Darik's Review of Green Lantern
I'm gonna be upfront here: I love the Green Lantern character. Been reading the comics since junior high. In fact, after Batman, he's probably my favorite superhero... so you have to understand from the outset that I am totally, irrationally biased towards this character, and you probably shouldn't take my opinion too seriously if you're looking for an objective review. In fact, you might as well stop reading this right now.
For me, Green Lantern was a blast! It's an uncomplicated summer action blockbuster, with good performances across the board and some amazing special-effects spectacles. Director Martin Campbell has stayed fairly close to the source material here, creating a film about a hyperbolic battle between the forces of willpower, as embodied by the titular hero, and fear, both internal (the self-doubt and insecurities nursed by the protagonist) and external (personified in the forms of our two main villains). The fun, adventurous aspects of the film play to Campbell's strengths as a director, and the action sequences we're treated to are exciting and eye-popping. This is the first movie since Avatar that I've seen in 3-D, and boy, was it worth it-- this is a beautiful-looking film filled with oceans of stars and glimpses of colorful alien worlds, rendered with millions of dollars of computer graphics that don't really look all that realistic, but do look amazing. The movie does have some huge problems, though, all of which stem from the script-- the "plot" is non-existent, the sheer quantity of exposition is overbearing, and the dramatic aspects of the story are often very poorly executed-- but somehow it still manages to be an entertaining and crowd-pleasing sort of film, one that introduces a new (and mythologically complicated) hero to the broader landscape of pop culture awareness with at least moderate success. I only hope, however, that if they do a sequel, they get some better writers to work on it.
If you're a fan of the comics, you know that the Green Lantern universe has an insanely complex history behind it, and for the most part this movie stays true to it (sometimes to the narrative's detriment). See, millenia ago, the immortal Guardians of the Universe harnessed the green energy of will and weaponized it, creating a legion of power ring-bearing space cops known as the Green Lantern Corps (did I just lose you? Too bad-- the movie opens with an expository monologue just to explain this to us). One of these cops, Abin Sur of Sector 2814 (that's our sector, BTW), defeated and imprisoned a creature called Parallax that fed off of the yellow energy of fear; years later, Parallax manages to escape and cuts a swath through the universe, killing several Lanterns and mortally wounding Sur. Sur escapes to the planet Earth and passes his ring on to Hal Jordan, a cocky but gifted test pilot, before he dies. Hal doesn't know what to make of the ring or the strange lantern that comes with it at first, but after accidentally using it during a street brawl, he is transported to the world of Oa, home base for the Green Lantern Corps, where he is... ah... grown a uniform and put through his paces by veteran Lanterns Tomar-Re, Kilowog, and Sinestro. After his "basic training" is over, Hal returns to Earth, uncertain if he wants to bear the responsibilities that the ring entails. Unfortunately for him, a scientist named Hector Hammond has been infected by the power of Parallax, turning into a horribly deformed psychic/telekinetic sociopath; even worse, though, is that Parallax, a force capable of wiping out entire planets, is headed straight for Earth. Can Hal overcome his insecurities in time to face down fear itself? Well, duh-- the movie's not called "Massacre in Sector 2814", after all.
A lot of people were bitching early on about the casting of Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, fearing that the film was going a comedic route (there was a script in the early 2000s that would have featured Jack Black and giant green prophylactics), but I'm relieved to say that those fears were unfounded. Reynolds, while a little snarkier than his print counterpart, totally embodies the role of Jordan: a charming, hyper-confident jet jockey and ladies man à la Chuck Yeager or Maverick from Top Gun. In fact, the movie's biggest flaw is that it takes this extremely self-confident character and forces him to wallow in doubt and self-pity for half the film, which sucks the life right out of the proceedings; it also doesn't help that his character isn't developed very deeply (beyond the knowledge that he saw his father die in a plane crash), and we never get a good idea of what the guy really wants or why he decides to stay on with the Green Lantern Corps. But despite having little to work with, Reynolds brings the rakish flyboy to life and gives him a fun, witty edge. Playing opposite Ryan is Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, a fellow jet pilot, the boss's daughter, and Hal's oldest friend/almost girlfriend. Lively has decent chemistry with Reynolds, particularly when the two banter-- it sincerely feels like she really has known the guy since they were kids. She's also a fairly strong female lead in her own right, though she has little to do but act as Jordan's literal wingman (wingwoman?), get into danger, and give him a pep talk when he's feeling blue. A much more developed character comes in the form of Hector Hammond, played by Peter Sarsgaard. Starting out as a geeky biology professor, Hammond (through a series of well-acted transformation scenes) becomes a bulbous-headed misanthrope who seeks to destroy the people he envies; while his motives for turning mustache-twirlingly evil aren't entirely clear, you do sense that this is a guy with a tremendous amount of insecurity and self-loathing, and Sarsgaard makes the transition from likable schmuck to slimy telekinetic creep as smooth as possible. But by far, the strongest (har har) performance in the film comes from Mark Strong as Sinestro, the most respected member of the G.L. Corps. Sinestro doesn't care for humans, so he and Hal are at odds immediately; it's a shame that he isn't given more screen time with Hal, because the deliberate, controlled Strong makes for a fantastic foil for Reynolds' inexperienced hero, and the one training battle the two have is the highlight of the film (but hey-- that's what sequels are for). Other entertaining performances to be found here include Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clark Duncan as the voices of Tomar-Re and Kilowog, respectively, Temura Morrison as the doomed Abin Sur, and Taika Waititi as Hal's friend and pseudo-Kumar Tom Kalimaku.
And now we come to the film's great Achilles' Heel (which, I'll admit, is more of an Achilles' Torso): the script. This is a terribly written film, with huge chunks of narrative and monologued exposition, ineffectually developed characters with non-existent motivations, and an awkwardly-structured plot that occasionally forgets that it's supposed to make sense. I'll give the screenwriters props for drawing upon Geoff Johns' superior work on the character, as well as the classic Emerald Dawn origin story, but they aren't nearly as capable of storytellers as the books' creators were. But here's where Martin Campbell comes into it. Campbell is one of my favorite directors-- a craftsman rather than an auteur, whose best films have always been filled with excitement and romance... but whose strengths lie more in the "down-to-Earth action" field rather than the "sweeping space opera" category. Through sheer skill and experience, Campbell is able to salvage about three-fifths of the film, just in terms of entertainment; but the more solemnly outlandish aspects of the story suffer from his lack of experience with the genre, and even he can't save some of the more ponderously dull scenes in the script. As a result, the tone is a bit choppy, alternating between smirking adventure and dull, angst-y seriousness with alarming suddenness. At least the action sequences escape unscathed, managing to be exciting and effective, C.G. overabundance notwithstanding-- which leads me to another possible point of contention: the C.G.I. Green Lantern is LOADED with computer effects; but unlike the ridiculous excesses of such films as, say, the Star Wars prequels, a lot of its usage here makes sense. After all, the character's power is that he can conjure anything he wants out of light energy, right? So everything he does or creates with the ring is a computer generated image-- including his very costume, which is portrayed not as clothing but as a second, sinewy skin made of emerald energy; it's a clever conceit that looks phenomenal in the finished film (despite some early advertising footage that looked a little dodgy). The excellent computer effects and gorgeous cinematography give the film a rich visual flair, at least; engaging or not, it's always a feast for the eyes. Finally, I have to say that I'm disappointed in James Newton Howard's score for the film. Amounting to little more than mood music, it has no major themes or memorable motifs, and indulges in electronica and guitar riffs more than any superhero movie ever should.
Green Lantern is, in terms of quality, an average superhero movie-- not entirely bad, but not really all that good, either. It's a clumsy effort to bringing the comic book hero to life, with a thematic through-line (will vs. fear) that gets hammered relentlessly into your head and a plot-driven storyline that doesn't make a lot of sense. But that doesn't mean it's not an entertaining movie. On the contrary, Green Lantern is a pure popcorn flick-- a dazzling, crowd-pleasing spectacle filled with action, humor, and the best fish-person simulacra money can buy. I don't see why other reviewers are so harsh towards it, other than that they may have expected more than the film was able to deliver (perhaps because The Dark Knight has raised expectations of comic book movies to ridiculous new heights); but judging the end result as it is, rather than as we would have wanted it, Green Lantern does have enough going for it to earn the cost of admission. And for a Green Lantern fan such as myself? Seeing Oa, the Guardians, the Green Lantern Corps, Sinestro, and Hal-freaking-Jordan on the big screen? Well, I've gotta say-- it's more than I ever could have hoped for.