Thursday, June 16, 2011
Movie review: Green Lantern
Think of it as an ode to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Green Lantern, the über-hyped, over-produced, DC Comics-themed movie of the summer, turns out to be super-fun.
Blame director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, Edge of Darkness), who somehow manages to inject humanity into the characters and immediacy into the action scenes — even the tarted-up sfx ones. Or blame Ryan Reynolds, who just happens to have the best kind of face for super hero portrayals: it's both chiseled and animated, not to mention classically handsome. (One thing, though: when he dons that skinny green mask, he has a tendency to resemble Will Ferrell — an unfortunate distraction, in my book.)
Reynolds has another thing going for him in his portrayal of Hal Jordan, test pilot turned savior of the universe: He does the confidently superior egotism tango to a "T." Whether this results from keen acting ability, or innate tendency, I can't say. But it works.
What we've got here, folks, is a battle between the sparkling emerald energy of will and the putrid yellow goo of fear. There's a coalition of intelligent beings headquartered on the planet Oa who represent all that's good and noble and healthy about sentient life (these would be the Green Lanterns), maintaining an alertness for the encroachment of insidious yellow stains of evil.
The Lanterns' deadliest antagonist appears (or perhaps I should say "reappears") in the person (or perhaps I should say "entity") of Parallax, a chap (make that "amorphous boiling cloud of filth") banished long ago to a junk planet in the Lost Zone, or some such nonsense. Naturally, some feckless space explorers crash land on the junk planet and immediately stumble into Parallax's lair, where he proceeds to suck the fear (and assorted other innards) out of 'em until their husks are disintegrating on the lair floor.
See, Parallax feeds on fear. So all you have to fear is fear itself. Literally.
Which explains why Hal Jordan, test pilot, gets selected by the Power Ring of a dying Green Lantern from amongst all the people on Earth to become the new avatar of Truth, Justice, and the Green Galactic Way: He's carrying on the family tradition established by his fondly-remembered test pilot hero dad (Jon Tenney, in flashback) who — just before crashing and burning in an inferno of jet fuel — tells his starry-eyed son why he's not afraid:
"It's my job not to be."
On the day he gets selected by the Ring of Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) to join the Green Lantern ranks, Hal has just succeeded in torpedoing his company's hopes to win a gazillion-dollar defense department contract for development of a new pilotless fighter plane. He was supposed to go out there in his F-35 and demonstrate how impossible it would be for a piloted aircraft to compete on the brave new computerized battlefield of the future. Unfortunately for the company, his pride in performance finds him exploiting the drone jet's Achilles heel.
Hal's wingperson during this faux shootdown exercise is none other than smokin' hot figher pilot gal Carol Ferris (Blake Lively, who is — it must be said — smokin' hot). Carol also happens to be the daughter of the company's head honcho (Jay O. Sanders, as Carl Ferris). Even though she's secretly (?) attracted to the hunky Hal, his actions during the demonstration piss her off to the point that she holds off inviting him out for a drink for almost 24 hours — an extremely long time in ant years, for instance.
By the time Carol and Hal find themselves sharing an adult beverage (and good times!) in the local test pilot's dive bar (get it? DIVE bar?), Hal has already made a quick intergalactic trip to Oa and met up with Sinestro (Mark Strong), leader of the Lantern squad; and Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush), an affable fish-like alien; and the hulk-like Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan), assigned to Hal as a sort of drill sergeant instructor in the ways of using the power of the Ring.
Green Lantern (Earth version) makes his big suit-on debut at an open-air cocktail party attended by all the Ferris Aircraft folks, along with Senator Hammond (Tim Robbins), who's finagled a way for them to get the drone fighter contract even though Hal outsmarted their programming. Anyway, the senator is departing in his helicopter when Hammond's disenfranchised egghead son Hector (Peter Sarsgaard) decides to go all Oedipus on his ass, using his newfound yellow-tinged fear powers (long story) to chunk up the legislator's rotor assembly. How Hal, decked out in his auto-deploying Green Lantern getup, rescues both the 'copter occupants and the party guests — and, most importantly, the smokin' hot Carol Ferris — is a prime example of the ridiculous level of overthought, followed by overproduction, that could easily have overtaken this movie and drained all the fun out of it. Though thankfully it didn't.
The joke here is that Green Lantern, even dolled up in skin-tight emerald bodysuit and Mardis Gras-style mask, looks amazingly like Hal Jordan, whom everyone in the crowd was aware of moments before the chopper hits the fan — and yet the breathless news coverage of the event which follows refers to him as a "mysterious super hero." It's as if everyone's been blinded by his massive green-clad thews.
Refreshingly, this Lantern character sidesteps the kind of extended agonizing trauma over keeping his identity a secret that we've suffered through, for instance, with the Spider-Man film saga. Hal brings his best buddy Tom (Taika Waititi) into his confidence as soon as he discovers the crashed alien spaceship; and shortly after the helicopter incident, Carol figures out who actually saved her from the spinning blades with his thought-blanket of invulnerable green energy. (It helps that he shows up on her balcony in full Lantern regalia.) Thus, Hal is not left alone to brainstorm about the handling of evil blob Parallax, who is seen to be steaming biliously towards Earth.
(The fact that their brainstorming comes to naught is kind of beside the point.)
Meanwhile, poor Hector is being physically transformed by the yellow fear-powered goo, all the way down to the cellular level. He finds himself able to manipulate objects at a distance and read people's minds when touching them. The downside (and it's a pretty big one) is that the vile molecular parasite warps him into a spitting image of the Elephant Man. Pretty tough on the ol' self image.
When Parallax arrives and starts sucking the fear and skeletons from innocent bystanders in the streets of Gotham (or equivalent), Hal still has no plan for defeating him — he only knows he has to try. And so he wings it.
The outcome proves surprisingly clever. Kudos to the writing team (Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, and Michael Goldenberg) for coming up with it.
Factor in the spectacular visuals, and this Green Lantern outing adds up to a trip and a half.
Hop on board!