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Green Lantern: More Brightest Day than Blackest Night

If Parallax, the big bad monster from Green Lantern, feeds on fear, he could have gorged on my expectations for this movie. I’ve previously written that Green Lantern is one of my favorite super-heroes; in fact, on the grade school playground, he was the hero I chose to “play” at recess. So I was really afraid that his big-screen debut could never be as good as I hoped. The advance publicity and trailers did nothing to ease my fears, either. It didn’t look very good at all.

I’m relieved, if less than overjoyed, to say that I enjoyed Green Lantern quite a bit. But I don’t know how glowing a review I can give a movie that I liked because it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be (versus a movie such as Super 8 that I DIDN’T like because it WASN’T as good as I thought it would be). Saying a movie isn’t awful doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good. In fact, I find myself defending the aspects of Green Lantern I thought would be bad rather than praising the aspects that are unexpectedly good.

We first must address the casting of Green Lantern himself, Hal Jordan. Who didn’t cringe when they first heard it was going to be Ryan Reynolds powering-up the ring? I like Reynolds, and all the girls seem mighty fond of his abs, but I wasn’t sure he was Hal Jordan. Guess what? He’s pretty good. He emphasizes the cocky, responsibility-free aspects of Jordan that I don’t exactly remember from the comics, but have become a growing part of his revisionist history. Plus, he experiences a pretty wide range of emotions for a summer comic book movie superhero. Let’s face it, he’s a likable guy, perfectly suited for a slightly tortured hero.

Next we must address the suit. Nothing about it looked promising. Guess what? It works. The brief explanation that it’s made of green energy actually makes sense in explaining how it can suddenly appear and disappear at will. And a suit of green energy probably would be constantly pulsing. The mask is a little more problematic, but I like the idea that it appears only when Hal’s identity needs to be kept secret. In one of my favorite scenes, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) simultaneously pays tribute to and makes fun of scores of lame identity-hiding devices.

Next we must address the special effects and/or CGI. They looked awful cartoony in the trailers. Guess what? They are. However, when you’re dealing with a ring that can create anything you imagine out of glowing green light, I think it’s SUPPOSED to look cartoony. The manifestations are created so quickly and furiously, there isn’t time to dwell on how fake they might look. Plus, the things Jordan/Reynolds manifests are very much a reflection of his character: a giant fist, a chainsaw, a Hot Wheels track… I liked them a lot.

Finally, we must address the aliens, monster and planets. How could THEY not look fake? Well, some do look fake, but some are remarkably real. Who are we to judge, though, what looks “fake” when judging aliens; have we ever seen any REAL aliens? I guess my biggest fear was that they wouldn’t mix with the live action parts of the movie. Guess what? They mix pretty well. I had a slight problem with the “face” of Parallax looking too animated, but his giant, smoky, yellow energy-filled “tentacles” were on their own very realistic as they threateningly wound their way through the buildings of Coast City.

While these are the things I thought would be bad about Green Lantern, I never expected the script to be one of them. However, after perusing the long list of credited writers, I think there were too many cooks in the kitchen and the results show. There are two specific scenes that come out of nowhere and make little sense. In one, following a sweet conversation between Hal and Carol, he flies her home and it’s suddenly like they just broke up. It feels like an entire scene was cut; there is no transition. In the other, Hal suddenly shows up in a laboratory to battle Hector Hammond. How did he even know to go there? There’s no explanation, much less a reason he would go swooping in.

There’s also an awkward switching back-and-forth between Jordan and Hammond as they’re each experiencing the side effects of their alien exposure for the first time. Perhaps it’s an artistic statement about how two different people who experience the same thing may react differently, a good vs. evil thing, but it’s either out of place or too heavy-handed; I can’t decide.

I suppose these flaws could be attributed to bad editing, but overall I was impressed with the directing and editing; some of the camera angles and moving shots are fluid and exciting. More than anything, and I complained about X-Men: First Class for the same reason, it seems these movies are getting slapped together too quickly, some with release dates announced before filming has even begun. Comparing the two directors, both with action backgrounds, Martin Campbell (Goldeneye, Casino Royale) does a better for me with Green Lantern than Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Kick-Ass) does with the X-Men.

By the way, one of the flaws of most DC Comics movies is their insistence on putting so many characters in them. Do we really need TWO villains? On their own, either Hector Hammond or Parallax should be able to provide enough of a threat for one movie. In Green Lantern, the Parallax storyline suffers from this phenomenon; the buildup to his finale is uneven, making the conclusion of the movie seem sudden, brief and underwhelming. Hammond’s fate is the real climax for me, but there’s too much movie left after that.

If Reynolds is good as Hal Jordan, then Lively is… adequate as Carol Ferris. But it is two characters in the supporting cast who truly shine: Mark Strong as Sinestro and Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond. At first, Sinestro’s appearance is off-putting with his red skin, tall forehead and pointy ears, but Strong quickly brings him to life, making him arguably the most interesting character of the bunch. Speaking of tall foreheads, in the comics, Hector Hammond is practically nothing but one giant head. It doesn’t grow as big in the movie when he’s infected by a parasite from Parallax, but Sarsgaard’s sinister portrayal is nevertheless larger than life and a creepy joy to watch.

Nitpicking aside, what Green Lantern is best at is being fun. As mentioned, Jordan is a slightly tortured hero, but one who also realizes that being a superhero is not always a burden. He knows his ring is “cool” and experiences real joy while giving it a test drive. The movie’s the same way; it knows it doesn’t have to be serious all the time. Like Thor earlier this summer, the innocent, light-hearted approach to superheroes seems to be working better for them than the dark, angst-ridden one.

So what if Green Lantern is not perfect; what movie is? It is better than you think it will be in some areas, worse than you think it will be in others, but overall a quick, entertaining two hours. The fact that the most rewarding scene for a fan of the comics (like me) occurs after the credits begin rolling, teases that there will be a sequel and makes me hope that the success of this movie will in fact warrant one.

REVIEW: Green Lantern
3.5Overall Score
Creepy Kids
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