Green Lantern, 2011.
Directed by Martin Campbell.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, Temuera Morrison, Taiki Waititi, Jay O. Sanders, Jon Tenney, Geoffrey Rush, Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Clarke Duncan.
Hal Jordan becomes the first human to join an intergalactic peace force known as the Green Lantern Corps. He must defeat the evil entity Parallax to prove his worth.
There are a lot of superhero films these days. Sometimes characters hop between them; others are set in a recent past. The LCD display above Wood Green Cineworld’s screen 6 door declared ‘X-Men: First Class’. Even cinemas get confused with it all.
It should have read Green Lantern. You know him – he’s your favourite superhero. The Green Lantern mythology occupies the deep end of the swimming pool. The Guardians – an ancient race, one of the oldest in the Universe - once took it upon themselves to bring peace to the cosmos, and created the Green Lantern Corps (an intergalactic police force) to patrol it. The Universe was divided into 3,600 sectors and the bravest member of each was made a Green Lantern. They were given one of the Guardians’ greatest inventions – a power ring.
The power ring harnesses a person’s Willpower and concentrates it into tangible force, focusing the wearer’s imagination into reality. If you Will something hard enough, it will materialise. It’s been the basis of American foreign policy for the last half century.
It sounds overly contrived, but Green Lantern has arguably been one of the best-written comic books of the past decade.
All this back-story is crammed awkwardly into the voiceover of a CGI-ridden opening five minutes. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s an animated film. Fear is revealed as the main threat to the Green Lantern Corps, which can be harnessed as a weapon similarly to Willpower. But fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering (cheers Yoda). The colour of willpower, by the way, is green. Fear is yellow. There’s a whole emotional spectrum with which to paint.
Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), our protagonist, is a test fighter pilot. A friend pointed out that’s a slightly anachronistic profession, left over from the golden age of comics in the 50s. He’s cynical. Kids still like airplanes.
Jordan is brave but reckless. He first appears in bed with a beautiful woman, but he’s late for an important test flight. “There’s water in the, uh, tap,” he offers his guest on his way out. Then he’s shown badly wrapping a present in newspaper, while driving. It’s for his nephew’s birthday, which is today. Got it yet? Hal’s irresponsible.
It’s forced down the throat, but it successfully establishes the kinda guy Hal Jordan is. If Jordan were played by anyone else, he would come across as arrogant. Luckily, such a trait is overwhelmed by Ryan Reynolds’ natural affability. Not much has changed since his Berg days in Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, but if it ain’t broke…Fact is, Reynolds makes for a great leading man, and he brings some much-needed humanity to the screen.
Which is Green Lantern’s fundamental flaw – this humanity is smothered by CGI as soon as Jordan puts on the ring. The great thing about a new superhero film is that first learning curve. Our hero tentatively feels his way through his new powers like someone edging through a dark room. Viewer and hero occupy the same place narratively, discovering these new possibilities together. However, due to the visual demands of Green Lantern’s mythology (imagination made real, a faraway planet of aliens), this learning curve cannot be experienced in full live-action.
Jordan’s ring transports him across the Universe when he first unleashes its potential. He arrives at Oa, which serves as a training academy of sorts. This should make up the bulk of the film’s midsection. Perhaps Jordan could have been enlisted in a class of new cadets, where they would be trained together, forge friendships, have falling outs, give a decent amount of time to explaining the strange new world in which they find themselves. Ancient races; the idea of Willpower being the Universe’s most effective force; how dangerous Fear can be; a proper explanation of Parallax, the film’s central antagonist would all fit in quite snugly beside a more detailed training section.
Instead the film has an awful, completely CGI-set, clunky exposition montage that lasts no longer than 10 minutes. The sequence saps all the fun from the film’s opening half hour. There is a gulf of humanity here. The backgrounds of Oa look like they’re from an Xbox game circa 2007. The characters that teach Jordan how to be a Green Lantern are completely CGI (bar a little bit of Mark Strong’s head) and act with an awkwardness befitting of a Mass Effect cut scene. And yet accomplished actors, Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan, voice them. There’s no dovetailing (when different characters’ dialogue overlaps and interrupts). It’s stagnant and frustrating. The sequence is far, far less than the sum of its parts.
And it is definitively because of the dominance CGI has over these scenes. Special effects are meant to deceive the eye, not supersede the live-action. Of course, in Green Lantern’s case, an alternative might have been impractical. It needs to visually depict imagination and alien worlds while still maintaining plausibility. Such a concept may only work properly in comic books.
Which is fair enough. Just. CGI needed to be used for those parts of Green Lantern. However, CGI did not need to be used for Jordan’s Green Lantern suit. His movement is slightly off and looks a little out of proportion. He’d appear fine if he didn’t have to interact with so many real people. It’s like Madame Tussauds – you can tell the living from the wax in the same way you can tell a sleeping person from the freshly dead. There’s no life in their forms.
The most significant consequence of this, however, is Jordan’s mask. This too is computer animated and it covers the area around his eyes. The eyebrows, the eyes, the slight wrinkles and creases that surround them both – the most expressive parts of the human face – are covered by a horde of blasphemous pixels. One of the best parts of The Dark Knight is the look of fear in Batman’s eyes when Maroni (the mob boss) tells him he cannot defeat the Joker. Even though the mask upon Bale’s face covers all but his eyes, he shows a humanising vulnerability that makes you believe Batman is really in trouble. Such a moment is impossible with the CGI mask of Green Lantern.
All that aside, everything else is really quite good. Peter Sarsgaard, in particular, excels as Hector Hammond. He’s a biologist infected by Parallax, an entity of living Fear. His head swells grotesquely as his own anatomy struggles with the alien life form. As his body distorts, so does his emotions. They’re subject to Parallax’s whispers of doubt and hate. “She thinks you’re weird.” “Why doesn’t he grow up?” This twists into an envy of Jordan. Everything comes so easily to him. He has the looks; he’s getting the girl. Hammond realises that his infection allows him to experience another’s memories upon touching them. He exploits this on Jordan, relishing the stories he absorbs. Before he is infected, Hammond is first seen playing World of Warcraft. The parallel between living through an online avatar and someone else’s memories accentuates the creepiness of the character.
The final action sequence works well too. It could have been longer, but there was story and character development behind the actual fighting. If only they invested the same into the crushing amount of CGI on Oa.
At the end of one action sequence, a lady is seen filming Jordan saving the day on her mobile phone. The phone, an LG, takes up the entire screen and frames the action within its own. It is on this device that this particular scene ends.
This is fine if the next scene were to begin with a news report on a television using this recorded footage. But it doesn’t. The phone, or that recorded on it, is never referenced again. They didn’t even try to work the product placement into the narrative. It’s just a grotesquely crude insert, which smacks of a certain laziness. It says a lot about this film. Hardly anyone involved particularly seems to care about the source material. That ground my gears.
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