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Green Lantern review

REVIEWS - MOVIES

Green Lantern shines brightly - but only for a short time...

'Green Lantern' (2011) review - a shining example or a dimming flame?

It's your average evening on one of fifty two (!) Earths. Superman scorches the sky over Metropolis as he races to rescue a tree-bound cat, while Batman lurks in an alleyway, just waiting for the right moment to leap upon a delinquent and batter them into a pulp. This is the DC that the general public know and love, but elsewhere, further fighting's afoot. The Flash is playing ping-pong with himself, the Green Arrow is busy cursing the rise of Interflora, while the Green Lantern is imagining giant boxing gloves, horse shoes and jack-in-the-boxes with the help of his magical ring. Little does Hal Jordan know that he's about to be thrust centre stage.

Finding fresh faces from DC's canon to bring to the big screen now involves trickier decisions than whether the suits should have nipples (they never, ever should). We've had Batman and Superman - each with varying degrees of success - while a Wonder Woman movie still seems to be slightly too risky (and too easily risqué) for the studios to allow themselves to explore. In a world where Batgirl is re-booted to lose her spinal injury, a high-octane movie about a woman glad to kick ass whilst being happily single is probably not going to appeal to the amorphous, grey blob so beloved focus groups.

Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan in 'Green Lantern' (2011)With the big three out of the way for one reason or another, slightly less-well-known characters are being given their chance to shine on the big screen. While a Flash film would consist of naught but extensive bullet time sequences and a Captain Nazi film would be really, really ill-advised, Green Lantern has the ideal combination of being vaguely-recognisable and having a great capacity for CGI trickery.

Directed by Martin Campbell, Green Lantern stars Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, a cocksure test pilot who is chosen to become a member of the intergalactic peace-keeping force that is the Green Lantern Corps. His powers stem from a special ring, which gets its power from a lantern, which gets its power from the planet Oa and so on and so forth.

The trouble with Green Lantern, as with the previous sentence, is that it tries to fit too much information into too small a space. With heavy-hitters like Batman, the audience is already armed with the who/what/why of it all and just needs to be shown the how. In choosing a character like the Green Lantern, Campbell has given himself the challenge of compressing decades of backstory and lore into a hundred and fourteen minutes. The film rattles from exposition to exposition in (ironically) a flash; characters and motivations are introduced in a blur and forgotten in a heartbeat. It felt at times like a child was describing their favourite hero after drinking fifteen cans of coke and necking sherbert dips for an entire afternoon.

There are, however, plenty of whizzes and bangs to enjoy throughout the film. Some of the lantern's projections are really good fun and the big bad - a being made entirely of fear who looks like an octopus made of cigarette ash and mashed pork pies - is pleasantly revolting, but there seldom feels like there is any substance behind the effects. There are also moments where the CGI suit sported by Reynolds has the unfortunate effect of making him look like his head is rapidly outgrowing his body.

Mark Strong's rather interesting, CGI character, SinestroWhen done right, however, the CGI shines. There are set-pieces that can't help but appeal to the grubby comic-nerd inside each of us, while some of the alien Lanterns are very sharp indeed. It is just unfortunate that a film where the schtick is a character whose abilities are limited only to his imagination seems unwilling to be imaginative; aside from a handful of stand-out set-pieces, the ring's powers are criminally underused, normally relegated to green bursts of laser fire.

Again, this is a fault with the film at large. As an example, Peter Sarsgaard appears as Dr. Hector Hammond, a reclusive academic who becomes tainted with the embodiment of fear. He - without explanation - develops various powers and begins to lose his mind. This could have made for a fine plot of the film itself: an otherwise decent man being corrupted and twisted by fear. Unfortunately, what could have been an interesting plot is treated as little more than a sideshow (incidentally, I can't help but feel that in choosing to have a manifestation of fear itself as the lead villain, Campbell may have aimed slightly too high for a first movie in a series).

Another example is that of Sinestro, played by Mark Strong. He appears, as in the source material, as a hard-nosed member of the corps who resembles the offspring of John Cleese, Adolf Hitler and a beetroot. It will surprise no one to know that he undergoes a change of heart, however the way it was handled was breathtakingly blasé. There is a moment, mid-way through the end credits, where he acts in a way that is inevitable yet completely narratively inexplicable. There is no reason at all, save to set up a sequel, for him to act in the way that he does.

Overall, I was left with the unshakable feeling that Green Lantern simply tried to do too much. With half the plot and a lot more lantern-wielding, this could have been a great film. As it is, however, it is only ever 'alright'. There are moments where it shines (Jordan's giant, green fist is a treat) and the film itself is a pleasant enough way to waste a couple of hours, should you fancy something fairly noisy and mindless. It's just a shame that due to an abundance of exposition and a lack of focus, a damn fine opportunity has been missed.

3 stars

Check out Caleb Leland's more positive take on Green Lantern in 3D

See also:

Green Lantern 3D Trailer

Bad news for fans as Green Lantern scores just 24% on Rotten Tomatoes

Captain Hammer voices Green Lantern

Running Low on Heroes?

The last great frontier of CGI: The eye

A rationale for CGI luddites

Top 10 most mishandled comic book characters in film


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