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Oa Boy

June 29th, 2011

The modern movie industry is a looking-glass universe in which making $93 million in 12 days is seen as a crushing disappointment. That’s the outlook for Green Lantern, Warner Bros.’ attempt to gear up its own integrated superhero movie franchise ala Marvel’s grand Avengers initiative.

I came of age in the era of Christopher Reeve’s Superman, which not only proved that a man could fly, but that a superhero could power a big budget Hollywood film. Yet I could never have imagined a summer like 2011, which kicked off with a Kenneth Branagh-directed Thor and saw $300 million lavished to make and market a Green Lantern flick.

And, really, that may have been a big part of the problem. There’s no good reason to spend that much green on a B-list hero like DC’s intragalactic cop.

Bear me out; I like Green Lantern. I’m not interested in his recent adventures–which put him at the center of an absurdly convoluted War Between the Colors–but the basic premise of an Earthman drafted into a legion of space peacekeepers is rock-solid.

GL has become more prominent in recent years–comics fans apparently love seeing a box of ring-slinging Crayolas duke it out–yet to the general public he’s relatively obscure.

Of course, so was Iron Man. But that one had Robert Downey, Jr. And it didn’t cost 300 extra-large.

I didn’t see Green Lantern until the second weekend*–practically an epoch as far as the studio beancounters are concerned. While it wasn’t in any way the disaster that reviews suggested, I could see right away why it didn’t catch on with an audience that doesn’t know the planet Oa from a hole in the ground.

Has any truly good movie started off with a voiceover infodump? Green Lantern opens by way of a portentous  recitation of the history of the Guardians of the Universe and the all-consuming villain Parallax. The first ten minutes or so are all CGI aliens on green-screened backgrounds in a look unpopularized by the Star Wars prequels.

Once Ryan Reynolds shows up as hotshot pilot with a destiny Hal Jordan things pick up, but the script doesn’t give him enough opportunities to exploit his considerable charm. It doesn’t help that his romantic interest Carol Ferris is played by a block of wood Blake Lively.

Really, there’s nothing all that wrong with Green Lantern. No one is phoning it in.** There’s an effort to faithfully replicate the comics experience, complete with familiar supporting characters such as Sinestro, Kilowog and Tomar Re. (And if there’s anything almost as surprising as Kenneth Branagh directing a movie about The Mighty Thor, it’s hearing Geoffrey Rush voicing the fish-headed Tomar Re, introduced as a random alien Lantern in a 1961 issue.) When the slinging of the ring begins, it’s an entertaining spectacle.

While Warner Bros. suggests that we haven’t seen the last of Green Lantern, I find it hard to believe that they’ll follow up this movie with anything other than a direct-to-DVD sequel. Which is too bad, I think; this is a superhero movie that did a lot of things right even if if it didn’t add up to greatness.

*Instead, I had the opportunity to see Super 8 in IMAX. And I’m very glad that I did. It was an excellent Spielbergian throwback that benefited greatly from the extra-large, extra-sharp image.

**Even the block of wood acquits herself given her natural handicap of being made of pine.

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