap.

  18. Unfortunatly, this kinda backs up what I’ve been saying about DC having nothing but Batman. When I first heard they were doing GL, I was afraid that it would end badly. DC has a history of giving us subpar movies. Really, if you think about it, there’s been maybe 5 good DC movies, and 3 of them were Batman. (I’m including Batman 89 as good, not because I liked it, but you can’t say it wasn’t a hit.) The sad part is, since Warner Bros owns DC, there’s almost no excuse as to why they get the characters wrong. They need to bring people on board who have some knowledge of the characters, and won’t bow to studio pressure. Look at Nolan on his Batman movies. They hired the right guy, had a comic writer on board to help him with some of the details, and Nolan fought to have the people cast who he wanted. Warner’s wanted Ashton Kutcher to be Batman, and Nolan pretty much told them go F yourselves. And, yes I know Marvel has had several mistakes also, but the diffrence is that Marvel has acknowledged it and tried to improve their product.

  19. Ah, that’s a shame. I had a feeling GL was gonna suck, just based on the crappy CGI in the previews, but it saddens me to hear my worst fears confirmed. Oh well. Captain America, Conan, and Planet of the Apes coming up!

  20. @Dan – I had not heard about the Ashton Kutcher thing in regards to Batman. It would appear that they got their Ashton for GL, though.

    Too bad.

  21. Come on guys…The bar couldn’t have been set too high for this character. I mean your talking about a guy in green tights flying around with a ring powered by an alien lantern….who uses goofy green fist, catchers mits and various other silly constructs to fight his opponents. Seriously it’s not like he was supposed be a brooding vigilante or something. I think based on the concept I described previously it was pretty good.

  22. Looks like I’ll wait for the directors cut.
    the directors cut did wonders for Kingdom of Heaven.

  23. I just saw Green Lantern, and I have to say it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected it to be. I totally agree with all the assesments that everyone here made, but I honestly thought it was better than alot of movies (like Avatar) that people have said were the greatest ever.