When I was around 4 or 5 years old, I liked to root around in my parents’ dresser a lot. One day during one of my raids, I came across my Father’s high school class ring, and my heart leapt. At that age, there was only one person that I knew who wore a ring – The Green Lantern, champion of justice and venerable member of the Super Friends. I immediately slipped the ring over my middle finger and started “flying” all over the house, pointing my “power ring” at my dog, pretending to catch her in a glowing green baseball mitt after a fall, or smashing a bad guy in the face with a giant, green, glowing fist. Decades later, Hollywood has turned one of my beloved childhood heroes into a slick, $200 million production, but it pains me to say that my adventures around the living room with my Dad’s class ring were far more entertaining and exhilarating than this colossal disaster of a superhero film.
In a nutshell, Green Lantern is about a squadron of space cops (called the Green Lantern Corps) who patrol sectors of the universe, using the power of a ring imbued with the green energy of will. Each ring-user can create any object they imagine out of the green energy (usually giant fists and weapons). The rings have a weakness though – they are near powerless against the yellow energy of fear, embodied by an evil cloud of yellow tentacles with a giant head called Parallax. Parallax is wreaking havoc around the universe, and mortally wounds the strongest Green Lantern, Abin Sur (Temura Morrison). His ship crashes on Earth, where his ring must choose a new wearer to take up his mantle.
The ring chooses Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a cocky, irresponsible test pilot who tries to escape from the fearful memories of his Father dying in a plane crash by being as daring as possible in a fighter jet. He tests jets for Ferris Aircraft, which is managed by his (presumably) ex-girlfriend Carol Ferris (Blake Lively). The ring transports Hal to the Green Lantern Corps home world of Oa, where he meets Sinestro, the leader of the Corps, and a bizarre menagerie of CG-created aliens who all bear the ring. Meanwhile on Earth, Hector Hammond, a nerdy scientist, is infected with Parallax’s fear energy while examining Abin Sur’s remains and gains telekinetic powers. Hal must then decide if he has what it takes to stop both Hector and Parallax from wiping out the Earth.
Joyless, disjointed, and dull – Green Lantern suffers from a terribly written screenplay, and a narrative that beats the audience senseless with another tedious origin story, gobs of exposition, and a painfully boring romance. The editing is dreadful, resulting in one of the worst-paced films I have ever seen, (And I sat through Jonah Hex!). A sloppy, un-satisfying climactic battle then materializes out of nowhere without any rising action or buildup to speak of.
All of this ineptitude is rather shocking, considering the film was directed under the normally capable helm of Martin Campbell, who gave us two of the best James Bond films of all time – Goldeneye and Casino Royale; not to mention the Saturday matinee fun of The Mask of Zorro. But despite the colorful and mostly well-crafted CGI effects, and the creative constructs that Hal creates with this power ring, there is no fun to be had here.
Ryan Reynolds does the best he can with the material that he is given in this absolute mess of a screenplay, so Green Lantern’s failure should not rest squarely on his shoulders, but he is still woefully mis-cast in the role (it should have gone to the runner-up Bradley Cooper). I was dreading the snark; the endless wise-cracks and mugs for the camera that are the trademarks of a Ryan Reynolds performance, but aside from a few minor quips, Reynolds usual shtick is completely replaced with a generic affability. Blake Lively, as Hal Jordan’s love interest Carol Ferris – while not reaching January Jones-levels of awfulness – is still very wooden. Her character suffers the same fate as many females in comic-book adaptations: she drowns in1940’s damsel-in-distress and 1980’s empowered- business woman tropes, and in the end is nothing more than a cheerleader for Hal to believe in himself enough to save the world. However, kudos should be given to her character for recognizing Hal Jordan behind the goofy, CGI domino mask, thus making her the single smartest female character in the history of comic-book movies.
The romantic storyline, and anything on Earth that pulls us away from the far more interesting events taking place in outer space, completely drag the film down because the relationships amongst the characters are so poorly defined. One of the most atrocious examples of this occurs at the obligatory “party/fundraiser/press conference” (a trite scene that every superhero origin film has so that all the central characters can be in the same place when something catastrophic happens), when Hal and Hector Hammond bump into one another. The characters share a “Hey, how’s it goin” moment, and act as if they have known each other for years, yet this is the first time the audience has seen them together, and has had no visual clues or any expository dialog whatsoever to enlighten them to any prior relationship. This inexplicably and inexcusably happens several more times over the course of the film, as it’s implied that Hector had/has an obsession for Carol, and a rivalry with Hal for the affections of Hammond’s father, a slimy Senator played by Tim Robbins, whose talents are completely wasted on this arbitrary role.
James Newton Howard, best known for his subtle musical cues in film like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, is a complete mis-match for Green Lantern. The result is one of the weakest superhero scores of all-time. As a long-time comic book reader, I should have felt a sense of awe and wonder as the camera panned over the Lanterns’ visually spectacular home planet of Oa, but with the subdued music, it all fell flat. A colorful superhero like this deserves triumphant, bombastic music, but here the score is hardly noticeable at all, and when it is noticeable, it’s for all the wrong reasons. Themes derivative of classic scores like John Williams’ immortal Superman seep through constantly (there are several moments where actual segments from the main Superman theme begin to play!)
The bright spots in Green Lantern (ironic – due to the title and nature of this film) are difficult to find, but some shine through the garish CGI sludge. Mark Strong, coming off excellent villainous roles in Sherlock Holmes and Kick-Ass is a spot-on Sinestro, the stern, driven leader of the Green Lantern Corps who (SPOILER ALERT) eventually leaves the Corps behind to become Green Lantern’s arch-nemesis. Strong is terrific, imbuing the character with honor, gravitas, and a burning passion to see the Corps use any means necessary to preserve the peace. Sadly, he is given nothing to do with all that fire and rhetoric, aside from make a couple of speeches, and appear in a post-credit reveal that needed far more build-up in order to make sense.
He and the rest of the key Corps members – Geoffrey Rush as Tomar Re, and Michael Clarke Duncan (lazily and too obviously cast) as the Corps drill sergeant Kilowog – are truly wasted in this film as characters who are simply there to dump a ton of exposition on Hal, explain the powers of the ring to the audience, and serve as flying deus ex machinas to save the day in the very end. The training sequence on Oa between Kilowog, Tomar Re, Sinestro, and Hal was one of the truly fun moments in the film, but it was cut far too short to have any real impact. I would have liked to have spent more time on Oa, learning more about the different Corps members as well as the blue-skinned Guardians (the enigmatic beings who created the rings). Alas, it was not meant to be.
So, after the surprising quality of Thor and X-men: First Class, the Summer of 2011 has its first superhero dud. Hopefully the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger, The Dark Knight Rises, and the promise of an epic superhero team-up in The Avengers, can stave off the inevitable comic book movie backlash that is sure to follow in the wake of this blunder.