Friday, 14 October 2011

Film Review | Green Lantern, dir. Martin Campbell

I don't get it.

I mean, someone's got to be pulling my leg, right? In a summer bookended by big-budget comic book movies, the first, Thor, was supposed to be awesome; so awesome that I was sad to have missed it at the cinema, so when the Blu-ray release rolled around, I gobbled it up.

And I thought it was silly nonsense. Daft but largely harmless.

Green Lantern, meanwhile... well, I only watched Green Lantern out of some misplaced sense of duty to a medium I dearly adore - the comic book, of course - so unanimously dire were the pronouncements about this particular superhero vehicle. But you know what? I actually enjoyed it.

Now I'm neither so fool nor so full of myself as to think expectations, or indeed a lack thereof, played no part in my experience of these two similar-but-different films: that Thor had come so highly recommended rather raised the bar in terms of my idea of it, I don't doubt, and perhaps the presumption that Green Lantern would be wall-to-wall terrible left me easily impressed. Nevertheless, I think there's a case to be made for Casino Royale director Martin Campbell's return to men in tights six years on from The Legend of Zorro. It's an unabashedly popcorn-friendly film, with markedly more interest in low entertainment than high art -- and what in all the quadrants is the problem with that?

Nothing, is what. And Green Lantern makes no claims to the contrary: in fact from the get-go - a clunky pre-credits VO explaining the origins of the Green Lantern Corps, as if it'd be an affront to let us figure these things out on our own - you know what this film will be. It will be ridiculous. It will be overwrought. It will pander, and indulge, and embarrass.

And, so it seems to me, you will either love every minute of it - unlikely though that may be if you're in your double digits - or despise this harmless bit of sci-fi eye candy for what it is.

I'm coming around to thinking that critics seem to see the superhero movie as something of an all or nothing proposition. Either it can be brilliant, basically because it transcends the trappings of its origins in the funny pages - a la Sam Raimi's Spider-man, or Bryan Singer's take on The X-Men - or it's some despicable thing because it doesn't.

Green Lantern certainly doesn't; to a fault, it seems subservient to the sixty-some years of comic books from which Hal Jordan, space cop, springs, not at all fully-formed. But between the masterclass and the amateur hour, film critics tend to afford the superhero movie precious little middle ground, and I would argue that - of all the genres there are in cinema - the superhero movie needs as much or more middle ground as any other. Were there such a space, Green Lantern would sit squarely in the middle of it. On an ornate throne fashioned solely from force of will. 

Yes, it's ridiculous. Yes, it's overwrought. Green Lantern is pretty much all the things it's been called - and it's been called a lot of mean-spirited things, I do declare - but it is all of these things so very inoffensively, innocently even, that the hate seems to me way out of proportion. Sure, there's some cheap-looking CG, but there are too some beautiful visual effects.

Actually, by and large, Green Lantern is spectacular to look at, up to and including the lovely Blake Lively as the Ryan Reynolds' love interest. Reynolds is for his part dopey but endearing, and his character's counterpart - Peter Sarsgaard on fine form as insidious supervillain Hector Hammond - is a good match. I did however shed an imaginary tear to see how far Tim Robbins has fallen.

In any case, Green Lantern is good looking, well cast, ably acted, and it sounds the part, too, thanks to a tense orchestral score from M. Night Shyamalan collaborator James Newton Howard, who just so happened to work with Hans Zimmer on the superhero movie soundtrack to end all superhero movie soundtracks: for The Dark Knight, needless to say.

The plot is of course a bit of a mess - better, as Fleetwood Mac might say, that comic book movies go their own way - and a more liberated script would have made a great deal of difference, but as it is, Green Lantern remains a mildly exciting, if not exactly thrilling way to spend two hours, and though it never quite comes together as some more optimistic souls than I had hoped it might, still it is leagues better than the abhorrent nonsense it's been made out as.


  1. For me the big difference in terms on enjoying both films was the fact that Chris Hemsworth was great as Thor. His portrayal was the main highlight (your review did him a huge disservice). Whereas in Green Lantern, Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan was just a bit of a dick through most of the film. He was just sort of... Ryan Reynolds.

    Plus, the character of Thor is already heroic. He's a god. So we don't have to sit through half of the film while he whines about not being upto the challenge. He has to learn humility, but he still knows he's a god. There's nothing wrong with a good heroes journey, but not when the character progression goes from arse to bit less of an arse.

    In the end, I would happily spend more of my time watching Thor on screen. Hal Jordan, not so much.

    I respect your opinion Niall but for the life of me I don't understand this one. I think you had it right when you said it was your expectations going into the films that informed your response. Both films had plenty of problems, Green Lantern shouldn't get a pass just because you expected it to be shit. That ain't fair.

    - Richard

  2. Oh, I'm not giving Green Lantern a pass at all. I just wouldn't fail it... just as I wouldn't pass or fail Thor, whatever the received wisdom is as regards it.

    But I do disagree with the consensus that Thor is in any way great, while Green Lantern is just wall-to-wall awful. It's not and it's not. In fact I found these movies much of a muchness, ultimately: both silly, predictable, moderately fun films... disappointing perhaps in light of what they could each have been, but for what they are, each in their way, perfectly fine, insofar as they are also perfectly forgettable.

    What I mean to take issue with in these reviews is not so much the actual films, or any real qualitative difference between them, but more the wildly disproportionate reaction they each received. Neither one deserved Thor's critical acclaim, in my mind, but nor did either earn the drubbing Green Lantern got from the reviewers.

    An strange summer so far as superhero movies go, though... I think we can all agree.

  3. Perhaps the biggest difference I found between the two films was the characters.

    GL's Hal Jordan is a character fleshed out in the most smug and dislikeable manner. He's appealing directly to the vaguely "bad boy" hero, a self-centric prick. What really pushes him over the edge is the with the kid, in which the film tries to make us like him in the most smug and hackneyed way possible. His arc has a real disingeuous feel to it, as it seems to suggest that his womanising and daredevilry are what allows him to be such a successful Green Lantern. It's a celebration of his obnoxiousness, aided by very lukewarm acting. Carol Ferris is a stock love interest, and Sinestro's portrayal is very inconsistent. Only when we're following bulbous headed Hector Hammond did I feel that there was an enjoyable movie going on.

    For Thor, our main character starts off rather uneven. Hotheaded, violent and likewise over confident. Yet his actions have a far more sympathetic underpinning than Hal's - he's going to be ruler of Asgard and he thinks he's just carrying out his obligations to his people and protecting them by attacking the Ice Giants.

    His arc feels a lot more genuine, because the attributes he used to have and is growing out of are genuinely cast as negative attributes. This is achieved through having Loki, by the end, more or less represent everything that Thor did at the start. Thus by defeating Loki we're getting not only a plot resolution but also a character resolution. Loki himself is, I would say, easily the most complex and interesting character from either of these movies.

    This is not the only things that I believe Thor did better than GL, but it's probably the most significant difference.

  4. Well at the risk of coming across as an argumentative sod I thought Thor was a much better film, but I'll leave it at that!

    I do agree with your sentiment about how these movies are viewed. I think it's a disease that is found in most areas of geek culture (can I say that? bit cringeworthy). Everything is either amazing or awful, and it ends up distorting things.

    Obviously mainstream critics are a bit better at recognising when something is average, but then they also easily slip into being critical simply because of the films genre. There are only a few film critics I really listen to and they manage to both love sci-fi/fantasy and recognise their faults.

    - Richard

  5. I'd love to know who those critics are, Richard, and where I might find them. Oddly, I suppose - given his very conservative comments about games as art, among other things - I've found Roger Ebert's movie reviews to be fairly even-handed. And of course the folks at Dark Horizons, though they're hard people to please. But beyond these?

  6. Well the most obvious one is Mark Kermode. Some people seem to hate him, but I only listen to him on 5 live where Simon Mayo acts as a dose of cold water when his ego starts to take over. The thing with him is, I often completely disagree with his views but he always explains why he has that opinion and how he got to it.

    Plus, he seems a pretty big fan of genre films and as a mainstream critic always gives them a fair shake (fantasy to a lesser extent).

    The other place I check regularly is They don't really stand out from any other film site, but I've found I trust the opinion of the two main writers Matt Rorie and Alex Navarro. Like Kermode they aren't critical for the sake of ripping a film to bits, like some film blogs. They aren't interested in getting hits by turning their reviews into hyperbole. For them it's a job, and not an exercise in making themselves look intelligent.

    I gave Ultra Culture a go for a while but the guy who runs it, Charlie Lyne, is only 20 and it really shows. I don't mean to say you can't be a critic at that age, but he tries so hard to project a cynical attitude about any mainstream film. To me he just comes across as that stereotypical A-level student who thinks he has the world figured out, and mistakes cynicism for wisdom. I can take the attitude from Kermode because he has the experience to back it up.

    - Richard