Green Lantern

>> Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I would say Green Lantern was maybe in the second tier of my favorite superheroes when I was a kid. He was good friends with The Flash in those days, for one thing, and The Flash was in the first tier of my favorite comicbook heroes along with Ghost Rider and The Hulk. I suppose it doesn't hurt that green is my favorite color and has been for as long as I can remember. The main thing, though, was that GL's power was awesome; this was a guy who could do anything he imagined (so long as he didn't try doing it against anything yellow--an absurd limitation, to be sure). His real power, although it's usually dubbed "willpower" these days, was pure imagination, making Green Lantern at his best the second most visually interesting and absurdly cool hero in all of comicdom after Plastic Man in his prime (Hal Jordan just creates anything he can imagine, Eel O'Brien is anything he can imagine).

There's also something, perhaps to the observation that most of my favorite superheroes as a kid were sort of genre superheroes, and those genres were science fiction and horror. Ghost Rider's kind of obvious as a horror superhero: dude's a half-demon who made a deal with Satan that turns him into a awesomely bad pun (he's a Hell's Angel, get it?). But what's The Hulk except an update of The Wolfman with a gamma-ray bomb for the transformational McGuffin? (In his earliest adventures, available in a big ol' anthology I owned that was put out around the time of the TV series, Dr. Banner and his pure angry id even transformed back and forth at sunset and sunrise, not when he was stressed or relaxed.) The Flash, in the post-Schwartz incarnation of the comics I grew up with, was a police scientist whose powers came out of a lab accident and whose powers--not just super-speed but the ability to "vibrate" through walls and sometimes travel through time--involved some wonderfully pseudoscientific SF technobabble about his ability to control his own atoms. (To an eight-year-old geek, the idea that The Flash could take advantage of said geek's recent science-book discovery that most matter is made of empty space was possibly the most awesome thing about the character ever, frankly.) Firestorm, another superhero whose powers had a pulp SF gloss (and who could create anything!) was another early favorite.

When Julius Schwartz decided to reboot Green Lantern in 1959, much as he'd rebooted The Flash in '56, he liberally... errrrr... borrowed... from E.E. Smith's Lensmen stories. Where the original Green Lantern had been a guy with a ring and lamp made from some sort of mystical meteor metal, the Silver Age GL was part of an interstellar police force armed with vaguely-defined-but-awesome superscience. There were alien Green Lanterns from sectors all over the galaxy charged with maintaining peace and order, something very much like another childhood obsession (that's persisted into my so-called adulthood), the Jedi order from Star Wars, guardians of peace and order from a more civilized time. No coincidence, of course: George Lucas also... errrrr... borrowed... from those same Lensmen stories.

What I'm trying to get at in my way is that with Green Lantern you had a science-fiction superhero whose superpower was infinite, unbridled creativity. I know you could point to all comic book heroes as having genre trappings--Batman is a detective, Superman has his extraterrestrial origin, Spider-Man was a scientific hobbyist and Reed Richards a full-blown scientist, etc.--but in Green Lantern the pulpy space opera elements were right there at the front of things. The guy was flying through space and fighting aliens. And he was doing it by picturing things in his mind and then kicking ET ass with them. If you were anything like me, you had to love it.

So it was a foregone conclusion I was going to see Green Lantern in the theatre when it came out, no matter what the reviews were. And of course the reviews have been mostly terrible, but somehow that was kind of to be expected: for better or worse, the novelty of summer big-budget superhero movies has worn off, and they get reviewed at best like they're any other movie and at worst with a certain amount of thinly-veiled (or sometimes even naked) contempt that they're not the sort of gay cowboys eating pudding movies that let a critic really show off his filmographic erudition. Reviews be damned: when the previews showed off an army of Green Lanterns being rallied by a pre-nefarious Sinestro and panoramic views of Oa, I was sold; hell, as long as the movie was even halfway serious and not some lameass shit starring Jack Black, I was in (and just for the record: I've liked Jack Black since his Mr. Show days, I just don't want him in my goddamn Green Lantern movie).

The Significant Other and I went to see it on Saturday. 2D, because I'm just not going to pay a surcharge to see an upconverted film unless friends drag me kicking to go see it. Upconverted 2D tends to give you that awful diorama effect, and it almost has to just because they're using computers to invent information that just isn't there in the original frame; sure, they can call it "extrapolated from the image" all they want, but it is what it is. Of course, that gets trickier when you're talking about a CGI-intensive film like Green Lantern: CGI models are inherently 3D, and so the CGI isn't being upconverted to 3D, it's being rendered. Still, I don't want to encourage all of the film industry's bad habits: if you make a movie with two cameras mounted for 3D, I'll pay the bounty to see it the way you shot it; if you shot it with one camera and ran it through a computer to charge me more for the privilege of seeing a View-Master effect, fuck you.

I'm pleased to say we had a great time. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Green Lantern is the greatest superhero movie ever made, much less that it's the best thing since Citizen Kane; I'm not even sure I can tell you that it's a "good" movie in any kind of, I dunno, cinematic sense. The bad reviews aren't "wrong", quote-unquote, but I would say they're misleading.

Here's what I mean by that: Green Lantern is something of a throwback for superhero movies, for better or worse. The vibe is a little bit reminiscent of 1978's Superman: hero discovers destiny, appears before the world, has a cute-not-deep romance with the lead actress, saves the world. I.e. Green Lantern isn't offering up the comic book movie as metaphor for really deep things à la The Dark Knight (the global war on terror) or X2 (the struggle for gay rights); it isn't offering up the family melodrama, father-son coming-to-terms like Batman Begins or Ang Lee's direly misconceived Hulk; it isn't a sweet-but-exciting coming-of-age story like the first Spider-Man movie. And while I found Green Lantern to be a lot of fun visually, I'll concede it isn't some kind of Unique Director's Vision kind of thing the way Batman and Batman Returns were movies Only Tim Burton Could Make, f'r'instance.

You might compare Green Lantern to Favreau's Iron Man, if you're looking for something more recent than 1978 for a comparison. A fun, kinda goofy popcorn movie with some tense bits, some cool action scenes, some great visuals--and no, it doesn't necessarily hold up to a lot of logical scrutiny or offer too much character development, but why you always gotta be thinking about shit, man? What's wrong with you?

Some of the bad reviews just seem weirdly misguided. E.g., I ran across one reviewer kvetching over a fun sequence in which GL saves a crashing helicopter by turning it into a race car and running it around a giant Hot Wheels track until it loses momentum and stops (matter of fact, turns out there's even an official Hot Wheels tie-in to the helicoptermobile). Said reviewer wonders why GL didn't just, you know, use his magic ring to grab the helicopter. Well, duh, he couldn't do that because fuck you, that's why, Mr. Smartypantsreviewer: he wanted to make a giant track and turn the helicopter into a toy racecar, and he fucking had the power, man. Same thing with the bit where GL makes a couple of jetplanes to pull him out of the Sun: jet planes are cool, and anybody who wants to point out that jetplanes can't actually fly in space has clearly never been a small child. Freak.

I have one complaint. Unless I missed something, I did not see Mogo. To be fair, as we all know, Mogo doesn't socialize; still, I hoped he might drift through the end credits.

I guess you can't have everything.

What did I get? Ryan Reynolds is a cromulent, if somewhat douchey Hal Jordan. Blake Lively is pleasing to the eye as Carol Ferris. I was less smitten by Peter Sarsgaard's performance as Hector Hammond than most critics have been, but Parallax's voice was provided by the ever-awesome Clancy Brown and Mark Strong's Sinestro is great. The special effects were pleasing: Oa looks fabulous and the sight of thousands of alien Green Lanterns gathered together is made for a geek's heart--this is what the Jedi Academy should have looked like in the Star Wars prequels. The fight scene between Hal Jordan and Parallax is cool beans, with Jordan finding all sorts of cool ways to peg the hell out of a giant yellow evil Wizard Of Oz smokey head monster (Parallax's method of devouring its victims' fear by eating their skeletons is pretty frickin' cool, too). I came, I saw, it kicked ass.

So I want a sequel, right? That may be the best review I can give it.

I'm not denying any of the movie's weaknesses; I'm also not sure that some of those bugs aren't features. I adore The Dark Knight, but does every movie about crimefighters in tights have to offer up the serious drama or a deconstruction of the genre or some deeper meaning? I don't want those things to go away, mind you: I want The Dark Knight Rises to be serious and powerful and tragic like its predecessors, and I kind of hope that Nolan has the balls to end the movie with Batman getting his back broken. But sometimes I want to go to a superhero movie and I want to be eight, y'know?

Green Lantern is good for about two hours of that.


mattw Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 10:50:00 AM EDT  

I wasn't sure if I wanted to see GL or not, but now I do.

By the by, have you seen the DC Comics documentary Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics? It's really good and touches on the origins and evolutions of a lot of the big level characters. The bit about Wonder Woman is particularly interesting/funny.

Eric Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 1:49:00 PM EDT  

I haven't seen that documentary, Matt, but I'll keep my eye out for it. I do know that Wonder Woman's creation was a bit amusing: for those who don't know, WW was the brainchild of William Marston, a psychologist whose chief obsessions were feminism, bondage and the polygraph machine (which he didn't invent, as is sometimes claimed, but did promote as a lie detector, his chief project for much of his life). Consider, then, that Wonder Woman is an Amazon from an all-female society who frequently gets tied up and then in turn (when she escapes) ties up her enemies with a magic rope that forces them to tell the truth.

I'm sure all that's just some kind of coincidence and doesn't mean anything.

Dr. Phil (Physics) Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 1:56:00 PM EDT  

Of course that skeleton/soul trick is straight out of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. (grin)

Dr. Phil

mattw Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 3:26:00 PM EDT  

I don't remember for sure, but I do believe in the documentary they bill Marston as the inventor of the lie detector.

And not only all the bondage stuff for Wonder Woman, but things like after WWII and all the men were coming home and returning to their jobs so Wonder Woman became more of a Suzie Homemaker kind of character, or when one of the writers in the 60s or 70s thought he was doing Wonder Woman and women's lib a favor by stripping her of her powers and making her more of a martial arts superhero, like Batman but without the darkness and detectiveness. (What a horrible sentence that is. Oh well, I'm not going to fix it.)

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