Green Lantern

Director: Martin Campbell
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Mark Strong, Peter Sarsgaard, Blake Lively, Angela Bassett
Review: 2 stars (of five)

Green Lantern, the only DC Comics/Warner entry into this summer’s crowded superhero sweepstakes, is a disappointment. Lots of expository dialogue makes sure you know that the important, confusing plot points are important (and confusing), but no amount of space-alien babble is going to make you care about any of these characters.

The film opens with voiceover narration explaining the complicated concepts behind the Green Lantern Corps, cosmic space cops empowered by immortal jerks with green rings that “harness the power of will.” There’s more, but I won’t bore you with it—that’s what the film is for. Throughout the film, we are taught more of this cosmological nonsense, all of which is so far removed from anything real that it’s hard to care.

The one thing the film does deliver is special effects. There are lots of them. They are flashy, but they’re not exactly convincing. When you see a gloomy, miserable alien homeworld for the Green Lantern Corps, you’re aware that it’s all just a computer mockup, and you marvel at neither how not-quite-real it is, nor at the limited and uninteresting vision of the artists who designed it. Thus, it’s like watching someone else play a video game—although the guy sitting next to me in the theater commented that the story in the video game is better. Which should tell you something. (Someone else, commenting on the dreary design of homeworld Oa, said, “Why would anyone want to be part of that?” Good question.)

This script went through a lot of writers, and where that process made the first Fantastic Four an obvious Frankenstein hybrid of several different takes on the characters, the multiple handoffs with the Green Lantern script seem to have had a refining effect, carefully smoothing out anything that could be mistaken for character, realism or emotional stakes. People move through the film and do what the script tells them, with moments that signify emotion, transition or character growth without actually, organically, feeling like that at all.

Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) spends the film’s opening proving that he is not only irresponsible and arrogant, but an asshole. To prove himself during a test of some super-slick planes devised by his employer, he breaks the rules of the test and destroys his own plane (those things cost millions, you know) and appears to cost his company a government contract, triggering immediate layoffs and threatening the entire economy of his home city. “I thought the point of the test was to win,” he tells his boss’ daughter and his own inexplicable love interest, Carol (Blake Lively). Seriously, can anyone be that stupid and self-absorbed? Also, he choked in a tailspin out of fear (provided by a hamfisted flashback to his own father’s death). So what happens in the next scene? A dying Green Lantern says Hal has been chosen because he’s fearless and heroic. Apparently the purple alien hasn’t been watching the same movie.

Hal gets the crap kicked out of him by sneering aliens in a training scene. The aliens tell him he should quit because he doesn’t have what it takes. So he quits. Later, someone else tells him he should un-quit, because he does have what it takes. So he decides he hasn’t quit, after all. And that, my friends, is writing. I’m emotionally invested in Hal Jordan because I’ve just gotta know what someone’s going to tell him to do and feel next!

Blake Lively is given a slightly better character than might be expected in a “superhero’s love interest” capacity. She’s angry, sensible, brave, and sweet Jesus can she wear a dress. Mark Strong makes a fine Sinestro. Sinestro, the red-skinned GL with too much forehead, is the comic-book Hal Jordan’s greatest, most fearsome foe. But not in this movie. I guess GL’s best villain will have to wait for the sequel. This time we get cosmic entity “Parallax,” a giant, um … space cancer of fear, basically, that is so comical (a screaming head zipping through space!) it’s hard to take it seriously. Especially when to consider it at all means wading through all the exposition. Never mind figuring out why jerky rookie Hal beats it alone, when whole squads of experienced GLs can’t. The movie has no exposition for that; it’s just what the script needs to have happen.

Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, GoldenEye, and both The Mask of and The Legend of Zorro) does a decent enough job of keeping the movie moving, I guess, and god knows that as a lifelong Green Lantern fan (who could therefore follow the stupid and confusing plot perfectly well, actually) I wanted to be impressed. I found moments to enjoy, but I was aware that all along they were moments strung into a heartless, lifeless story about characters I don’t ever need to see again. So imagine how it’ll look to people who haven’t actually known all these characters since early childhood.