To say Green Lantern is a bad film (as many people have) is not entirely fair. It is enjoyable, though not always in the way it was intended. It has redeeming elements, from cool super-powers to some inspired overacting. But for a movie that tries to play it safe and colour inside the lines, it still manages to be an absolute mess.
Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a cocky fighter pilot, chosen to be the first human member of the Green Lantern Corps — an interstellar police force tasked with keeping the peace throughout the universe. The Lanterns wear green power-rings that allow them to will anything into existence, built out of glowing green light and powered by — you guessed it — a green lantern. Their enemy? Fear itself, powered by the colour yellow. …yeah. Anyway: There are thousands of Lanterns in the universe, but the movie only really uses a couple. The rest are as disposable as red-shirts in Star Trek.
This of course is all totally ridiculous, but it has the potential to be somewhat cool. There are infinite possibilities for action sequences within this world, with an endless supply of alien designs and an arsenal of weaponry limited only by the imagination. If the movie had played up the goofy space adventure elements of the concept, we might have a much better movie on our hands, and indeed parts of the film make no attempt at being taken seriously. If only there were more of them.
Sadly what should be a movie set it space spends most of its time on Earth, where our hero who should be off using his amazing powers spends most of his time moping. At some point comic book movies are going to need to bypass the origin story, or at least tell it more succinctly within the first film, because what we’re left with here is a mish-mash of scenes that we’ve seen before from countless other films in the genre, and what’s worse, we’ve seen them done better. Jordan’s inner turmoil is a source of much of the film’s unintentional comedy, as he wrestles with memories of his father’s death (shown in flashbacks pulled straight out of Airplane!) and the fear that comes with them.
When the newly-freed fear-hungry space monster Parallax takes out Abin Sur, the Lantern who imprisoned him, Sur must find an heir for his ring. He picks our man Hal of course, for reasons no one can be quite sure of. It is said that a Green Lantern must be fearless. So far, Hal has shown only to be fearful, and a bit of a dick. We must now endure an hour of him struggling to overcome. Ugh.
Where the movie finds its strengths is in the space sequences on Oa, the Lantern home-world at the center of the universe. The training sequences are fun, and Mark Strong gives the movie its best performance as Sinestro, the pink-skinned leader of the Corps who sports a pedo-stache and an open disdain for humans. That the movie doesn’t spend more time here is sad, really, though given the world is entirely computer animated, I’d imagine these scenes were quite costly.
Battling Strong in the Best Performance category is Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond, Hal’s socially awkward childhood friend. Hammond secretly lusts after Blake Lively’s Carol Ferris, though with his long greasy hair and an unsavoury moustache of his own, it’s no wonder she prefers Reynolds. Sarsgaard goes so over-the-top with this character, especially after he becomes mutated by a Parallax infection. It is a joy to watch him vigorously chew scenery. For her part, Lively makes for much more talented eye candy than X-Men: First Class‘s January Jones. It’s not her fault her character’s never given much to do.
Reading through what I’ve written here, very little of it makes sense — even to me, and I’m acquainted with the property and have seen the movie. It plays better than it reads, but not by much. It’s not surprising the film flopped, nor is it surprising that the studio elected to play it safe on what was always going to be a risky endeavor. It’s a shame, though. A similarly cosmic superhero story, Marvel’s Thor was equally risky, but ultimately far more enjoyable. So many of the things that make Thor challenging to translate to the screen were handled wonderfully by Kenneth Branagh and his writers, from balancing the Earth/Space mix, and finding a tone that walks the line between taking the material seriously and playing up its absurdities. Watching Green Lantern is a little like watching Thor, had Marvel looked at everything that makes translating Thor difficult and just blundered them entirely.
Green Lantern stories are nothing if not unique. By trying to make a cookie-cutter, paint-by-numbers superhero story, Warner Bros. betrayed the elements that could have set this film apart. It’s not a bad movie per se, but it’s not a good one either. It’s not boring, nor is it particularly exciting. It’s just kind of…there. I had a great time watching it, if only because the movie’s latent absurdity makes it so much fun to rip on. There are some really atrocious lines of dialog that had my theatre howling with laughter. That someone at the studio thought it would be a good idea to throw more than $300,000,000 behind this script boggles my mind. One thing’s for sure: the Rifftrax will be amazing.