31 October 2011

Green Lantern Review

Every so often, a movie comes along that utterly stumps me. Green Lantern was one of those films - all the constituent elements for a rollicking good time are present. Great director? Check. Decent writing team? Check. Reasonably good choice of thespians for the leads, villains and supporting character? Triple check. So how on earth did they manage to create such a thin-on-the-ground, back-end of the middle-of-the-road flick?

The answer to this question lies entirely at the script level, and perhaps with the ‘we accidentally threw too much money at it’...thing. There is literally no excuse for scripting this bad, particularly given the pedigree of both the character and the writing team – and the thing that seems to have eluded the production team is that you can’t solve the problems with your script by adding another gargantuan, effects-driven set piece.

Here is a story that has fewer plot points than Star Wars, and yet a thousand times more special effects shots - boiling down decades of mythology both intriguing and fatuous into a mere three story turns and a few bombastic action sequences. There aren't even any twists - it progresses exactly as you might expect, with about as many surprises as a night in with spaghetti Bolognese (what's this?!?! Mushrooms?!?! Oh no, wait..it's just more meat...).

So indeed, our jocky, vaguely arrogant hero learns the ways of the Green Lanterns from a slightly dead purple alien, learns some humility, and then beats up a big, bad alien menace, and ends up getting the girl. But there is literally just wiffle connecting them – ending up as something the Jesus of Suburbia might’ve stitched together, seventeen hours after his last Ritalin dose.

The most telling of these editing nightmares is the ‘training sequence’ that takes place on the Planet Oa. The scene skits fitfully from one character training our hero to another, and it’s in real time. After fifteen minutes of this schizophrenic character dropping, Hal is more-or-less shipped off back to Earth with a pat on the backside. It’s clearly an attempt at fan service, but ends up as more of an insult – making out that this intergalactic police force just hands its power rings out and says 'off you go', despite some earnest efforts to convince us to the contrary.

What’s worse, the entire thing – from the script to the staging - stinks of a certain Tom Cruise movie that involved an arrogant fighter pilot learning some humility. The only thing it’s missing is…y’know…the deeply homoerotic vibe, and even that would’ve at least given this kitsch appeal.

Still, it could’ve resulted in an element of simplicity that had the potential to be vaguely refreshing – Top Gun was hardly a bad film, after all - but it's rendered inert by a complete lack of interesting, connected characters (and yes, that is when compared to Top Gun). Ryan Reynolds does his best with the flaccid script, but ultimately just comes off as a set of teeth hovering in front of a green screen. Blake Lively's Carol Ferris is perhaps the dullest human being ever, let alone the dullest supporting female of all time. Tim Robbins and Mark Strong are completely wasted in roles that are almost entirely peripheral, with the latter’s potential for villainship clearly held back in a ‘we’ll definitely get a sequel!’ move. But the final, crippling blow is Peter Saarsgard's utterly, atrociously awful performance as red-herring villain Hector Hammond. Fine actor though he may be, he attempts to ham it up Anthony Hopkins style, and instead comes across as a screeching, irritating wet fish of a villain, who is ultimately and entirely brushed aside come the big climax.

Okay, so I’m assaulting it a bit here – it certainly wasn’t without its merits. Strong was actually really quite good as Sinestro, and Reynolds, had he had a better plot and stronger writing to work with, would’ve been actually a surprisingly good choice for Hal Jordan, as even in these shambling proceedings, he manages to nail the transition from bastard to do-gooder. The effects are impressively done (when they aren’t completely overwhelming the screen, that is), and there’s an element of fun to be had in all of the set pieces – particularly one that sees him saving a crashing helicopter, which allows Martin Campbell to really flex his action muscles.

It’s just so bloody insubstantial, at the end of the day. There’s so little to it, and yet it lasts for the better part of two hours, with the majority of the film spent faffing about. Had it not been so cynically sequel-driven, or even had a script better than this Top-Gun-with-superpowers knock-off, it could’ve been a decently entertaining movie. As it stands, it’s a sporadically enjoyable, yet ultimately empty affair. The Green Lantern genuinely deserved better than this – some of the most intriguing, integral stories of the DC universe have just been allowed to fizzle out. Let’s hope they still greenlight (hah!) a sequel. Is it way too early to consider a reboot? With distinctly less money thrown at it, and Mark Strong as the main villain? Probably…ah well.

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