TFG Does The Summer Blockbusters : “Green Lantern”

Posted: June 27, 2011 in comics, movies
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Seriously, folks, where’s all the hate coming from? I’ve seen these summer superhero blockbusters, and you’ve seen ’em too — please tell me how director Martin Campbell’s  cinematic adaptation of the venerable DC comics property Green Lantern is any worse than the rest? In fact, I’d argue — and not just to be contrarian, although I’m certainly not above such behavior — that it is, in fact, a damn sight better than most of them. And yet the word seems to be out — boxofffice.com, in fact, went so far as to call the buzz on this movie “toxic” — that even in a genre expressly designed to be nothing but eye-candy crap, Green Lantern is especially bad.

I say pshah (or however you sell that) on that. GL  is a goddamn blast.

All of which is not to say it doesn’t have its flaws. They are many, and they are varied — from Ryan Reynolds’ poorly-executed costume to Blake Lively’s thoroughly nondescript (to put it charitably — although she is easy on the eyes) performance as love interest Carol Ferris to the TV-movie-the-week “quality” of James Newton Howard’s musical score,  this movie has a shitload of problems.

But it’s also tremendously ambitious and not afraid to use every penny of its purported $200 million budget bringing summer braindead audiences exactly what they want, and probably a great deal more than what they expect. Sure, you can quibble about the movie’s overall unnecessarily somber tone, its few attempts at humor falling absolutely flat, the general unlikability of central character Hal Jordan, its ham-fisted attempts at dwelling on the metaphysical nature of fear itself, etc. — but why dwell on the negatives with this flick while giving all the other mega-blockbusters a pass when they throw in everything but the kitchen sink and most of it doesn’t work?

I think Green Lantern is coming in for extra criticism for a couple of reasons, one obvious and one less so. The first is that pre-release buzz to a large extent defines critical and audience perceptions of a film these days, and this flick was in deep trouble on that front from the word go (and even before it). At the concept/pre-production stage it went through all kinds of bizarre transmutations (at one point it was even envisioned as a straight-up farce to be directed by Jon Favreau with Jack black as an incompetent superhero) before the steady hand of James Bond veteran Campbell was brought in to provide sensibility and stability. The seas were calm until that first disastrous preview trailer hit, which again made the whole thing look like a half-assed comedy of some sort, and required an almost-immediate response in the form of a new, CGI-heavy trailer designed to calm all the fanboy nerves out there. The reaction to the second trailer was mostly positive, but the damage had been done — this was now perceived as a movie with problems.

Secondly, and this is where we get just a little bit theoretical so please bear with me, Green Lantern, rather than trying to eschew the inherent implausibility (and, frankly, absurdity) of its premise, which is something all self-respecting blockbusters just plain must do in order to provide a thin veneer of supposed “respectability” to their outlandish scale and nature, not only embraces, but flat-out flaunts how fucking impossibly crazy it is. This is a movie about a guy with a magical green ring that can do anything fighting a giant goddamn space octopus made out of pure fear energy, for God’s sake! I say screw the supposed “respectability” you’re never going to get anyway, and go for the gusto — and that’s exactly what Green Lantern does.

On a practical level, sure, there are some nice performances from Peter Sarsgaard as the demented villain Hector Hammond (and this is a flat-out great insane movie baddie, folks), tim Robbins as his morally and politically corrupt US Senator father, and the criminally0underutilized Angela Bassett as alien-researcher Dr. Amanda Waller. Mark Strong is also solid as bad-add GL Corps member (and future bad guy if they ever do a sequel) Sinestro. But the main star here is the CGI, as is always the case with this stuff, and it’s straight-up awesome to look at. Yes, what’s unfolding on the screen is patently, even hysterically, absurd — but then so is what we’re seeing in Thor, Transformers, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, you name it. But the scale and scope of the story here is such that you can’t really run and hide from the absurdity and pretend it’s not there — you’ve either gotta embrace it all the way, or go home. Give Green Lantern credit for never shying away from what it is and for not being afraid to fail. It’s as if Campbell knew that some of this shit was gonna hit, some was gonna miss, and he had no choice but to go all in and put every one of his cards on the table. He shoots for the moon each and every time and if he doesn’t get there at least he sure as shit tried.

And that’s where I think this movie ultimately succeeds. What it lacks in brains and believability it more than makes up for in sheer balls. This is a movie that knows what it’s supposed to do and occasionally isn’t afraid to try to be even a bit more than what it is. there’s no cruise control setting here, folks — Campbell and his cohorts got up every morning and went the fuck to work. The end result isn’t high cinematic art or even anything close to it, but then that was hardly the goal. Their objective was to hit you with everything they’ve got and then some, and while admittedly a great number of their punches miss, those that hit really wallop the hell out of you. Why waste your time with movies that insult your intelligence by even pretending for a minute that they have any? Go all out, embrace your inner 12-year-old, stick your brain in a formaldehyde jar in case you decide you need it again after the movie, and kick back and enjoy the spectacle. That’s all these summer superhero mega-monoliths are — at least Green Lantern has the guts to admit it and drag you along for a thoroughly entertaining ride. A guy in the seat in front of me summed it up best when he said “Fuckin’-A right” as the credits rolled, and it occured to me that somewhere Martin Campbell should be smiling, as I can’t imagine a more perfect reaction to his handiwork.

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