Popcorn at Midnight

The Thursday midnight opening for a movie was once the domain of the most anticipated films.  I fondly remember sitting among a capacity audience filled with wizards and overgrown hobbits for the first screening of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.  It can also be effective to generate word of mouth for unusual films, harkening back to the weekend midnight revivals of movies such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I first experienced Paranormal Activity the night before its actual release.  Being in a theater full of screaming, scared people who were completely surprised by the movie increased the ambiance of the whole experience.

Now, the Thursday opening has become de rigueur for films.  Almost every major film, and some with only pretensions of importance, get a midnight opening  That was how I found myself this past Thursday night sitting in one of the smaller theaters at my local twenty-screen cineplex, awaiting the start of Green Lantern.  It was a respectable turnout for that theater, but even so there were open seats.  I wasn’t dying to be the first to see the movie; with my schedule this week, it was either that showing or wait until the next Thursday to see it at a matinee.

In the world of movies – especially comic book movies – it’s not that easy doing green.  The first Hulk movie with Eric Bana was a major disappointment, and the second version with Edward Norton was only marginally better.  Earlier this year you had the embarrassing Green Hornet with Seth Rogen as one of the slimiest heroes ever.  The sooner that movie is confined to basic cable purgatory, the better.  A general rule of thumb: If your name isn’t Kermit or Shrek, lay off the green when it comes to movies.

While it has its fan base, the Green Lantern comics have always been on a lower tier than its cousins in the DC universe, Superman and Batman.  Until digital effects came along, there was no way to do a live-action version that wouldn’t look pathetic.  A superhero who can create and use anything he can imagine in his mind to battle villains?  Without digital effects, it would have been green cheese.

The story is straightforward.  The Green Lanterns are a cadre of space police, watching over and protecting the inhabited planets in the universe by using the power of will.  That power is focused through a ring each Lantern wears, though it’s like a battery that needs regular recharging from a power source that looks like a (ta-da) green lantern.  (That’s the story – go with it.)  An evil being called Parallax (voiced by Clancy Brown) escapes from a planet where it’s been imprisoned and mortally wounds Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), the Lantern in charge of that section.  Knowing his time is short, Abin Sur heads for the nearest developed planet – Earth – and has the ring search for his replacement.  The ring selects Hal Jordan, a test pilot who doesn’t just push the envelope but wads it up in his hand and tosses it over his shoulder.  He’s transported to the home world of the Lanterns where he meets Sinestro (Mark Strong), the leader of the force who happens to be red skinned with Spock ears.  The assembled Lanterns make the cantina scene in Star Wars seem restrained.  Sinestro is not impressed with this new recruit, for a Lantern is supposed to be without fear.  In spite of his career, Hal is constantly battling fear, much of it based in the death of his father while testing a new plane.  Meanwhile, back on earth, a scientist (Peter Sarsgaard) is asked to examine Abin Sur’s body.  During the examination, he is infected with a shard from Parallax and becomes his servant as Parallax prepares to annihilate Earth.

The movie is directed by Martin Campbell, who knows how to do action.  He helmed movies that twice reinvigorated the James Bond franchise (Goldeneye and Casino Royale).  He also did The Mask of Zorro and last year’s Edge of Darkness with Mel Gibson.  (Campbell had started his career doing British TV series, including the original miniseries version of Darkness.)  On the negative side, seven writers are credited with the story and screenplay.  That usually is a recipe for disaster – instead of a vision of the story, you have a consensus.  Think what it would be like if Congress were trying to make a movie.   That said, the result is much better than expected.  Several of the set pieces, including the Hot Wheels-inspired saving of an out-of-control helicopter, are fun and exciting.

The acting is effective within the movie, but no one will be waiting anxiously by the phone on the morning the Academy nominees are announced.  Ryan Reynolds is developing into a dependable leading man.  Hal Jordan could come across as a horrible egotist, but Ryan makes him sympathetic and likeable.  Blake Lively showed she could act in The Town last year.  Here she plays a fellow test pilot who happens to be the daughter of the owner of the aircraft company and a former flame of Jordan’s (isn’t it always that way?) and she doesn’t embarrass herself.  The other actors likewise give journeyman performances.

This is a popcorn movie; you eat it up and it tastes good at the time, but it is empty calories.  It’s fun and has its thrilling moments, and it that’s what you are looking for, Green Lantern will fit the bill.  There is a tag, though they put it halfway through the credits this time.

Coming up this week, I’ll have a couple of posts about movies that are full-course meals.

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