If you read this post then you’re aware that I was not looking forward to seeing Green Lantern. But, as I do when I settle in to watch any movie, I shook off the dread and cleared my mind when the theater lights dimmed, hoping against hope that I wasn’t about to waste two hours of my life. And I didn’t. Green Lantern is the weakest entry the superhero genre’s seen in the past several years, but its fun-to-watch cast, its jolts of humor in the right places, and the lack of a long, drawn-out climactic battle scene left me pleasantly surprised.
After the somewhat obligatory historical set-up montage that establishes what the Green Lantern Corps is (an alliance of intergalactic peacekeepers), where they draw their power from (green “willpower” energy), and the only entity that’s ever truly threatened them (Parallax, powered by fear, which is (appropriately) yellow), we meet earthling Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds). He appears to be yet another bad boy in the great tradition of Tony Stark or Britt Reid—waking up late for work, shouting apologies to a pretty blonde as he gets dressed and hauls butt to the office. Hal’s office turns out to be the big blue sky, as he and his friend/boss’s daughter/ex-hookup/fellow test pilot Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) take to the clouds in fighter jets for a demonstration upon which their company’s future hinges.
Jordan’s recklessness gets the best of him in the cockpit, and as a result he’s kicked to the curb once he’s back on land. Not only has he lost his own job, but hundreds of others will also be out of work thanks to his shenanigans. This is all supposed to make you shake your head and mutter, “Wow, what an irresponsible @ss that Hal Jordan is! He is the last person that should ever become a superhero!”
But the Green Lantern ring of Abin Sur, a dying alien who’s crashed nearby, doesn’t see it that way—it needs to choose a replacement now that its master’s life is fading, and it picks Jordan. This ring doesn’t make mistakes, or so we’re told.
I enjoyed the early scenes where Hal is taking in the situation, where he’s trying to comprehend that he’s been whisked across the sky to the site of an alien crash, that he’s been “chosen” to do something, that he’s supposed to take this creature’s ring and a lantern and eventually say some sort of oath. Even better were the sequences where Hal’s figuring out how to activate the ring, and then finding himself on Oa (the Green Lantern Corps HQ planet) for a harsh training session led by fish-, troll-, and evil-magician-looking aliens. They show the first-ever human Lantern how his ring can create anything he imagines, which you have to admit is a pretty cool power. Reynolds has just the right mix of bravado, cockiness, and self-deprecation to portray Jordan as a conflicted, confused new recruit.
Meanwhile, back on earth, even more interesting stuff is going down. Dr. Hector Hammond (the always excellent Peter Sarsgaard) gets infected by something after performing an autopsy on Abin Sur, and slowly transforms into a grotesque Chucky/Sloth monster who can read minds and summon Parallax. And once Hal Jordan learns that Parallax is on its way to Earth, he suddenly begins embracing his new powers a little bit more enthusiastically.
I saw the film in 3D, and there was (once again) absolutely no need for it. It didn’t help the decent effects look any better (Parallax looked convincing as a Wizard of Oz head with smoky tentacles), and only highlighted the shoddier CGI work, like a shot of Jordan and ally Sinestro (Mark Strong) flying/teetering through the air as though they were hanging by wires in front of a green screen. And while I’m thankful that director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, Edge of Darkness) didn’t go overboard with battle scenes, as seems to be the case in almost every superhero flick (admit it, even the final fight in Iron Man was way too long), I do wish that a little more creativity was on display when any of the Lanterns used their rings. I also never felt any real urgency or threat that human civilization was doomed… it was like all of a sudden Jordan’s fighting Parallax on his home turf and people are running and screaming in the streets without any buildup. It seemed as though Jordan only snapped into action when he learned his crush Carol was in harm’s way.
On that note, like most comic-book adaptations, Green Lantern‘s female lead doesn’t serve much purpose other than to look pretty, wonder about/guess the new superhero’s real identity, and then give him a reason to try even harder to save the planet. The weakness of Lively’s Carol Ferris didn’t bother me per se, and I must give her credit for one of the film’s funniest moments, but if she’s supposed to be this tough fighter pilot/businesswoman, why couldn’t she have pitched in a little bit more against Hammond and Parallax instead of only being The One Who Needs To Be Saved? Either step up her role or get her out of the way! I would have much rather seen more of Sarsgaard as Dr. Hammond. He was by far the best character in the film, even topping Reynolds’ Jordan.
I’m glad my initial impressions of Green Lantern were wrong. It certainly doesn’t bring anything new to the superhero genre, but its cast is strong enough to overcome two hours of predictable plot points. I, for one, would love to see a spin-off focused on Dr. Hammond.
Green Lantern is now available at Redbox.
Or if you prefer your superheroes in animated form, check out Green Lantern: Emerald Knights!