POSTED ON JUNE 22, 2011:
Heroes of the Moment
Saving the day the intergalactic and American way
The list of memorable Marvel superheroes dwarfs the DC Comics roster, whose two main claims to fame are Batman and Superman --and only one of them is actually cool. Place Wonder Woman into that equation and The Green Lantern winds up being a second tier cinematic character. After him it's just The Flash, because that's already been done and because no one is banging the tables for an Aquaman flick.
The ubiquity of films from either publisher on any given year's summer film slate makes me wonder if the bulk of the audience are even comic book geeks anymore, or if they're basically uninitiated film goers out for some popcorn-munching yucks, drawn to a star. Robert Downey Jr. put the fine Iron Man over the top back in 2008. In 2011, The Green Lantern's Ryan Reynolds is doing his best to keep a film aloft in ways Downey never had to sweat.
It turns out that, billions of years ago, the The Guardians of the Universe created The Green Lantern Corps. to patrol the 3,600 known sectors of space as sort of interstellar peacekeepers/asskickers, depending on what the situation called for. Comprised of bizarre beings from across the different sectors, the powers of the eclectic Lanterns are formidable. They can fly across the vast gulfs of space and create weapons (or defenses) in mid-battle simply by willpower and having no fear. The source of this will stems from their home planet Oa.
When three Lanterns crash land on a dead planet in The Lost Sector, they stumble across a banished Guardian called Parallax (voiced by Private Zim himself, Clancy Brown) who once sought to use fear, instead of benevolent will as the source of the Lantern's power and was overcome by evil. Freed from his prison, Parallax begins wreaking havoc on the surrounding star systems. Sinestro (Mark Strong) with Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) take a squadron of Lanterns to face the new threat. They are wiped out by Parallax and Sinestro flees while Abin Sur, mortally wounded, escapes to land on Earth. His Green Lantern ring, one which they all possess, chooses a replacement for its dying wearer.
The ring finds Hal Jordan (Reynolds), a lady-killing, wise-ass test pilot -- whose roguish immaturity stokes the ire (and affection) of his childhood friend and colleague, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) as much as it fuels his quick wits in the cockpit. The ring brings Jordan back to Abin Sur.
Floored by the news that he's been selected to be a part of an intergalactic police force, and the new powers he's been bestowed, Jordan flies to Oa where he is forced to come to grips with his flaws and the façade of his fearlessness in the opulent planet city. Buckling under the training administered by the isomorphic Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush), the ogre-like, Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan), and ultimately Sinestro, Jordan washes out of Lantern school and goes home for good.
But when Sur's body, an imposing, purple-colored affair is discovered and autopsied by a socially-stunted scientist, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a seed of Parallax infects him, turning Hammond a telepathic beacon that guides the space-faring destroyer of worlds onto a collision course with Earth -- and, of course, Hal Jordan.
And it would all have been more engaging and fun but for the lumbering direction of Martin Campbell (who, ironically, was behind the great Bond entries, Goldeneye and Casino Royale) and some monolithically stupid shit in this cobbled together script by a quartet of writers who, with the exception of Michael Goldenberg (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), are all TV vets/hacks. "I KNOW, RIGHT!?" is a saying we should have already stopped saying, but writers who use it in an actual screenplay should probably be in a gulag.
The often inane dialogue sometimes tops itself in stupidity. After Jordan reveals his new alter-ego to his geeky, scientist friend, Thomas (Taika Waititi), Jordan tells him he's been given a "great responsibility" by the Green Lantern Corps. to which Thomas wonders if, in Lantern language, maybe "responsibility" means "asshole." So Hal Jordan's been bestowed with a great asshole? I know, right?
The script has moments, though. There's the seed of a good film (or at least a "good" bad film) in The Green Lantern. It has a wacky scope that might be the sole element that keeps it from being a total, origin-story slog; while also sporting some fairly slick art and creature design. The myriad life forms that make up the Green Lanterns look well rendered and mostly good despite all the CG.
But, between the setting up of the universe and the Hal Jordan origin story, the script has too many irons on the fire to provide much real action and Campbell can't wring any tension out of the disjointed, hacked up screenplay, with a last act that feels heavily edited. Thus, we are left with scene after scene that laboriously layer the foundation of a narrative that's full of ostensibly goofy and fun ideas that wind up feeling clumsy and forced. The action in the third act burst is too little too late.
Ryan Reynolds doesn't seem to be stretching himself here, which is fine. He's got enough on-screen charisma (and ripped torso) to carry this off, though his enjoyable comic timing is becoming worn. He's been trying to break into more dramatic roles (see Buried), not to mention his Marvel-self in the upcoming Deadpool flick. The character of Jordan is served well by his physicality and ability to mine some actual emotions however trite, unlike the script which generates none.
The voice work of Michael Clarke Duncan and Geoffrey Rush augmented by a typically operatic performance by Mark Strong as Sinestro (stick around for the credits for your Flash Gordon moment) are welcome distractions. Blake Lively is kind of terrible but that's not news. Peter Sarsgaard turns in a weirdly unnerving portrayal as the possessed, Hector Hammond.
It's almost as if he's is in a better film that has a real reason to exist.
There are dog psychics, I've been told. For an exorbitant amount of money (read: ANY) you too can sort out your dog's quirks, neuroses and (pet?) peeves with the help of a telephone and a canine seer. At best, I guess it plays into the weird belief amongst most pet owners that their pets actually understand English. At worst, too many people believe in telephone psychics.
And then there's Dan "Buck" Brannaman.
Brannaman, the subject of the indie documentary Buck, is a Montana-raised cowboy who was doing rope tricks by age 3 then professionally at age 6, who grew into the literal basis for the main character of the Nicholas Evans novel, "The Horse Whisperer." He's about as close as it gets to someone with an innate communication with any group of our four-legged friends--unlike Timothy Treadwell.
Dan the Man.
Buck follows Brannaman as he spends his weeks traversing the upper Mid-West, giving seminars at remote ranches on how to understand a horse. It quickly becomes clear why people pay money for his advice. His sensitivity to the animals engenders a nearly telepathic understanding that allows Brannaman, within a short time, to tame a horse without need for the antiquated notion that it be "broken".
But it's only when we learn of Brannaman's upbringing, mentored in the rope trick arts, as much by Natural Horsemanship legend Ray Hunt as his viciously abusive father Ace, that we get a sense of what gave him the ability to tap the emotions of his equine charges ("Abused horses are like abused children. They trust no one and expect the worst."). His mantra is passivity, which puts a horse not just at ease but elicits obedience to his most subtle commands. More disconcertingly, what Brannaman gleans from a horse tells him even more about its owner.
Bolstered by anecdotes from Robert Redford and many of the horse owners who have been awed and helped by Brannaman's skills, Buck could almost be blamed for being an advertisement for its titular protagonist's specific services. What makes it slightly more rewarding is Brannaman himself, a weathered, grounded man's man, almost to the point of caricature, who is at peace with his tumultuous past and unique existence. Brannaman gives the film a quality that makes one retrospective about how a hyper-cyberspace lifestyle obfuscates what connects us to our natural world. His succinct demeanor and acute attention to horses, and people, beget an outlook on animal and human nature anyone would be richer for mulling over.
Under director Cindy Meehl, Buck is a matter-of-fact visual affair but the utilitarian production is helped by its subject matter. These people love horses, and the connections they forge with their animals are sometimes humorously, and sometimes tragically, laid bare by Brannaman's ruthlessly amiable ethos and Meehl's Spartan eye.
All of which makes Buck a wistfully American work in a way John McCain would envy, while imparting the bohemian, I Am types a tangible sense of interconnectedness to nature that Tom Shadyac couldn't achieve with a petri dish full of yogurt and two hopelessly unanswerable questions.
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