it’s st. patrick’s day 2012 edition. i’m still trying to catch up on 2011 movies, and luckily there are two 2011 movies with the word green in the title. two green superhero movies not about bruce banner, al gore, or ed begley jr. the greens in this case are hornet and lantern (not related).
and they have in common more than mere namesake and year released. both movies received bad buzz and negative reviews. both are considered failures/flops even though they more or less make out okay at the box office. both have the exact same metacritic score of 39 (that’s out of 100). they are also born again 3D, movies shot in 2D but retrofitted into 3D during post-production/marketing meeting. there is also kind of a self-referential element in both movies. i also went in to the movies with pretty low expectations. i should also mention that i got both movies cheap from dvd rental machines.
based on a 30s radio series, the green hornet is perhaps most well-known as a tv show starring bruce lee as kato, the sidekick to britt reid, played by van williams. i don’t think i know anyone who’ve seen the tv series, which was on for one season. miramax in the late 90s tried to turn it into a movie written and directed by kevin smith. this version is written by seth rogen and evan goldberg, who wrote superbad and pineapple express, and directed by michel gondry (human nature, eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, the science of sleep, dave chappelle’s block party, the work of director michel gondry).
rogen’s version of britt reid is a deadbeat layabout ne’er-do-well who after his father’s (tom wilkinson) death, inherits the family newspaper. with the help of genius/karate fighter/super barista kato, played by taiwanese pop star jay chou, decide to rid the city’s crime elements by posing as criminals. this comes into direct conflict with chudnofsky, played by inglourious basterds’ christoph waltz, who tries to monopolize the city’s crime.
i have no clue as to whether this adaptation is faithful to its original radio serial or the tv show. the reid we see in this movie is more or less the seth rogen persona we expect, or maybe it’s the real life version. what’s surprising is that the first half of the movie is actually enjoyable. i kind of like the way they take the superhero story, with reid being the clueless rich white guy while the asian sidekick do all the works. it’s a humorous take on the superhero/picture book genre. with its multinational talents both in front of and behind the scenes, the film makes jokes, instead of ignores it. (gondry is french, rogen is canadian, waltz is austrian, and chou is taiwanese) there are a lot of little touches that i like in the first half, such as when kato is telling reid that he’s from shanghai and reid saying “i love japan,” or everyone having a hard time pronouncing waltz’s character’s last name, or when a korean crime group is mentioned, waltz asks which one and his henchman answers “kim.” i don’t know if it’s supposed to be a joke but i chuckled. this also must be the only superhero movie where we not only get the humpty dance on the soundtrack but also a scene with green hornet and kato driving moderately fast and somewhat furiously to coolio’s gangsta’s paradise.
another great moment is when reid trying to come up with his superhero name, a scene that we think is when they mention the title of the movie and what he comes up with is the green bee. what they are going for is a comedic superhero movie without sinking into parody.
unfortunately the movie is almost two-hour long. and with $120 million studio money, they can’t really get away with a not-so-serious superhero movie/potential franchise starter.
in addition to the james franco cameo that is reminiscent of pineapple express, there’s a fight between reid and kato that’s just as awkwardly inserted as the bathroom fight in pineapple express. maybe it’s supposed to be a tribute to the pink panther movies where the asian sidekick (cato in the pink panther movies) attacks the white protagonist. but in the pink panther movies, there is a reason for the attacks. here it feels more out of nowhere and wasting time. there is also a sort of bromance between them that’s done way better in i love you man.
cameron diaz is also in the movie, incidentally. again, i can kind of see what they tried to do, subverting the superhero tradition of having the female character being the dismal in distress. there is a prolonged sequence (and there are many in this movie) where the whole point seems to be that she is smarter than both reid and kato. the whole taking-the-bullet-out-of-the-hero’s-body-while-he’s-still-conscious sequence is worth parodying but it’s totally out of place here. one is wondering why they are not wrapping up the movie instead of ha that’s funny. there’s no need for the scene to go on other than the opportunity for reid to tell diaz’s character “you’re the mastermind.”
it would be naive to go in to the movie expecting a gondry movie. though the action scenes are overall decent, it could have been directed by anyone else. the kato vision is strong enough to stand on its own even though they more more or less bullet time/csi shots done in different ways. there are also a few other sequences (the city-wide assassins and the thought process scene) that are gondry-esque. the movie feels like a studio sanctioned superhero movie rather than an unique auteur superhero subversion that was promised in the first half. the amount of enjoyment you get out of the movie is entirely dependent on your tolerance of seth rogen and him playing a superhero. it’s not as clever or funny as it thinks it is, and about 20 minutes too long.
p.s. i thought i would be disappointed regardless of how the movie turned out since stephen chow and nicolas cage were both attached to the movie for a while, playing kato and the villain. but after watching the movie, i’m kind of relieved that they are not in the movie. with rogen in the lead, there is simply no room for cage/chow awesomeness.
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based on the dc picture book, who gave us watchmen, BRUCE’s red, shaq’s steel, jonah hex, some super man and all those dark bat movies, green lantern stars ryan reynolds (blade: trinity, the nines, van wilder episode 1, finder’s fee) as
astronaut mike dexter test pilot maverick hal jordan, who’s writing checks his body can’t cash. he’s driving into the danger zone wrapping his nephew’s birthday present in his dodge challenger, instead of a motorcycle. just in case you miss top gun’s homoerotic tone, there’s mention of highball as a nickname, no shirtless volleyball scenes though.
before that though, there’s a lengthy exposition explaining the universe and the guardians and the other lanterns and rings. one of the guardians, abin sur, is attacked by the yellow parallax, which represents fear, rather than an over-the-counter drug for constipation. abin sur is forced to crash land on earth, out of 3600 sectors. thankfully, he doesn’t die until after meeting his successor chosen by the green ring, humanoid jordon. the government discovers abin sur’s body and scientist hector hammond (peter sarsgaard) is recruited to study it.
and that’s not even half the story. it wasn’t until the last paragraph that i realized how ridiculous it all sounds. there’s blake lively (tv’s gossip girl, ben afflect’s the town) as carol ferris, who’s both a test pilot and military official. jay o. sanders (jfk, the day after tomorrow) as her dad. angela bassett as a government scientist. also tim robbins as hammond’s dad, a politician not unlike bob roberts.
like the seth rogen’s green hornet, reynold’s green lantern also has a bit of self-awareness. an element of can-you-believe-i’m-a-superhero shtick. it’s not as meta as green hornet but i like the references to toy story, he-man, spiderman when jordan is trying to utilize his superpower. in addition to the above mentioned top gun, green hornet, and batman movies with daddy issue in tact, there’s nothing in the green lantern movie that doesn’t remind you of other movies. there’s the ring destination like the peter jackson ring movies, the guardians look like tim burton’s mars attacks, there’s the reynolds in a chamber sequence that is less eye-pleasing than milla jovovich in bandages from the fifth element, and someone named sinestro showing jordan around a la morpheus in the matrix movies. at one point he even asks jordan’s green lantern to jump (though we are thankfully spare of a rave sequence). less successful is the end credit promo, which tries to whet our appetite for the next entry in which someone named sinestro could turn out to be a villain. there’s also a laughable scene where reynolds and lively get excited in a bar when a fleetwood mac song comes on. can you really rally behind a superhero who likes fleetwood mac?
with such scale and amount of expositions (narrated by geoffrey rush, instead of charlton heston, anthony hopkins or hugo weaving), director martin campbell (vertical limit, goldeneye, casino royale 2006, the zorro movies) more or less adequately balances both the space and the earth sections. it’s interesting that as with most scifi stories written by human, it eventually comes down to action on earth, despite the fact that there are more evolved beings involved and there are 3600 green rings/lanterns. i also have to give him credit for not turning the earthbound action sequence into disaster porn/michael bay-ish frame fucking.
one major flaw of the movie is that like the batman movies, it tries to have two villains: parallax and hammond. it would have been more efficient if they pick one over the other. i like peter sarsgaard as an actor, and he conveys creepiness just fine on his own without all the makeups. they also try to build some kind of love triangle between him, jordan and lively’s ferris. sarsgaard’s hammond and jordan are supposed to be friends from school, so it doesn’t make sense that he looks way older than jordan. sarsgaard, in fact looks older than his father.
as far as the cgi/special effects go, it looks better than thor, but thor is a better movie. i don’t know what people were expecting but green lantern works as a serviceable superhero movie i expect. i like the fact that green lantern depends on his imaginations rather than being super rich or a single specific superpower. there is more life here than the technical demos like rise of the cobra, the last airbender, or indy 4.
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