Monday, June 20, 2011

Green Lantern (2011)

You feelin' lucky, Hobbit? Take it.

     Since I'm not a professional film critic, I don't have the luxury of screening films before their national release. This also means that I have the option to read criticism for a film before I write about it. As this is one of the best ways to learn, I do take advantage of it every now and then. Most of the critics that I read on a regular basis I end up agreeing with the majority of the time. There are a few times every year, however, that a film comes out and bucks this trend. Green Lantern is one of these films.
     The critical consensus on Green Lantern is that it is all style and special effects with little to no substance, the story that is present is cliched, archetypal, and rushed, Blake Lively is in the film almost purely to look good, and it doesn't flow like a typical superhero origin story. I can't say that I strongly disagree with any of these accusations other than the whole "no substance" statement. Of course it isn't as deep as The Dark Knight and Hal isn't as conflicted as Iron Man, but it isn't just a hollow computer effects parade. OK, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a bit.
     Before seeing the film I wasn't very familiar with the character of the Green Lantern or the world he inhabits. I knew the basic premise of the comic, I had a vague idea of his powers, and I was aware of a handful of supporting characters. All the basic stuff you can glean just by being a nerd and submerging yourself in nerd culture without actually opening a single issue of the comic. So for all intents and purposes I went into this movie as cold as I possibly could. I had no preconceptions. I wasn't sitting there stewing about, "If he doesn't do this small thing that doesn't have any real effect on the story but is a thing I know and like in the comic books, I'm going to be wicked pissed". In short, I was a moviegoer looking for a story, and I was totally free of the trappings of being a fanboy. I tell you all of this so you understand where I'm coming from when I say that the opening of the film does an excellent job educating you about and bringing you into the world of Green Lantern. You quickly learn that there is an evil entity named Parallax who was imprisoned by a member of the Green Lantern Corps (a sort of intergalactic police force) and banished to a remote part of the universe. After a period of time he escapes and starts wreaking havoc on the universe again. A Corpsman is gravely injured and quickly travels to earth so the ring (the source of a Green Lantern's power) can find a replacement. Enter Hal Jordan. The ring chooses him and he must discover how to quit being an asshole and start being a superhero/defender of the universe. That's it. That is the basic plot of the film.
     Now, back to why I disagree with the general consensus. Yes, there are computer effects, cliches, and archetypal characters abound. There is an absurd plotline. There is a fair amount of forced humor. But this isn't just a movie...it's a movie based on a comic book. Although the two forms of media are somewhat similar, they don't translate directly. A comic book is able to develop a story arc and characters over the course of several issues. This can take months or even years to flesh out the full storyline. After that arc is done, it moves on to the next, but with the acquired knowledge and assorted happenings from that previous story. Every issue of a comic book is a sequel or continuation from the one before and, as such, it is constantly building a huge archive of characters, ideas, and events. Of course with all of this information, the people familiar with the books are going to be expecting a lot. The problem is that a movie doesn't have a long enough running time to cover very much of this lore at all. Add on to this the fact that all comic books develop roughly the same. There are good guys, bad guys, a hero with enhanced abilities, a hero who struggles with these abilites and/or their own personal demons, etc. With so many comic books being turned into movie franchises they are going to start to feel bland after a while. It will feel like you're seeing the same thing over and over. Especially when the first film has to be the origin story so people who aren't familiar with the comics (who will no doubt make up the majority of the audience) will know what is going on. You can't fault a movie for this. With the first entry in a series the filmmakers have to strike a compromise between satisfying old fans and attracting new ones. In order to do this properly it is going to feel a little half-assed. You can't let loose with any of the meaty aspects of a comic until the second installment, when everyone is up to speed.
     Let's talk about The Dark Knight briefly again. It is widely considered the best comic book movie ever made. It is near perfect. It is also the seventh live-action Batman film. Everybody and their grandfather knows who Batman is by now. You are able to get into much more interesting storylines because the origin is ingrained in the American psyche. It succeeds partially because of all the films that came before it. Each one of which helping to bring a mass audience into the world of Gotham City.
     Now that all that is out of the way...Green Lantern is a very fun movie. The special effects are dazzling, the colors are vibrant, and the scope is huge. The movie really feels like a comic book, something most comic book movies don't achieve (or even aim for). It does feel a little rushed in some areas, but I think this is because the filmmakers are trying to do something a little different with the story. As I said before, the audience is familiar with the traditional superhero origin story by now. What Martin Campbell and the screenwriters are doing with Green Lantern is rush through this origin, making sure to only hit key points, and use the second half of the movie to get into some real action. I can understand fans not feeling satisfied with this "gloss-over" style approach, but the movie is clearly designed to be the first in a series. The Green Lantern Corps is a big idea with literally thousands of characters and the entire universe as a setting. If you throw out all the basics in one lump (aka-this movie) the filmmakers are free to really dig deep for the sequel. Introducing characters like Sinestro, acquainting a wide audience with who and what the Green Lantern Corps are, and giving you a brief rundown of what their powers are and what they can do with those powers will only pay off in spades in future installments.
     Green Lantern is a big, loud, fun summer movie. It is a bit rushed, but I believe that is intentional and it helps the film maintain it's fast pace. You can't fault the filmmakers for trying to do something different. There are a ton of great ideas introduced in this film that will be further explored through the (hopefully) inevitable sequels. The world of Green Lantern feels so vast that there is room for a bunch of epic stories now that all of the "same-old superhero" crap is out of the way. I don't believe that every movie deserves a sequel (which is the general consensus in Hollywood today), but I think comic book movies are perfectly suited for them. Green Lantern is miles away from being a great film in and of itself, but it is a solid introduction to the universe and I cannot wait to see where it goes from here. Grade: B






-Jeremy
jrperry@iamcinephile.com
         

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