This Is a Blog: Summer Comic Movie Update: Captain America & Green Lantern

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Summer Comic Movie Update: Captain America & Green Lantern

After lukewarm reviews of the other two comic movies I wanted to see, my motivation to write these reviews waned considerably. Having now seen "Green Lantern" on a plane, I'm finally ready to deliver my verdict on the summer of comic adaptations. These four represent only the ones I was willing to sit through, and that says a lot considering how universally panned "Green Lantern" was. Real quick, here's the final list:

#1 - X-Men: First Class
#2 - Captain America
#3 - Thor
#4 - Green Lantern

No surprises there, which is why I want to move on and talk about these films. After seeing "Captain America," I thought about doing one of these essays for it, but I just couldn't. I didn't realize why until I saw "Green Lantern." Both films are unbelieveably tough subject matters to hang a movie on nowadays. Audiences don't like squeaky clean heroes anymore, and these guys are about as squeaky as they come. "The Dark Knight" turned movie-Batman into a morally ambiguous anti-hero and became one of the highest grossing films of all time. "Captain America" is about a guy who wins by being as single-mindedly heroic and honest as possible, and "Green Lantern" speaks an oath where he denounces evil not once, but twice. Neither of these were easy movies to write, but the difference between the two is simply that "Captain America" is well written, whereas "Green Lantern" is not.

These movies are about iconic characters that look good on the side of a bus, so the studios that made them had very little motivation to try all that hard. Team Captain delivers a solid, well-made film that washes over you almost the moment you step out of the theatre. Team Lantern, on the other hand, has all the elements of a film that should be great and squanders every one.

Captain America

My only major criticism of "Captain America" disappeared the more I thought about it. Steve Rogers is a hero with unmatched morals, but those morals were never tested in the film. There's no moment that really anchors his humanity. He has women throwing themselves at him, but he never really gives into temptation -- except for a kiss that he arguably went along with because he didn't want to be rude. That's not the point of this guy, though. The super soldier formula gave him a super-powered conscience. It's not about being tested. It's about challenging himself to be even more heroic. That's the kind of guy you need to butt heads with Iron Man in "The Avengers."

I do have a couple small gripes, as I always do. I really don't like CG stunts, and I think this film really solidifies that it's the CG itself, not just how it's used. When Steve chases down the Nazi spy, jumping from car to car, the physics just don't look as perfect as they would if he was hanging from wires. The other gripe is really nitpicky. Before the big assault on the Red Skull's fortress, they make a big point that the compound is 500 ft inside a mountain, then just a few minutes later commandos break through Skull's window. Cap had to face off against tanks and flamethrowers because that was the "only" way to break into this fortress, but IT HAD A FUCKING WINDOW?!?!?!?!

Speaking of Red Skull, though, I thought that was by far the best part of the movie. The villain is a dude with a big, red head in a movie shot with very low saturation to look old timey. The filmmakers smartly avoid showing the red for most of the movie, and I spent that whole time physically dreading the reveal. There's a rule in comedy that the longer you spend delaying a reveal, the funnier the pay-off has to be. I knew it was coming, and considering how little I liked the CG, I was sure it would be awful, and that's why they were delaying it. Every time they cut around showing it, I knew it couldn't possibly live up. When he finally pulls off that Agent Smith mask and the camera pushes in for the big, red hero shot, he looked amazing. I was impressed.

Still, when I left the theatre, I couldn't bring myself to write anything about it. I don't think that's a problem with the film. That's simply where the super hero genre is. "Superman" wowed audiences by making them believe a man could fly. "Spider-man" and "X-Men" proved CG had finally developed to the point that super powers could believeably come to the screen. "The Dark Knight" proved comic book movies could have depth. "Captain America" proves that a super hero movie can just be a movie. A regular guy gets himself some powers and uses them for good. That's it. This genre has finally grown to the point that there's room for average movies.

That's why "Green Lantern" is so disappointing. It didn't have to be a great movie. This character is maybe the best of the second tier DC heroes, so he deserved a movie where the filmmakers actually cared.

Green Lantern

The best compliment I can give this film is that despite failing on almost every level, it's not that bad a movie. The really bad one are easy to list off: "Daredevil," "Ghost Rider," "The Punisher," "Spider-man 3," "X-Men 3," "Superman 3," "Superman 4." Compared to these, "Green Lantern" kind of succeeds. The film suffers from a lot of bad decision making. I'll just list them.

1) If you're going to include the Lantern oath, you have to just embrace how much of a throwback it is, as "Captain America" did. The language of the oath is very cheesy, and the design of the aliens in the Lantern Corps aren't the subtle humanoids we're used to.

2) Hal Jordan is supposed to be a lost soul, not a dick. Maybe Ryan Reynolds doesn't have the range to pull off lost without dickishness, but they paint him almost too close to Seth Rogan in "Green Hornet." Even if they were to commit to making him a dick, he doesn't do enough dicky things with the ring to make his character really make sense.

3) Blake Lively proved in "The Town" that there is some acting talent in there, but this film proves she can't be good without good writing to back her up. They needed to either punch up her dialogue, or find a better actress.

4) My biggest complaint about "Daredevil" is that the most immasculating thing that can happen to a super hero is for someone to pull off his mask, and in that movie it happens all the damn time. The scene where Blake Lively sees the Lantern in the mask and just goes, "Oh, hey, Hal." renders the entire idea of the mask useless. Making the identity thing so easy to figure out just draws more attention to...

5) The love story doesn't work, even in the slightest. The whole thing where he tries to use the mask to get into Blake Lively's pants is dumb and tacked on, and it just gives her more screen time to suck.

6) Almost every construct Hal creates with the ring is stupid and looks awful. Maybe if the film did a better job of embracing the cheesiness overall, they wouldn't stand out so much. The race car track thing was maybe the dumbest thing I've seen, ever.

7) For all the time they spend setting up Peter Saarsgard as the anti-Hal Jordan and giving him this detailed back story, the least they could have done is made him more important to the plot. As is, he's just a secondary villain. There's a reason we never met Oddjob's family in "Goldfinger." Saarsgard has daddy issues and resentment, whereas Parallax, the main villain, just has some vague story about being a former Lantern.

By this point, you should be asking yourself why I didn't think this movie was bad. These are some pretty basic issues. Despite all that, the story at its basic level is there, where it's just not in the really bad ones. This Hal Jordan, despite the aforementioned basic problems, is a complex guy who has to overcome some major internal and external obstacles to prevail in a pretty spectacular fashion. If we had to stick just to the distinctions of good and bad, it does fall just this side of bad, but it's not a total failure like some of the examples I've already given. We can all love the Green Lantern as a character, but let's not oversell his importance. He's a cheesy space cop who got a cheesy space sci-fi movie. It could have been better, but so could a lot of movies.

Wrap It Up Already

This easily could have been two essays, but they just didn't work separately. These two films together show that despite what everyone says, this summer was not the death of the comic genre. This summer marked the point where we have enough of these films to start filling in the finer gradations of the quality scale. These two films represent the future of the genre. Some comic movies will make you smile and happy you spent two hours and $12 to see it, and some just won't. Obviously, we'd all like to see more like "The Dark Knight," but I'd much rather see 100 more "Green Lanterns" than one more "The Punisher."

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