Just when I thought that the summer was going to be defined by a set of great tentpole films (I really liked both X-Men: First Class and Super 8) I sat through the dreck that is Green Lantern. Based on a storyline that is more suited for Saturday morning cartoons than a big screen production, the film had the awkward feel of a children’s made-for-TV animation that got redefined along the way to be a live-action “adult” movie.
The Green Lantern Corps is an intergalactic police force that utilizes the green energy of Will and serving is considered an extraordinary honor. The universe, we learn, is split into 3600 sectors and the Green Lantern who is assigned to our little galaxy has a disastrous encounter with the evil creature Parallax and it’s his ring that selects ne’er-do-well test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) as the next Green Lantern.
Jordan is a cocky daredevil in the Top Gun vein, but he runs from difficult situations, including his unresolved emotions about the death of his fearless and beloved test pilot father. His on-again, off-again girlfriend is Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), daughter of Ferris Aircraft president Carl (Jay O. Sanders) and a superb test pilot in her own right.
Meanwhile, back in Green Lantern intergalactic headquarters, Sinestro (Mark Strong) leads the Corps and debates the threat of Parallax (who is powered by “yellow fear” rather than “green will” energy) with the council of Guardians, an immortal circle of wise puppets who look like rejects from E.T.’s prop department. Sinestro doesn’t believe humans are good enough to be in the Corps and tells Jordan quite bluntly on their first meeting, in what was intended to pass as some sort of interpersonal tension.
If you guess that Parallax is the evil bad guy creature that the Corps can’t stop but new Green Lantern Hal Jordan can because of his new-found courage, you’d be right. But it’s all so extraordinarily predictable that’s not a spoiler, just a statement of the obvious. And that’s the core problem with Green Lantern, that the story is so asinine, so rife with cliches that it was boring and completely unengaging, a factor exacerbated by the fact that the majority of the special effects look like they were done for a high-budget kids cartoon, not a full-blown big screen flick. My advice is for you to skip it, this’ll be on TV soon enough.
Movies based on comic book characters are a tricky business, because there’s a decision to be made about whether to be completely true to the original source material even when it might be juvenile and a poorly thought out story, or whether to reinvent and reimagine the character to create a compelling screen character for our contemporary culture. A lot of films drag down somewhere between these two extremes, films like The Hulk, Fantastic Four or X-Men: The Last Stand, and end up expensive flops. Other films work with strong source material and come out great: The Dark Knight is an amazing reimagining of Batman as a dark, tortured character very much in line with the original comic book character.
The core problem with Green Lantern is its source material. Now I’ll admit, I only have the vaguest memories of reading Green Lantern comics as a kid but there’s really not much of a story here given the genre. 3600 sectors to the universe? Good guys powered by “green will” and bad guys by “yellow fear”? The comic was introduced during WWII, so we can draw our own conclusions about the racial overtones of yellow as the color of evil too. It just doesn’t translate well 70 years later.
Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) and Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) from Green Lantern
Worse, Hal Jordan is one of the least likable characters and, as played by comic Reynolds, is completely unbelievable. He’s extraordinarily handsome, a successful test pilot, but has no friends and can commiserate with one-dimensional “mad scientist” Parallax henchman Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) about being an outcast and unable to meet expectations. Um, what?
There are also enough half-baked story elements that it’s quite possible the director’s cut of Green Lantern will be at least 90 minutes longer. Hammond changes into an evil scientist (using a story element that is completely illogical) and can read minds, but that interesting twist goes nowhere. There are computer-controlled fighter planes that come and go, a secret government organization that’s in control of alien research a-la Area 51, a gang of Ferris Aircraft employees who beat up Jordan, who retaliates with his new found superpowers. Are they hurt? Do they come back and apologize later? Frankly, they’re probably the characters in the film whose motivation I can most understand.
Then there’s the core power that the Green Lantern ring endows, which is the ability for the wearer to create literally anything their mind can envision. If I had that power, I’d do amazing things, change the course of rivers, rebuild inner city Projects as really cool resorts and create a zero-energy public transportation system that could completely change our national destiny. Jordan? He creates a necklace for his girlfriend and the goofiest weapons to fight the indestructible Parallax. Lack of imagination in a comic book film that takes place throughout the galaxy? Weird.
There’s also a complete lack of chemistry between Jordan and Ferris. It’s a critical element for the romance in any film, whether a superhero movie or otherwise, and it’s completely missing here. There’s no obvious reason why Ferris would be interested in the smart-aleck, arrogant and unpleasant Jordan, and even after he reveals he has these superpowers due to the ring, he’s still a jerk. For her part, she’s the least believable female executive to show up on screen in a long time, and the scene where she and Jordan are arguing in her father’s office is painful to watch.
My general approach to writing a film review is to intersperse the positive and negative, to talk about a great effect or wonderful costuming or an interesting minor character, even as I critique other elements of a film. The problem with Green Lantern is there really isn’t much I can think of to compliment. From the tedious 3D effects to the pantheon of silly characters and the never ending parade of cliches and cinematic tropes, my best advice to you is to just skip Green Lantern and spend your time elsewhere. You’ll thank me for it.