You might occasionally turn shades of emerald with envy watching the glamorous exploits of many a powerful film protagonist—but there’s little reason for you to want to switch places with green movie characters, who often have a hard time emerging from their box-office outings without their faces turning beet red with embarrassment over the results. There are exceptions, of course—see above; Kermit has a pretty reliable rate of success when it comes to his appearances on the big screen…though that could be due in part to the reluctance of critics to come down too hard on a character who babysat them as children—but if you’re a foliage-hued hero with a blockbuster motion picture coming out…let’s just say you shouldn’t go out of your way to spend the green that’s (not yet) in your pocket.
The good news—or the news that may turn you kelly-green with nausea, depending on your point of view—is that these viridescent characters have also proved ever-reliable fodder for remakes, reboots, and reimaginings that are…ahem…greenlighted with regularity.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
A brand-new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film is about to pop, courtesy of the men responsible for Armageddon (Michael Bay, here producing) and Wrath of the Titans (director Jonathan Liebesman). That pairing, with the added presence of Transformers über-babe Megan Fox in the leading female role, might give you an impression of what this film will be like…an impression that’s certainly backed up by the slick, loud, propulsive trailers for the film.
The characters from the Kevin Eastman/Peter Laird comics have proven to be reliably popular on the big and small screen ever since the first animated series debuted a mere three years after the Turtles first arrived on the four-color scene in 1984. (It’s maybe worth pointing out that the asparagus-colored adolescents’ initial adventures were presented in black-and-white)
My own first experience with the Turtles came with the release of the 1990 live-action feature. The comic-book popularity of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello, and Raphael exploded at a time when my paying too much attention to them would have constituted a positively uncool latching onto something that everybody loved…
(Yes, that’s the way it works at a certain age. Some people never grow out of that posturing at all. That said, I cop to becoming a lot less interested in vampires and zombies when they became “in” things, so I have remnants of that mindset shambling around in my head).
…but news that none other than Muppet master Jim Henson and his Creature Shop team would be responsible for creating the Turtles’ costumes got me curious. The conflation of dark and goofy moods in the trailer, plus the really impressive, athletic mobility displayed by the actors in their costumes—remember, this movie arrived a mere year after all the hoo-ha made over the fact that Michael Keaton’s Batman costume rendered the actor unable to turn his head without turning his entire upper body—sold me on checking it out.
And while I didn’t proceed to buy the merchandise, or start reading the comic books, or even follow the sequels to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I’m here to tell you that the 1990 movie is one really good time. The magic ingredient in director Steve Barron’s film is its depiction of the Turtles as authentic kids—rebellious, wisecracking, pleasure-seeking and pizza-gobbling teenagers…complete with emotional vulnerabilities and a genuinely affecting loyalty to Splinter, their oversized rat mentor and father figure. Judith Hoag hits all the right notes of disbelief as April O’Neil, the reporter who discovers the crazy world of the Turtles along with us; and Elias Koteas is an off-kilter pleasure as Casey Jones, the quartet’s hockey-stick wielding ally.
One of the reasons I’m most looking forward to Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy (which yes, also features a green protagonist in the form of Zoe Saldana’s shapely alien Gamora) is that I’m guessing the James Gunn movie’s irreverent approach will recall for me the kind of pleasant surprise I experienced while watching the first Turtles feature.*** (see update at end) The 1990 Turtles film was like a breath of fresh air as Tim Burton’s monstrously popular Bat-flick overwhelmed the aesthetic conversation with all things comics-related, and it looks to me like Guardians might provide a similar, much-needed break from filmmakers’ slavish devotion to the why-so-serious atmosphere of Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight films.
Wish I could say this latest Turtles opus was getting me juiced for a similarly palate-cleansing good time, but everything I’ve seen so far from the trailers (which sure, can be very deceiving) indicates these Heroes on the Half-Shell to be inhabiting a more predictable kind of comic-book epic—which today, more often than not, means hyperkinetic editing, city-destruction porn, and a punishing attempt to go so “BIG” that the charm of the characters will get lost in all in the noise. I’d be so glad to be wrong—but you may not want to rely on me for what I will think about the Turtle film anyway, because my comic-book movie tastes can occasionally fall on the admittedly wonky side.
Admitting you liked the Green Lantern movie in the company of comics folks will almost surely get you the kind of wary, dirty looks I suspect you’d receive by admitting in the midst of any group of well-heeled adults that you enjoy the music of Miley Cyrus.
(Oh crap, did I just say that out loud? I do think this Saturday Night Live video was an act of pure genius)
But, you bet: I liked Green Lantern. Probably for much the same reason I took to the original Turtles film—it has the good sense not to take itself way too seriously. I was a pretty avid reader of the DC comics of the “Silver Age” era, when GL’s secret identity was that of cocky test pilot Hal Jordan (well-played here by the fan-mocked Ryan Reynolds), and I found the Martin Campbell-directed film to be a successfully rendered evocation of the comics’ many Flash Gordon-esque elements. Mark Strong made for a devilishly satisfying Sinestro (if only he could have twirled that mustache); the creative approach to rendering the hero’s improbable costume and mask entirely in CGI was, sorry, but this is the vernacular that’s called for—really neat; and what’s not to like for Green Lantern fans when you have appearances made by Fishbird-Head Lantern AND Chipmunk Lantern?
(No, I can’t remember their actual names, and I won’t be looking them up.)
Fishbird-Head Lantern, by the way—sort of an Obi-Wan Kenobi to Reynolds’ Luke Skywalker—is voiced by Geoffrey Rush, so…high-class bonus.
Green Lantern didn’t burn so very brightly at the box-office, though—eliminating the possibility of this iteration of the character evolving in sequels or becoming part of the setup for the upcoming Justice League movie. And maybe a second, more sober consideration of the movie would result in my taking greater note of others’ criticisms (I have the Blu-ray at home, which contains an “extended” cut that seems not to have affected the majority’s dim regard of the film very much)…but for now I’m gonna stand by the enjoyment I take from this guardian of the galaxy’s sole big-screen flight.
The Incredible Hulk
Speaking of comic-book movies I like that nobody else does—will anyone out there join me in supporting Ang Lee’s much-maligned film about the Jolly Green Giant? The too-darkly-photographed climactic battle of Hulk with Nick Nolte’s Absorbing Man-gone-David-Lynch-plasma-thing is a bit on the alienating side, but the movie still comes the closest to giving us a big-screen Hulk story we could actually care about.
The be-all-and-end-all of live-action Hulk, it must be said, remains the 1977-82 television realization of the character—primarily thanks to the hugely accessible performance of beloved small-screen star Bill Bixby as David Bruce Banner, the Dr. Jekyll to Ol’ Greenskin’s Mr. Hyde. After the character’s tearjerking origin story, in which the Hulk is unfairly accused of murdering widower Banner’s love interest in a fiery blaze, viewers followed our hero on the run, Fugitive-style, week after week—the character always forced to move on to the next job, the next town, after “the raging spirit that dwells within him” made a destructive (if inevitably heroic) appearance. And, next to Neal Hefti’s immortal Batman ditty and John Williams’ theme for the 1978 Superman film, no piece of music has been as definitively associated with a comics character as the melancholy tune heard at the end of each episode, “The Lonely Man,” composed by Joe Harnell.
Comics readers worship at the altar of “Watchmen” creator Alan Moore’s take on Swamp Thing, but for me, the character was already made great from the get-go by writer Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson. Swamp Thing, the story of a scientist transformed into a mossy man-thing that roams the Louisiana swamplands, was a superhero comic that looked and felt like a horror movie—a truly unique vibe you’d think would have been guaranteed to translate to the big screen brilliantly when The Hills Have Eyes director Wes Craven was handed the assignment of helming the character’s live-action cinematic debut.
What “Swampy” fans got, though, wasn’t quite all that. The 1982 film’s budget was simply too limited to adequately realize the freakish world of the comic; the costume worn by actor Dick Durock (who became something of a cult figure by playing the role repeatedly in the bargain-basement sequel and subsequent TV programs) was perfectly serviceable; the casting of Louis Jourdan was inspired if simultaneously a letdown for the lack of any frightening makeup to transform him into a faithful rendition of Arcane, the wizened, villainous mutant-maker of the comics; choosing Friday the 13th composer Harry Manfredini to create the music was certainly a fine idea… but ultimately, Swamp Thing is one of those valiant attempts hamstrung by insufficient finances and a few questionable choices. Of all the characters here, he is in the best position for a brilliant remake from a visually adventurous filmmaker.
When I saw the trailer and poster for the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey, the first thing I thought was: This looks a bit like Last Tango in Paris on an Atlas Shrugged budget. The second thing I thought was: This movie would probably turn out a lot better if we just had Gumby in it instead. Call it…Fifty Shades of Clay:
Really, a lot of movies would probably be better with Gumby in them—but the real shame of it all is that a Gumby movie made today would, criminally, probably be made with computer animation rather than with a “little green slab of clay.” Maybe that’s why we haven’t seen a new Gumby film on the horizon since 1995 (when Gumby: The Movie was directed by co-creator Art Clokey).
Which is fine. Because this particular green character is never going to get any more awe-inspiring than he was when he went to the moon. This is one of those cases where everyone really got it just right the first time out. If there’s one great thing they could do for Gumby, it would be to put his bizarre short films into theaters—just junk half of those trailers we’ve already seen a million times and give us a “new” Gumby adventure every once in a while before the main show.
And here I’ll close out and let you fill in the green-screen gaps with discussions of your favorite mint-tinted characters…since I’m well aware I left out some that are quite conspicuous (including at least one other fella who made an appearance this year). Just don’t start up by telling me that I “forgot” this guy…because he…is…not…green. Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
***Update: I wrote this before I saw Guardians of the Galaxy. Now I’ve seen it, and not only did this year’s craziest, cleverest Marvel Comics film fulfill the desires and expectations mentioned above, but its excellence has already guaranteed it a spot on my eventual Top 10 of the Year.
Now feel free to go take a poll to name your favorite “green” character!
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