REVIEW: Green Lantern

Well, I saw Green Lantern on Saturday. After the barrage of negative reviews, my anticipation for the film had turned to dread, and I went in fearing that I’d be in for a bad, disappointing movie. I watched the movie, and… it was actually pretty good.

I think Green Lantern is a victim of a zeitgeist. A bad zeitgeist. Bad reviews can become like a runaway train, where the more a film gets the stigma of being “bad”, the more other critics review it from the perspective of being a bad film, so bad reviews beget more bad reviews, and the criticisms get more extreme as people take more relish in tearing the film apart, until it’s like sharks at a feeding frenzy. I’ve defended the critics and their validity on this thread, and I still respect their opinions, but I think they’re wrong on this one.

The first thing that needs to be said that, seeing this film in 3D at the cinema, Green Lantern looks GORGEOUS. As a jaded filmgoer, it’s rare for me to just stare open-mouthed and be amazed at the visuals on-screen, but that happened here. I don’t get where the whole “shoddy special effects” angle is coming from, as visually this has splendour to rival Avatar, and I think Green Lantern was far more enjoyable. But that got the 5 star reviews and the Oscar nominations, and this is getting crapped on. See what I mean about zeitgeists?

All the characters are a bit underwritten. But the eminently likeable Ryan Reynolds manages to make Hal watchable and compelling even when his arc is a bit muddied and clumsily handled. His star presence really helps to prevent Hal from being totally cardboard. Blake Lively struggles more with the thin material, often becoming a blank-faced exposition delivery device. Peter Saarsgard makes for an engaging villain, but his arc is muddied and feels out of order. He almost immediately begins his path to big-headed psychodom, and then his shared history with Hal is retroactively worked in later, and never really paid more than the faintest of lip service.

Sinestro is simultaneously the strongest performance, and the one most underserved by the script. Mark Strong is all subtle menace and lip-curling smarm, but balanced with a sense of inherent decency and moral fortitude. The film begins to soar when Hal is on Oa, and has his first confrontation with Sinestro. If the film’s second act had been dominated by Sinestro training Hal, and Hal gradually winning his grudging respect, then his friendship, the film would have been elevated to a whole other level, and made for much better viewing than the meandering second act we get instead. But there’s still good stuff in that second act, and I don’t know how much I’d have taken out to accomodate altered material.

Really, the problem with Green Lantern isn’t that it does anything significantly wrong. All the major touchstones of Hal’s origin are present and correct, the thematic broad strokes, the characters, the mythos. There’s impressive effects, good action. The problem isn’t the film doing anything bad. Just that the stuff that it does good doesn’t get enough breathing space to become great.

There’s a shadow of a great film here, a sense that a tidy-up here, or expanding on a scene there, would have really tightened this up and pushed it nearer the top tier of the genre. Some flaws prevent it from reaching that upper echelon of superhero movies, but it is hardly the franchise-sinking embarrassment that the critics’ narrative is inevitably shaping it to be. It is a perfectly enjoyable mid-level superhero movie, at least as good as Thor and X-Men: First Class, probably a little better. And the sad thing is, you get a sense that the film could act as the building blocks for a much better sequel. But if the reviews lead to box office failure, that won’t happen.

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