Tuesday, June 21, 2011


My favorite cinematic adaptations of costume-clad, comic-book, crime-fighters vary. The Christopher Reeve “Superman” (1978) tops my list followed by its sequel “Superman II” (1980), then “Iron Man” (2008), “Spider-man” (2002), “Batman Begins” (2005), “The Dark Knight” (2008), “X-Men” (2000), “X2” (2003), “Fantastic Four” (2005), and “X-Men: First Class” (2011). Interestingly, Marvel Comics has enjoyed greater success with their cinematic adaptations than their DC rivals. Since I grew up perusing DC Comics, I have a soft spot for DC heroes and their classic simplicity compared with more sophisticated but fascinating origins of the Marvel Comics mutants. Each of these films exhibits ambitious artistry and sets the gold standard for heroes, villains, and stories. Sure, the Michael Keaton “Batman” movies were entertaining, but “Batman” didn’t reach the gold standard until Christopher Nolan took over the helm from quirky Tim Burton and middle-of-the-road Joel Schumacher. Typically, a great costume-clad, comic-book, crime-fighter flick boasts the illusion of realism despite its outlandish, larger-than-life quality. The hero should be vulnerable without being weak. Meaning, he, she, or it should have an Achilles’ heel. Indeed, there should be a reasonable chance that they could die if all the planets and/or circumstances could align for such a contingency. Furthermore, the villains should not only threaten the hero and the heroine but also they should threaten people’s lives. Again, a reasonable chance should exist that the villains could destroy Earth, the universe, etc. Spectacular production values, suspenseful and surprising scripting, sympathetic heroes, menacing villains, and an impressive arena for them to display their powers contribute to making great costume-clad, comic-book, crime-fighting films.

“GoldenEye” director Martin Campbell’s “Green Lantern” (*** out of ****) qualifies as a good costume-clad, comic-book, crime-fighter flick. No, it doesn’t surpass any of those aforementioned epics. Nonetheless, “Green Lantern” is worth-watching, at least once, even in 3-D. Twice wouldn’t be intolerable for the 2-D version. Thrice might be pushing it. Happily, this lavish, $200-million, FX-fueled, DC entry in the summer crime-fighter sweepstakes neither takes itself too seriously nor wears out its welcome at 114 minutes. This super hero spectacle about a guy-in-a-green suit who can hurl himself through air and space is entertaining but lightweight fare. Scenarists Greg Berlanti of “Dawson’s Creek,” Michael Green of “Smallville,” and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Golden Phoenix” scribes Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg pour their considerable creativity into the plot. They keep the action and characters lively enough while delivering a solid origins story. Prepare yourself for a glut of exposition that bristles with more than enough details to keep you attentive. The sympathetic Ryan Reynolds hero shows strong potential, but neither Blake Lively nor he get a chance to generate much romantic sizzle in this PG-13 outing. The aliens and the other worlds make the grade in terms of visual splendor. Watching the scenes featuring aliens reminded me of the original “Star Wars.” Despite the presence of oddball aliens with radically different color scheme complexions, “Green Lantern” never slips into parody. Campbell maintains a fine balance between the dramatic and comedic elements when his writers and he aren’t immersing us with expository background information about Green Lantern mythology.

For the record, this DC Comics hero debuted July 1940 in “All-American Comics.” Long before the Earth was created, the immortal Guardians of the Universe supervised an intergalactic police force known as the Green Lantern Corps. These Guardians resemble those squat, bubble-headed football dolls because they are so diminutive, but they sit up high on lofty towers on the planet Oa. These Guardians have divided the galaxy into 3,600 sectors, with one Green Lantern per sector. The Green Lanterns are like Texas Rangers. Anyway, a Green Lantern wears an emerald green ring. This jaded jewelry provides them with powers limited only by their imagination. If there is one quality above all that a first-class Green Lantern must possess, he, she or it must lack fear. The first incarnation of the "Green Lantern" character lasted until 1949. In those days, before DC turn over the comic in a merger, the “Green Lantern” was railroad engineer Alan Scott. When DC rebooted “Green Lantern” in 1949, he became daredevil test-pilot Hal Jordan. Although the Alan Scott/Green Lantern character sounds more interesting, Campbell and his scribes have appropriated the Hal Jordan hero. Essentially, they have replicated Hal’s origins as the guy-in-green. Our hero receives his status and power as a Green Lantern when a dying alien, purple-faced Abin Sur of Sector 2814 (Temuera Morrison of “Vertical Limit”), crashes on Earth after battling Parallax. Abin Sur’s Green Lantern ring seeks out Hal. Apparently, this ring is drawn only to the individual that it deems worthy of wearing it. When “Green Lantern” opens, a former Guardian who has turned into a super villain called Parallax has escaped, fatally wounded Abin Sur, and sets out to ultimately destroy Earth and later the Guardians using fear as its chief weapon.

Naturally, Ferris Aircraft test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds of "Buried") is flabbergasted when the ring chooses him. As it turns out, Hal is the first human to be a Green Lantern, and his pointy-eared mentor Thaal Sinestro (Mark Strong of “Stardust”) lacks confidence in him. Moreover, Hal has little confidence in himself, but he proves himself an excellent if not unorthodox test pilot. During an early scene, Hal out-flies two unmanned aircraft by flying above their altitude. This recklessness nearly killed him, but he beat the two jets. In this respect, "Green Lantern" recalls a similar scene from "Iron Man." Meanwhile, milquetoast biology professor Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard of “Boys Don’t Cry”), is called in to conduct an autopsy on Abin Sur's remains. During the autopsy, Hammond is infected by some of the DNA that Parallax left in Sur’s corpse. Parallax is the villain in "Green Lantern." Suffice to say, Parallax was a Guardian of the Universe who was lured away from the green force of will-power to the yellow force of fear. Parallax killed Abin Sur, and the soul-sucking Parallax wants to wipe out the ancient Guardians and Earth. Consequently, Hector acquires both Parallax's telepathic as well as telekinetic powers, but it costs him his sanity. Eventually, Hal and Hector battle over childhood sweetheart Carol Ferris (Blake Lively of “The Town”) who recognizes Hal even when he wears green. The confrontation at the Ferris Aircraft party when nerdy Hector tries to kill his smug father, U.S. Senator Robert Hammond (Tim Robbins), is both amusing and suspenseful.

The “Green Lantern” villains flaw the movie. Mind you, the villains do present a clear and present danger to Hal Jordan. Nevertheless, they appeared to have been hatched from the same galaxy that yielded Tim Burton’s “Mars Attacks.” Indeed, the villains are either hideously deformed mutants or a monstrous supernatural extraterrestrial force that resembles a creature with the human skull and the vaporous body of a shape-shifting octopus. In other words, Parallax amounts to nothing more than CGI hokum. The skull-faced octopus might as well have been a Japanese monster puppet for all the evil that it conjures up. Having great villains makes the difference between a great costume-clad, comic-book, crime-fighter flick and a good costume-clad, comic-book, crime-fighter flick. “Green Lantern” comes up short on villainy. The villains emerge as either blow-hards or half-wits. As one of the villains, Sarsgaard is more fun to watch before his head swells up and he looks like a pigmy with skin disease. Nevertheless, the way that Hal defeats Parallax is not only foreshadowed but also fun. If you wait around patiently during the end credits, you can see who emerges as the next villain for Hal Jordan to fight in the inevitable "Green Lantern" sequel.