Thursday, February 2, 2012

'Green Lantern:' A Cavalcade of Bad Choices, so Let's Just Pick One

Well, it took me over half a year, but I finally watched Green Lantern. I had hopes for it, before it came out, but it lived up to virtually none of those (shoutout to Michael Clarke Duncan's performance as Kilowog, the only character who had a presence from the moment he stepped onscreen). From its crummy, exposition-laden script that couldn't have wasted more time telling rather than showing if it'd been trying to do so, to its ineffective villain, one that does virtually nothing before a rookie human Lantern gets it sucked into the Sun's gravity well, to its unforgivable teasing of a cosmic adventure while delivering a movie that's 80% exposition and 20% bad CGI action, to its awful, terrible costume design, Green Lantern put a whole clip of bullets in the head of my longstanding position that you could argue Martin Campbell's never directed a bad movie. Of all the missteps and bad decisions that make up Green Lantern, one stands head and shoulders above the rest: the hero in whom we're supposed to place our trust, Hal Jordan.

Hal Jordan's not really a character in Green Lantern, more a fine cloak of biographical and emotional information that got draped over Ryan Reynolds' shoulders. Hal's basically Ryan Reynolds, only the Special Limited Edition Test Pilot Variant Ryan Reynolds, with Kung-Fu Grip Commitment Phobia and Spring-Loaded Daddy Issues. Reynolds is a perfectly okay actor and good at what he does, but he's been doing the same thing in starring roles for so long that it's starting to grate. Hal's personality traits get dumped in for the sake of creating obstacles and conflict without any pretense at character building or pacing, and as Reynolds isn't Sean Connery, Robert Redford, or any of Hollywood's great stars whose personalities could compensate for flimsy characterization, we're invested neither in him, nor his movie.

Even beyond that, Hal lacks the one thing that's absolutely necessary for a compelling Green Lantern: creativity. Actually, all of the Lanterns lack this trait, but as Hal's our protagonist, it's triply aggravating. The Green Lantern ring is one of the most powerful tools in the universe, able to create anything the wearer wills into being. What does Hal generate with it? Swords, a chainsaw, a minigun, a brick wall. Granted, there's nothing in his (flimsy) biography to indicate any sort of propensity for self-expression, but he's a somewhat free-spirited guy, not a stick in the mud. Even though he's got the ultimate wish fulfillment weapon in the universe at his disposal, he generates the sort of constructs that wouldn't look out of place in a rushed-to-release tie-in video game (which, by the way, they're in). When Hal finally does halfway creative things with his abilities (the slot car and its track, the drill), they seem out of place, and character, so used to his uninspired, cliched creations we've become.

[In a short digression, I'd like to note that I find it humorous that Blake Lively's last name is what it is, because her acting's anything but. It's doubly irritating, as she drains all the energy out of Reynolds' face, and if he's not engaging us, the already herky-jerky pace of Green Lantern jackknives to a slog. I almost didn't want Hal to save the Earth from Parallax, because if he did, that meant I'd be forced to endure more shared screentime between Hal and Carol Ferris.]

It's impossible to get invested in Hal's journey to becoming a hero, because there's nothing in which to invest. Green Lantern's the Ponzi scheme of superhero movies; the only thing about which we can be thankful is that Warner Brothers didn't run away with unthinkable profits the way Bernie Madoff did. Somehow, they're planning a sequel. Let's hope they start by developing, and writing, a good protagonist this time.

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