Thursday, June 16, 2011
The opening credits to Green Lantern list four writers responsible for the film. I believe that because there are four films going on here and none of them have anything to do with the other. There’s a Lifetime movie-of-the-week romance where the complete lack of chemistry between the two leads is okay because we’ll just believe what they say because they said it.
The second is a clunky and badly paced action film. The third film is a spectacle of a visual effects film with zero substance and the fourth a pieces and parts movie about uninteresting characters doing nothing of interest. So, what happened with Green Lantern that’s made it a three hundred million dollar mess?
Before getting into that, let me explain the film for those unaware. Ryan Reynolds plays sarcastic and flippant Air Force pilot Hal Jordan. Jordan receives a ring from a dying alien named Abin Sur and becomes part of the Green Lantern Corps, an ancient cosmic police force. Abin Sur had been mortally wounded fleeing Parallax, the power of fear possessed by one of the Guardians, an ancient race that oversees the Green Lantern Corps.
After giving the ring to Jordan the dead Sur is taken to a military base and examined by Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) a mild-mannered scientist with serious daddy issues. Hammond gets infected by the bits of Parallax left in Abin Sur’s wound and becomes possessed, creating a psychic link with Parallax who is out to destroy the world. Ok, so again I ask. Why is this movie such a mess?
Let’s start with the bad romance. The main culprit here is Blake Lively as Carol Ferris. I think we need to add how this Gossip Girl “actress” got the part to the Riddle Of The Sphinx, the success of Glee, Vanna White becoming famous and all the other great mysteries out there. Lively has exactly zero screen presence or acting ability. Her eyes are absolutely dead and she’s clearly there to look good in tight dresses.
When lively is angry you can tell because her voice goes a little higher, when she’s sad you can tell because her voice gets weepy and her eyes open wider, etc, etc. There was truer emoting from Number 5 in Short Circuit than Ms. Lively. Ryan Reynolds (as Hal Jordan) is not a very good actor but he can handle romantic scenes (rom-coms are his staple) so the complete lack of chemistry is all on the female side.
The clunky and badly paced action film is the fault of director Martin Campbell. It’s surprising because, while far from perfect, Campbell is usually a more competent director than this. Action works when there’s a build up to the action scenes. If you want a perfect idea of an action scene watch Superman rescue Lois Lane from the helicopter wreck in Richard Donner’s original film. Green Lantern has no build up, ever. The action scenes just happen, they kind of vomit out there and end up looking great but having no real excitement. Once the spectacle of the action is over there’s just another scene, it’s a lack of build up and then an anticlimactic let down. It doesn’t bode well for an action superhero movie to be boring.
Besides the lack of build up, the action also manages to discredit the continuity of the film itself. After receiving the ring Hal flies to OA, the planet of the Green Lanterns, to receive his training. There is a fifteen minute training scene where Hal is told by Green Lantern super solider Sinestro that’s he’s unworthy of the ring and he’s beaten to hell by Killawog, the training instructor for the Lanterns. This sets up that Jordan is going to have to strengthen his focus and overcome his fear to really be effective as a Green Lantern. This theme remains throughout the film yet whenever the action scenes come, Jordan is a master of the ring, wielding the power as if he’s had it for years. It completely derails the emotional core of the movie.
The special effects movie with no substance lands squarely at the feet of the writers and Ryan Reynolds. The character of Hal Jordan is sarcastic and childish but he also has depth and stoic sense of pride and honor. Reynolds can do the sarcastic but that’s about it. The boyish charm that makes Reynolds a cash cow in the world of romantic comedies isn’t enough to carry him through here. His Hal Jordan never rises above the sarcastic insincerity so we never believe Jordan has learned anything.
In one particularly gruesome scene, Jordan goes before the Guardians to plead for his planet. It’s supposed to be a pivotal scene in the film, the one where we see Hal Jordan finally accept the burden and responsibility of being a Green Lantern. Instead it feels like a kid begging the dean of students not to revoke the frat charter because of the kegger the night before.
On the script side, the writers never figure out exactly what to do with the other Green Lanterns. It reads as if the writers got overly excited at the possibility for amazing special effects so they just wrote in scenes they wanted to see. The other Green Lanterns come and go, mostly as plot devices to get the exposition across. In actuality they serve no other purpose besides to explain things. Instead of a solid script where discovery is made throughout the film, Green Lantern just brings in various characters to explain what’s going on and hides that cheap exposition behind big effects.
The fourth film is the mess of what the other characters are doing. There’s Hal’s best friend, who serves no purpose other than badly written comic relief. We have the wasted Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond. Sarsgaard does the best with what he has and proves how good an actor he is by rising above bad dialog that’s so cliché and silly I kept expecting Hammond to twist a fake mustache and laugh maniacally.
Let me be clear here, Sarsgaard is very good but he has zero to work with. At no point does the script make him a real threat or a credible villain. The final waste is Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett who are given parts and dialog better left to dinner theater. Everybody here just moves around, lost in a bad script and mediocre direction. The only other person who is effective here is Mark Strong as Sinestro. He nails the character across the board, even with the awful lines he’s expected to deliver.
Green Lantern also has no 2nd half. The first half sets up all of these roads that never go anywhere. We’re given this long pre-amble about how Jordan must focus and train but then suddenly Parallax shows up and Jordan has no problem kicking his ass. The end of the movie comes so quickly there’s not even a real battle, just some lofty special effects and an ending. What’s particularly troubling is the lack of basic structure. Mid-way through the film Hal Jordan isn’t very good at being a Lantern and the best Lantern warriors are picked off by Parallax like so much dandruff. When Parallax finally reaches earth, suddenly Jordan is the greatest Green Lantern ever. Really? Way to ignore basic plot progression structure guys.
These are the problems simply from a film perspective; I’ve ignored the massive liberties the film took with actual Green Lantern lore. Having been an avid reader of Green Lantern for over twenty years I was shocked by the complete lack of respect for the source material. The rumor on the farm is that this movie is a make or break for continued DC films, if it fails, then there might not be anymore after the next Batman. If this is the quality we can expect from DC and Warner Brothers, then that might be a good thing.
Friday, June 3, 2011
As I walked out of X-Men: First Class I kept saying to myself “It would’ve been great if this had been good”. I don’t say that to infer the movie is bad, it isn’t bad, it just isn’t good. With so many elements going for it, and so many things that could’ve gone for it, watching X-Men First Class fall beneath it’s own weight is more sad then upsetting. This isn’t some glorified summer comic book film that just looks for the big effects and movie tie-ins. The people here seem like they were attempting to make a great film, it just didn’t come together at all.
To use a metaphor, X-Men First Class is like a gorgeous mirror with a several cracks in it. At first they seem insignificant but combined they shatter the glass and ruin the mirror. The first crack in the film is the length. This movie is easily half an hour too long and that extra thirty minutes drags so badly by the time you get to the final battle, you just want it to be over. Making a comic book movie is a fine line between story and action. In a comic book 2/3 story and 1/3 action work fine, on screen it only does if the story is strong. The story in X-Men: First Class isn’t strong enough to withstand the long bits between action.
The length of the film is made worse by the second big crack, which is pacing. Director Matthew Vaughn does not know how to pace a film. If you’re going to cram a lot into a story, you’d better have Christopher Nolan or younger Steve Spielberg chops at storytelling. Vaughn doesn’t, and it shows in the pacing. Scenes that should be short and sweet drag on for too long, plot points turn for no reason and other parts just rush into nothing. There’s also too much set up and not enough delivery. Part of this crack splinters off into the editing, which feels like it was done with a machete. The film is constantly jumping from place to place to place; you never have time to get settled. When the editor does settle you in, it’s for entirely too long. Imagine running as fast as you can for bursts of thirty seconds and then slowly jogging for twenty minutes and then doing it again over and over. Annoying doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Another massive crack is the script, which can never decide what it wants to be. Granted part of that is how Matthew Vaughn directed the film, but this script is patchwork that it never gels. Everything is a way to get to the next thing, there’s no sense of story arc at all. When the new mutants (no pun intended) are brought into the fold by Professor X, it’s a quick jump from mutant to mutant. We never get to know anybody; thusly we don’t care about them. For instance, when Angel (not the original Angel butAngel Salvadore known also as Tempest) turns against her new mutant buddies to join up with Sebastian Shaw (played by Kevin Bacon) you don’t care. Why? Because you never got to know her, you have no idea who she is. Her turn is more of a plot device than anything else.
I think the script suffers as well from trying too hard to not be a typical comic book movie. Again it’s a fine line that not everybody can walk. In the Dark Knight, we got a good old-fashioned criminal caper flick only instead of Al Capone and Elliot Ness we had The Joker and Batman. It worked; the story was good enough to support itself. Here the attempt at political intrigue is just boring and slow. I think centering the whole of X-Men First Class on the Cuban Missile Crisis was an error in judgment. When a film tries to hard you can feel it trying to hard and that makes it difficult to watch.
The pacing problems align with the script during the third act. We’re set up for this climactic event that’s suddenly put on hold for a long-winded Rocky-style training scene for the X-Men. It comes out of nowhere and is so incredibly melodramatic it’s laughable. The final battle also feels like nothing but a trigger for Magneto. During the film Magneto is pretty much on the side of the Xavier’s team and by the end of the film there’s no reason for him to become Magneto. A great script would have left that alone, trusting that the next film could delve deeper into Magneto’s turn. This being a mediocre script suddenly the Russians and the Americans, who witnessed the mutants save the world, decide to unite and kill them. Out of nowhere, for no reason other than to piss Magneto off so he would turn into a villain.
The script also has a problem figuring out if it wants to be its own film or part of the franchise. There are cute little nods to the other three X-Men films but then the movie shreds the continuity of other parts of those same films. For example, In X-Men 3 Xavier and Magneto are still friends in their late forties, here they part ways in their twenties. I was also left wondering why the filmmakers chose the newer crop of mutants. None of them are very compelling, their powers are fairly feeble, so why not have Cyclops, Angel, Jean Gray, and Iceman join Beast instead of second stringers? I also hated the way they crippled Professor X, it was stupid and an unnecessary departure from the original story. Same with making Sebastian Shaw a Nazi sympathizer that kills Magneto’s mother. Shaw would’ve made a spectacular villain on his own merits, why weave him into something that never happened. I also don’t like when scripts force every little fan boy detail into the story and this one does it in spades, especially the final scene between Moira and Xavier.
The final crack is the acting, which is either sub-par or phoned in. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor X and Magneto are brilliant, they shine incredibly bright and do the same justice to the characters that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen did. The rest of the cast is just limp. The young X-Men have no personality, no charisma; they feel more like the cast of a bad teen drama. The more seasoned actors, like Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt just phone their parts in, as if they needed the check or just wanted to be associated with something young and hip.
Oddly, in the opening scene with Kevin Bacon, he’s wonderfully mean and cruel, a true villain. For the remainder of the movie he’s smarmy and flippant, like a grown up version of Ed Westwick’s character on Gossip Girls. I also have to question the casting of January Jones as Emma Frost. Jones must fuck like a demon or she’s able to suck the chrome off a bumper because outside of that I see no reason that she was cast for this role. Jones has a slamming body but is in no way pretty enough to be Emma Frost, not to mention she is now the heavy weight champion of one note acting.
I know it seems like I hated X-Men First Class, but I didn’t. There are things here that work, elements I really enjoyed. The idea of a more realistic mutant film, the muted style that really stands out against the shock and awe of something like Thor or Iron Man, the tone of the film, I liked all of those things. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to rescue the movie from the massive cracks it has, but I do give it an A for effort. One day Hollywood will understand all the aspects of the evolution of a great comic book movie. For now though, X-Men First Class is a failed mutation.