You've got to feel bad for the folks at DC Comics. After watching Marvel Comics’ film division crank out mega hits (the Iron Man movies) and ratchet up anticipation for what should be the biggest—in scope, at least—comic book movie ever (next year’s The Avengers, the Detective Comics brass have broken the bank to get Green Lantern into cinemas as a possible franchise-starter. Anything to further wipe away the stains of last year's abysmal Jonah Hex. Even DC knows that the almighty Christopher Nolan can’t hold the entire company down with his Batman films (or can he?).
Unfortunately, Green Lantern has the misfortune of debuting on the heels of two exemplary new Marvel pics, Thor and X-Men: First Class, both of which are leagues above the Martin Campbell-directed Green Lantern in just about every category, except perhaps visual effects. But even those are wasted in this structurally challenged and thoroughly lightweight affair, a miscalculation that takes decades’ worth of comic-built mythology, neuters it, passes it around like a hot potato amidst four unworthy screenwriters, and buries what little narrative is left underneath state-of-the-art graphics that do their best to distract viewers from the amateurish storytelling that’s underway.
We'll give Green Lantern this much: It's not exactly Daredevil bad, a parallel that's avoided thanks to some superb FX used quite well in two grandiose action sequences. What this unsuccessful—and entirely forgettable—Ryan Reynolds vehicle does share in common with that 2003 Ben Affleck-led misfire is its inability to serve justice to beloved source material, in turn dropping the potential franchise ball. Not to mention, reminding the ComicCon crowd about the darker, inept side of Hollywood adaptations, a sad truth momentarily overshadowed by the aforementioned Thor and X-Men: First Class.
Captain America, star of his big-budget blockbuster set for release in late July, can breathe easy: Green Lantern has reset the bar so low that good ol’ Cap would need to lobotomize himself to rival GL’s inferiority.
The Green Lantern Philosophy: Why Bother With Coherent Storytelling When You've Got So Many Awesome Effects?!
The story should be familiar to longtime comic book heads: When Abin Sur, a heroic member of a force of space cops known as the Green Lantern Corps, is mortally wounded, his ring, which harnesses the energy of willpower, selects Air Force test pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds) to take over the soon-to-be-deceased alien’s heroic duties.
With his new magical ring, Jordan heads above the clouds to the planet Oa, home the Guardians of the Universe, a board of elders that created the Green Lantern Corps, where he’s briefed by wise fish-like guide Tomar Re (Geoffrey Rush, who narrates the film’s prologue for no apparent reason), trained by brutish Green Lantern associate Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan), and read the riot act by Corps leader Sinestro (Mark Strong).
Back on Earth, Jordan uses his newfound abilities—flight, creating anything that his mind dreams up, impressing the ladies with his fresh six-pack of CGI abs—to battle Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), the scientifically intelligent, and nebbish, son of a senator who’s jealous of Jordan’s romance with aircraft company heiress Carol Ferris (Blake Lively). Just as the cooler and more attractive Hal becomes a Green Lantern, Hector inadvertently starts to morph into a human vessel for Parallax, a rumbling, squid-like monstrosity that prowls throughout galaxies and feeds on the fears of each world’s inhabitants.
At one point, just so Campbell—who’s a shell of his former Casino Royale-directing self here—can jerk off cinematically with a showy action set-piece, Reynolds crashes through a laboratory window right as a maniacal Hector starts pulverizing his pops (Tim Robbins, apparently hard-up for cash these days after his divorce from Susan Sarandon) and scientist colleague (Angela Bassett, probably just happy that she’s not in another Tyler Perry movie). How’d Jordan know Hector was there? How’d he even know Hector had gone bad? Hell if we know, and we’re pretty sure the filmmakers don’t, either.
The most glaring example of such randomness comes near the film’s end, right after Jordan delivers a ho-hum monologue to the Guardian overlords of the Green Lantern Corps; given their thumbs-up to save Earth, Jordan flies into an Air Force base (seemingly for the hell of it), sees that Hector—now looking like the Planters Peanuts mascot as a result of Parallax’s powers—has used his evil gifts to suspend a passed-out Carol in mid-air (though we never see her get captured, or even know that Hector ever planned to nab her in the first place). And then, before you can utter, “When the hell did all of this happen?”, Parallax shows up.
Big Lax, a former Guardian of the Universe who was transformed by the power of fear (which they were trying to use to fight fear, as the green essence of willpower was apparently not getting the job done) and then imprisoned by his former mates, is motivated by its desire to obliterate Oa; by sucking all of the fear out of Earth's inhabitants, the big drama-setter can build up enough strength to destroy Oa. But Campbell isn't fooling us; the real reason why Parallax surfaces in human-land is simple, and also indicative of Green Lantern as a whole: the quicker the completely computer-generated villain appears, the sooner Green Lantern can over-indulge in the cool shit and push characterization and narrative cohesion further into the background. The superficial intentions are transparent.
In Brightest Day. In Blackest Night. Even The Acting In Green Lantern Is Trite
Reynolds suffers the worst collateral damage of all. With his usual snarky one-liners and playful charm, the former Mr. Scarlett Johansson (yes, we're still hating) delivers the same performance that he’s given in every other one of his roles; only this time, he’s dominated by loudly distracting aesthetics. Green Lantern is a bloated piece of eye candy, overdosing with visual extravagance in such a way that renders all of the actors’ turns mute, particularly Reynolds'. Hal Jordan could be played by Channing Tatum, for all we know, and the film wouldn’t be any different.
The only performer who’s able to any grab attention away from the immense spectacle is Sarsgaard, who goes full-on camp as a socially awkward Howard-Stern-in-Private-Parts lookalike with several axes to grind: His forehead is really a six-head, he apparently has a crush on Lively's character, his pops (Robbins) doesn't give a damn, and Parallax has him looking like the Elephant Man.
It's a complicated role, but Green Lantern’s pacing and botched storytelling do little to help Sarsgaard’s cause. His character's plotline is minorly covered through brief throwaway scenes that are intercut with shots of Reynolds and CGI. And right when Hector’s mutation into a hideous super-villain seems complete, and worthy of extended screen time in GL sequels, his story comes to a screeching halt. Perhaps the screenwriters’ brains started to hurt from all of Hector’s interesting ticks, leading them to abandon ship and focus on the climactic Lantern/Parallax smackdown.
The scribes’ mental muscles certainly didn’t strain much while wrapped around the film’s standard love subplot, a vapid romance between Jordan and Ferris that Campbell rushes through faster than a call girl on the clock. Lively, unable to match the goodwill earned through her striking performance in last year’s The Town, is given nothing to do, other than look hot and eye-fuck Reynolds every so often, similar to how the film’s rampant CGI and boisterous sound design forcibly fondle ticket-buyers’ pupils in nearly every scene. Alas, 3D glasses make for ineffective prophylactics.
Ryan Reynolds Will Soon Feel Ben Affleck’s Pain, Circa 2003
Considering all of its pre-release woes (poorly received trailers, emergency effects clean-up, fearful trepidation amongst outspoken comic book fanboys and bloggers), Green Lantern was destined to underwhelm. But had Campbell and his producers spent less time fixing the visuals and more energy fine-tuning the script into something that resembled a unified story, and not a series of barely joined scenes acted with minimal flair, DC Comics’ latest attempt at a non-Batman franchise might’ve stood a chance at competing with this summer’s other comic book movies. Instead, Green Lantern is only a shade better than Jonah Hex, and that's hardly a compliment.