Green Lantern Movie Review: Comic Wonder on the Silver Screen?

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Eventually, Green Lantern unmistakably grasps something few superhero films do: a real sense of the wonder comic books create. But the journey to that brief achievement is so heartless, discordant, and gloomy, that you might not give a damn.

Green Lantern is a story told on top of a deep mythology. The Green Lantern Corps is an intergalactic army that protects the universe. Every member of the Corps (each of which is referred to as a "Green Lantern") is armed with a power ring which harnesses the green energy of willpower. The ring allows the bearer to create any object he/she can imagine: a force field, a machine gun, a fist, or a kitchen sink. Anything. A Green Lantern's power is based on the strength of their will and their ability to overcome fear. There are thousands of Green Lanterns, each responsible for protecting their own section of the universe.

When the greatest Green Lantern, Abin Sur, is mortally wounded he must find someone to replace him. The power ring (which does the choosing) brings him to Earth and chooses Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds). Hal is a reckless, willful, irresponsible, and talented pilot. His father was also a pilot (though unlike his son, was highly respected) who died during a flight test. Hal's father's motto when asked if he was afraid was, "it's my job not to be." When Hal watched his Father die, he was scarred by a sense of mortality. Since then the only time Hal feels truly confident is when he's flying.

As Hal begins his training as a Green Lantern, Dr. Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), is performing an autopsy on Abin Sur's body. Hector's father, an influential Senator, gets him the gig. During the procedure Hector becomes infected and begins to mutate. His head becomes bulbous and he gains psychic and telekinetic powers. Hal and Hector's stories (and powers) evolve independentaly, but are similar because both men can't escape the fear their fathers' shadows have imprinted on their lives. Both must overcome fear; Hal to protect, and Hector to serve himself.

And that's precisely where Green Lantern starts to go wrong. The movie revels in Hal's and Hector's inadequacies. Both of them let people down. Hal's love interest Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) calls him a child. The Green Lantern Sinestro (Mark Strong) tells Hal he is unworthy of Abin Sur's ring. Hector listens to everyone's thoughts tell him he is pathetic. They both hang their heads. Thematically this all makes sense, but none of it is fun to watch.

It doesn't help that we don't feel much for Hal. Sure, we see his father die in a brief flashback, and see the picture Hal carries, but the connection isn't there. One of Reynolds's greatest gifts as an actor is his ability to create empathy with an audience, but he isn't given the material to do so. Hector on the other hand is supposed to be creepy and withdrawn; we aren't meant to identify with him. Sarsgaard does a terrific job.

So we start to look to other characters for connection. Mark Strong as Sinestro, the leader of the Green Lantern Corps, gives an electric, one-note performance. We don't doubt that Sinestro is fearless, but that's the entirety of his character. Carol and Hal's friend Thomas (Taika Waititi) are equally unrelatable. They don't react to Hal's power believably. Thomas laughs awkwardly and tells a joke. We never see him again.

Marc Guggenheim has written for television shows like Law and Order, FlashForward, and for video games like Singularity. I had the pleasure of playing Singularity, and have seen some of the FlashForward episodes he co-wrote. I don't doubt Guggenheim's, or his Green Lantern co-writer's (Greg Berlanti and Michael Green) abilities to move a story forward and utilize interesting concepts in understandable ways. We never completely lose the film's main threads. We're never confused. I admire that. At times, however, some of the clichéd lines ("I must apologize for the theatrics." "Is that what I think it is?" "My God.") only help solidify Green Lantern's ineffectiveness.

It's a shame that so much conventional storytelling plays against such striking visuals. There is an early CG sequence where "the camera" pans across a planet's surface while in the distance you see a vital, enthralling galaxy. It may be the best space sequence I've ever seen; it is wondrous and immersive. And I think if the film's art weren't so impressive, Green Lantern would be a complete dud.

The Green Lantern character is more universal than other heroes because his abilities rely on something we all posses - willpower. Despite the film's flaws, the repetition of how a Green Lantern's power works and Hal's struggle to overcome fear makes that power tangible. Sadly, though, only for mere moments.

In those moments Green Lantern shines an emerald light so brilliantly I could swear I held the ring myself. Overall, the film competently, but ineffectively weaves a deep mythology into a logically-themed story. I admire its beauty but feel little toward it. Instead, I consider the movie's potential. I look at Green Lantern and I see two films, the film it is, and the film it ought to be. Someday those two films will meet. Should make for a hell of a movie.

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  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Jun 21, 2011 at 12:50am

    Critics seem to hate this movie but I enjoyed it. I did feel that the pacing was a bit disjointed and ADD at times. Too much jumping between scenes of Earth, Oa, Hal, Hector, the government, etc. I also wanted to see more of the Corps. But otherwise, I thought it was very enjoyable. Reynolds was better than I was expecting, Mark Strong was amazing (if underused), Peter Sarsgaard was creepy as heck, the special effects and alien designs looked awesome, and it was overall a fun superhero adventure film. Not perfect but fun.

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Jun 21, 2011 at 3:44am

    Well it sounds like they made Hal a dick which is still true to character :p

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