Monday, June 20, 2011

Green Lantern Review

It can be a little heartbreaking when something you have spent months looking forward to does not measure up to your vision of what could have been. Case in point, the Green Lantern feature film which finally saw its big screen release this past weekend following weeks of cheer inducing advertisements promising a superhero movie on par with the best of them. This past Thursday night some friends and I went to the special midnight screening of “Green Lantern.” As an avid reader of the comics my expectations were high going in. I wanted to be enthralled by the discovery of exotic alien worlds, I wanted to root for the main character, Hal Jordan, as he is bequeathed one of the most powerful weapons in the universe and humbled to change his reckless, self-destructive ways, I wanted to marvel at the pantheon of alien warriors comprising the sacred brotherhood of the Green Lantern Corps, I wanted the movie to be as good as Star Wars, no, better than Star Wars, and saunter out of the theater with an ear to ear grin, thrilled by the cinematic wonders I had beheld and confident it would spawn several sequels and spur the production of other feature films for B list DC characters like The Flash, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, etc.
However, as I sat in the darkened theater when film concluded and the credits started to role, I felt a ripple of sadness wash over me for the optimism which, just a short time earlier, had seemed boundless. While by no means a bad movie, Green Lantern, to me, skirted by as slightly above average. Nothing so bad as to make one heave their fists in the air in spiteful condemnation, and nothing so good as to leave one starry eyed and wonderstruck, wanting, no, needing to return for a second and maybe even third viewing. No, it was just slightly above average, and when one considers this fact in light of the stellar cast and immensely talented film crew who appeared to have worked tirelessly to bring emerald avenger to life, the dissapointment seems even more wounding.
To summarize the plot, the movie is pretty much your classic superhero origin story whose main character, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a cocky test pilot with little regard for his own safety and a trove of unresolved daddy issues is chosen by a dying alien being whose space ship crash lands on earth to protect all of sector 2814, a quadrant of space including our own milky way galaxy as a member of the Green Lantern Core, an elite, intergalactic police force comprised of extra-terrestrial beings from every known planet whose job it is to maintain the tenants of peace and justice in a chaotic, volatile universe. The movie chronicles Hal’s journey as he is inducted into the Corps, given a crash course in ring slinging by veteran Lanterns Kilowag (Michael Clark Duncan), and Sinestro (Mark Strong), faces his first major adversaries in the form of Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a xenobiologist who gains telekinetic powers and descends into madness after being infected by alien tissue and Parallax, a giant, multi limbed monstrosity who absorbs the fear of others to sustain it’s life-force, violently sucking them dry and leaving them as lifeless husks in it’s wake.
Taking a moment to focus on the good aspects of this movie, and despite the negative slant of my review thus far, believe me, there are good aspects. The cast, for one, is top notch. Despite being the center of many a fan-boy complaint against the decision of his casting I thought that Ryan Reynolds did a fine job portraying the irresponsible test pilot turned dedicated superhero Hal Jordan. With a confident stride and mischievous smile, Reynolds effortlessly manages to capture Hal’s roguish charm and devil may care attitude until the call to serve as a Green Lantern gives him a higher purpose to strive toward.
Blake Lively surprised me at how capable of a job she was able to do as Carol Ferris, Hal’s boss and ex-girlfriend who is conflicted between her feelings for Hal and the myriad responsibilities of running the family business alongside her father. Despite her numerous detractors whose reviews I looked at I think she was the right choice for the part and was fine with her.
Peter Sarsgaard gave a memorable performance as the film’s humongous headed antagonist, Hector Hammond, loosing all sense conscience and empathy after his exposure to Parallax leaves him contaminated and deformed, Sarsgaard manages to be equal parts frightening, repulsive, and a little sympathetic as well.
Even though he is only in the film for a short time, Temeura Morrison was pitch perfect as Abin Sur, the Green Lantern whose final act of heroism turns out to be the most crucial as he passes on his power ring to Hal Jordan in his last moments before dying.
In my opinion however, the true standout of the cast was Mark Strong as the greatest of all the Green Lanterns, Sinestro. Even with pointy elf ears and magenta colored skin, Strong inspires an almost reverential sense of gravitas in every scene he’s in and his whole performance seems to crackle with raw power and energy.
Hands down my favorite scene in the movie was the duel on Oa between Sinestro and Hal as part of the latter‘s training. The animosity between the two is palpable and it was interesting to see the much more seasoned Lantern just completely dominate the young rookie whom he believes to be unworthy of the power ring owned by his best friend and mentor.
If the entire movie had been comprised of incredible scenes like this, Green Lantern probably would have been able to give even The Dark Knight a run for it’s money. But as it is, the appealing aspects of the film are weighed down by some poor CGI and a problematic script that prevents the superhero from ever truly setting soar.
Clocking in at an hour and forty five minutes the story just feels rushed and abrupt in a lot of places and the overall film seems to suffer because of it. I would especially have loved for some of the scenes involving Hal on Oa interacting other Green Lanterns to be given more time than they were. As it is, comic book favorites like Kilowog and Tomar Re are wasted as little more than background and even Sinestro, whose relationship with Hal remains one of the most complex in arguably all of comics is frustratingly shortchanged when it comes to screen time. We are informed that every Green Lantern responsible for protecting their own specific quadrant of the universe yet disappointingly, the film seems content to spend much of its time earthbound and Oa is the only real alien world the audience is ever able to visit. It is little things like this that add up and make the movie a missed opportunity.
I really think that a lot of the aforementioned problems could have been corrected if the filmakers had chosen to do away with the whole Hector Hammond storyline. Even though I liked Sarsgaard in the part, I thought the character was really unnecessary in relating the origin story of Green Lantern and it seemed that his main purpose was just to supply an earthly foil for Hal to do battle with.
The CGI was kind of hit and miss for me. Some things, such as the green constructs and the uniform, itself meant to be a fixture of light created by the ring, looked great, Oa looked pretty good, if not a bit too computer generated, the same can be said for the motley assortment of alien species who proudly carry the Green standard. On the other hand I thought the giant squiddy, cloudlike redesign for Parallax was pretty unconvincing and I probably would have preferred something more along the lines of his reptillian/insectoid look in the comics. The Guardians as well just looked too computer generated to me, not to mention the first time we see them is just so arbitrary and really lacks the oomph needed for the audience to take them seriously. These are, after all, the oldest most powerful beings in the universe.
These are a few of the most glaring flaws I found the movie to be hampered by and I could probably go on to list more but I really want to conclude this review on a positive note and give credit were credit is deserved. Though sadly not the sci-fi masterpiece it could have been Green Lantern is nevertheless a fun, leave your brain at the concession stand crazy train of a movie that to my satisfaction largely manages to remain faithful to its comic book roots. Though not the brightest day many of us were hoping for, at least we have been shown a glimmer of something.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights Review

Hi everyone! So last weekened I picked up Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors, the latest in DC’s growing stable of animated films which tells not one but an interlocking series of stories all having to do with key members of The Green Lantern Corps.
Now as much as I would like to lavish praise upon them all, DC has been kind of hit and miss with there animated movies. Some, including Batman: Under the Red Hood, Green Lantern: First Flight, Superman: Doomsday, and the Wonderwoman anime have been awesome and in my opinion, have each batted home runs in terms capturing the unique essenses of what makes these characters special. Others, such as Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Superman Batman: Apocolypse, and the dull, lifeless adaptation of Grant Morrison’s Allstar Superman have left me wanting and disappointed.
After watching Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors I am happy to tell you that not only did this film succeed in living up to my expectations, I would have to rank it the commendable position of third or fourth place among my favorites of the DC animated line.
At the heart of the movie is a rookie Green Lantern named Arisia. She is as green as they come (no pun intended) and unsure of her place within this sacred brotherhood of intergalactic warriors. With very little experience to pull from, her fears are compounded by the dire threat she and the entire corps is suddenly thrust into when Krona, a rogue guardian who discovers a way to harness the destructive power of anti-matter energy, sets a course to destroy Oa, homeworld of the guardians and base of operations for the entire Green Lantern Corps. Wanting to instill some peace of mind within conflicted young novice, Hal Jordan, who mostly serves as the film’s narrator, recounts stories of past exploits and character building experiences having to do with other mambers of the corps. In this way, the movie is split up into five different stories with breaks in between were we see the tension rise as the Lantern Corps prepare to fight Krona for the fate of Oa before the final climax and resolution in the end.
This movie is a super fun ride and a definite must own for any fan of Green Lantern mythology or DC comics in general. All of the individual stories are unique and enjoyable for different reasons though they all feature a great deal of action and explosions so I guess they are similar in that sense, lol! I liked them all but my favorites were probably “The First Lantern,” and “Kilowag.” It’s too bad “Emerald Knights” will probably be completely overshadowed by the Green Lantern feature film due out the 17th (Yay!) but hey, who doesn’t love a good appetizer?


Monday, June 6, 2011

X-Men: First Class Review

Hi everyone! So the other night I went and saw X-Men: First Class. It seems the franchise that kick started the golden age of superhero cinema but later fizzled due to lackluster sequels has finally been given a new lease on life with this stylish, cold war era story that recounts the very first meeting of a young Charles Xavier, who will later come to be affectionately referred to by his students as Professor X, and Erik Lensherr, whose journey leads him on a darker path to becoming the maligned anti-hero Magneto.
For the sake of being nostalgic, I remember when my Dad and I went to see the very first X-Men movie a little over a decade ago. I was barely into my teens and my family was on vacation visiting my Grandmother in Vanwert Ohio. I think the Friday it came out my Dad took me to a matinee showing in the neighboring town of Lima because the theater in Vanwert had been wrecked by a storm. Now Lima is a pretty quiet place and had probably not seen many comic shops in its history, but even so, I can distinctly remember how flat out busy that little theater was the day Dad took me to X-Men, even for a matinee showing no less. The excitement in the air was palpable. People new this movie was going to be something special and couldn’t wait to see these characters brought to life on screen. I can still recall the gasps of amazement that issued forth from the audience the first time Hue Jackman popped his claws as Wolverine like it was hands down the coolest thing anyone had ever seen. When the movie was over I remember leaving the theater completely blown away by what I had just experienced. I know the effects look a little dated by today’s standards and that X2 is widely considered as superior to its predecessor but the first X-Men movie still remains my favorite in the series and one of my favorite superhero movies in general.
Going in to X-Men: First Class, I really hoped it would do for me what the first movie did. I have to say I was a little worried by some of the creative deviations the filmmakers had taken from the original comics, most specifically their decision to spotlight characters that were not part of the original incarnation of the X-Men which was comprised of Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman, and Marvel Girl. In First Class Beast is the only carry over in a team made up of lesser known characters like Havoc, and Banshee who, as far as I know, did not show up until a while later on in the four color world. I suppose this was to maintain some sort of continuity with the original movies in which Cyclops, Storm, and Marvel Girl comprise the core X-Men group before Wolverine unwillingly joins to save Rogue at the end of the first movie and their numbers increase in X2, and Last stand to include fan favorites Colossus, Shadowcat, and Nightcrawler.. Since those movie are set in more or less present day and this new movie is set in the swinging 60’s, I can understand the filmakers trepidation in recycling previously used characters since that would automatically mean a reboot for the entire franchise, still the purest in me can’t help but cringe a little, oh well.
The beginning of the movie recaps Erik’s back story as we witness the agonizing trauma of him being separated from his parents by Nazi soldiers in 1940’s Poland. This scene was particularly interesting for me in that it is nearly identical to the opening of the first movie, in fact, I’m fairly certain they re-used some of the original footage, background shots mostly but nevertheless I thought that was pretty cool. Anyway, following this emotional episode which sees Erik’s power to control metal violently manifest as he nearly folds an iron gate in half in his anger at being ripped away from his mom and dad we are introduced to a new Character, Sebastion Shaw, superbly played by the always engaging Kevin Bacon. Shaw is high up in the echelons of the Nazi military and upon witnessing this incident unfold from a distance, immediately takes an interest in young Erik and his special talents, a turn of events that leads to truly devastating consequences.
After this bit of backstory, we see Charles Xavier as a young boy uncertain of his mutant powers and afraid there are no others like him in the world. Unable to sleep, he wanders through his family’s mansion in Westchester New York until he comes across his mother in the kitchen who consoles him and tells him to go back to bed. Able to read the minds of others as if paging through an open book, Charles quickly becomes aware that the woman standing before him is not his mother but an impostor and demands that they come clean with the truth before he notifies the authorities. Like something from another world the figure morphs into a little girl with blue skin and orange hair. Instead of jumping out of his skin like any normal kid would do Charles is instantly relieved that he is not the only one and there are others out there like him. The begin a friendship that continues years later when they are both into their twenties. This is were the movie kind of confused me as I was unsure what to make of the very sibling like relationship between Charles Xavier and the girl who of course is Raven Darkholme, “Mystique.” Was she adopted by the Xavier family and they just hadn’t told him yet? Did she sneak in there to steal from the kitchen before Xavier found her and later convinced his family to let her stay? I don’t know, the movie doesn’t do a very good job of explaining this. Nothing from the original films suggests that Mystique and Xavier had any kind of history together and I though this was one of the new movie’s more noticeable weaknesess. Plus, I found the actress that played the older version of mystique to be just plain annoying at times and a definite weak link in a cast that featured stand out performances from its lead actors.
Leaping forward around ten years or so into the future we see Charles, now an expert in mutation, finishing up his phd at Oxford before an attractive CIA agent named Moira Mctaggert shows up and convinces him to come back to the states with her and work with the government who currently have their hands full trying to nab a dangerous saboteur named Sebastion Shaw whom they suspect is, “gasp!” a mutant.
Getting back to Erik, we see that in the years following his ordeal at the concentration camp he has matured into an angry and vengeful man bound on a quest to exterminate the numerous ex Nazi generals responsible for his people’s misery. There are a couple of genuinely cringe worthy scenes in which he uses his powers over metal to terrorize a couple of Nazi ex-patriots and a former conspirator whom he decides to play a little game of dentist with upon sensing the metal fillings in his teeth. At the top of his kill list is Shaw, and he nearly gets the drop on him after infiltrating a large yacht which serves the double purpose of acting as a base of operations of sorts for Shaw and a rogue team of mutants who call themselves The Hellfire Club. The attempt is foiled however after the U.S. Coast Gard joined by Xavier and his new CIA buds raid the area and after short skirmish, Shaw and his team beat a hasty retreat when their yacht converts to a submarine.
Frustrated at having come so close to killing his number one target only to be denied satisfaction, Erik reluctantly decides to partner with Charles when the latter awakens him to the unlikelihood of his winning a one man war against a group of equally powerful mutants. Erik and Charles then convince the CIA to let them assemble their own team of mutants to battle fire with fire and the two begin a nationwide recruitment drive that brings together a distinct group of individuals which comprises the first class.of X-Men.
This sums up about the first half of the movie and I will let you, the reader see the film for yourself to find out how the fledgling team of mutants fair in their first battle against an enemy bent on world domination. If anything, First Class definitely stands apart from its predecessors in its period setting of the 1960’s and incorporation of actual historical events like the cold war, and Cuban missile crises into the storyline. The overall highlight of the film however, is the complex relationship between Charles and Erik who both want to achieve the same goal, but go about it by different means. There was a sense of finality to the ending that I did not expect as I thought we would see the two develop into their comic book counterparts through the course of one or two more films. It’s a shame, I wish they had stayed friends longer.