Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lights Off

The following column is reprinted from the April issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem necessary to leave out):

Eyes Wide Open
By Scott Duhamel

Alright, someone stop the bleeding. Well, most comic book heroes don’t actually bleed, but the movies that they are featured in seem largely to be dead on arrival, big punchy exercises in warmed-over mythos accompanied by predictable palette’s of shiny unitards, recycled plot threads, formulaic rock ‘em sock ‘em good vs. evil battles, and warmed over CGI effects. The failures are too numerous to count, the mediocre efforts seem to be mounting, yet comic book movies still seem to be eking out a decent box office life. Green Lantern, the newest, is more middle-of-the road swill, and hopefully another nail in the potential coffin of this out-of-control modern movie genre. In this humble observer’s opinion the genre needs to bite the dust, as soon as possible, before it might become plausible again, or at least watchable.

The Green Lantern character belongs to DC Comics, and after first seeing light in the 40’s he’s been revived and reinvented a few times most notably in 1959, most recently in 2005. He’s one Hal Jordan, a hot shot fighter pilot who becomes the first human selected by the so-called Guardians to be handed an emerald ring powered by a lantern that will allow him to be a sort of intergalactic super cop, with (of course) a motto all his own “Let those who worship Evil’s might, beware my power-Green Lantern’s Light”. Hickory-dickory-dock, right?

Green Lantern is embodied by Ryan Reynolds, he of the sculptured torso and continually sardonic but hypnotizing toothy smile. As bad as the movie is, one can’t really blame Reynolds, who might have been on target casting if the final product had some balls or verve or even went whole hog into the campiness it only hints at. Reynolds’s charm only goes so far, and it can’t bring a pulse to a basically lifeless exercise. Mark Strong, Angela Basset, and Tim Robbins are also wasted in perfunctory parts, although Peter Sarsgaard manages to punch his mortal-into-alien baddie role up with a bit of that ol’ Christopher Walken styled hamminess. Blake Lively, an actress of no discernable talent, fits is seamlessly with the overall tone of substandard hokiness.

When I mentioned that my assignment for this month’s column was Green Lantern, one of my fellow cinephile’s questioned the validity of 650 words or so devoted to such blatantly unfulfilling movie handiwork, offering me his own piquant summation: “Perhaps you could do The Year of the Shitty, Perfunctory, Blatantly Made to Cash In On a Potential Franchise That No One Asked For Comic Book Movie.” In the immortal words of Stan Lee, nuff said.

The ultimate irony for me personally, is that I grew up during the true golden age of comics, the mid 60’s through the mid 70’s and my brother and I were avid collectors and fastidious readers. During that fruitful period one of the biggest complaints among the fanboys (who hadn’t been tagged with the label yet) was how Hollywood just didn’t get it—comics were ripe for natural big screen adaptations, with their visual panache, social undercurrents, and strength of characters. As a pre-teen and then teen I firmly believed this also--the cinematic possibilities for comic book translations were virtually endless, a bold new cinematic form was possible if only the right filmmaker took hold. Alas, outside of the occasional Tim Burton, Richard Donner, Christopher Nolan, Jon Farveau, or Bryan Singer, the well has run dry. What’s next on the comic-into-movie to do list? As one of my long time heroes, Lou Reed once sang, “And me, I just don’t care at all.”

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