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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Green Lantern - Movie Reviews EXCLUSIVE

 The Village Voice

 Green Lantern Does Not Light Up the Screen

It’s 10 minutes before a human character appears on-screen in Green Lantern, a personality-free franchise-launcher that builds toward a quaint, if explosive, argument in favor of the nebulous quality of “humanity.”


Green Lantern
Directed by Martin Campbell
Warner Bros.
Opens June 17
Via a heavily CGI'd prologue, we learn that The Universe is patrolled by a group of fearless, multi-species warriors called The Green Lantern Corps––and, yes, each member is issued an actual old-school camping lantern, which they use to recharge the clunky rings that allow them to harness “the emerald energy of willpower” to “create what you see in your mind.” A new threat known as the Parallax—illustrated as a constantly morphing mass of something like flesh blended with rock, almost an Anselm Kiefer construction anthropomorphized—has managed to kill four members of the Corps, including an arrogant purple humanoid alien who crashes on Earth and uses his last breaths to command that his ring seek out his replacement.
The ring ropes in Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a bad-boy but regular-old-human pilot given to a specific brand of cockiness that manifests itself via conspicuous self-deprecation. “I may be a total screw-up in every other part of life, but the one thing I do know how to do is fly,” he says, after nearly dying in a test-flight exercise when he’s suddenly distracted by an attack of convenient exposition––er, that is, an uncontrollable flashback to the plane-crash death of his own dad. Hal doesn’t give himself enough credit: He also knows how to flirt, often via terrible double entendre, with Carol (Blake Lively), a former girlfriend now in line to run her father’s aircraft company.
Shortly after the ring finds him, Hal is transported via a green energy bubble into space, where he meets Lantern leader Sinestro (Mark Strong), an alien who is skeptical that a human could have the skill and intelligence to make it in the Corps. Hal, ever the self-saboteur, is also sure there must have been some kind of mistake, and he takes the first opportunity to escape this new assignment. But then the Parallax gets its hooks into Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), a scientist creepily obsessed with Carol, and from there somehow it becomes apparent that the future of the Earth is in danger, so, you know. . . .
I could easily fill pages running down the plot obstacles that Lantern director Martin Campbell soullessly cycles through; identifying all the characters introduced by the film's four screenwriters, only to be easily disposed of; and "explaining" the complete hodgepodge of psychological cause-and-effects, from the pervasive daddy issues and complete absence of mothers, to the arbitrary, less-than-convincing confidence issues that Hal is able to surmount as soon as it becomes clear that Carol really wants to kiss him. But the movie never bothers to suggest that any of that really matters: Campbell’s ADD style privileges spectacle over story—so much so that the film never rewards the viewer for even trying to keep track of what is going on.
So you give up, and instead try to grab on to the small pleasures, which momentarily distract from the fact that the narrative is nonsensical, the characters so boilerplate that their every action seem preordained from the earliest frames, even as the action on-screen is often incoherent. Sarsgaard, with a major latex assist, gives a grand camp performance only rivaled in the last 12 months by Michael Sheen in Tron: Legacy. While hardly even registering as a villain, the Parallax is a breathtaking visual idea––roasting its victims alive while simultaneously slurping up their flesh, the entire maneuver rendered as a lacy spray of golden fire and charcoal ash.
This is pure cinematic magic, but the motives of the menace are muddled if not completely opaque. And while Reynolds isn’t a sharp enough actor to really find the crackle in his standard-issue superhero wisecracks, his body is a marvel of precision sculpting. As he breathes in and out in the skin-tight, digitally enhanced Lantern suit, each abdominal muscle seems to pulse independently. It's transfixing––and the closest Green Lantern gets to character detail.

The latest superhero reboot, Warner Bros.' reinterpretation of the comic book character, stars Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively and Peter Sarsgaard.

At least for some members of the public, Green Lantern will prompt the question of how many more comics-based superheroes with awesome powers and responsibilities we really need. Dramatically tart in certain scenes but more often just spinning its wheels doing variations on similar moments from previous episodes in the lives of likewise endowed relatives in the DC and Marvel universes, Warner Bros.' attempt to launch a major new fantasy action hero franchise serves up all the requisite elements with enough self-deprecating humor to suggest it doesn't take itself too seriously. But familiarity may begin to breed creeping signs of contempt, if not in immediate negative box office results then in a general fatigue with such enterprises that's bound to set in sooner or later.
Known to multiple generations of comic book fans through various incarnations that have sprung up since 1940, Green Lantern possesses powers that would be the envy of many another hero, including virtually infinite strength to unleash and ward off destruction, as well as the ability to propel himself quickly into the deep reaches of space and back. He's also accoutered in a uniform distinctly less cool than Batman's and less emblematic than Superman's, a skin-tight green affair with a matching mask that, here at least, he can remove simply by wishing it away when his girlfriend prefers to look him in the eyes without laughing. Simply put, it's an outfit you really can't get away with unless you're as good looking as Ryan Reynolds.
Not uncharacteristically, the future Green Lantern suffered a terrible tragedy in his youth; his beloved test pilot father went up in flames before his very eyes. Courting the same fate himself, little Hal Jordan also grew up to become a dauntless airman, a mad daredevil whose abiding policy with both plane crashes and with women is to be able to walk away from them. Twice burned in this regard has been Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), a fellow flier and aviation heiress who nonetheless has eyes only for the reckless cad.
But it's for his apparent lack of fear that Hal is chosen by the guardians of an ancient and very distant civilization to join the ultra-elite Green Lantern Corps., a group so exclusive that no human has ever before been invited into it. The script by the quartet of Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldberg is heavy on exposition, for the benefit of the uncomprehending Hal as well as for the audience, which cannot be expected to know much about this second-tier DC figure.
In fact, the backdrop is not uninteresting. The universe, according to this gospel, is made up of 3,600 sectors, with the oldest and most advanced is to be found on Oa, an intergalactic outpost where wrinkled, Yoda-like sages have long reigned over a select group of diverse aliens dedicated to boldly repulsing evil wherever it asserts itself.
But when a renegade Corps leader decides to embrace fear and become the arch-villain Parallax (the boom-boxy voice of Clancy Brown), humanity is alerted by the arrival on Earth of emissary Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), a purple-skinned fellow who, before expiring, passes off his green ring and empowering lantern to the unsuspecting Hal. He's a reluctant hero, to be sure, who, after a rough training mission to Oa, is only convinced to take up the cause against the imminent Parallax by the immensely impressed Carol.
Not quite doing for an untested superhero what he did for James Bond in Casino Royale, director Martin Campbell seems to most relish the amusing character of Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a brilliant nerdy scientist enlisted by the government to examine Abin Sur's corpse. Thrilled by the privilege, he is unwittingly contaminated by the exposure and quickly transformed into a mind-reading Elephant Man lookalike with a zealous propensity for the dark side and a score to settle with his bigshot politician dad (Tim Robbins). Sarsgaard has great fun with the role in a performance that increasingly seems like a sly imitation of John Malkovich at his most arch.
But the real threat is Parallax, who eventually attacks Earth in the visually disarming form of a billowing, shape-changing, fire-breathing, octopus-like brown cloud. Faced with such an opponent, Hal packs away his misgivings once and for all to embrace his new powers and cleverly lure Parallax to the one place that might doom him.
To be sure, there is enough going on here to keep fans' 3D glasses glued to their heads: In Oa, there is a whole new planet to explore (even if parts of it disconcertingly resemble a darker version of the ugly set for How the Grinch Stole Christmas), the actors are mostly well cast and effective enough and the action comes on frequently, if not always convincingly; the hero's way of rescuing a large outdoor gathering from an out-of-control helicopter looks hokey and Carol's last-second saving the day in a climactic emergency is flat-out ridiculous.
Now more than ever resembling the circa 1965 Warren Beatty, Reynolds passes muster as a bad boy with greatness thrust upon him and future installments, should they follow, will not need to indulge his prolonged vacillations about accepting his new role in life. And speaking of sequels, an end credits insert plainly reveals which noble character becomes a villain in the next episode.

The Bottom Line

Muscular, well-cast launch of a proposed new franchise can't help but replay a lot of familiar notes.

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