Tuesday, June 21, 2011

From Showcase to Showtime: A Review of Green Lantern

Director: Martin Campbell

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong

The year of the comic book movie continued this weekend with Green Lantern, the third major comic book film to debut and the first from the DC Comics/Warner Brothers stable. Green Lantern tells the story of test pilot Hal Jordan, who is chosen by a dying alien to take his power ring and become the guardian of Sector 2814 for the Green Lantern Corps, a group of green-clad intergalactic peacekeepers who defend the universe from fear, manifested by the colour yellow.

Green Lantern has a fascinating history. Rebooted and re-envisioned as a modern comic book in Showcase #22 (Oct 1959) the first Green Lantern existed between 1940 and 1949 as a mystical wizard-like crime fighter. This Lantern, did not survive the near death of the superhero genre, and unlike the DC triumvirate of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman was eventually cancelled.

A decade later things would change as the popular comic genres of horror and crime began invoking of ire of politicians, while simultaneously, the earliest baby-boomers started to earn disposable incomes with paper routes. The success of Showcase #4 (Oct 1956) which rebooted Flash sealed the deal, and in late 1959 the new Green Lantern was born.

And what a Lantern it was! Hal Jordan was the perfect superhero for the dawning space age. As bold and courageous as he was charming with the ladies, he was exactly what every Cold-War era American boy wanted to be. His comics were always popular, and this helped ensure not only the dominance of the superhero genre, but its merger with science-fiction. Green Lantern would get his own magazine in summer 1960, and while never reaching the stratospheric heights of Batman or Superman, a loyal readership would ensure Green Lantern stayed in the highest echelon of DC’s second tier.

(Hal Jordan meets Abin Sur in Showcase #22 - October 1959 - reprinted 1992)

(Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris in Showcase #22 - October 1959 - reprinted 1992)

Because of this, it is no surprise that Green Lantern is the third superhero DC film after Superman and Batman.* Improvements in movie-making technology, along with an extensive and sequel-ready back story, also makes Green Lantern a franchise-ready prospect if the current film is successful.

And WGTB hopes it is. It’s a good film and a very entertaining two hours. Ryan Reynolds, plays a near-perfect Hal Jordan for 2011, superficially confident yet driven by demons of familial failure. Having not seen Reynolds in many previous roles, and knowing a lot were in goofy romantic comedies or as secondary characters, WGTB was sceptical at the casting. Happily, he does the role justice and the occasional annoying line (“I know, eh?!?”) is overshadowed by well executed emotion in demanding situations. (“Green Lantern’s MIGHT!!!”). Hal Jordan becomes Green Lantern not because he is perfect, but because he has the potential to be a great hero and Reynolds demonstrates this well.

The villains of this film are good too. Parallax is menacing, in the way Galatcus should have been in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Peter Saarsgard was good although, more could have been done with the Hector Hammond character and it was difficult knowing exactly who the main baddy was at times. Some of the back story involving Saarsgard’s, Reynolds’ and Blake Lively’s character seemed a little contrived, but that happens when you need to invent entire myths in less than two hours. Blake Lively was good as Carol Ferris although she didn’t exactly capture the girl-next-door thing the director was obviously going for. WGTB does not understand the casting of Tim Robbins as Senator Hammond and thinks having such an ironically cast superstar was distracting.

The special effects were extensive and very well done. The alien life forms looked as authentic as fictional aliens can and the Oa landscapes and aloof Guardians were remarkable. Temuera Morrison made a much better Abin Sur than he did a Boba Fett, and Michael Clarke Duncan was fun and effective as Kilowog. Geoffrey Rush, voicing Tomar-Re, was a great guide through the Green Lantern mythos, but the best cast character has to be Mark Strong as Sinestro. He was awesome and WGTB looks forward to seeing him as the principal villain in the sequel. Oh, and like Marvel films, WGTB advises you to stay in your seat until the credits stop rolling!

This film has a decidedly different tone than Christopher Nolan’s Batman series and isn’t afraid to have some old fashioned comic book fun. That said, it is serious enough to satisfy the regular movie goer, and has an uplifting end message for everyone. Obvious plot holes, such as missile-laden jets in hangers, can be overlooked because of a strong overall story, and the effects and acting brings it together in a fitting tribute to such an important comic.

4/5 Stars

* Wonder Woman is proving very difficult to translate to a live action medium.

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