Now then to business... despite that title, this is not a Muppets blog. Though there will be another one of those coming sooner or later. No, this is a movie review, for a film that I missed in theatres this past summer. There were a number of comic book inspired films out this past summer, and there are more to come next year. In this case, we're talking about Green Lantern.
I missed it when it was released, primarily because while I am a comic book fan, I tend to lean more towards the Marvel side of the industry then the DC side of things. The Green Lantern mantle dates back to the forties, with a character whose powers were magic based. It's in the silver age of the late fifties and early sixties, however, that the status quo was set for a series of space faring adventures about an order of intergalactic police officers, the Green Lantern Corps. Several humans have been among those bearing the responsibility of being a Green Lantern in the books. And with comics being a popular medium in film the last few years, it was inevitable that an adaptation of the characters would wind up showing itself.
The new film from director Martin Campbell uses the Silver Age character Hal Jordan as its centerpiece, with Ryan Reynolds as the title character. Jordan, a hotshot test pilot, lives a fairly irresponsible life (we see him taking risks in the cockpit and coming up a bit short in the family relations department). He comes across a fallen alien, Abin Sur, a member of the Corps, after the ring chooses him as a replacement. Jordan is whisked away to the distant planet of Oa, where he meets alien members of the Corps, learns about the long history of the Guardians (a pack of immortal, emotionally repressed wankers who are hesitant to actually give full answers about anything), and undergoes training, mostly under the watch of Sinestro (Mark Strong), and Kilowog and Tomar-Re (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan and Geoffrey Rush). The rings, it turns out, are the essential tool of the Corps, fuelled by willpower, enabling a Lantern to use their imagination to create tools, weapons, fly through space, pretty much anything they need at any given moment. While Kilowog and Tomar-Re are at least somewhat helpful, Sinestro is dismissive of Jordan, believing the human to be unfit for the job.
The film takes the action back to Earth, where scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) has been infected by the evil cosmic Big Bad that killed Abin Sur while conducting an autopsy on the body. Parallax, a convoluted former Guardian turned black cloud decimating its way across space (trust me, it's even more convoluted then it sounds, and the movie tangles up the convoluted comics continuity even more then I'd thought possible), is on its way to Earth after being inadvertantly freed from its prison. Hammond falls under its influence, mutating and developing telepathic and telekinetic power... and at the same time magnifying just how unpleasant Hammond was before the infection. Obviously all of this leads towards a showdown between Jordan and Parallax, a whole lot of CGI effects, and the to be expected massive damage to an unnamed city.
Okay, as regards to the cast, first the good. Ryan Reynolds is suitable in the role. He does tend to wisecrack a bit too much (Jordan seems a more serious character in the comics), but has a generally heroic demeanour. This is actually his third comic book character role, after Hannibal King in one of the Blade movies and Deadpool in X-Men Origins Wolverine. He looks the part (for the ladies, there's a shirtless scene in there). And the characters Kilowog (who looks like a boar) and Tomar-Re (who has a fish motif to his head) get the right vocal casting, in the form of Duncan and Rush. Finally, Mark Strong, an excellent character actor who's been playing rogues, villains, and ambitious cads for awhile now in films like Stardust, The Young Victoria, Sherlock Holmes, and Robin Hood, is the standout of the cast. Strong plays Sinestro well, giving him a strict, military air as a tough, principled, dedicated, and slightly arrogant alien.
Then there's the bad, and in this case, that's two people. First, Blake Lively, playing the love interest Carol Ferris. She's supposed to be playing an executive in her family company, but it's hard to take her seriously in the role. She carries no believability, seems ten years too young for the position, and brings no presence or gravity at all to the role. I find myself wondering what a better actress would have done with the role. The other casting disaster is Peter Sarsgaard, who's been good in previous roles... so what went wrong here? I found the character profoundly unpleasant, and not in a good "love to hate the villain" way. In the earliest scenes before his mutation, there's already a problem: I don't know if Sarsgaard is aging really, really badly or if he got a really bad prosthetic wig, but the effect is distracting, and it doesn't help at all that Tim Robbins, playing his father, comes across as younger in personality. As the character mutates and becomes even more unpleasant, his status as a villain does not improve. This may well be the most obnoxious villain in a comic book adaptation since John Travolta in The Punisher.
And the special effects tend to be inconsistent. I liked some of the effects used with the rings themselves, for example, the various shapes and forms that were being created during training and during battle. And I liked the CGI created uniforms of the Corps. There's a very sharp, modern feel to them, unlike the original Silver Age costume in the comics. On the other hand, one scene in particular involving a helicopter crash at a party seems odd. During the rescue by Jordan, the ring effects are imaginative, but I found myself wondering why there weren't scores of people killed before his last minute grab. And towards the end, I found it troubling that the general appearance of Parallax through the concrete canyons of a city reminded me of the collapse of the Towers on 9/11.
Campbell as a director has an interesting track record, helming two of the more recent James Bond films (Goldeneye, Casino Royale) and the Zorro franchise (obviously the first is better then the second). He also directed Vertical Limit, a film where I, as a rock climber, have to leave my brain and my climbing gear at the door (enjoyable enough romp, but from a mountaineering point of view, there's all sorts of things wrong with it). What he got here was a screenplay where too many things were tossed into the mix. The storytelling became convoluted, and when you add in a badly cast lead actress and an obnoxiously annoying villain, it's a recipe for trouble. Yes, there are things to recommend about the film, like Reynolds, Duncan, Rush, and especially Strong. It depends on if you can overlook the bad while still appreciating the good.