Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Glow in the Dark: Green Lantern Movie Review

Above: Ryan Reynolds as Hel Jordan. Copyright Warner Bros/DC Comics 2011.

I have an old beaten-up copy of a
Green Lantern comic from my childhood featuring a letter column in which a reader fantasised about what it would be like to see a Green Lantern movie in theatres; to see the green constructs of the ring-slinger's will power brought to life on the big screen, to hear the lantern's sacred oath spoken in surround sound, "wouldn't that be something?", he wondered.

Almost 20 years later, I was thinking much the same thing at last weekend's movie premiere. Talking with fellow GL comics fans, artist Michel Mulipola and TV personality Colin Mathura-Jeffree, we couldn't help but pinch ourselves: are we really about to see a movie starring Green Lantern?

Much like Marvel's
Ironman, Green Lantern has always been considered a second-tier comics character without the brand recognition of Batman or Superman. But never the less, he's had a loyal fan-base since his re-introduction in Showcase Presents #22 from 1959 (an earlier namesake of the character existed in the 1940s). Re-imagined as the first human recruit in an intergalactic police force by writer John Broome, test pilot Hal Jordan was an immediate hit with fans. It didn't hurt that his adventures were drawn with dynamic action by the legendary artist Gil Kane, who fashioned one of comics' most iconic costume designs for the character, one which is still used in comics today and the basis for the film design.

Above: Ryan Reynolds on set with kiwi director Martin Campbell. Copyright Warner Bros/DC Comics 2011.

Bringing a sci-fi comics character like Green Lantern to the silver screen is no easy task, one that was entrusted to kiwi director Martin Campbell. Known more for his gritty hands-on action films like
Casino Royale, Edge of Darkness and The Mask of Zorro, Campbell certainly had his work cut out for him here; juggling an origin story, explaining the mythology of the Green Lantern Corp, and still trying to find time for humour and romance, while processing all of this in 3D. He may have bitten off more than he can chew, but for the most part he gets it right.

The movie opens with the introduction of the fear-infused entity Parallax, whose appetite for fear and destruction sets events in motion, as he escapes from his imprisonment in a distant sector of space, fatally injuring Green Lantern Abin Sur (an unrecognisable Tem Morrison) in the process. Making a bee-line for earth, Sur's power ring is seeking a worthy replacement, which it finds in the unlikely form of impulsive hot-shot pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds).

Above: Temuera Morrison as Green Lantern Abin Sur. Copyright Warner Bros/DC Comics 2011.

This opportunity to get waaay out of dodge comes at the right time for a restless Jordan, facing disciplinary action for his cocky pilot antics and generally written-off off by everyone bar his ex-girlfriend/boss Carol Farris (Blake Lively) and tech supporter Thomas (Taika Waititi). Once in possession of the ring, he's soon whisked away to the planet Oa, the home of the Green Lantern Corp, for alien boot-camp 101 with instructors Sinestro (a suitable arrogant Mark Strong), Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) and Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan), and as much plot exposition as he can handle.

Meanwhile back on earth, nerdy scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) is brought in by the government to study the remains of Abin Sur. The autopsy results in a different gift for Hammond: an infection of Parallax's yellow energy, which grants him with telepathic powers and an unsightly enlarged forehead. With their new found powers, Jordan and Hammond are soon on a collision course which inevitably leads to a final showdown with Parallax making a pit-stop to snack on Earth before his final destination, Oa.

Above: A scene set on the planet Oa. Copyright Warner Bros/DC Comics 2011.

As a film, Green Lantern visually stands apart from the crowd with it's unique look and eye-popping visuals, thanks in large part to a couple of Oscar winning kiwis: production designer Grant Major and costume designer Ngila Dickson.

Major's conception of Oa is a joy to behold and sets a new bar for digital environments; it's believably alien, with realistic textures and lighting effects that are only enhanced by the 3D processing. Dickson's decision to go with all CG costumes for the Green Lantern actors is probably the film's biggest gamble, and it pays off. As pure energy constructs themselves, the costumes neatly reinforce the story while making the human actors seamlessly blend in with the legion of CG created creatures. The fact this separation doesn't occur to you immediately only signals just how much of an achievement this really is. It's a true credit to both of them that this film is at it's best during it's cosmic sequences.

Above: Hel Jordan on the Planet Oa, with the rest of the diverse Green Lantern Corp. Copyright Warner Bros/DC Comics 2011.

The film soars in outer-space, it's only when it comes back down to earth that it looses it's momentum on several fronts.

Written by TV veterans Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg (who between them have written for Everwood, Smallville, Flash Forward, No Ordinary Family as well as comics for DC and Marvel), are no strangers to this kind of material, yet they still struggle with a larger canvas. The story manages to feel both exposition heavy in places and too light in others. To be fair, there is a lot of material to explain in it's two hour running time, but that comes at the expense of characterization. Many of the leads are sketched out with the thinnest of personalities, leaving the actors with some serious heavy lifting. Lively and Waititi particularly have to work hard not to blend in to the background; and Strong as Sinestro does his best, even though in plot terms he has precious little to do.

Above: Hel Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) with Carol Farris (Blake Lively) share a brief emotional moment. Copyright Warner Bros/DC Comics 2011.

A back-story tying Hal, Hector and Carrol together as old friends is alluded to, but is frustratingly underplayed (maybe even cut for pace?), which would have helped give crucial scenes the emotional weight they desperately need. This becomes even more of an issue when the central theme should be 'strength of will can overcome fear'; and apart from a late rally from Reynolds, few of the other characters get the chance to show much of an emotional response at all. The humour and romance is wedged in between all these other moving parts, and comes across as a bit forced. Thankfully Reynolds' natural star-power and easy-going delivery sells the humour, and if he had more than a handful of scenes with Lively perhaps the romance would have felt more natural too (although female viewers may disagree, as apparently a little Reynolds goes a long way!). Drawbacks in the scripting aside, Chambell along with team of effects expects, still manages to elevate this material and give it the grand space opera treatment it deserves.

As is customary with comic films these days, there's a fun after credits teaser; although DC should take note: a teaser scene shouldn't be a plot point that appears to be forgotten from the main feature, as it looks more like a plot-hole and less like a extra treat.

Above: Hel Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) summons his will power. Copyright Warner Bros/DC Comics 2011.

Green Lantern is a promising addition to Warner Bros/DC Comics franchise of comic-based movies, and will hopefully get a the chance to fly again in a sequel free of it's origin story restraints. Best of all, it's easily the most accomplished 3D film to come along since Avatar, which along makes it well worth the ride across the universe.

For more information on the movie, you can visit the official site HERE.

Above: I took some time out from blogging to join the Green Lantern Corp!

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