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Learning From Mistakes: Green Lantern

April 17, 2012

Ed. Note: The column Learning From Mistakes will take a popular recent film — which, by all accounts, could have been better than it was — and detail what went wrong. It is in no way intended as a review, just a teaching tool. Hope you’re listening, Hollywood. 

Visual metaphor.

There really shouldn’t have been a way to screw up Green Lantern. I’m no comics purist, but I’m somewhat familiar with the story: human receives magical ring which turns him into a super-soldier in a core of universal heroes. Much of the content is ripe and ready to pick for a summer blockbuster. But somewhere along the way, whether in development hell or a self-important need to “Nolanize” the content of Green Lantern, the film became a jumbled mess with a lot of glaring mistakes. So what happened that made Green Lantern miss the boat? Let’s examine. 

Ryan Reynolds is way underutilized. Sure, he’s the “hunkiest” guy out there and probably eager to shed his Van Wilder days, but Ryan Reynolds has a real knack for bringing personality to a character. Even in serious action films. Just look at what he did with Hannibal King in Blade: Trinity, or his turn as the mouthy Wade Wilson (pre-Deadpool) in the otherwise-snoozer X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Dude has him some charisma. He’s likeable. He’s often very funny, and great at bringing a sense of levity to a moment. Casting him as Lantern-to-be Hal Jordan should have been a stroke of genius — provided the filmmakers cared about granting Jordan with any sort of discernible personality at all, which they clearly didn’t. Instead, Reynolds plays Jordan as a derivative of Top Gun’s Maverick; wearing tight t-shirts, furrowing his brow, slightly brooding at times. There are attempts to bring him some lighter moments, but they get lost in the shuffle. Reynolds’ Jordan is a cardboard cutout of an alter ego, and it shouldn’t have been. After all, here’s a cocksure fighter pilot suddenly transported to an alien planet where an alien with a birds’ beak watches as an ogre-like colleague pounds him into the ground for training. What, a brother can’t get a pithy line there? That’s not the Ryan Reynolds we know. That’s straight Christian Bale stuff. We like Reynolds’ characters because we like him. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot about Hal Jordan to really care that much about.

We get it; this is serious business. Look, I’m not saying that every superhero movie has to be jokey and quippy; far from it. But director Martin Cambell, so deft with classic action films like Goldeneye and Casino Royale, brings such a super-serious tone to the film that it’s almost ridiculous. This is Green Lantern, not Cry Freedom. From an unrecognizable Mark Strong as the over-CGI’ed Sinestro, delivering each monologue like it’s Henry V’s Saint Crispen’s Day speech to stock, “meaningful” romantic interactions between Jordan and Blake Lively’s Carol Ferris, the whole thing fast becomes a veritable eye-rolling festival. I think I detached a retina by the end of the second act. Even Tim Robbins, in a role as Senator Hammond, seems to be looking around like “shouldn’t this side part have been a little more fun?” True, the Green Lantern mythos isn’t meant to be light-hearted, but remember: this is a popcorn movie. It’s not gonna win an Independent Spirit Award. The rule should be “if your movie is on a Burger King cup, might as well make it an entertaining ride because no one cares anyway.”

There’s no real climax. Green Lantern is confusing because it has several ramp-up action scenes that any moviegoer will realize as not being a “major moment” and then the long-awaited “major moment” never comes. The closest the film has to an earthbound climax is a good thirty minutes before the end of the movie; then there’s about fifteen minutes of “space action” that really doesn’t bring home the goods. I found myself constantly clicking on the timestamp of my DVR to ask myself “really? This thing’s almost over?”

The villain is dullsville, baby. And it’s never clear what we’re supposed to see as the “villain.” Peter Saarsgard (like Reynolds, wasted) plays Hector Hammond with not with any sort of spirit or sardonicism, but rather a scientist infected (I guess) by the overall, more ethereal villain Parallax. On earth, he should be a surrogate for the awesomely destructive universal power of Parallax but he’s pretty easily defeated without much of a fight. Oh well. Good thing there’s still a giant space cloud out there for the Green Lantern to fight later in a giant action sequence! (See above.)

Seriously, please don’t treat us like we should care. The Lanterns’ homeworld of the planet Oa is portrayed as the singular most important thing in the world, but it looks like a cartoon, and not one single person there seems like they’d be someone any of us would meet at a party and not wish would shut the hell up. A decision to basically make the entire planet a CGI creation takes fully away from any sense of tactile resonance and remains wholly uninteresting. First thing these Green Lanterns need to do is lighten up, am I right? Bunch of frownies, those guys.

Just make it interesting. With all these quibbles with Green Lantern, it would seem that the one thing forgotten during the making of the film was to keep it entertaining. If the aim was to create a dark superhero drama, you a.) probably didn’t understand the assignment, and b.) didn’t realize this was coming out in the middle of summer. It’s hard not to think of the difference a director like Jon Favreau, who went to town in such a great way with the Iron Man franchise, could have done with one of the most popular DC comics out there. Instead, this Green Lantern just sits there like a painted, lifeless dud that not even the Lantern core can rescue. Psst. It’s a g*ddamned superhero movie, guys. We’re already suspending disbelief the second we buy a ticket. Just give us something to watch.

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