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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Green Lantern

GREEN LANTERN

** SPOILERS **

How Hal Jordan Learned to Stop Worrying and Love His Power Ring

Green Lantern is the story of how the first human member of the Green Lantern Corps, Hal Jordan, finally grows a set. It introduces a cosmic scope to comic book superhero movies, proudly thumping a wild concept where 3,600 super powered space aliens sporting identical jewelry defend the universe against "evil" and mete out "justice" at the behest of blue skinned, white haired dwarves styling themselves as The Guardians of the Universe. Yet instead of non-stop high-flying space adventure, the entire movie gets grounded by the craven emotional issues of handsome Ryan Reynolds. Perhaps the wise words of Stone Cold Steve Austin would have helped Hal Jordan: "Fuck Fear, Drink Beer."

The Hal Jordan I recall from my days of reading DC Comics was a macho, swaggering, fearless, alpha male. That Hal Jordan was a superheroic version of Chuck Yaeger who wore his fighter jet around his finger. In Green Lantern, Ryan Reynolds' Hal Jordan is a talented screw up of a hotshot test pilot who watched his daddy die when his fighter jet blew up in a fireball. (The villain Hector Hammond's father Tim Robbins later dies in a fireball explosion. If you're a dad in a Green Lantern movie, avoid exploding fireballs.) Watching his father's grisly death as a boy still made him want to be a test pilot like his old man, but flashbacks haunt him while he's in the air, and his derring-do fighter jet heroics forced him to crash his expensive jet plane.  

Hal Jordan is a disappointment to nearly everyone. His glamorous girlfriend/boss/fellow fighter jet pilot Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) is disappointed in him. His brothers are disappointed in him. When the craziest thing ever happens and "a dying purple alien" named Abin Sur (Temura Morrison) gives Jordan a Power Ring fueled by willpower (will color code: green) that turns him into Green Lantern and rockets him to the planet OA, his fellow Green Lanterns are also disappointed in him. Hal Jordan's also a disappointment to himself, moping around his apartment whenever he finds a spare moment. There's no reason to go against the overwhelming attitude the movie has towards Hal Jordan, so count the audience in as being disappointed in him as well.

On OA, Hal Jordan is introduced to his fellow Green Lanterns. These include comic book fanboy favorites like the fish man Tomar-Re (voice of Geoffrey Rush), the Green Lantern of Exposition, and a massive warthog man named Kilowog (voice of Michael Clarke Duncan), the drill sergeant of the Green Lantern Corps who says the word "poozer" a lot. Foremost among Green Lanterns is Sinestro (Mark Strong, letting the pink make up, Spock ears and contact lenses color his foul mood), hailed as "The Greatest of the Green Lanterns". Sinestro is the de facto leader of the Corps by virtue of his having a British accent, the most intimidating stare, and for giving the most speeches to the assembled masses of motley aliens in green. 

Kilowog and Sinestro take ample liberties to beat up on their newest recruit. Kilowog calls this "training". Jordan is so disheartened by his first visit to OA and every Green Lantern telling him he sucks that he "quits" the Corps. What does quitting the Green Lantern Corps mean? Absolutely nothing, because Hal Jordan still kept the ring, Power Battery, and the skintight uniform pulsing with tendrils of emerald energy. What did we learn on OA? That Hal Jordan can't take a little hazing.

So none of the Green Lanterns are impressed with Hal Jordan, despite seeing him naked (the dude's eight pack has an eight pack). Speaking of naked Green Lanterns, Sinestro mourns Jordan's predecessor Abin Sur, who was his mentor and friend. (Heartwarming solidarity between pink and purple Green Lanterns.) Abin Sur's body was captured by the US Government and held in a private lab. Why the Government chose to build a lab right in front of the Stargate is beyond explanation. Sleaze ball scientist Hector Hammond (a well-cast Peter Saarsgard) is recruited by G-Men to examine Abin Sur's naked Green Lantern corpse and provide an autopsy.

Hammond's first discovery of note: Abin Sur apparently has no genitals. Second discovery of note: a second alien entity, a piece of Parallax, was inside this alien eunuch and soon Hector Hammond is possessed, granted psionic powers, and is mutated into a deformed, yellow-eyed freak by Parallax. Check out the big brain on Hector! (We never find out what happens to Abin Sur's corpse. It just disappears from the movie, like JFK's brain. You'd think the Green Lantern Corps would want to honor Abin Sur by burial in the graveyard of Green Lanterns Hal Jordan flies past on OA, but apparently not.)

What is Parallax? Green Lantern's space mythology posits that it's an alien smoke and ash cloud which preys on the fear of living beings (fear color code: yellow). Parallax has been loosed from its space imprisonment and is coming to destroy OA. I'm not clear on space geography but apparently the planet Earth is in the way of Parallax's trajectory to OA, so it'll destroy Earth first. Parallax eats your fear and kills you, whether you're a Green Lantern or not. Sinestro tries to rally the Guardians to stop Parallax, but the Guardians refuse to even admit they are too scared shitless to do anything. Later, when Sinestro leads an assault on Parallax and watches it suck his best and brightest green buddies to yellow pieces, Sinestro figuratively craps his green pants. No one was more frightened at that moment than Sinestro - why didn't Parallax attack him then? Instead, Sinestro loses all faith in the Green Lantern Corps and pleads with the Guardians to create a yellow Power Ring to "fight fear with fear." The Guardians, billions of years immortal which equals billions of years of being idiots, acquiesce. 

In a way, Green Lantern is a movie about horrible bosses who don't tell their employees how to do their jobs. The Guardians absolutely suck. They're worse than the Jedi Council, who had no idea for ten years that the Emperor of the Sith was living in the building across the street from their Jedi Temple. Sinestro has a couple of private meetings with the Guardians urging them to take action - any action - against Parallax. It turns out Parallax is - surprise! - a former Guardian who got seduced by the yellow light of fear. (What a shock considering how often we were shown the missing pillar in the Guardians' circle of very tall pillars.)

Of course, the stupid Guardians make completely the wrong call: despite knowing what can happen if subjected to the yellow light of fear, the Guardians make a yellow Power Ring anyway. What could possibly go wrong?* Late in the movie, Hal Jordan pleads with the Guardians for help to save Earth from Parallax. They flat out tell him no, but Jordan still asks for permission to let him save Earth alone. Wait, didn't he quit? Apparently, no one took his "quitting" seriously. But why does Jordan need the Guardians' permission to do his job as a Green Lantern?

Parallax is no better a boss than the Guardians. Why would it be? It used to be one of them. When Parallax  gets to Earth, it attacks its flunky Hector Hammond, screaming, "You've failed me!" How? Parallax never even told Hammond what its plan was! How did Hammond fail Parallax? Hammond didn't even have time to ask before Parallax sucked him yellow and dry. Billions of years immortal, Parallax is also billions of years stupid like its former blue buddies. When Hal Jordan finally mans up, overcomes his fears, and takes on Parallax in the too-brief third act showdown, the swirling cloud of black ash dreadlocks follows Jordan into space and falls for the oldest space trick in the book: the ol' getting sucked into the sun's gravitational pull gambit. Parallax: What a dummy. (By the way, Hal Jordan is also a dick for destroying a satellite as it lured Parallax into space. Now millions of people won't be able to use their cell phones or watch TV!)

The good news of Green Lantern is that the abilities of the Power Rings are fully explored. The rings are powered by the wearer's will but are dependent on his imagination to make constructs. Jordan's first construct (and last, the neat-o KO punch to Parallax) is his ever-popular trademark giant green boxing glove. Jordan evolves from basic creations like brick walls and swords (Sinestro chastises him for his lack of creativity) to bad ass weapons like gatling guns and... even bigger gatling guns. Sinestro conjured up a ringed shield that looked suspiciously like the one hefted by a certain star-spangled Avenger who also has a movie due out later this summer. That slick ladies' man Jordan even manifested an emerald necklace for Carol Ferris. She was probably less impressed when it inevitably de-materialized.

And yet, there isn't enough ring-slinging, cosmic derring-do in Green Lantern. Two thirds of the movie is spent on Earth treading water as Hal Jordan mopes around and sorts out his new dual identity as a superhero. Green Lantern makes his first public appearance saving the employees of Ferris Aircraft from a helicopter disaster, sort of like Superman did in Superman: The Movie. And like Superman, Green Lantern takes his best girl out at night and explains his powers and his green-itude to her, only Carol leaves disappointed by his admission as a craven quitter. Credit Carol Ferris for having the common sense to immediately realize Hal Jordan is the Green Lantern; she knows that face and his rippled physique well enough so that no painted-on domino mask or coalescing green energy can fool her. 

Jordan also has time to bond with his sidekick Tom "Pieface" Kalmaku (Taika Waititi). In - how does one put this? - the least heterosexual movie scene between two dudes since Paul Walker and Vin Diesel ate peel and eat shrimp together in The Fast and the Furious, Tom shows up at Jordan's apartment and begs Jordan, fresh out of bed wearing PJ pants and a wifebeater, to "Show it to me!" "Show it to me! Show it to me, Hal! Whoa! Green!" Yes yes, Tom meant he wanted to see the ring and the Green Lantern costume, but any Power Ring could suss out the subtext. Ring-a-ding-ding!

It's no mystery as to why Ryan Reynolds was cast as Hal Jordan. He's a good looking guy, the chicks dig him, the guy's a stud! Reynolds is actually ideal for this uncertain, frightened letdown of a Hal Jordan. Hal could be great but he constantly needs motivational talks or an asskicking to get him to do anything worthwhile. As a hotshot fighter pilot-slash-high-powered corporate executive, Blake Lively sure is pretty. She's so pretty, isn't she? So pretty. Even when Lively's not on screen, the movie makes sure to regularly remind us how pretty she is by showing us newspaper clippings with pictures of her looking so pretty.

Green Lantern's underwritten characters slog through the movie playing through their rote one-dimensional relationships. Lively has nothing to do except scold Hal Jordan and then support him with "you can do it, you can overcome all your fears" cheerleading while crying over what a loser he is when he flies off in a wisp of green. (She does, however, come up with the novel idea of launching missiles at Parallax, the swirling black cloud of fear. And the missiles worked!) Saarsgard preens and mugs as Hammond, but even with his big head, Hammond is no brainiac in the villainy department. Hammond just wants to do Carol Ferris and is jealous of Hal Jordan for looking like Ryan Reynolds. Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett play their generic Senator and Government Agent roles forgettably. The dialogue is trite. No one says anything interesting. Every character is locked in rigidly to the movie's generic, color-by-numbers origin plotline. 

The fun of Green Lantern was somehow lost in that wormhole between Earth and OA. Despite the finest in computer generated wizardry at their disposal to bring the aliens and dazzling powers and emerald constructs of Green Lantern to cinematic life, four credited screenwriters and director Martin Campbell manage what the most evil cosmic forces in DC Comics couldn't: snuff the gee-whiz enjoyment out of Green Lantern's light. Like Parallax does with yellow fear, Green Lantern sucked the joy out of being green.

* The epilogue: During the closing credits, we see Sinestro place the yellow Power Ring on his finger and become... well, Sinestro, but wearing the yellow uniform of the yet-unnamed Sinestro Corps. While obviously setting up the hoped-for sequel, it makes no sense why Sinestro would wear the yellow ring at this point. When Hal Jordan destroyed Parallax all by himself, Sinestro (who showed up at the end of the fight with Tomar-Re and Kilowog to save Jordan's life but too late to actually help Jordan fight Parallax) was so impressed and gung ho with Jordan, he lead the pro-Green Lantern Corps rally on OA. Jordan, the greenest (ahem) recruit, killing the Greatest Threat OA Ever Faced, just validated the awesomeness of willpower and the bad assery of the Green Lanterns! Why would Sinestro suddenly get curious yellow? Doesn't make sense.

2 comments:

  1. I had the exact same initial reaction to Sinestro putting on the yellow ring. Trying to justify this utterly nonsensical action, I have since come to theorize that during Sinestro's failed battle with Parallax (which he mysteriously survived off screen) Parallax "infected" Sinestro and sent him back to OA as a sleeper agent, thus also explaining Sinestro's (once again nonsensical) insistence on having the Guardians forge a yellow ring in the first place. Of course, I may well have given this issue more thought than any of the 4 credited screenwriters, who simply wanted to end the movie with the cool visual of Sinestro's transformation into Sinestro.

    And while all the voice over credit seems to be going to Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clark Duncan, I was more pleased to hear Clancy "The Kurgan" Brown as Parallax and Salome "Female Shapeshifter" Jens as one of the Guardians.

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  2. Couldn't it be as simple as after having seen what Parallax did to the Lanterns, Sinestro wanted some of that sweet, sweet fear action for himself?

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