Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Green Lantern (2011)
On one hand, Ryan Reynolds will always be Michael "Berg" Bergen from Two Guys and a Girl (originally Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place, 1998-2001)...and not just because he continues to bring that kind of faux-shy charm and gentle snarkiness to most of his roles - National Lampoon's Van Wilder (2002), Blade: Trinity (2004), Just Friends (2005), Waiting (2005), and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). On the other, he is an actor who is willing to take chances with smaller films and less traditional roles - something that works in Chaos Theory (2008) and comes up short in Buried (2010) - and finds ways to take the appeal out of the managed charm in Adventureland (2009), where he gives the strongest and most honest performance in the film. But in Green Lantern (2011), he seems to have been given the instruction of playing Hal Jordan as half Berg and half before he was crazy John Crichton from Farscape (1999-2003) as played by Ben Browder. Given that I have an incredible man-crush on the Crichton character, this really works for me in Green Lantern.
In fact, I could watch Reynolds be Jordan all day long. As a regular human or in the suit. And that would have been a good enough movie for me, because it would be giving me exactly what I want. At the same time, I realize that this isn't the recipe for a blockbuster. Still, if the producers wanted blockbuster, why go with a hero like Green Lantern?
Where Green Lantern disappoints – and it does – is in its heavy-handed, leaden handling of truly unnecessary exposition, leading up to a confrontation that is ultimately self-defeating. The greatest threat known to the universe is defeated by a neophyte on his first real mission. Seriously. Too much is made of the alienness of the Green Lantern corps, and no attention is paid to Hal Jordan being able to breathe and speak in space because he now wears a fancy glowing ring.
The other aspects of the film kind of work. Reynolds is strong in the lead, giving Jordan charm and insecurities. Blake Lively is surprisingly likable in a stock role of damsel in distress who has the emotional key to the hero's heart, though she is probably about five years too young for the details of her character's life; not a lot of 25 year old test pilots who also have MBAs and are set to take over a multi-billion dollar defense contractor business in anything resembling the real world. Accomplished actors Tim Robbins, Jay O. Sanders, and Angela Bassett aren't given much to justify putting such recognizable faces in their roles, but they play them well. Peter Sarsgaard goes beyond a soulless aping of Dale Midkiff (see my complaints about Orphan) and gives his character nuance and menace. Truly, his character arc – because of how well it is played – felt like it was worthy of its own film. Why not give a burgeoning super-villain his own movie?
There is enough self-awareness of the ridiculousness of superhero convention to keep the movie from becoming dull. Sure, the suit pops out of nowhere, because how else could the corps have the same outfit. It isn't like the funding covers sending tailors all over known space maintaining the uniforms. A simple mask completely obscures the hero's identity? Well, not to those who really know him; Lively has the best line ever given in regards to this. The power of the ring is dependent on the will and imagination of the wearer, but not much work goes into training Jordan how to extend his imagination or focus his will. One would think that improv classes and some Tai Chi would be much more useful that dropping some heavy objects on his head, but it wouldn't be as funny to watch or visually stimulating.
I would have to think that Green Lantern could have shaved off much of the backstory of the corps and the time on the alien planet of Oa without making the audience feel lost. Let the story be about Hal Jordan and his coming to terms of what is being asked of him. Having him have to save the planet within a month of getting drafted feels cheap and stupid, something that blockbusters shouldn't try to be...no matter how much money Michael Bay's Transformers movies make. Revealing the Green Lantern universe – moving him further away from Earth and his loved ones – should be something that happens as the story evolves; it should have been saved for any planned sequels.
In the end, Green Lantern is enjoyable, but it is far from a masterpiece. In trying so hard to launch a franchise, it hides what would give it life – the characters. Still, it is a better payoff than reading through 50 years of comic books or enduring the animated Green Lantern products which require a fair amount of knowledge from the comic books. But Reynolds is good in it and that is enough reason to see it.