Green Lantern is a mostly unspectacular film with all too brief glimmers of its ridiculous $200 million budget shining through. The stellar visuals are anything but, motivations are opaque and convoluted, and it’s obvious Warner Bros. was banking heavily on Ryan Reynolds’ inviolable, or is it, sex appeal to lend a modicum of interest to those who balked at Green Lantern’s ring-wearing, intergalactic super cop.
Green Lantern is, more or less, exactly what I anticipated. I had no plans to see it nor to critique it until I stumbled upon Harry Knowles’ DVD column giving the extended cut a pass (spoiler: it doesn’t help) and a review by legendary contrarian Armond White wherein he dissects Green Lantern, and the superhero genre at large, not for the film’s myriad flaws, of course, but for its racism.
Anyone unfamiliar with White’s modus operandi need only read a handful of his reviews. He’ll often dismiss the film, and its fans, as jejune, engage in what he calls “classically trained criticism” by comparing it unfavorably to a patently inferior work for which he as an unintelligible admiration, and then tear into it for not adhering to his inane cinematic agenda by reading into things that aren’t there or are irrelevant or both. Case in point, White’s infamous rape of Toy Story 3 vis-à-vis the “great thrills” of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Small Soldiers’ existential challenges.
Concerning Green Lantern, Mr. White’s inscrutable gaze falls on the Corps’ hulking, drill sergeant Kilowog, a minor cameo by Michael Clarke Duncan. White cries stereotype, and admittedly my own reflex action is to note the racist caricature, but when lending a voice to an imposing, badass alien, casting directors are likely to hire an imposing, badass human. Michael Clarke Duncan fits that bill. White’s allegations would be easy enough to excuse if it weren’t for his tunnel vision in the concluding paragraph where he states any action flick’s supporting black characters’ “doom is certain”. Not only is that not the case with Kilowog but it also doesn’t apply to Green Lantern’s only black human character with more than one line of dialogue, Angela Bassett’s government scientist Amanda Waller.
Further deflating his argument, White’s relentless relegation of comic film’s black characters solely to second class servant status willfully ignores the most popular and progressive black heroes on screen or off. No sooner does White trash comics’ retrograde values then he ineptly touts Ryan Reynolds over Robert Downey Jr., humorously omitting Iron Man’s much beloved War Machine as played by Don Cheadle. And since other comics are being thrown into the mix, what about Miles Morales, the half black, half latino hero headlining Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man or even Green Lantern comics’ John Stewart, one of DC’s first black costumed superheroes who dates back to the early 1970s? If White weren’t so dismissive of comics lore, I’d wager he would change his tune about Ryan Reynolds as an “unconventional comics type” and “proof of original casting” in a heartbeat.
But this is merely semantics. There’s a quote that’s resonated with me by Morgan Freeman when he was interviewed by Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. When asked how to get rid of racism, Freeman’s curt rejoinder was, “Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man. And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.”
Maybe it’s not the films that need to change so much as the meanings people ascribe to them.
29 Oct 2011 / 0 notes