I was always a fan of the Green Lantern comics growing up. It was just such an interesting concept—a group of intergalactic peacekeepers with rings capable of doing extraordinary all in the name of fighting evil. The potential storylines were incredible and limited only by the imagination of the writers. In a DC universe filled with characters in colorful underwear saving the day by punching someone or something really hard in the face, the Green Lantern comics appealed to the sci-fi fan in me as much as the superhero fan. Even when the comics underwhelmed, which was often, there was a certain uniqueness that kept it interesting.
The Green Lantern film has none of that.
It was as if Green Lantern entered my subconscious and found my inner-child, then shanked him before dropping the shiv and walking away, prison-style. The film is bad enough to grab the entire genre of comic book films and drag it a step backwards. There is not just one or two things wrong with it, it’s bad across the board. This movie should be quarantined to avoid it infecting other movie studios and letting them think they can get away with making movies like this, superhero or otherwise. And worst of all, this movie is designed almost entirely with the goal of creating a franchise so there may be more.
Green Lantern is a throwback film to the action movies of the mid-90s in many ways. The story is so familiar that it almost comes across as a comedy, parodying the action movies from nearly 20 years ago. Even the music seems to be taken right out of the 90s. You have the reluctant hero given a great responsibility, but he doesn’t want or think he can handle it. Throw in the beautiful love interest, sprinkle some tension with his peers that makes it so he must slay the unslayable beast on his own, and shake. It is almost an accomplishment in itself that the filmmakers took an original idea—a corps of alien members all capable of creating matter through willpower while in the pursuit of justice—and made it so bland and unoriginal. Kudos to them for the anti-accomplishment.
But while a generic story is not a killer in itself, a generic story badly handled is like trying to make a TV dinner and adding soy sauce to the desert. Green Lantern is a paint-by-numbers movie that is in such a rush to get to the end credits that it is missing important things. They are partially there, but mostly just thrown in for no reason except to serve the plot.
Hal Jordan, man of the 90s
Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a test pilot with a wild and irresponsible streak. He takes home random woman, parks his car wherever he wants like a boss and has a smartass remark for any occasion. He also has issues stemming from witnessing his father’s death in an experimental aircraft back when he was a kid. We know this because Hal, seconds after proving that he is an exceptional and gutsy pilot that can do things no one else can, freaks out for no reason while in a tailspin. After years of piloting, for no reason at all, he has a flashback of his father’s death—which is also in a plane but otherwise totally different than Hal’s current predicament. The flashback causes him to freeze and nearly die, again all for no specific reason. This is not a major part, just one example of the storytelling process.
His friend/former girl-friend (and possibly childhood friend, although this is never discussed except for a throwaway line) and now sort-of boss, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), refuses to let him quit, but Hal is at a low point. Around this time, the current Green Lantern responsible for the sector that includes Earth, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), crashes to Earth after his ship is attacked by the entity known as Parallax. Why Abin Sur even has a ship in the first place when every other Green Lantern just flies thorugh space isn’t really mentioned.
Sur lands on Earth and tasks his ring with finding someone worthy who is without fear, and the ring chooses Hal Jordon. After taking possession of the ring, Sur dies and Hal flees to avoid the obligatory men-in-black who arrive minutes after him (despite the fact that Sur crashed hours earlier).
Hal is soon whisked off to the home of the Green Lantern Corps, Oa. He is the first human to ever receive the ring, and after a brief explanation of the ring, Hal begins training under the tutelage of Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan). The training lasts for minutes, if that, before Abin Sur’s protégé and top dog of the Corps, Sinestro (Mark Strong), challenges Hal. Naturally Sinestro beats him soundly, which causes Hal to quit, sulk a bit and return to Earth. But for some reason they let him keep the ring, which is odd and never really explained.
In the meantime, Parallax, a creature that feeds on fear, is heading to Earth thanks to his unwitting agent, Dr. Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a xenobiologist that was infected by Parallax while examining Abin Sur’s body, an honor accorded him because of his father, Senator Robert Hammond (Tim Robbins). There is some loose connection between Hal, Carol and Hector that is never fleshed out and boils down to the fact that Hector has a crush on Carol. So naturally that puts Carol in danger, because what would a superhero movie be without a love interest in mortal danger.
You can probably guess where the rest of the movie goes from here, it’s not that nuanced. If you wonder why I am putting so much detail into the plot summary, it is just to point out how ridiculous it really is. It isn’t that there are plot holes—or at least it isn’t just that there are plot holes—it is that the plot is fairly dull and unoriginal. It is like the story deliberately avoids some of the coolest possibilities in order to stick to a traditional story. Rather than having what should have been a great training sequence on Oa, it is curtailed after a few minutes so Hal can return to Earth.
Hal and Hector Hammond eventually fight, which is useful to the plot. Inevitably Hal accepts his responsibility and ends up facing off against Parallax alone, because the rest of the Corps was busy doing…other things apparently. They give a reason for not helping, but it makes almost no sense and the only explanation is that the rest of the 3600+ members of the Corps are all lazy douches.
The final battle is underwhelming yet features glimpses of what the movie should have been but never was. But putting aside all the plot holes and lazy writing clichés, the biggest issue of the story is that Hal Jordan, a man chosen for being without fear, is scared the entire movie. It isn’t just that he overcomes fear, he is scared to the point that he freezes and nearly dies at the beginning of the film during a plane crash. It makes sense for the character’s predictable story arc, but it utterly contradicts the entire idea of what the Green Lantern Corps is. As a result, it slows what could have been an incredible action movie down to a crawl. It is at this point that the comic book child in me died a bit.
The filmmakers seemed so set on a franchise—as evidenced by the additional scene after the first set of credits which should be a major moment in the series but is rushed through, and doesn’t make a lick of sense for the character in question anyway except that it teases a sequel—that they forgot to make a good first movie.
The Age Inappropriate Cast
Going into this movie, I had two specific fears. The first was that the mediocre CGI would be silly looking, and the second was that Ryan Reynolds would not make a good Hal Jordan. Reynolds actually does a good job with the terrible dialogue forced out of his mouth and contradictory situations he is forced into. On paper, the character of Hal Jordon is nearly unlikable at times, but Reynolds gives enough to make it watchable. You can almost see Reynolds straining to pull this movie towards something more than it is. He fails, but at least he tries.
Lively is very pretty. Her character is never anything more than a plot point that gives Hal the odd speech about never quitting and such, yet she can’t really do much to elevate the role. Sarsgaard tries, and the character has some good moments that show promise, but as with everything else in the movie he is a victim to the plot and convenience. The story between Hector and his father is interesting, but the vague relationship between Hector, Jordan and Carol is never fleshed out. In fact it is only fleetingly mentioned once or twice. If this had been given even the most basic of backgrounds it might have made the tension worth it, but as it stands the movie just seems to assume you will buy into it.
Mark Strong turns in a good performance as Sinestro, but it is a character that is obviously meant to be part of a sequel. His role is wasted in this film, although necessary for what is obviously in the making if the franchise continues.
And then there is the issue of age. This is never really something that makes much of a difference, but it again underscores the lack of care the filmmakers seemed to have and the respect for the intelligence of the audience. Jordan, Carol and Hector all have some connection in the past that the movie never bothers to explain, but the implication is that they knew each other as kids. In real life Lively is 23, Reynolds is 34 and Sarsgaard is 40. Then you have Hector’s dad, the senator played by Tim Robbins, who is 52, just 12-years older than his supposed son. Lazy, dumb filmmaking.
Oh, and by the way, the CGI was mediocre and silly looking.
There are so many problems with Green Lantern, from the casting to the plot to the CGI to the pacing–this movie was a failure before the cameras even rolled. But even if you can overlook the problems with the story, the movie just seems to go out of its way to neuter any moments that might have been fun. There is a scene where a handful of doomed Green Lanterns take on Parallax–it is over in seconds, and there is never even a fight. In fact there are only two fights in the movie (not counting the training) and neither are that impressive. But stripping all that away, there is just no emotion attached to anything in this movie. It is an origin story that seems to begrudge that it can’t just skip the introduction and go to the next film. A big giant planet eating fear cloud is coming to Earth to murder us all, and no one really seems all that bothered by it. The level of tension is flaccid and weak, which in turn totally derails Hal’s triumphant ascendance.
While there are plenty of dumb summer movies that can still be fun to watch, this is not one of them. It is never offensively bad, but it becomes boring. Who wants to watch a guy with a ring that can do anything sit around and mope for an hour in his apartment? Even when he does accept his power, the best he can do is to create a machine gun and a fan. Whether you are a comic book fan or not, there is a sense of wonder that seems to have been almost deliberately amputated from this film.
Green Lantern is a step back for the comic book genre which had been getting stronger all the time thanks to movies like The Dark Knight, Iron Man and even Thor to name a few. Even if you hated one or even all three of those movies, you can see that there was a sense of freshness to them. Green Lantern is missing that. It was a product that sticks so close to a formula that it is almost laughable.
If you want to see a Green Lantern film, check out the far superior animated Green Lantern: First Flight, or for a superhero fix, X-Men: First Class is your ticket. The rings that the Green Lantern Corps wear are only limited by the imagination of the wearer. The filmmakers had that same problem, and they do their best to take a wildly original idea and ground it down.