'Green Lantern' is passable, plausible -- and none too illuminating
By Mark Jenkins
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Of the available green heroes, the Incredible Hulk, Kermit the Frog or even Al Gore seems more likely to carry a movie than Green Lantern. But the third-string DC Comics character has nonetheless been selected to hold the super-being turf at the world's megaplexes for a few weeks, between "X-Men: First Class" and "Captain America: The First Avenger." "Green Lantern" is capable of doing that, although it's neither amusing nor exciting enough to ensure a long-running franchise.
Like Captain America, Green Lantern is a "Golden Age" comics hero, debuting in 1940 -- a simpler time for strong-jawed do-gooders. The character has been reconceived many times since, and this version is largely based on a 2004-05 update. But the premise still seems as musty as a dog-eared pulp magazine: Earth's Lantern is one of thousands of intergalactic cops who wear magic rings that draw their juice from "the emerald energy of willpower." Strong and resolute, these are the sort of champions who can resist snacking between meals.
The latest contender for emeraldhood -- who's introduced after a blandly cosmic prologue narrated by Geoffrey Rush -- has the courage thing down. Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a bad-boy test pilot, forever striving to be as brave as the top-gun father he saw incinerated by exploding jet fuel.
Yet Hal doesn't seem the hero type, exactly. A self-described "total screw-up," he's personally unreliable and emotionally unavailable, even to longtime love/hate interest Carol Ferris (Blake Lively). A fellow test pilot, Carol is an executive at her father's aeronautics company. (All the movie's major characters have daddy issues.) She's the kind of desk jockey who routinely wears sexy cocktail dresses to the office.
Half of "Green Lantern" transpires in CGI-created outer space, and yet this is the type of movie where all the central players are close at hand. Not only is Hal's true love an office mate; so is his potential adversary, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), an eccentric "xenobiologist" who labors at the Ferris complex. (To add a dash of political discontent, Hector's father is a smarmy U.S. senator, played by a condescendingly grinning Tim Robbins.)
Hal and Hector are thrown together -- and into opposing camps -- when a spaceship crashes on the edge of town. Inside is a dying Lantern whose ring selects Hal to be its new owner and thus the champion of this sector of the galaxy. But the wounded alien is infected with the evil of the Green Lantern Corps's greatest enemy, Parallax. This blobby ever-changing monster is fueled by "the yellow power of fear," which is almost as frightful as the movie's other nemesis: the gray power of boredom. A bit of the icky yellow infects Hector, who becomes disfigured with fury and resentment and suffused with campy theatricality.
Hector also loves Carol, of course, although he knew he could never compete with Hal, who's buffed to perfection and always impeccably unshaven. Even in street clothes, Reynolds's physique seems otherworldly. Imagine what it looks like in a skin-tight super-suit that shimmers and pulsates like a lava lamp.
Director Martin Campbell is perhaps best known for "Casino Royale," which brought some realism to the violence of James Bond's livelihood. Realism is not on the agenda for "Green Lantern," whose mayhem is loud and sweeping but impersonal. Campbell's big challenge is knitting together the story's two strands, the earthly and the extraterrestrial.
He does what he can, but the transitions between the two are choppy, and the spacey creatures -- including Mark Strong as a Lantern who thinks that Hal isn't bright enough -- owe more to CGI than characterization.
As in most superhero flicks, the protagonist is more interesting when he's not in costume or at least has willed away his magic mask. The four credited screenwriters would never have cut it in '40s Hollywood, but their bantering, flirtatious dialogue is livelier than the action sequences.
No matter how many times he's been reimagined, Green Lantern retains a crucial flaw: He's a DC Comics character, without the weaknesses and neuroses that make Marvel Comics heroes interesting (sometimes even on screen). What superpower does the ring give the Lantern? He can use green energy to create whatever he sees in his mind. Given that kind of dramatic blank check, the movie's battles are sure to be anticlimactic. The Lantern is less engaging when embroiled in deep-space combat with Parallax than when doo-wopping to the Fleetwoods' "Come Softly to Me."
Is that 1959 hit before your time? Then so is the sensibility of "Green Lantern."