Title: Green Lantern
Play time: 1h 54min
Director: Martin Campbell
Screenwriters: Greg Berlanti
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Robbins, Mark Strong
Campbell Extraordinary Producing Skills Confirmed Once Again in Green Latern
My sympathies to director Martin Campbell, who managed to rescue James Bond from stagnation not once but twice, but who can do nothing with the inaugural installment of Green Lantern. He tries, kind of. There’s some fun stuff on the margins here, and the movie at least moves along at a fair clip and wraps up after a merciful hour forty-five. For all that, it’s an insufferable drag; a cynical, witless shadow of a summer blockbuster.
Good superhero films exhibit some level of fascination with the extraordinary. Peter Parker’s “training sequence” in Spider-Man is pure exhilaration on film. Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns injected real human drama into a cosmic one. Even the weakest of the X-Men films seemed to genuinely care about the intersection between humanity and the souped-up world of the scorned, angry mutants. Green Lantern, by contrast, presents the most fantastic comic book scenario yet, and practically yawns in its face.
What’s the story of Green Latern?
Get this: the universe is divided into some 4,000 quadrants, each teeming with civilization. The lifeforce of the universe is a mysterious green essence called “willpower,” which stands in opposition to the evil yellow essence of “fear.” Each quadrant has a protector, one of the “Green Lanterns,” who can use his “will” to manifest the contents of his mind (which may or may not entail omnipotence; it’s not really clear), and is deputized to fight evil wherever he finds it. When our quadrant’s appointed Green Lantern is killed by a mysterious entity called the Parallax, his Green Lantern ring chooses, for the first time, a human replacement: a hotshot test pilot named Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds).
Well holy shit! Aliens everywhere! Except the movie doesn’t care enough about this reality to do anything more than listlessly churn through the key mythology of the comic book, which is dense and weird and kind of laughable, sometimes playing like an intergalactic version of the Patrick Swayze video from Donnie Darko. Rather than try to imbue it with a sense of wonder or terror or even humor, Campbell just renders it in bright colors with expensive CGI, capably enough (the Parallax is actually pretty cool), and then sort of shrugs — “here you go, nerds.”
The Only Superhero Thrilled about His Superpowers!
This being a movie, it needs a protagonist, who optimally should have a character arc of some sort. So Green Lantern gives us Ryan Reynolds’ Hal Jordan, who’s pretty thrilled about this whole superpower thing, except that — and this is where the screenwriters really taxed themselves, mentally — he’s… uh… irresponsible? And he… likes to quit things before they’re finished? The attempts at characterization are perfunctory to the point of absurdity, as is the romance between Reynolds and his sexy boss (or something), played by Blake Lively.
There’s one worthwhile aspect to Green Lantern and that’s the character of Dr. Hector Hammond, played by Peter Sarsgaard. Hammond turns out to be useless to the story, but he’s at least recognizable — a tortured, put-upon nerd, perceived as a constant disappointment, pigeonholed as “a thinker, not a doer,” genuinely amazed by the discovery of extraterrestrial life and wanting desperately to be a part of the ensuing scientific inquiry. Sarsgaard is wonderful in the role — watching him drip Tabasco sauce on his dinner is more interesting than any of the film’s elaborate effects.
Bad Cast Selection will Get a Thumbs Down by The Fans
But of course Green Lantern reflexively makes Hammond a villain and sides with the good-looking, self-centered jock, like if Spider-Man had lionized the bullies who tried to beat up Peter Parker. The movie clearly thinks it’s giving the people what they want, and in an age where Sam Raimi’s fantastic films have been dumped after less than 10 years in favor of a “reboot” with a different star, it might sadly be right.