The Green Lantern: If you’ll allow me to put on my silly-looking box-office prognostication hat for a moment, I’m going to say something that probably a lot of amateur and semi-professional (the highest attainable rank) box-office prognosticators have been saying this week: nothing this summer has really tanked so far, and while it’s unlikely that The Green Lantern will break that streak, it’s probably the best candidate for the first big-money disappointment. Pirates 4 isn’t going to match the grosses of its predecessors, but there’s not much shame or surprise in a fourth movie failing to cross $300 million (especially when said movie will probably approach $250 million, and make another kajillion dollars internationally). Kung Fu Panda didn’t do quite as well as predicted, but it won’t fall disastrously short of its predecessor. Thor did quite well considering it’s a big-budget movie about the character of Thor. X-Men: First Class is doing well enough for an X-Men movie without any of the most recognizable characters from entries past—and the reviews have been stellar. So we survey the summer-movie landscape for what might really miss the mark, and I’m sad to say that The Green Lantern is a viable candidate.
It’s the third superhero movie of the past six weeks or so, and in relative character obscurity and weird-looking fantasy designs, one that has been beaten to the punch by Thor and his rainbow-bridge-riding defenders of Asgard. The next month or so is full of big-ticket sure things: sequels to Cars and Transformers and Harry Potter. Captain America and Cowboys & Aliens are bigger question marks towards the end of July, but Captain America gets to break a month-long superhero hiatus and Cowboys & Aliens plays the rare novelty card in summer entertainment; I’d be pretty surprised if that movie didn’t break through. In fact, the potential underperformer I see for the rest of the summer is Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which looks awesome, but I’ll save that for the August 5th column). Usually some big special-effects movie doesn’t connect, and for now, it looks like it’s all you, Green Lantern.
I don’t know that this is really going to be the movie’s fault, however it turns out. I want to see it because (a.) Martin Campbell usually makes competent-or-better action movies and (b.) it looks like it has a bunch of awesome weird space creatures and stuff. Honestly, if it had been the May-kickoff movie and Thor had been transplanted into mid-June, I’m pretty sure Thor would be the prospective shortfaller and Lantern would’ve been a solid hit. I’d be surprised, too, if Warner Brothers can’t market this thing to at least a $45 million opening and $120 million or so domestic, because if you can’t at least convince a bunch of nerds and kids to fork over money to watch a ton of aliens turn into superheroes, you are even worse at your jobs than I thought. But they’re not looking for Fantastic Four/Hulk numbers on this thing; they’re hoping for more like upper X-Men. Then again, this time last year they were releasing Jonah Hex, so cheer up, Warner Brothers executives!
Final sight-unseen Green Lantern thought: isn’t it kind of weird that two relatively straight-faced superheroes (as far as I know; I never read Green Lantern or Captain America comics) are being embodied by actors who are known just as much for their frat-boy wiseassery as their ample handsomeness? Once upon a time, I even regarded Chris Evans (Captain America) as the poor man’s Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern), and that may still be true in terms of box office. But at some point, Evans turned a corner as Reynolds seemed to be running in place; the former was excellent in Sunshine [Performance of the decade. -Ed.], funny in The Losers, and both of those things in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Reynolds had a big hit with The Proposal but came off as downright sour in it; his sarcasm has a way of curdling, mid-wisecrack. Robert Downey Jr. can do this and remain funny and weirdly charming; Reynolds starts to seem irritated and ill at ease, like he’s about to throw an actual fit. Both of them have tried the superhero genre before; Evans played the Human Torch, while Reynolds appeared in Blade: Trinity and played Deadpool in that crummy Wolverine movie. Reynolds seems to want it (“it” being a costumed-hero gig)—he was attached to play the Flash for awhile, too—but Evans may yet wind up with an actual super-powered boost.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins: I may have mentioned this before, but little in the big-studio business makes me sadder than screenwriters’ collective idea that what really interests children and their families is wealth, real estate, and corporate chicanery (think back to the live-action Flintstones movie, in which something like three dozen writers put their heads together and decided that the most compelling angle on this family adventure would be if Fred Flintstone got embroiled in an embezzling scheme). Yes, I know Jim Carrey only plays a New York real-estate guy in Mr. Popper’s Penguins as a vehicle for another but-dad-you-promised redemption story; said story may be the second-saddest collective screenwriter idea: that we hunger for stories where extremely rich parents realize that they need to spend more time with their children, which they can afford to do, as they are already extremely wealthy.
Frankly, it’s become whiny white noise for me at this point; during Mr. Popper’s Penguins, I felt myself sympathizing with Carrey’s Mr. Popper, who is mildly neglectful at worst and a pretty decent guy at best. Meanwhile, his family performs emotional blackmail by only showing an interest in him when he can offer them illegal access to his unwanted pet penguins. This movie is deeply confused even within its simplistic genre: Popper is supposed to seem heartless and work-obsessed for buying up various NYC landmarks on the behalf of the semi-evil real estate firm where he wants to be made partner, yet his job isn’t so demanding that he needs to show up more than occasionally to earn his presumably large salary—and then the movie backs away from him leaving the firm anyway, as soon as they (inexplicably) agree to (spoiler alert) keep Tavern on the Green open, rather than tearing it down (real-life spoiler alert from the screenwriters: Tavern on the Green is closed! It’s a gift shop now).
Similarly, Popper “protects” his penguins from a nefarious zookeeper (great, now we need Kevin James to bumble in and restore the good name of zookeepers!), who will trade them to other zoos and separate them, then turns around and brings them back to Antarctica, where they may or may not be prepared to live, and where he assures his family they can return to visit them—they should be pretty easy to pick out in those crowds of ONE JILLION OTHER PENGUINS. I know it’s just a kid movie, but that’s no reason to treat the audience like simpletons. Carrey was on a mini-roll early this year in the wake of I Love You, Phillip Morris and his stellar SNL episode. Penguins, though, is one of the more transparent quickie hit-mongering efforts of his long and uneven career.
The Art of Getting By: It’s kind of a funny story: this movie isn’t actually It’s Kind of a Funny Story, that other (and quite middling) NYC-set story of a disaffected teenager who falls in love with Emma Roberts. Here former child star Freddie Highmore plays the kid in question, more slacker than stressed overachiever. Emma Roberts must, at this point, be thinking to herself: mopey teenage outcasts… they get younger, but I stay the same age. If she’s, you know, seen Dazed and Confused, which she very well might not have. Actually, I vastly prefer Emma Roberts to her aunt Julia [But will blaspheme by saying you prefer her to her father, His Holiness the Pope of Greenwich Village, Eric Roberts?!? -Ed.]; she deserves a gold star for that awesome Nancy Drew movie (I’m serious) [Another thing for which Emma Roberts deserves a gold star: looking like Melanie Laurent. It's effin' creepy. -Ed.].