Monday, July 25, 2011

Green Lantern (2011: Warner Brothers Entertainment)

This movie had just about everything going for it. This was suppose to be the big budget summer blockbuster that the WB is hoping that this series becomes the next Harry Potter, the movie that they bring out every summer that is their big money maker. They threw money at this movie. It has a wonderful cast, tons of characters who had recognizable names, fantastic CG, especially for the alien world and space background, a decent story—so what went wrong? Why didn’t enough people go out and see it? Why did the critics hate it so much they rated it lower than Mr. Popper’s Penguins?

Now for the context. I really like Green Lantern. Not Hal Jordan, he can just go away, or stay dead, or whatever, but everyone else. The world. I love the Corps and the stories there in. I love Kyle Rayner, Kilowog, and Guy Gardner has even grown on me. I’ve read the comic, I’ve cosplayed a Red Lantern at DragonCon, I like Green Lantern.

Therefore, I was really looking forward to this movie. I know that my expectations were high, and tried to lower them. I tried to look at this movie for what it was and not anything more. But even then, I was disappointed. Honestly, more than anything else, I feel like quoting Get Smart, “Missed it by that much.” They were so close to greatness, if they’d just changed a few little things. No, looking at this list, no, not just little things, but a few things nonetheless.

I will say that I am going to be really hard on this movie. Probably harder than I’ll be on a lot of things that will follow, but I want you to understand that overall I did like it. The acting was good, the action was pretty good, and they didn’t really mess up anything—there’s nothing that I felt that they really needed to retcon in future installments of the series (and yes, they have green lit the sequel). The big problem was that it didn’t work. Not just for me, but it did not do well at the box office. It could have been so much better.

The Plot: Hal Jordan is found by a dying alien, given a magical ring of power, and uses this ring to save the day from an uber alien menace after realizing that he is “only human” and it is okay to be afraid, so long as you don’t run away.

There are multiple subplots. Carol Ferris loves Hal, has had a relationship with him in the past, and is trying to prove herself in a man’s world (her plot thread really doesn’t do anything). Hector Hammond is a horrible disappointment to his dad, but nonetheless is chosen by his dad to do an alien autopsy, which infects him, he turns into a mastermind villain who is killed by a bigger baddie. Sinestro is a powerful green lantern who is upset by the death of his friend, calls all of the lanterns together to defeat the big baddie, fails, and puts all of his faith into the power of the enemy. Parallax is a corrupted Guardian who has embraced the power of fear and wants to destroy the other Guardians on Oa, but takes a detour to Earth when he finds out that the ring of the one who imprisoned him, whom he’d already killed, is there, where he kills Hector, among others, before being lured into the sun by Hal, where he blows up.

Problem 1: The World.

The Green Lantern world is vast. Like they said in the horrible and heavy-handed exposition at the beginning of the movie, this story encompasses the entire Universe. It’s big. It has a vast array of characters, interesting, fleshed out characters with backgrounds and personalities. It’s such a big story that you have to pare it down somewhere in order for the origin of Hal Jordan to be told. Stuff has to be cut, shortened, not explained.

However, mostly, the movie didn’t do that. Instead they altered a bit, and then tried to cram in everything. This was one of my first problems with this movie. The expositional onslought at the beginning, told in narration. Trying to shove so much of the world in, at the beginning, really sets a bad/cheesey tone for the whole movie in the audience. Yes, they want to show Abin Sur in all of his glory, they want to give Paralax a reason to come after Abin Sur, they wanted to show that Abin Sur was a badass. But they didn’t need to. In the beginning of the comics, or in the Green Lantern episode of the 90’s Superman cartoon, Hal had no idea he was a part of an alien organization. No one knew why Abin Sur had died, only that he was injured and did. They gave hints as to what he was investigating, but they didn’t explain it, because it was suppose to be a mystery, leaves something to explore later. I actually really liked it in Secret Origins when we finally found out that he was in a ship (when he could fly through space) because he was afraid that his ring would fail him.

Instead of telling us that Abin Sur was the one to lock Paralax away, instead of telling us at the beginning in an expositional onslought who the Guardians are, who Paralax is—if they had not started with the 3 aliens who didn’t matter and used them as the plot device of “Parallax kills by sucking out their souls/bones,” if they had just started with Abin Sur, on his way to a mission, and then attacked by an unknown force of scary, a “yellow energy,” I think that would have been a better opening. It would have instilled mystery, and they could have introduced some of the ideas of MultiGalaxtic Police Force in his conversation with Sinestro. They could have gone into the fact that devastation is happening, which they already told, instead of showed. We saw some of the massive devastation in Abin Sur’s great acting. You could almost see in his face, “My friends are gone, all those people…”

I get that they wanted to give us a reason to care that Abin Sur died. But just telling us that he was “the greatest Green Lantern” doesn’t do that, so we would have lost nothing by not telling us that. He was a police officer. It’s a bad thing when police officers die while on duty.

I think starting that way would have helped to not downplay the seriousness of the movie, and still help the plot along. Basically everything told in that narration was revisited (or could have been introduced) in Tomar-Re’s introduction to Oa anyway.

There are multiple other places where the pace of the movie suffers because of trying to include too much of The World. Many of these have to do with the Too Much Too Soon problem in many, of all things, Marvel movies, but in comicbook movies in general. You have such a vast world of characters that writers feel they have to put in characters that hardcore fans will know and already love, otherwise known as Fanservice.

As I said before, the cast was pretty awesome. Everyone who was in the movie acted well (or at least as well as they were written), including some truly stellar and spot on performances. I’m not knocking the actors, but based on the story itself there was no reason to have characters such as Amanda Waller, Carol’s Dad, Hector’s Dad (who is as far as I’m aware never existed, but was added to add more Daddy issues, because there weren’t enough Daddy issues already with Hal’s Dad—speaking of), Hal’s Dad, the other 3,595 Green Lanterns including named and recognizable lanterns who died! as well as the multiple lanterns who didn’t do anything other than shout, “We are the Corps,” and push a green light into space, and let’s be perfectly honest, Hector. And the fact that I could name many of these superfluous characters is the major problem. Just because F Sharp Bell exists, doesn’t mean you need to include him in the first movie as a recognizable character. While this does mean you can make a toy of him… And isn’t that just the point… But I digress.

So much time was spent on including all of these characters, however, no expositional and character building time was spent. Amanda Waller is Govn’t WoMan What Come From The Govn’t, with tragic past. Who cares? This doesn’t tell me anything about her, that’s just her backstory. Carol’s Dad is nothing but fluff, I know nothing about his character. He owns a company and has to lay people off. That’s the most characterization we get about him. Hector’s Dad is a bit more expanded by the fact that he’s a father that wants what’s best for his son, but doesn’t understand him and is focused on using connections to “make it” in the world. Woop de doo. He learns nothing about his son, trying to “fix” his life right up until he dies. No development, no growth, and doesn’t add anything to the plot.

Problem 2: Now we’re going to talk about Oa, which has to do with The World, but needs a category all to itself.

They put in a ton, and I mean every alien lantern in existence at this point, of lanterns in this movie, and that cost a lot of money, and honestly had very little impact on the movie itself.

1) You can’t even see most of them. They are there to give the Awe-Inspiring factor. To show how vast the Corps is. To have them shout into the air, “We are the Corps.” While I do understand why they did this, I don’t feel as it is very effective.

2) This is an “unprecedented gathering of lanterns,” (which they do twice in the movie. Lame.), but they don’t use the gathered 3,600 lanterns. Only 8 volunteer to go face the evil threat. If all 3,600, or even 100 had volunteered to go with Sinestro, Parallax wouldn’t have been a problem. But instead, this ask for aid could have easily been given through a mass communication, through the ring. Something that they show can be done in the introduction of Abin Sur, but they never use again.

3) This scene is suppose to be the awe-inspiring scene of the movie. The one that instills faith in the strength of the Corps. But this fails. Why did they send the light out into the darkness of space? And more importantly, why didn’t they shout The Green Lantern Oath, instead of the “We are the Corps” BS. The Oath is inspiring. It is the “We stand between the good and the darkness.” It sometimes gives me chills when done well. That would have been a good place to do it well. And they just didn’t.

4) Most importantly, the time and money spent on this scene could easily could have been used to help the lack of training Problem. Let me point this out to be a Big Problem. In about 2 minutes, Hal goes from not being able to produce a smooth ringed construct to literally right after that making a steel plate, with supports, an anchor and lead rope, a chain, swords, a gattling gun, a wall, and he quits. (Did I remember everything?). I actually used my stopwatch to time this “Training” during my second watchthrough. It was about 2 minutes. Within seconds of 2 minutes. This is NOT enough training. If they’d left out the “unprecedented gathering of lanterns” in order to spend more time, and therefore budget, in a training montage, or even a training mission, I feel like we would have connected with Hal more.

5) This would have also been an excellent place to develop the relationship between Sinestro and Hal. The reason that Sinestro’s “betrayal” of the Corps hurts Hal so much is the fact that they were friends, in the comics, at least. Personally, I feel that that development is one of the strongest relationships in the series and is necessary to make Sinestro less of a “sinester” villain and more of a well rounded character in his own right. The fact that he is an idealist who believes whole heartedly in the Corps, to the point that he betrays the Corps only to save it—which, granted, they did touch on—is what makes a cheesey old skool DC cardboard cutout villain turn fantastic. They touched on Sinestro and Hal getting along at the end, but then they gave him the yellow ring. This whole plot development seems so rushed, especially when other parts of the story seemed to take forever.

Problem 3: Speaking of taking forever, let’s talk about the love drama between Carol and Hal.

I understand that due to budget you need several Earth scenes that don’t cost a lot of money to break up the action. While I understand that, I do not agree with the choices they made. Carol is not a very interesting character, and the parts about her character that make her interesting don’t happen until she becomes Star Saphire. However, initially she should be a strong character, one who secretly loves Hal, but who doesn’t give him the time of day because she’s been burned before. The fact that she, over and over, is kind to him just doesn’t ring strong to me. It rings more pathetic. She falls for Hal’s charismatic personality and ends up following him around like a little lost puppy, hurt because he’s kicked her in the past, but really just wanting love. The feminist in me cries, “Not cool, movie.”

I think the angle of, “We used to date, but I was a douche and you don’t really like me anymore, but you were the person who really got me, and yeah, you’re my boss,” would have been a bit more interesting. Honestly, there was no reason, inside the movie for Carol to not be the one to fire Hal (she actually did in the comic), other than to have him there at the stupid party, which there are multiple other scenerios that could have gotten him there, like, “Hal, you actually made the contract happen, please come back and work with us,” angrily through her teeth. A scene with her confiding in someone, maybe the tech-friend whose name I never seemed to catch at Ferris Air (was that Pieface?), that it would be so much easier if she could really just cut him out of her life, but she can’t because he is the best.

Personally, if they hadn’t actually gone with the love story in this movie, I think a lot of people’s complaint with the movie would have lessened. If they’d set up for a love story in the second movie, I think that would have been a bit more interesting. And it would have given us a little more time to connect with the characters, the actors a little more time to connect with the massive backstory of the characters, and the characters to realistically connect with each other.

Although, because of their history, they do have the Best Reveal of Superhero Scene Evar. I really did like the, “Just because you hid your cheekbones,” scene. I think that really, really worked.

Instead, they could have filled this time with scenes, on Earth if that’s what the budget calls for, with Hal trying to figure out where he stands in his world. The love scenes didn’t really change anything until the end, it didn’t help the characters grow or change. She did give him a little advice, but this could have been accomplished without the love angle and more focus on the “we used to be friends” angle.

Problem 4: The Conflicts.

This movie, like characters, had too many conflicts.

1) Hal versus his own sense of inadequacy. I find it really amusing that “The Man Without Fear” has an inferiority complex that he showboats by being the best fighter pilot and very cocky. Okay. I don’t really understand how his daddy dying makes him both this cocky and this vulnerable. In the comics, he is cocky, and he knows no fear because the worse thing he can think of has already happened. His beloved dad has died. He over comes this “fear,” by having a talk with his friend and coming to a very weak realization in a conversation with the Guardians and Sinestro. Personally, I felt that this conflict was handled rather poorly. They overuse the word “fear,” and then don’t give him enough of an Ah-ha moment, but rather suddenly he changes his mind and decides to not be afraid. I would have preferred if they’d made this less about “fear,” and more about how big the job is and how small he is. I wish this had been a sense of unworthiness from the beginning, as opposed to the sense of “this is awesome” to suddenly “this is hard, wah, I’m going home.” And not using the word “fear” so much. That was a little ridiculous.

I think this would have been a good place to reuse the character of Hal’s nephew again. Where he goes back to his family and realize what is worth fighting for. Not just The World, but specifically his family—the only thing in his life that he really ever cared about.

2) Hal versus Hector. But really, that wasn’t what this conflict was about. This conflict was about Hector versus his dad and his feeling of inadequacy. Sound familiar? This conflict is resolved by an outside element, the infection, changing Hector into a man of agency. He then decides to start torchering and killing people. Good for him. Green Lantern fights him, and gives Parrallax an extremely weak reason to come to Earth, where Parallax kills him. All around, this seems like a trainwreck. Why is Hector even in this movie, except as a plot device to get Parallax to Earth. Like having Earth be the first creation of life in the Universe is not enough of a reason? Like there couldn’t have been any other plot reason for Parallax to come to Earth.

Hector is interesting, and was incredibly well played. Peter Sarsgaard has range/. But I believe the story would have been better served if he wasn’t a part of the plot. At least not for this movie. Why do we need an alien autopsy? Why do we need Amanda Waller? Why do we need Hector’s Dad? All of these are related to “Because Hector is in the movie.” And if he wasn’t, we wouldn’t need to spend time or money in any of these scenes.

The only real reason he seems to be in the movie is to hold a mirror up to Hal in their final confrontation, but Hal ruins this by, “I lied, too… You have to be chosen.” In this he says that Hector’s existence is completely useless, he could never changed what he was for the better, and he might as well give up and die, which he does a few seconds later. I think the most interesting bit of his character was the idea that once he’s changed Carol to be like him, and he knows that he is hideous, that Hal would no longer want her because he is superficial, but Hector would because he loves Carol for who she is. To this I say, why didn’t they explore this? That was interesting! But then, for no reason other then he was stalling for Parallax, he wimps out and for no reason doesn’t infect her. Why not? Because Hal said, “Wait!”? I do not understand.

And again, the feminist in me has to have a bit of a say. Why does he kidnap Carol? Why does she have to be the damsel in distress? Granted, she does shoot the rockets at Parallax and gives Hal a chance to get them away from the warehouse, but the fact that she does get kidnapped by Hector is incredibly cliché, not to mention overused.

3) And we’re not even done yet. Parallax versus Hal. My own personal thoughts about what they did to Parallax completely aside (it’s a movie, if they wanted to go with giant octopus of evil, the 7 year old I saw the movie with said it actually freaked him out. Mission accomplished. I think it looks lame and they should have gone with the Yellow Entity Parallax, but I don’t know where they’re going with the yellow in later movies, so I’ll allow it), there is a conflict between Hal and Parallax. Hal has to overcome his fear of inadequacy in order to grow into a man, be the hero, and defeat the Big Baddie. As far as epic battles go, I’ll give it a pass. It was not the best, but not the worse. The biggest complaint I’ve heard (other than octopus of evil), was that at the end, when he was shooting Hal with what amounts to light, which should have been able to escape the sun’s gravitational pull, but light apparently does have mass, so I’ll give this a scientific pass, too. More science than I covered in my BA astronomy classes, but it wasn’t my degree so that’s not surprising.

4) The Guardians versus the Universe. And this is one of the ones that comes up in the comics a lot, but I felt it was particularly heavy-handed in this movie. The Guardians never tell anybody anything if they can help it. They are the great self-designated Guardians of the Universe, but they never want to help anyone actually do anything (and yes, if you read the comic, I am exaggerating, but not by much). The fact that they were “silent” so much in the movie, that they followed Sinestro’s lead but had no apparent impetuous themselves made them not seem “mysterious,” which seemed to be what the movie was going for, but made them seem “weak.” I think it would have been more interesting, and they could have been seen as characters with more agency, if they’d tasked Sinestro to select a group of lanterns to go after Parallax. When that failed, they could have spoken with Sinestro because he is such a good lantern (which they didn’t go into—in fact, they didn’t go into why Sinestro was tight with the Guardians when no one else, except Hal spoke with them in the entire movie), and come to the conclusion that they needed to try to use the yellow energy, if that’s the direction they wanted to take for future movies.

In Conclusion.

Yes, I did have a lot of gripe with this movie, but honestly, it was just because I really wanted it to be good. Great even. And it just wasn’t that. It was okay, fun, slow at times, definitely had my eyes rolling several times in a, “yeah, they did that, they went there,” kinda way. I don’t agree with many of their choices, but there wasn’t very much in the movie in particular that had me wanting to stand up on a soap box and shout to the world, “WRONG!” (For example, the “Deadpool” character at the end of Wolverine Origins. Ooo, that would make a good post. That movie was just WRONG.) However, there were a lot of little things that could have been tweaked just a bit, I think, to make this movie hit the mark with a larger audience.

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