Green Lantern Directed by Martin Campbell
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Mark Strong, Peter Sarsgaard
Release date: June 17, 2011
I went into Green Lantern expecting a solid summer action movie and that’s exactly what I got. Therefore, I don’t get a lot of the hatred directed towards this film. Critics have been giving this long-gestating DC comic book adaptation a regular blanket party and for most of the same reasons that those same critics spazzed out over Thor. Personally I’ve never been a fan of the character and outside of some episodes of Super Friends and the occasional glance at an issue of the comic, I don’t even know that much about the Green Lantern. After seeing the movie, it’s evident I have some catching up to do. Good thing I have access to some of his recent appearances in animated DTV movie form.
The movie opens with a brief rundown of the history of the Green Lantern Corps, the galactic police force at the center of the action, narrated by Lantern Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush). Afterwards we jump right into the action: on a distant, uncharted planet the being Parallax (voiced by Clancy Brown, but I could barely tell) is unleashed and begins a campaign of terror throughout the universe, feeding on the fear of its victims. Lantern Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) is charged with stopping Parallax, but is mortally wounded in battle and must flee to the nearest inhabited planet to choose his successor before his death. Landing on Earth, Abin Sur’s ring, one of the primary sources of a Lantern’s power, chooses hotshot test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds). Jordan is haunted by the death of his own father Martin (Jon Tenney), something that pushes him into depths of loneliness and irresponsibility to the dismay of his colleagues, particularly his on-and-off love interest Carol Ferris (Blake Lively).
The ring’s glowing green power brings Hal to the location of Abin Sur’s crashed ship and has the ring imparted to him before the alien dies. Soon he is journeying to fantastic new worlds, including the planet Oa, the home of the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians, omnipotent alien beings who harnessed the green energy of will that gives the Lanterns their strength and the yellow energy that powers Parallax. Jordan is put through a brutal training regiment by his instructors, Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan) and Sinestro (Mark Strong), the latter of whom leads the Corps, but is reluctant to take up Abin Sur’s mantle out of a fear that eats at him internally. With Parallax on a path of destruction heading for Earth and a scientist named Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) infected by the being’s evil power, Hal Jordan must become the hero he was born to be or his planet will be lost and the Corps powerless against the dark might of Parallax.
At the end of the day Green Lantern is a movie that isn’t as good as the sum of its parts. The story suffers from a reliance on cliches in the dialogue and a lack of faith that the universe-spanning epic scope of the comics would translate well to the big screen. Thus the majority of the film’s action set pieces are relegated to Earth and feel like they could be in any Spider-Man or X-Men movie. The best moments are the time we spend getting to know the Green Lantern Corps and their history and the galactic battles with Parallax. In spite of some shiny FX that cries out “Xbox cut scene,” the scenes that take place off Earth are visually stunning and capture the goofy spirit of the comics without falling into pointless camp. The planet Oa is wonderfully realized and the individual members of the Corps are a marvel to watch, and the casting of the Lanterns who guide and train Hal is absolutely perfect. Mark Strong makes a great Sinestro, prickly towards humans but dedicated to his duty as a Lantern, and Michael Clarke Duncan and Geoffrey Rush do amazing vocal work as Kilowog and Tomar-Re.
The human characters, on the other hand, are a serious mixed bag. Ryan Reynolds is not a perfect Hal Jordan, but his mix of charm and humor makes his somewhat stereotypical “maverick pilot” character bearable and sympathetic. His transition to hero status is hamstrung by a sloppy script (midwifed by four credited writers) that at times resembles a head-on collision between The Last Starfighter and Team America. Blake Lively is a good love interest, but that’s the extension of her character development. Peter Sarsgaard makes for a decent villain despite having almost nothing of importance to contribute to the story. His performance improves once he starts mutating into a big-headed baddie. The rest of the cast is a who’s who of acclaimed actors and character faces intended to lend the movie some prestige with non-comic fans, but it’s a pity that performers such as Tim Robbins (as Hammond’s senator father), Angela Bassett (as a government scientist), Jay O. Sanders (as Carol’s father and Hal’s boss), and Jon Tenney are relegated to background extra status for most of the movie.
Don’t get your hopes seeing James Newton Howard‘s name in the credits; despite being one-half of the famous Batman Begins/The Dark Knight music scoring team, Howard’s musical contribution to Green Lantern lacks punch and is little more than a collection of electric guitars and repetitive synth beats (the standard fallback score for any action movie or superhero epic made these days). The cinematography by Dion Beebe crackles with color and light and the production design work by Grant Major is some of the best I’ve seen in a movie this summer. Stuart Baird, a man who knows a thing or two about editing a superhero movie (he served as film editor on the 1978 Superman: The Movie), does what he can with the material but the final product looks like a hastily-assembled rough cut.
That leaves New Zealand-born director Martin Campbell, a dab hand at orchestrating large-scale action that comes from helming the James Bond movies Goldeneye and Casino Royale (my personal favorite Bond movie) as well as The Mask of Zorro and some fine British television work, shouldering most of what doesn’t work in Green Lantern. Campbell just seems lost when the action goes galactic, preferring to chop every single shot into pieces and throw it in a blender with some rubber cement. He seems more at ease with the Earthbound events, but that isn’t a good thing when you’re making a film with a mythology that extends far beyond our known universe.
Green Lantern is a fine movie, ideal escapism for a sticky hot summer day, but with the materials present it could have been so much more. I hold out hope that the inevitable sequel will be better. In brightest day, in blackest night, someone please get this damn character right.