What made the character of Green Lantern so interesting to fans like myself when we were growing up? Was it his ring which could materialize anything he could imagine (albeit made of emerald green)? Was it the heroic destiny bequeathed to him by his dying alien predecessor? Was it his membership in an intergalactic police force? Or was it the fact that he was a cocky womanizing dude with a nerdy sidekick and an office romance fraught with short-fused sexual tension? Despite the efforts of Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern, and all kinds of spacey special-effects, this movie is still trying too hard to squeeze into the formula of the super-hero origin film — a plan that hasn’t exactly served other movies so well. This has been a super-hero movie summer so far and as I watched Green Lantern I was reminded a lot of Thor (Marvel Entertainment’s introduction of another of its tent-pole heroes to the big screen last month). While trying to tell a spruced-up version of the hero’s origin, the formula requires that there be an expedited romance with a love interest played by a prominent or up-and-coming actress. (In this movie, it’s fellow pilot Carol Ferris, played by Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively.) There has to be some kind of family trauma/drama or personal issue to “humanize” the hero. (Hal struggles with the memory of his father’s tragic death during a test-flight.) Finally, there has to be an incident that knocks the hero down, so he can be redeemed by a heavy-handed emotional awakening accompanied by a swelling musical score. (You’ll have to watch the movie to know what that’s about.)
As I said, Reynolds does his best given the conditions that he’s put in. He’s clearly been to the gym in order to live up to his digitally painted-on costume (no more spandex in this day and age). Unfortunately, since this character was written so squarely in Reynolds’s smart-alecky wheelhouse, it was difficult to see him as the character, Hal Jordan. He just came across as Ryan Reynolds himself, dressed in green and flying around space. The romance with Blake Lively’s Carol Ferris was such a waste of effort that I really wish they hadn’t bothered. However, there were actually so many scenes between them that it took time away from the larger plot (I guess Everwood and Brothers and Sisters producer Greg Berlanti just felt more at home including those kinds of soapy scenes even as screenwriter for this movie.)
For those of you expecting anti-Green Lantern Sinestro to be the villain of the piece, I’ll warn you that he’s not. Instead we have an oddly-cast Peter Sarsgaard as the scientist Hector Hammond, who might have been an OK villain if his transformation into a literally big-brained psycho wasn’t so repulsive (and wouldn’t you know it, he’s got a thing for Carol too. Cliche much?) I really wish they had spent more time on the space-based story. Like the movie Thor, splitting time between the grand, extra-terrestrial plot, and the trivial earthbound love story meant that neither got their fair shakes.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t all bad. There were a number of fun, good-looking scenes, including Jordan’s training as a Lantern newbie with Kilowog (a gigantic bruiser of an alien, given the equally muscular voice of Michael Clarke Duncan). One of the things that is always fun to watch with Green Lantern’s ring battles is seeing the kinds of constructs the combatants come up with (though Jordan’s machine gun was a little yawn-worthy). My brain always tries to stay one step ahead of the characters. Also, as a minor visual note, I liked how the Guardians of the Galaxy were depicted in this movie in comparison to the comic books. On paper, they always just appeared as short blue men with equally short red robes. In the movie, they were still short and blue, but they floated around in robes that were extremely long — like very dramatic Snuggies. I thought that made them much cooler and less cutesy.
While it’s difficult to be too hard on a super-hero movie for just doing what so many of the others have done (successfully), it’s always a bit disappointing to see beloved comic book characters and stories (which weren’t super-deep to begin with) get watered down by Hollywood formula. Hopefully things will improve in the sequel. (The post-credits epilogue scene was a tailor-made setup for one.) (3.5 out of 5)