Film Friday: ‘Green Lantern’ and ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’

by W. Andrew Powell

Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern

Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern

Opening at a theatre near you: Ryan Reynolds stars as the one-and-only Hal Jordan in Green Lantern; Jim Carrey is playing with animals again in Mr. Popper’s Penguins; plus a look at Mike Mills’ new dramedy, Beginners.

Green Lantern
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Tim Robbins, Jay O. Sanders
Director: Martin Campbell

Rated: 6/10

Superhero movies are more than a little thick on the ground these days, and they’ve been piling up ever since Marvel managed to prove that comic books could be a source of legitimate box office smash hits.

Not all superheroes–or their movies–are created equal though, and Green Lantern ranks as one of the weaker heroes to arrive on screen since X-Men Origins: Wolverine or the recent Superman remake.

The film starts with a seemingly epic introduction where we learn that the universe is divided into more than 3000 sectors that are each protected by one guardian. These guardians are fearless creatures who use the energy of willpower–which is stored for each Green Lantern, as they’re called–in a ring and a lantern, and which they harness to keep their region of space safe from evil.

Of all the challenges the universe has faced, the worst was a being known as Parallax, a creature which feeds on the power of fear to destroy everything in its path. The creature was imprisoned, thanks to the greatest of the Lanterns, Abin Sur, but as we see in the opening, Parallax finds a way to escape and attacks the hero, gravely wounding him as he escapes.

Enter Hal Jordan, played by Ryan Reynolds, a reckless fighter pilot who has a near-death experience right before a big green ball of energy grabs him and sends him to meet a nearly dead Abin Sur, who has landed on Earth to find a successor before he dies.

As Hal stumbles along, trying to decide what to do with the ring and lantern he has been given, he eventually says the oath that binds him to the ring, which sends him rocketing into space to visit the homeworld of the Green Lanterns where he will be trained.

Meanwhile, Hector Hammond, played by Peter Sarsgaard, has been called in by a government agency to inspect Abin Sur’s body, and in the process of carrying out an autopsy the doctor is infected by a remnant of Parallax, which starts to change him into a crazed, mind-reading, telekinetically powered monster.

Hal will learn about his abilities, which allow him to create nearly anything with the power of his will, while Hector slowly turns quite evil, and Parallax moves to destroy the power of the Green Lanterns and their homeworld.

Featuring a run-of-the-mill romance between Hal and his boss, Carol Ferris, played by Blake Lively, plus a silly, little-used sidekick, and a callous father figure, Green Lantern is a hodge-podge of archetypes and storylines that will seem familiar to anyone who has ever seen a superhero film before. At times the archetypes can be quite good, as Hal discovers his abilities and tries to stand up and be fearless, but at other times, as with the relationship between Hector and his father, the whole film gets bogged down in stereotypes that don’t work all that well.

The biggest problem with the film, however, is that it never maintains a clear tone, and the film goes from high-energy scenes to turgid expositions without much effort to make the film move at a reasonable pace.

I also can’t help but compare Green Lantern to another film. Say what you will, but Green Lantern is effectively The Mask of the comic book world, and they even like the same colour. The only difference is that the Green Lantern doesn’t make ridiculous faces, but all his imagined weapons and creations bear a certain resemblance to those of The Mask, which makes it very difficult to take Hal’s epic quest at all seriously.

As tough as I am on the film, I won’t deny it is still fun and lively, at least at times, and although Reynolds could have used a stronger character, he’s not a bad Green Lantern, at least in the mostly kid-friendly way he’s been rendered. Like his hero, director Martin Campbell just needed a little bit more imagination to bring this story to life, while avoiding some of the silliness inherent in the character.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Starring: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury, Ophelia Lovibond, Madeline Carroll, Clark Gregg
Director: Mark Waters

Jim Carrey stars in his latest family comedy about Mr. Popper, a business man who has been ignoring his family until six penguins come into his life and help him bond with the people who really matter to him.

Based on the classic children’s book by Richard & Florence Atwater, Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a whimsical story that lets Jim Carrey shine once more as an animated buffoon who needs to learn a lesson (see also Liar, Liar, The Mask, and of course, How the Grinch Stole Christmas).

Directed by Mark Waters, of Mean Girls fame, the film has not earned many positive reviews from critics, although Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote, “With, say, Eddie Murphy as the star, Mr. Popper’s Penguins might have been a glorified paycheck contrivance. But Carrey is so naturally stylized that he coaxes the film’s gentle, creature-feature insanity to life.”

Colin Covert was much more in line with other critics, however, writing for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “The film is just another slice off a very stale loaf, but it’s earnest and benign. It’s sometimes funny and contains no ingredients that are bad for you, unless you are allergic to sap.”

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Mélanie Laurent, Christopher Plummer, Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller
Director: Mike Mills

From director Mike Mills comes this dramedy about a man named Oliver, played by Ewan McGregor, who is dealing with the loss of his father, Hal, played by Christopher Plummer, as he also explores a new relationship with an unpredictable woman.

As the relationship evolves, and he tries to learn from his past, Oliver also remembers his father, who came out of the closet at the merry age of 75, and never looked back.

Earning the best reviews of the week, Beginners is a must-see dramatic comedy that will make you wish Mills was involved in a lot more feature films (his last feature was 2005’s Thumbsucker).

Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times commented in her review, “A buoyant and disarming drama about sons and fathers, death and dying, living and loving and all the ways we find ourselves starting over, hoping to finally get it right.”

And Rex Reed of the New York Observer wrote, “Even the clichés in this warm mood piece seem unpredictable and without contrivance.”

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