Sunday, June 19, 2011

Not Easy Being Green: GREEN LANTERN

It’s the summer of Marvel superheroes at the multiplex. So far we’ve had Thor and the X-Men lighting up the screens and Captain America is well on his way. Interrupting Marvel’s monopolistic hold over our superhero-movie dollars is DC’s Green Lantern. They shouldn’t have bothered. It pales in comparison to its recent genre competition, but it also emerges as one of the leading contenders for worst-of-the-year. Not only that, I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the most joyless, eccentrically idiotic superhero movies ever made.

It starts on a wobbly promising note with the soothing voice of Geoffrey Rush playing over a CGI lightshow. He tells us all about the history of the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic police force that draws energy from willpower (which is manifested in the color green, in case you didn’t know). It’s all well and good, with green-suited creatures floating around, until a long-vanquished enemy, a nasty brown cloud of roiling evil, returns to feed on fear. He – she? it? – slurps up yellow tendrils of emotion from its victims leaving behind only a brown shell of a cadaver.

I was on board for this sci-fi silliness, no problem. I can handle a bit of cheese with my spectacle. But the instant this movie sets foot on Earth, the whole balance of the tone collapses. Ryan Reynolds plays Hal Jordan, a hotshot ladies’ man test pilot who cavalierly wrecks a fighter jet and twinkles at his love interest (Blake Lively) until he finds a dying alien (Temuera Morrison) who gives him a ring that makes him the newest member of the Green Lantern Corps. Reynolds, who is occasionally quite good in other movies, has a kind of blandly likable presence that crumbles under the demands of this film. His sort-of-sweet, sort-of-smirking persona can’t handle placement within a superheroic context.

Of course, the film itself is of no help whatsoever to him. This is a curiously uncontrolled picture with tone careening all over the place. It’s at once a self-serious story loaded with fake-complex alien rules and regulations and a self-mocking mess with lines like “You think I won’t recognize you because I can’t see your cheekbones?” And it’s all so glum and lifeless, devoid of tension as it blunders from one anti-climax to the next. Once Hal Jordan zooms off to twinkling, goofy Lantern-land, he quickly decides he doesn’t like his powers, or maybe he just doesn’t like being scolded by a pink-skinned alien (Mark Strong). He doesn’t seem to understand that the green ring gives him the power to conjure up whatever he decides to create with his mind. When he finally uses his powers, it’s so horribly dull. He conjures a giant Hot Wheels racetrack to boomerang a crashing helicopter away from a fancy party. He creates swords, giant guns, a catapult. He can create anything, but is predictably Earthbound in his thinking.

He sulks back to Earth and then decides, hey, he may as well use this power now that he has it. It’s such a weirdly uncommitted, half-hearted plot that seems to feature CG spectacle almost by accident while on Earth and then seems to approximate human emotions only by happenstance while roaming the cosmos. For a movie that zips across the entire galaxy there’s a curious lack of stakes. The aforementioned cloud of evil is threatening the entire galaxy – the Earth itself is about to be slurped up before too long – and yet there’s hardly a sense that anyone’s actually in any danger. Ryan Reynolds, especially, just floats around like a face placed on a computerized green body without any sense that he’s actually physically participating in the fantasy.

Also along for this interminable dud is a criminally misused supporting cast. Of Blake Lively, so devastatingly described by The Onion as being at the “top of the lists of names you hear,” the less said the better. Let me just say that to call her acting wooden would be an insult to the block of wood that could have put in a better performance. There are good actors floundering here, too, though. Geoffrey Rush puts in time as the voice of a fish-faced Green Lantern. Peter Sarsgaard shows up as a mad scientist who grows a bulging brain, much to the chagrin of his senator father played by Tim Robbins. They try to chew some scenery, but never get the chance to work up a nice chomping pace. Poor Angela Bassett fares even worse as a fellow scientist who is made to recite expositional lines with a uniformly flat affect. These four performers (three of them Oscar nominated) are such usually excellent thespians that they could probably turn up in an excellent movie together now that they’ve collected these hopefully sizable paychecks.

This is a sad, pitiful, goopy green movie that looks absolutely dismal. It’s uninspired, certainly, but it also has visuals that are dim, murky, and chintzy and I saw it in 2D. I can’t imagine how much worse it is in 3D. To make a bad experience worse, there’s so little of interest happening in this gaudy glop of a movie. It’s a terminally undercooked experience. So little seems to happen on a plot level, an emotional level, a filmmaking level. Director Martin Campbell, who in the past has been know to make a fine action movie (most recently Casino Royale, quite possibly the best James Bond movie ever made), handles the mushy stew of words that four credited writers slapped into a screenplay with uncharacteristic flatness. The whole film just sits on the screen for a while until it finally gasps into its end credits. It has the feel of a franchise nonstarter, which is just as well, since given what I just sat through, I never never never want to see Green Lantern 2.

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