REVIEW: Green Lantern [2011]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 114 minutes | Release Date: June 17th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Martin Campbell
Writer(s): Greg Berlanti, Michael Green & Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg /
Greg Berlanti, Michael Green & Marc Guggenheim (story)

“This is the worst eleventh birthday party I’ve ever been to”

And here I thought green was the color of envy. Leave it to the DC Universe to set the record straight on how wrong that is in what could be the most implausibly convoluted mythology of any comic book entity ever—especially for a superhero who lives in the same world as Batman and Superman, two guys heavily steeped in reality, with some artistic flourishes of course. Green Lantern is hindered from an easy transition to the big screen at the start with the outlandish concept of space holding hundreds of ‘Lanterns’ who harness the green power of will to fight against the evil in their assigned sector while utilizing the planet Mogo as a sanctuary, inhabited by a tribunal of immortals who guide them. Add to this the insane number of four credited screenwriters and you’re bound to have script troubles and a lack of a consistent voice besides the lazily constructed plot mirroring at work throughout. But while it doesn’t get any lamer than obvious callbacks and eye-rolling ‘a-ha’ moments when recalling earlier, cheesy lines that later become the basis for ultimate victory, the whole still somehow manages to be a fun—if innocuous—popcorn summer flick.

At the backbone of this modicum of success lies some brilliant computer graphics work, the outstandingly over-the-top villainy of Peter Sarsgaard’s Hector Hammond, and, to a smaller extent, the sarcastic banter of lead Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan. When the whole of the plot hinges on a far off planet of creatures and species much older than us infantile humans, the animation and effects better be nothing short of spectacular. There are still times when the choice of making the Green Lantern’s suit fully CGI appears to have been a mistake—it’s different for Spider-Man since his face is covered, seeing Reynolds’ mug superimposed on the neon green can at times look like a floating bobble—but characters like Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan), Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush), and especially Parallax (Clancy Brown), the evil of yellow fear incarnate, are gorgeously realized in tactile forms. Watching the latter beast grow from imprisonment to the gargantuan smoke-tentacled, bulbously skulled creature threatening to destroy Earth and than Mogo is pure gold. No matter how great a film The Dark Knight is, or how emotionally resonate the characters of X-Men 2, sometimes a comic book movie needs to retain its fanboy cheese. I give DC credit for at least trying, even after the failed Fantastic Four.

Sadly, however, the hamfisted dialogue, contrived storyline, and rapid progression from hotshot lothario pilot to compassionate hero—this quick turnaround a detriment to this summer’s Thor as a well—are too heavy an albatross, sinking the ship despite some good laughs and action. Revolving around the vain assumption that humanity is indeed the best, especially when the universe underestimates us, Green Lantern oftentimes feels forced in its yearning to teach the audience through exposition. Our introduction to Hal Jordan and his on again/off again best friend/lover Carol Ferris, (sorry Blake Lively, I loved your rough and tumble in The Town, but you just can’t play polished businesswoman), is in the midst of a government contract to replace manned aircraft with intelligent, high speed drones. It’s a sequence that does nothing except drive home the concept that humans have the capacity to improvise, break the rules, and find the courage to fight fear. This is the ultimate message of the film—it’s not enough to be fearless, one must possess fear in order to overcome it with strength. Perhaps that is why green was chosen for will. It’s a color that needs yellow to exist. So, in order to have the will power to conquer, you also need the fear of failure.

We watch a steady stream of pathetic people either rise or succumb to their own doubts as the movie progresses towards its final showdown. Jordan, riddled by the psychological damage of watching his father die, is chosen by the ring of Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), the most powerful of Lanterns; Ferris attempts to live in both the world of doing and thinking, trading in her flight suit for a desk to follow in her father’s footsteps; and Hammond turns his mousey demeanor and science nerd sensibilities—which make him a failure in the eyes of his Senator father (Tim Robbins)—into a rage-filled showing of telekinetic powers once a bit of Parallax is fused with his body. Yeah, nothing like a trio of Daddy issues, eh? Supposedly they also all have a past together, perhaps in school, but it’s just one of the many glossed over plot points that would have been better left out. A love triangle between them is attempted, but without any history to cement their ties, it’s flimsy at best. Ferris merely becomes a trophy—her ecstatic joy at a diamond necklace materialized from Jordan’s newfound ability to create what he imagines showing her two-dimensionality—and Hammond a power-hungry lunatic lacking any redeemable qualities.

And since the rest of the Green Lantern Corps hide light years away, save a ten-minute long ‘training session’ that does nothing but give us Mark Strong’s Sinestro’s giant forehead, (alluding to a larger role in the sequel if the bloated $300 million budget here is recuperated), all we have to entertain us is the tit-for-tat of Reynolds versus Sarsgaard. Thankfully, the giddy smile and childlike playfulness of the latter in his villainy was good enough to let me forgive his character’s lack of substance besides being a physical representation of the smoke monster hovering in space. Sarsgaard’s high-pitched giggle, broad performance, and line delivery show he’s having a ton of fun stealing the show. Reynolds chimes in with his usual brand of snarkiness, showing Jordan’s ego and defense mechanisms before earning the power of the ring, and as a leading man does an adequate job. He is very human in his will-powered creations—mammoth guns and Hot Wheels ramps to save the day—and this is an endearing quality for a man thrust into a world way beyond his planet’s understanding. I just wished the film had enough faith in itself to give us his dramatic transformation rather than solely an expedited journey to each explosive fight sequence.

[1] RYAN REYNOLDS as Green Lantern in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “GREEN LANTERN,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. ™ & © DC Comics
[2] PETER SARSGAARD as Hector Hammond in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure ‘GREEN LANTERN,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. ™ & © DC Comics
[3] BLAKE LIVELY as Carol Ferris in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure ‘GREEN LANTERN,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by François Duhamel. ™ & © DC Comics

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