Directed by Martin Campbell
Screenplay by Greg Berlanti and Michael Green
Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan / Green Lantern
Blake Lively as Carol Ferris
Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond
Mark Strong as Sinestro
Temuera Morrison as Abin Sur
How long is Green Lantern? 114 minutes
What is Green Lantern rated? PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action.
Green with Mediocrity
There’s an interesting movie buried in Green Lantern. What if a cool guy becomes a superhero and a loser becomes a supervillain? (Neither by their own choice. Both, more or less, by accident.) Can courage overcome our flaws and insecurities defeat our strengths? Those concepts are there (it’s hard to ignore them with the constant blathering about willpower v. fear), but never satisfactorily explored. What we get, instead, is Typical Superhero Movie. Not Ghost Rider or Fantastic Four terrible, but soulless.
DC has had a difficult time with its film division. When you look at the massive amount of properties Marvel pumps out each year, DC lags sorely behind. The umbrella might cover plenty of notable characters, but not many real franchises, even if they have the best of the bunch with Batman. (Though to be fair, some of DC’s “non-franchise” films like The Losers and Watchmen are remarkably good, with the former being one of the best team action movies in years and the latter being one of the best comic book movies of all time — and I will stand by that.) Is it because they put so much effort into the drivel-producing television division?
This brings us to Green Lantern, the comic company’s third modern attempt at bringing one of their icons to the silver screen (after Batman and Superman). I should make it clear that I’ve always been more a Marvel guy than a DC one, and my knowledge of Green Lantern lore is spotty at best.
The film stars the ridiculously charismatic Ryan Reynolds (who proved his worth in last year’s excellent Buried and shows his ability to carry a tent pole film on his shoulders in this movie) as cocky and promiscuous Hal Jordan, an awesome test pilot for Ferris Aircraft. We first meet him as he’s sleeping in late (with a lady) and about to miss a major war game against two new, computer-piloted jets, which I’m pretty sure was the plot for 2005’s Stealth. His wingman (wingwoman) is a way-too-young-for-the-role Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, another super-awesome test pilot and brilliant business woman whose father owns the company. She plays her role a bit like Li’l Lisa Cuddy before being relegated to damsel in distress, giving pep talks to Hal (though the one time he really needs one, she’s pretty much “well, you’re boned.”).
During this exercise, Hal defeats the jets using a technique borrowed from Iron Man, but has a panic attack in midflight thinking about his dad. See his father, also a majorly awesome test pilot, died during a test flight accident we see via a flashback sequence that I can only describe as Airplane!-esque. He ejects, the plane crashes, and Ferris Aircraft might lose some contract.
Meanwhile, in some other sector of the galaxy, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison, best known to American audiences as the man who ruined Boba Fett), a member of intergalactic space cops the Green Lantern Corps, encounters Parallax, a creature fed by fear (he literally feeds on people’s fear, which turns them into skeletons somehow), whom he once defeated. Now, Parallax has returned, looking to destroy worlds in its quest of evil. Parallax mortally wounds Abin Sur, who escapes in his space ship telling his ring to find a worthy successor.
This sequence is the best in the entire film. There’s something very 1950s sci-fi serial about it with the combination of set design, colors, and Martin Campbell’s direction. Disappointingly, it’s the only time this inherent quality of the film is used to its full extent. The ring (which is powered by willpower and can bring anything its wearer can imagine into existence) chooses Hal.
Meanwhile, Dr. Amanda Waller (leader of the unmentioned Suicide Squad and played by Angela Bassett) discovers Abin Sur and hires miserable-though-brilliant high school teacher and Senator’s son Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) to perform the autopsy. While feeling inside the purple creature, a portion of Parallax infects Hector, who gains superhuman powers such as telepathy and telekinesis. Looking like a mix between The Leader from The Incredible Hulk comics and John Merrick from The Elephant Man, Sarsgaard always seems ready to bring more to the role, if only the script would let him.
Once Hal figures out how to work the ring, he transports to Oa, home of the Green Lantern Corps. There, he meets the sage Guardians of the Universe, Sinestro (Mark Strong), Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush), Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clark Duncan), and, actually, that’s pretty much it. The other 3000+ members are computer generated extras. While this makes up the bulk of the promotions, the time spent on Oa and with the Corps is a relatively tiny portion of the film.
This is disappointing since no other superhero movie has really taken advantage of the entire outer space/extraterrestrial element of the genre. Comic book movies have, for whatever reason, avoided space. Yet, from the Skrull to Bat-Mite, alien races have served as a significant part of comic books since their origin. We’ve had humanoid aliens such as Kal-El, the Silver Surfer, and Thor but no talking fish creatures until now.
On Oa, Hal learns about the multitude of things the ring can do, but after hearing the word “responsibility,” he runs. His doubts about taking the mantle seem forced. Hal is ecstatic about actually being able to fly, being able to will Tommy guns and swords out of thin air. His “fear” seems shoehorned in just so he can rotely take the steps of the hero’s journey. That isn’t to say that Hal wouldn’t be nervous about taking on an intergalactic demon, but he wouldn’t brood over the “with great power comes great responsibility” part of the job description.
But a lot about this movie seems forced. His love towards Carol (his relationship with best friend Thomas Kalamaku (Taika Waititi) has much better chemistry), his father issues, a love triangle, a mid-credits sequel set-up, all seems included just because the film’s four writers felt the need to follow some Superhero Movie template.
Eventually, Hal accepts that it’s up to him alone (the Green Lantern Corps decides to let the n00b and first human Lantern take on this creature they all fear by himself) to stop Parallax and Hector and save his world. When Hal goes to the final confrontation with Hector, it seems as though a reel is missing — an important one, building up their antagonism. There are barely any scenes between them, but when they do act opposite one another, you sense an unrealized complexity. The fight with Parallax is uninspired, as Parallax’s major method of offense against Hal seems to be saying “you really really suck and everyone thinks you suck.”
To conclude, let’s talk about what seems to be a huge problem with the live action DC market. An issue that Christopher Nolan stayed clear of, and, hopefully, will convince Zack Snyder to avoid. That problem is …
Bryan Singer’s uncomfortable fetishization of the first Donner film torpedoed the first attempt at a reboot of the Man of Steel (along with the kid, confusing chronology, and the entire date rapist thing). Smallville also overly relied on memories of Christopher Reeve to keep that show on for a decade. And Green Lantern continues to the tradition. Listen to James Newton Howard’s score as Hal begins to “see the light.” Witness the crashing helicopter as Green Lantern makes his first public appearance. And there’s something very familiar about the balcony scene when Hal visits Carol in costume (though she is able to see through the flimsy mask). Could these be homages? Possibly, but ones we don’t need.
Oddly enough, the 1978 movie pulled off something that none of those other properties managed to accomplish. Superman: The Movie‘s Superman truly did seem as though he was the man who could do anything. With all the limitations of that era’s effects, you nevertheless got the sense of his power. Yet with all the CGI $300 million can purchase, the ring that can do anything, didn’t do much of anything. A net? A giant fist? A giant Hot Wheels track? A necklace? A couple of jets? A few guns? With its space emphasis, this could have been the superhero movie that went to new limits, but unfortunately stayed grounded on Earth.