A Review of “Green Lantern”

In the interest of full disclaimer, I’ve always been more of a Marvel fan than a DC Universe fan. That fact notwithstanding, I played with Justice League action figures as a child, and developed an interest in the recent animated adventures of both the Justice League and Batman. The new Batgirl title has earned my affections, as well.

For the most part, however, I’m not nearly as knowledgeable regarding Green Lantern as I am about, for example, the X-Men.

Karen and I doubled with some friends this weekend to take in the new Green Lantern movie. I was secretly suspecting the worst after reading a less than favorable review, and I went in armed only with basic knowledge of the classic comic book hero: that he is inducted into an intergalactic corps of peacekeepers known as the Green Lantern Corps, that he is the guardian of Earth’s sector of space, and that he is deceptively powerful, as his ring transforms his will into energy, effectively creating any form that he can imagine. Green Lantern has always been one of the more original superheroes from the golden age of comics. 

And, while I understand the previously mentioned negative review, Green Lantern performed well. This movie is worth your time.

The issue with condensing origin stories into the plot of a two hour film is that there’s never quite enough time, at least not if you’re going to tell anything other than the origin story (which, of course, must be done, otherwise the movie would be largely uninteresting to any but the most seasoned of nerds). Particularly difficult here was telling two histories: that of Hal Jordan, and that of the Green Lantern Corps (along with its arch-nemesis). Of course, this necessarily involves a love interest (it was the golden age of comics, after all!). All crammed into an average length movie, when the story could easily have been expanded to an epic-length film. The result is what we’ve frequently seen with origin stories for comic book film adaptations: stories that move too quickly, at the expense of character development. My primary complaint with Green Lantern was that it fell into this trap. Worse, it exacerbated the problem by cutting entirely too quickly between sub-plots, leaving the audience thinking that “there really should have been more to that…oh, wait, we’re back to this guy now…”

In short, Green Lantern suffered from a minor case of story arc whiplash.

Of course, there are the requisite corny one-liners that are inherent in comic book film adaptation, as mentioned in the negative review referenced above. Still, many viewers (and likely devoted Green Lantern fans) might find this nostalgic to the comic book’s pages, so this is a complaint based entirely on perspective.

Oh, and there’s that brief second in which we see a Lantern’s ring generate what appears to be replica of Captain America’s shield (Cap is a Marvel character), which leaves one frozen in disbelief. One cannot, as we know, cross the streams.

What’s interesting is what is symbolized in the myth of Green Lantern, and that is the evil power of fear (symbolized by the color yellow) that is overcome by the triumphant power of will (you guessed it, the color green). While portraying the basic meta-message that courage must win against fear for good to triumph, this also smacks interestingly (at least as the movie spins the tale) of American work ethic, a self-made, “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality as Hal Jordan leaves the Corps’ good graces to fight for Earth himself, as the Guardians decide that this one planet does not merit the Corps’ attention during a crisis. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this telling of Green Lantern’s story, but it seems that the undertones are a bit didactic at times. Then again, I imagine many would argue that this is what makes a good superhero tale.

The story, however poorly cut at times, is complete, however. The visual effects are beautifully rendered, and the climactic action sequences paced just right: not so huge as to cause you sensory overload (as in Transformers), but still big enough to provide the requisite spectacle due a classic superhero. Green Lantern is not the best superhero adaptation I’ve seen from Hollywood this season (that title still rests with Thor), but its certainly a close second.  Even if you’re only a DC hobbyist, as I am, instead of a devoted fan, you’ll enjoy this movie.

And I even bet you fight the urge to applaud when Jordan recites the oath of the Green Lantern Corps: “…Let all who worship evil’s might, beware my power, Green Lantern’s light!” You may or may not be successful in fighting that urge.

Image taken from the “Downloads” page of the official movie website

Feeling the Bite of Trends

Call me strange, but I just don’t get it.

It seems that, if I wanted to immediately write a book that would generate significant revenue, all I would need is a relatively sound plot arc and some vampires. See, if you involve vampires, you’re bound to sell copy after copy. Vampires are all the rage.  On television, on film, in print. Even Abraham Lincoln hunted them, right?

When I was in high school, a friend recommended Anne Rice to me. I can’t remember if I borrowed or purchased Interview with the Vampire, but it captivated my attention. I found it one of those books that I couldn’t put down…something about the darkness of it seemed dangerous, perhaps wrong, and definitely irresistible. I had a poster in my bedroom with the book’s famous tag line.

I remember having a strange dream in which I woke to find the friend who had recommended the book to me, now a vampire herself, standing in my bedroom door, saying that I had touched the book and now something bad would happen. That was weird, but I didn’t put as much weight on those sorts of experiences then as I do now.

I moved on to The Vampire Lestat, and made it about halfway through the book. I stopped. I was squirming. There’s such a thing as too dark, and, for me, this was it. The word that I remember ringing through my head was “demonic.”

Now, I’m not here to preach against a sub-genre, or a type of character, or anything of the sort. I’m not pounding my fist and claiming that your eternal soul is at risk if you read vampire fiction. What I will say about my past experience is this: with the caveat that I didn’t have the literary analysis skills that I have now while I was in high school, those books, as disturbing as they were to me (even then, it took a lot to make me stop reading a book once I had started), was that at least Rice was good at her craft. While I wouldn’t re-read those books today, I respect her as a skilled writer.

And, I think, those two points about that high school experience encompasses my issue with the vampire craze in literature today. First, I have spiritual misgivings about these fictional creatures, and those misgivings were summarized much better than I could ever state by movie critic and author Jeffery Overstreet. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) that vampires in fiction represent individuals who are forever beyond redemption, and that this is why they are so terrifying, because they represent a lie. While we could debate that as a theological absolute, stop to consider the statement. It will cause gears to turn that haven’t turned before, I promise.

My other issue with the current craze is the issue of the literature being well-written. Rice’s books were crafted well, as was Stoker’s original novel. Compare this to Twilight, and I think you’ll find Twilight wanting. At the risk of mixing apples and oranges regarding different mediums, compare this to what appears on television and film with the current trend, which, ala True Blood, is essentially soft porn with a supernatural twist.

I’ll admit that I have an issue with jumping on bandwagons. I avoid most popular trends as though my life depended on it. I think I have good reason, here, however. I have friends whose reading assessments I respect defend Twilight as well-written. Assuming that their assessment is correct, I’ll still stand on my assertion that so much of the other vampire sub-genre offerings we see in print and on the screen are attempting to capitalize on the success of something that is arguably well-crafted, by adding the same type of genre spin onto something that isn’t well-crafted. That’s a sign of valuing profit over artistic substance. And that, my friends, isn’t cool.

These are all reasons for which I find vampire literature inherently suspect. Have you read any of the above, or something of which I’m not aware? Let me know…

Close Harmonies

I listened to a fantastic conversation with Bobby McFerrin over the weekend, in which he discussed how music has the ability to take us to these amazing places. As is typical when Krista Tippett  interviews a musician, there were numerous tracks of McFerrin’s music interspersed with the interview. Interestingly, McFerrin has a background in Episcopal choral music. One of the tracks that played during the interview was of a piece that McFerrin wrote adapting Psalm 19 to music. The harmonies were very choral, lending to a liturgical atmosphere. What also struck me in listening to the harmonies, which were extremely close together, was that they were not dissimilar to barbershop.

Far back in the mists of time, I sang in a barbershop quartet. I was a bass. The harmonies are extremely difficult, because they are so close and so complex. I remember that year…it was great fun, one of the highlights of an otherwise dim career as a music major. I’ve performed with various choirs in my life, as well, but I’ve never connected how closely related the compositions between the two genres can be.

I love it when music styles fuse…when classical walks alongside rock, or when an Eastern jazz riff is interrupted by a distorted guitar solo. Or, when a liturgical, choral piece is complimented by barbershop harmonies. One could argue that this is a very post-modern preference, which is interesting, because I’m not an overly post-modern person. I think, though, that these fusions bridge gaps in generational preferences, in perspectives, in thinking. McFerrin, in the interview, said that music can open us up to grace. If this is true, and I think that it is, then part of the beauty of a fusion of musical styles is that it, at least, helps us see that we have more in common than we have differences…and that we’re not as far removed from each other as we might otherwise think. Despite the fact that our harmonies are complex, they can work when they’re woven closely together. They sound better that way, as well.

Photo Attribution: Theoddnote 

Talk Back

I hope this revelation speaks more to the amount of technological progress that my generation has witnessed than to my age, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway. I completed my undergrad in the days when email was in its infancy. Students did not have email addresses issued to us from our schools. I’m not sure professors all had email addresses. In fact, I was a senior in college before I had my first personal email address. Did I mention that I was a communication major?

In that age of yesteryear, I remember one of my professors having a humorous cartoon on his office door. The cartoon detailed the rise of communication from Neanderthal man to the present, and suddenly took an enormous plunge back to where it began when voicemail entered the picture. I didn’t truly understand the humor then…

I had a conversation with someone on Twitter a few days ago after mentioning (during one of those days) that I really shouldn’t have been answering my phone at that point (the end result was that both myself and the person calling were both hopelessly confused by the time we hung up…like I said, one of those days). He commented that he far prefers email over voicemail, and I agreed. My reasoning is that I can take the time to say exactly what I want to say in an email…the variables are removed, and I have time to edit. To a large degree, that reasoning can be applied to social networking platforms, as well. For one thing, I don’t type messages while in a moving vehicle, whereas I easily leave a voicemail while driving. Thus, I’m more likely to ramble or mis-speak something. When I’m writing that message, even in SMS, I glance back over it before sending. The odds of miscommunication and subsequent embarrassment (or flat out unprofessionalism) is significantly reduced.

I think its important to say, though, that all of these forms of communication are secondary to face-to-face communication. Hierarchically, I always place speaking with someone in person above all of the previously mentioned modalities of communication. For that matter, I would even prefer video-calling in an important situation (I’m defining important as moments of human interaction that affect who we are as people…not business transactions). The reason is that human interaction has nuances of non-verbal and paralinguistic elements that can completely alter how a message is transmitted from the sender to the receiver. Someone’s tone of voice or facial expressions make a message a thousand times more expressive than the same message in written format. In person, we instinctively interpret body posture and other clues that complete the message. Written communication does not replace this, because it can’t communicate the full message.

I think that is why live performances in theatre are more powerful than film or television. Partially because the entire person (in character, of course) is present to communicate his or her message to the audience, and, equally as important, the audience is there to respond. A play isn’t complete without an audience, because there’s a feedback loop created in which the actors feed off of the audience’s reactions. That’s why no two performances are ever exactly the same. Similarly, the same conversation will never be duplicated between two people, because those people react to each other in a unique way at that moment in time.

If I’m communicating an extremely simple personal message (like “Happy Birthday”), or a list of information or business detail, then written communication is certainly my preferred mode. Whenever possible, though, seeing and being physically present with the person to whom you are speaking is the only communication that is truly whole, that truly permits human beings to completely interact with each other at the deepest level.

Do you think we’re losing that whole communication? Replacing it with something inferior, something that was only intended to augment, and not substitute for, the real thing? Sometimes, I’m concerned that we’re doing just that.

Photo Attribution: Ed Yourdon

A photo of the Hard Rock Cafe that I took in Washington, D.C.

Compromise: Inspired by Rock and Roll

I love the wisdom and the theology that comes from rock and roll. Today I was listening to the Eagles in the car. One of the lyrics to one of their songs makes profound sense to me whenever I hear it:

“Take it easy…don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy”

Sometimes we let our intensity about certain positions and ideas drive us nearly crazy. I say that because I think there’s something to be said for the middle ground.

I don’t mean being indecisive, or intentionally non-committal. Not at all. I mean that I think there’s something to be said for finding the point of common ground to ensure that we understand each other. Because when we stay intensely focused on our set positions without considering the reasons behind others’ perspectives, I think the sound of our own wheels running on the proverbial pavement can drive us crazy. There’s almost always common ground.

Karen’s great at this. Whenever I have an episode of yelling at a Virginia driver (which occurs frequently), she pauses to hypothesize what might be going wrong with that driver’s day, what they might have been experiencing, and what may have led to their making a silly decision. She always makes me feel bad that I yelled in the first place, because I can almost always think of a situation in which I’ve done something similar.  And, of course, I don’t want someone yelling at me.

The reason that this is on my mind is because I’ve noticed a lot over the last few years how we’re encouraged to avoid the middle ground. And I know that this isn’t new, that I’ve only become this sensitive to it in the last few years. I’ve noticed it profoundly in politics, and also in religion: a “if you’re not for us you’re against us” mentality that leads to divisive modalities of being at best, and inflammatory and antagonistic rhetoric at worst. It seems so easy to become so angry at someone who doesn’t and won’t come to our perspective on a particular issue that we just want to fight them. Only months ago did a friend say he felt like hitting me because I advocated a political view that would be considered liberal, and was very opposite of his own.

Because I’m a practicing Christian, I find this also very true in faith communities. The concept of denominationalism runs rampant as we wall ourselves off from each other, speaking poorly of, and acting as though we’re somehow in competition with, each other.

There’s a principal in the Christian Scriptures that holds true here, and I think that anyone would recognize it as wisdom regardless of their faith. That principal is that a house that is divided will fall.

I’m worried about our country. I’m worried because instead of working together to create a civil society from which we all benefit, we’re busy ranting about how much better we are than everyone else, and even how much better some of us are than our fellow citizens. I’m concerned because we’re so willing to resort to aggressive measures to solve differences that really don’t necessitate such action. We’re so willing to permit ourselves to be drawn into a crowd mentality, because we take powerful rhetoric at face value, without stopping to analyze what is being said, to consider whether or not it is a sound argument.  Factions of my faith do the same thing, resulting in horrible decisions and actions being made on the part of certain fundamentalist groups that reflect poorly on all of us, and our faith as a whole…to say nothing of our God.

I wonder why we can’t see that, if we continue to exist as a divided “house,” we won’t be able to stand. We’ll collapse ourselves, because we’ll be too busy fighting each other to see the work that needs to be done to hold up the structure, as it were. We’ll be so busy being caught up with what we’re against, that we’ll stop being motivated by what we’re for.

Focusing on the negative pushes us away, but focusing on the positive (something that I myself need to work on) gives us all something to work toward, which helps us all to understand each other. Just as I begin to understand the driver in front of me, I begin to be less angry at them. That doesn’t mean I endorse the decision that they made, and, if I were pressed to do so, I would still identify it as a wrong choice. But that doesn’t mean that I feel anger or hatred toward the person who made that choice, because, in the same situation, I might well have done the same.

Since we accept the wisdom that a house divided will fall, then we recognize that we all have some responsibility to work to keep the house standing, regardless of our differences on other issues and choices. Because finding common ground usually isn’t that difficult.

See, we accepted a common wisdom, there. We’ve done it already. Its a good start.