Unreal Movie Review: Green Lantern

3 out of 5 stars

Movie criticism is a funny thing. One day you make a film about a galactic race of supehero aliens and they love you, the next you try the exact same thing with a different color palate and they can’t stand you. That’s what’s happened between Thor and Green Lantern, two films with similar premises but divided by a huge gulf of reviews. Thor earned lavish praise for its depiction of Viking extraterrestials, while Green Lantern‘s space police have drawn nothing but contempt.

The reasons why are perplexing, and the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Thor was not the superhero godsend that most would have you believe, and Green Lantern is not a cesspool in the genre, despite what the worst reviews for a comic book film since Halle Berry’s Catwoman would say. Yes, it does some things worse than its Nordic-themed predecessor, but it also is better in a few regards and the disparity of reactions between the films is headscratching.

Green Lantern is oddly paced, but often quite funny with a few solid action sequences. It’s heavy handed about its moral, but what superhero movie isn’t these days, including Thor? It has a silly backstory, but one made acceptable by a solid supporting cast and there are no space Vikings to be found. Green Lantern himself is represented by a very talented and funny actor, but it’s unclear if this was the role for him.

Deadpool? Sure. Hal Jordan? Eh.

To this moment, I’m still trying to decide how I feel about Ryan Reynolds being cast in this movie. On the one hand, the man is charming, hilarious and I’ll say it, damn good looking. He’s been a great leading man before, but the problem is, he seems to conform roles to him, rather than the other way around. That’s fine for a Sandra Bullock rom com, but here, with Hal Jordan? It’s really just like the ring choose Ryan Reynolds, as the two act one and the same. Jordon is absorbed by Reynolds, not other way around.

Reynolds’ persona works well for him, and he has some undeniably funny lines in this film. You kind of need to have a bit of a sense of humor in a movie with this much absurd subject matter like purple aliens and magic rings and floating space octopi. But was he the best choice for the part? I’m just not sure his style meshes as well as it needs to with what this movie should have been.

I actually liked Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, who brings 10x the spunk that Natalie Portman did in Thor, giving Hal shit rather than fluttering her eyelashes and grinning like an idiot every time he looks her way. My favorite scene of the whole film is when Reynolds approaches her as the Lantern, wearing a mask and using his best Batman voice to disguise himself. After a minute she goes, “Hal? Is that you? Seriously? You thought I wouldn’t recognize you because I can’t see your cheekbones?” I was just glad to see one of my all-time superhero gripes brought to light. Lord knows that will never happen with Clark Kent and his magic identity-concealing glasses.

A believable pairing…for a superhero movie.

The rest of the plot is not quite so self aware. We’re now getting to the point where comic book movies are starting to feel a bit too comic booky. Even casual fans know the origins of Batman and Superman and Spider-Man, but Green Lantern? A man chosen by a ring made by a giant United Nations of alien species who protect the universe from the evil power of yellow fear by using the good power of green will? We’re starting to get a bit out there.

The universe Green Lantern exists in is vast and cosmic, so a good deal of scenes take place with entirely computer generated characters on computer generated planets. During ring power battles, items are manifested using whatever comes into the mind of Lantern at that time. Sounds cool in theory, like it could possibly create some very creative fights, but in practice it can come off as goofy a good majority of the time. Notable examples include saving a crashing helicopter by creating an entire green holographic race track, or worse yet, punching an evil intergalactic space entity in the face with a giant green fist as the penultimate blow in the entire film.

It’s strange to see CGI in a movie alternate so consistently between being both rather good and terrible. For example, I expected to have a whole paragraph lamenting the awfulness of Reynold’s CGI costume, but it actually works pretty well, and its luminescent and organic properties do make it unique among film superhero outfits. Conversely, I thought the Lantern’s homeworld was just a big blobby mess of visual effects. Comparing it to the excellently stylized architecture of Asgard in Thor, it just seemed like a hodgepodge of things that appeared vaguely alien, but with no real unifying look to it.

Often times the only thing not CGI onscreen is Ryan Reynold’s face.

Similarly, the grand bad guy of the whole affair, Parallax, a giant space octopus with a Mars Attacks alien head just looked ridiculous the majority of the time. I’ve come to realize that I have yet to actually find any entirely CGI villain intimidating. Not Parallax here, not Galactus, not even last week’s Super 8 monster. There’s something about needing a flesh and blood villain to actually make the threat feel real. Imagine if in Star Wars, there was just some giant CGI space monster with the power to eat planets. It would have had the same agenda as Darth Vader and the Emperor, but would have made a far less interesting villain, as there wouldn’t be any real substance to it.

That’s what much of this film feels like. The CGI heavy parts are SO heavy on CGI, it doesn’t feel like you’re on some sprawling alien planet, it feels like you’re in a warehouse in front of a green screen, much in the same way George Lucas’ new trilogy felt as opposed to the older films more heavily reliant on sets and physical actors. There’s something inherently jarring about taking a live action movie and taking it to places where literally 99% of the content onscreen is CGI, right down to the character’s bodies. It may have worked for Avatar, but it took James Cameron over a decade to get it right, and he put far more work into his virtual world.

It’s tough to criticize too much because after all, this is a movie about an intergalactic police force, and the subject matter inherently calls for much of this animation. But there is a balance to be struck between CGI and reality, even in movies like this, and Green Lantern never really finds it.

“So you’re like a fish-bird? A fish-bird-man? I’m going back to the Marvel universe.”

The message of the film is about solving a character flaw in order to become a hero. In Thor it was arrogance, in Green Lantern it’s fear. But the way the plot unfolds kind of stumbles through the concept, and by the end, it’s unclear why Hal is able to take on this unstoppable intergalactic force by himself after a half hour of ring training, while legions of seasoned Lanterns previously fell before it. Similarly, little reason is given to his mentor Sinestro’s shift toward supervillaindom. A beacon of morality and courage the whole film, apparently his sinister name and the fact that he literally looks like Satan cause him to be corrupted in the film’s closing moments. But it, like many things in this film, makes little sense with what came before it.

Green Lantern isn’t great, and even good might be a stretch, but it’s certainly not the abomination it’s been made out to be. Part of its failure is in its loopy source material, which couldn’t have looked much different translated into film, and I think we have to start questioning which superheroes actually deserve the big screen treatment. It’s a cautionary tale of CGI overload, but a film that does the best it can with what it has, and I can’t really fault it for that.

3 out of 5 stars

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  1. It wasn’t bad but it lacked the light constructs that make the character compelling to read and now watch. There are only two scenes that he really gets to use his abilities and both seemed short compared to the amount of time spent on the love story.

    If you see it be sure to stay for the extra scene tucked inside the end credits.

  2. The reason Hal was able to defeat Parallex at the end while the rest of the Green Lanterns failed was because he accepted that he was afraid and was able to overcome it while the other Green lanterns were unable to admit that they were scared and then succumed to it. They mention it at the end, im nots sure of the exact quote but they say something like “What was thought of as a weaknesss ended up making him the strongest” A throwaway line that was easily missed but it is explained in the movie.

    Also Sinestro putting on the yellow ring I think was just an easter egg of what to expect in the sequal (if there is one) Im sure that the sequal will start out with Sinestro still being good and go into his motivations for putting on the yellow ring.

    Overall I liked the movie. Not great but not as horrible as the reviews are saying and I liked it better then Thor. Also I saw it in 3d and the 3d was actually pretty good. A big difference when shooting a movie for 3d and converting it after. Still a gimmick sure, but at least executed well.

  3. I am not sure this is relevant … Thor grossed more domestically during the first weekend. I checked. Could this be due to the fact that Thor was shown in many more theaters (>750) than Green Lantern and to the season? This could have a bearing insofar as the returns are concerned.

  4. I could not help but compare Green Lantern to the 2002 Spider-Man movie. The similarities in the story are just obvious. There’s the boy loves girl since childhood, hero and friend loves the same girl, friend has father issues, friend’s father admires the hero more than his son, superhero and supervillain originated on the same day, hero got his superpowers by accident, and superhero saves his girl all the time.

    I give this 2.5 out of 5

  5. i havent seen the film (and prob. will not until it runs in free-tv) but green latern source material is so huge and full of good storys … they have to atleast make 3 2 hour movies to get a decent story together… but with all that cgi i dont see that working, to be honest … it just looks so complety cheap and unreal

    and ryan should stick to deadpool, if they make that one right (not like that crap in wolverine:origins), there is no way deadpool isnt going to be the best super”hero” movie ever

  6. i am a fan of comics and a few of them movies. i am more upset that they almost called thor an alien but never said he was one in the movie. green lantern was a good movie better and closer then the x-men movies i can say that much. the CGI in the movie was crappy but it was not that back they could have made the suits as a real suit

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