It seems like I’m always defending formula and cliché. Usually, my thought is that when a movie containing common elements can either interpret them or craft them such that the end product is still a quality movie. I might have to amend that view slightly. Or rather, add a corollary to the crafting option. When I can see the formula and it’s all addition, then the formula is poorly crafted. Simple may be elegant, but there are shades of simplicity. There are chords and there are scales.
Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) has imprisoned Parallax (voice – Clancy Brown). But then Parallax escapes and attacks Abin Sur, who is fatally wounded in what looks like a cut scene for a pretty decent video game and needs to find a replacement to take his matching ring and lantern. The ring finds Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), an edgy, mavericky, pilot stud-muffin who just got himself fired from his job because he’s such a badass. Meanwhile, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) is asked to look into the corpse of Abin Sur, where he’s zapped by a little yellow thing inside the body. Jordan kind of unlocks the power of the ring and is swept up to Oa where he is updated on far more mythology than is completely necessary to tell any three stories. How fortuitous, Sinestro (Mark Strong) is on hand to remind us about Parallax and stuff. Time for training! Oh, human, you are weak! I quit! Back home. Save the girl. I can do this! No I can’t. Yes I can! I’m going to do this! You can’t! I will! You did! Whoop whoop! Yellow ring? Bum bum buuuuuuuuuuum!
New rule for origin stories: Distinguish the origin happening to a character from the origin playing out for the audience. The former is good, the latter is bad. Exhibit A from Green Lantern (2011): the Training (which is where I lost the will to set the premise). This is so clunky that there should be some kind of warning. Not only is it clunky, but the characters are all cheeky with him and things get very comically violent very quickly. I’ve lost my taste for comic book violence—the kind where people are thrown against walls and cars and such only to shake their heads and get back to business—at least outside of animated movies. Either that or I’m just a little unsure about the mythology of the Green Lantern. Is it armor or what?
Also, it’s better to play out the bits where the hero is finding his or her feet without dropping incredibly efficient, but essentially pathetic lines like “I see your ring translator is working properly” to explain how things work. To quibble about how these creatures from requisitely differing planets can communicate requires roughly the same stupidity that might find the final announcement that ‘what we just saw was a work fiction’ to be anything more than useless. If I were being pedantic about things, I would point out that the ring is a piece of forged energy and probably doesn’t fall prey to software glitches. Just give us the basics—what he thinks, it does—and let fly.
Now, you may take from this that our superheroes should come across the powers and learn to use it themselves, but I don’t think that’s right. This is a wicked super-natural story and need not be over humanized. That said, a few altercations spanning fifteen minutes probably isn’t enough time to consider one’s self trained. No, what was needed was a montage.
What’s odd to me is that, according to the credits, Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Michael Goldenberg, and Marc Guggenheim all wrote the story and script together—they are separated by an ampersand rather than the word “and” which denotes working separately. One would think that everyone working together on a single piece would result in a better product than script doctors coming in one after the other with different sensibilities and tastes. Apparently, that’s not necessarily the case. Or rather, it may be necessary to work together, but it isn’t sufficient to create something good. I guess no one was there to tell them “Simple is elegant.” Or maybe they were and they took that to describe the construct the plot elements (set stakes-introduce-metamorphosis-training-fall-rise-battle-sequel) rather than a description of the piece itself.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, there’s also a woman, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), who is a pilot and next in line to take over the aerospace company she and Jordan work for. There’s a history there and it’s a long one. Perhaps if Lively were a better actress the mere recollection of the thing might not have made me gag. But she isn’t and it did.
I’m probably overstating the amount of dislike I had for this movie. It was entertaining. But it was poorly executed. Being essentially a 14 year old boy in a state of arrested development, a superhero movie will almost certainly achieve a 6/10 rating from me. With a modicum of effort, that can go up to a 7 or 8. This one failed to put in the effort. The movie was rushed from beginning to end, tripping over itself to get to the next point in the outline. The rushed feeling is because the outline was too full—the Hector villain was, ultimately, a useless distraction.
Much like Thor (2011), the writers got ahead of themselves and built a single, enormous conflict for the central character to resolve (which he does dutifully). Both had two villains that needed beating when really there was only one. How did they both think that was a good plot idea? I can understand ending the movie with a signal that a larger villain was behind the scenes, but why face and defeat that larger villain? Foolish.
I mentioned that the graphics were of a video game quality. Video games, these days, look pretty good, but they are unmistakable in their texture and sense of movement. One example is in the beginning of the movie, Parallax drains three unsuspecting aliens. The ‘camera’ moves to about ceiling height (framing the group with perfect symmetry), all three are drained simultaneously, are arranged in a perfect staggered position, and make identical death throes. These days, films use computer graphics to visualize the scenes perfectly—what would it really look like—and thus strive to seem as natural as possible. Here, there appears to be no such intention.
That’s pretty bad for a movie that lives in CGI. I blame the director, Martin Campbell. With the rushed story, he adds rushed, JV camera work. I recall a scene with Sinestro and Jordan (I think it’s with the Guardians) where they are moving about, but all the shots are neck-up. Little is distinguishable besides the actors and gives the impression that everyone’s really wearing sweatpants but were too lazy to do anything about it. Interchanged with these close ups are these identical, revolving wide shots of the Guardians’ tower getaway that the two stand-ins walk around. Maybe it’s that the stage directions are like high schoolers doing theater-in-the-round where they walk whenever they have something dramatic to say. Either way it’s hokey and artificial—like video game cut scenes.
There is one way in which the movie doesn’t even live up to a video game in production values—the music (from James Newton Howard). First of all, they get real close to John Williams’ Superman theme. But then there are these interlude (including the ending) where it almost sounds like a Genesis tribute band. It was distractingly weak. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it just so inapt and mediocre in quality.
Perhaps the only laudable thing about the movie comes in the performances of Reynolds and Strong (while the others were strictly functionaries) and the premise, which was already there for them.
I recommend this movie only as an instruction manual on how to get things wrong—or a way to pass the time while you’re trapped and have few alternatives.