Green Lantern

What the hell happened?
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2011
Director: 
Martin Campbell
Starring: 
Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard
The Setup: 
Another attempt to start a superhero franchise.
Discussion: 

You know that line from Anna Karenina that all happy families are alike, while unhappy families are all unhappy in their own way? I was thinking of that when I saw this movie, as I had no interest when I thought it was going to be just another mediocre superhero film, but became interested only after I heard it was supposed to be really bad. Because--bad in what way? What went wrong? Which are always the interesting questions. Unfortunately, we'll never really know exactly what went wrong here, but it bears the stink of too many cooks in the kitchen, too many studio notes, too much input from everywhere, too many focus groups.

The other thing is that this movie is giving me a giant pain in the ass, as it actually took me three tries to see it, and I wrote a perfectly good review--and somehow lost it. So here I am now REwriting it, which should tell you how much fun it is ripping it apart and speculating on how it all ended up this way.

We open with a buttload of exposition by voiceover, telling us that that there's this corps of various aliens, the Green Lanterns (GLs) and that they're kind of this intergalactic police force. Then these other aliens inadvertently set free this evil force that had been trapped, which looks like a pissed-off decomposing octopus. Turns out there's the force of will, which is expressed in green energy, and fear, which is yellow. So then what's taupe? Ennui? And does this mean that the yellow-green Lymon of Sprite represents a perfect balance? In every delicious, refreshing can? Please respect the producers' wishes and do not reflect that will and fear are not exactly opposites. Thanks so much.

So now we meet Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, sociopath. He drives recklessly while wrapping a present, then is sent to fly his jet against these robot jets, in a device stolen from Stealth, and that one episode of TOS Star Trek. This is one of the traces of what I can only assume was the original script, and its subtext about Hal's humanity and how humanity is like, SO amazing. Nevertheless it, and the robot jets, will only appear in flashes from here on out and have no real bearing on the story. Hal uses a method he saw in Iron Man to defeat the jets, then gets paralyzed by his daddy issues (every hero's got 'em!) and goes into a trance as he remembers how his daddy seemed so brave, but nevertheless blew up before Hal's eyes. This will come up again and again, but at the same time seem totally unrelated to everything. But Hal is still paralyzed by them, to the point where he almost let's himself die and... Gee Hal, haven't you worked through this stuff before? A good therapist is your next stop, buddy. Hal shows no responsibility after ruining the test and destroying an expensive plane, then it's off to a birthday party at some relatives who will never show up again and have nothing to do with anything.

Meanwhile, in space, the space octopus attacks this one Green Lantern who we are repeatedly told is their best warrior, but there's little evidence as he is handily defeated without so much as a fight. He crash lands on Earth and tells his ring to go out and find America's Next Top Green Lantern, after which it brings back Hal. They don't get much time to bond before the alien gives him the ring and the lantern, which looks like a fancy bong and again, has nothing to do with anything. Hal is next flown to the GL planet, where he learns that when it's least expected, he's elected, and he takes being able to fly and manifest any little thing he can think of with his mind rather in stride. Not to mention being on another planet with a whole massive civilization. Just another day. He gets some quickie combat training, and learns that there are hundreds of thousands of GLs, all of different races, but Hal is a pathetic human, so they won't let him play in any reindeer games. There's this one GL with a bad sunburn who is a particular dick to him, then Hal flies home, that being that, then.

On Earth, Peter Sarsgaard is a nerdy scientist brought in by the government to autopsy the alien. He gets zapped by something, and starts to grow a big head, and can soon hear others' thoughts. We soon find out that he can also manifest stuff like Hal, but also has some connection to the space octopus, none of which is ever made clear. What this guy is even doing in the movie is also not clear, as he's not really the villain and ends up, like so much else, just this extraneous, unrelated element.

Other characters without any real place in the story are Blake Lively as "the girl," Tim Robbins as some sleazy senator and Angela Bassett as some government official. Soon we come to the inevitable "scene in which the hero reveals his powers to the public," during which we also learn that Sarsgaard is Robbins' son, and Lively is some other ancillary character's daughter, and Hal, Lively and Sarsgaard were all in high school together, or something. There's a helicopter accident, and Hal saves the day. It's all well enough, but it reminded me of that other "hero reveals his power to the public" scene, which also involved a helicopter, in Richard Donner's Superman. It's an unfortunate comparison, as it can only remind one of the euphoria the Superman scene was able to generate, whereas here...

One refreshing thing is that Hal's friends recognize him right away, so there's none of that tedious double identity stuff. Hal's best friend comes over to see a demonstration, the VANISHES from the film. Hal also drops in here that he has to recharge the ring every now and then, a factoid you'd think would come to bear at some point, but no. Then there's rekindled romance with Lively, and a bunch of yak-yak about how Hal always runs away without completing anything, which has no resonance, since we've seen no evidence of it. Let alone that Hal barely has a character at all.

SPOILERS (NOT REALLY) > > > So after five GLs go out to kill the space octopus and are handily killed, you're like THESE are the galaxy's mighty defenders? Cause they don't look like much from here. Then Sarsgaard has some evil plot to make Lively like him, because he's had a crush on her all along, and after a short battle is handily defeated, which might cause you to wonder what his character had to do with this movie at all. The space octopus shows up on Earth immediately after, and after a little mini siege, Hal takes it and dumps it into the sun, simple as that. The end. < < < SPOILERS END

At the end the voiceover comes back and tells us that Hal is now the greatest GL ever--not hard to believe since the rest have all been shown to be such total fucktards--and that the reason he's the best is because of his HUMANITY. No elaboration on what is so super about humanity, just take our word for it. Oh, and by the way, there's all these hundreds of thousands of GLs of numerous alien races, dating back centuries, apparently, and poof! Hal is all of a sudden the best one ever.

Okay, none of this is to say that I didn't enjoy sitting there watching it. Reynolds is actually fine as a superhero, and who knows how good he could be if he actually had a consistent character to play? And the effects are good and the 3-D post-conversion is clear, as befits a $200 million movie where attention was lavished on the effects and story was a clear last place. I also had fun deciphering exactly what's wrong with it. My guess is too many cooks in the kitchen. What you end up with are a bunch of disparate fragments, not bad within themselves, but that never come together to make a coherent story. At first you're kind of like "Oh good, we don't have to sit through too much training montage. Oh nice, we don't have to see the public's reaction to this new flying guy," but after a while you realize that it's not on purpose. And after you start to realize that whole major characters are here with no purpose in the story, that they will often vanish without a trace, and the movie just jumps from scene to scene without any attempt to make overall sense, and you just give up.

It's too bad, because there was potential. The biggest disappointment is that Hal has the ability to manifest anything with his mind, but apparently his mind consists only of cars, planes and guns. There are one or two wacky choices that make you realize this movie could have gone in a delightfully silly direction with Hal manifesting a bunch of crazy, Bugs Bunny-like contraptions, but no. The movie also flirts with the idea that his manifestations might reveal his unconscious--in the helicopter scene he manifests a giant Hot Wheels track that he had been looking at earlier--but again, no. Later Sarsgaard's jealousy over Hal getting Lively, as well as Hal being chosen as a GL, flirts with the idea that the movie might explore the idea that the good-looking guy always gets what he wants in life handed to him on a silver platter, which Reynolds, with his smarmy charm, would have been ideal to tackle, but you can't put that on Taco Bell collector's cups, so obviously it has no place.

So there ya are. It's not unpleasant to sit through, but then again you won't come out saying "Wow, that was good!" the way you will with X-Men: First Class, you'll come out thinking how lame it was and what you're going to have for dinner. I'd love to know how fans of the comic feel. They're a particularly devoted bunch, and this movie can only feel like an insult. It won't kill you if you see it, but there really is absolutely no reason to.

Should you watch it: 

Depends on how desperate you are.