June 17, 2011

THE BIJOU REVIEW: “Green Lantern” – Shining Not So Bright

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Watch It At Home:  For Fans of Florescent Green
Another summer weekend; another superhero epic.  What used to be an extravagant event genre is now hard-pressed to muster more than a yawn.  What is there to say about GREEN LANTERN?  Well, it’s better than January’s sophomoric Green Hornet, so at least it’s got color war going for it.  Apart from that, not much.
Green Lantern is more a consumer product than a work of creative impulse, so let’s look at it from that angle.  For Warner Bros, it’s a crucially important property, because their decade-long cash cow franchise Harry Potter is about to expire.  And although next year will bring the sure-thing blockbuster Dark Knight Returns, Christopher Nolan appears to be serious about it being his last Batman movie, and no franchise has ever been so dependent on its director (there’s also the reboot of the Superman series, but with Zack Sucker Punch Snyder behind the camera, that’s a big question mark).  So the studio desperately needs to generate some serious revenue out of its DC Comics affiliate, especially since the last 2 tries, Watchmen and Jonah Hex, were money pits.  (And competitor Marvel is kicking sand in their face.)
Possibly because of all this commercial pressure, Green Lantern is as impersonal as an adventure can be.  It offers a buffet of attitudes we’ve seen in other superhero pictures (a little smart-aleck wit from Iron Man, a bit of faux grandeur a la Thor, a touch of romantic fantasy as in Spiderman), without committing to any of them fully.  The result is very busy, but it doesn’t arouse much interest, and when the inevitable mid-credits easter egg scene set up the sequel, no one in the audience seemed thrilled about it.

The picture doesn’t get off to a bad start:  after the outer space prologue (portentous narration by Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush, introduction of the personification-of-evil enemy creature Parallax), we’re introduced to Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a cocky test pilot who blows mechanized planes out of the sky when he’s not bantering through his on-again off-again relationship with heiress Carol Ferris (Blake Lively). Before long, though, since this is an origin story, we’re sentenced to the land of endless exposition in the script credited to Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg.  Hal is given his magic green ring, weapon and insignia of a corps of intergalactic guardians, by an elder warrior (Temeura Morrison) who’s in the process of dying from Parallax-inflicted wounds.  Then Hal has to be transported to the planet of the greenies for training by the digitized Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan, and the heavily made-up Mark Strong; Hal is told repeatedly that he’s the first human ever to be honored with a ring (the lantern corps apparently isn’t subject to civil rights laws).  He learns that the ring’s powers are basically limitless, since a ring-bearer can bring into existence anything his will can create.  Meanwhile, a speck of Parallax has found its way into Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), an old colleague of Hal and Carol and a fairly mad professor to begin with, who’s soon transformed into a nutcase with a seriously receding hairline.  Many speeches about tactics, will, fear and responsibility later, the blob that is Parallax shows up for the final confrontation, and we can all go home.

Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to realize all this, and even though the director is Martin Campbell, who did a sensational job with the James Bond reboot Casino Royale, there’s scant excitement and more than a little dullness here.  Reynolds is a very lightweight hero–fine when he’s flying planes and displaying his romantic-comedy chops, less so when being stouthearted.  Despite all the articles and interviews presenting Lively as a movie star in waiting, nothing she does in Green Lantern suggests a reach beyond Gossip Girl.  Sarsgaard mostly lets his prosthetic devices do his acting, and everyone else who shows up (Tim Robbins as Sarsgaard’s senator father, Angela Bassett as a government agent) barely registers.  There are plenty of digital effects, but they have surprisingly little impact.  Partly it’s because the things Hal visualizes and thus brings into being all emerge in glowing green (the color of will; if you’re decorating, yellow is the color of fear), so none of it looks real, and the same goes for his digitally painted-on suit and mask.  Parallax is an animated lump with a generic “face” that’s neither scary nor unique, and the expanses of the various planets we see look like the same CG backdrops that show up in other movies. 
After decades of superhero pictures, we’re all a little jaded; the merely spectacular is now routine.  Kids may like this Green Lantern–there are lots of creatures, and objects get thrown about loudly–but for the rest of us, it’s merely inoffensive and forgettable.  And we’re not done:  a few weeks off for Pixar, Transformers 3, and the last Harry Potter, and then the next superhero to bat will be Captain America.  Be still my heart…

(GREEN LANTERN  Warner Bros – PG 13 – 114 minutes – Director:  Martin Campbell – Script:  Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Green, Michael Goldenberg – Cast:  Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Robbins, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett – Wide Release)

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."