The challenge of making a “Green Lantern” film was always going to be bringing it down to Earth. Not necessarily in a planetary sense, but sifting through and boiling down all the intergalactic mythology. Everything from the planet Oa to bird-fish aliens named Tomar-Re to a far-fetched concept of harnessing “will” to defend the universe had to be accounted for. Blending all that into something your typical non-geek audience could stomach had to prove no simple task. The resulting puree is surprisingly digestible but ultimately too bland for most tastes.
“Green Lantern” is hardly the disaster some have made it out to be, but it does rely heavily on its viewer having an innate interest in the subject and lore at hand. Not unlike Green Lantern’s power — the ability to convert what’s in the mind into matter — the audience’s imagination becomes critical to unlocking the potential of the story. Director Martin Campbell (“Casino Royale”) and the creative team have put serious effort into envisioning the sci-fi elements of the film, but they aren’t likely to spark anyone but a child’s imagination.
The approach taken to the film could be described as “paint by numbers” in the sense that the film says and does what it needs to in order to make sense, move along and express the themes of overcoming fear, but the result feels uninspired. “Green Lantern” lacks an “it” factor, something to make the story and characters take root and bring the audience on an emotional journey alongside the intergalactic one.
“Green Lantern” tells the story of how human Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a cocky fighter pilot, gets chosen to become part of the Green Lantern Corps, a group of several thousand peacekeepers and defenders of the universe who harness the power of will to conquer evil. This happens when Abin Sur, a “dying purple alien” as Hal calls him, crash lands on Earth after escaping the clutches of Parallax, a fear-feeding destroyer of worlds in the form of a billowing spirit. Abin Sur’s ring chooses Hal, who must learn to embrace his destiny as a Green Lantern despite concerns that he might not be as fearless as he leads on.
All that doesn’t include Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), an old flame of Hal’s who is emerging as the heir to her father’s military jet industry and Dr. Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a scientist living in his father’s (Tim Robbins) shadow who becomes infected with part of Parallax while examining the body of Abin Sur.
One might say that’s sub-plot overload and they would be right, but the film actually paces itself effectively, stays interesting and doesn’t fail any of its characters entirely with bad writing or dialogue. The consequences instead show in the film’s inability to hook its audience emotionally. We care about Hal, but Reynolds hardly gets any time to truly develop the dimensions of his character because the plot keeps chugging along and bouncing around. His hero’s journey never becomes fully realized. It’s as if the characters never have time to just be themselves. Although the 105-minute run time seems impressively short at first glance, an extra 15 minutes of character development wouldn’t have offended anyone and possibly done wonders. It’s not as if the cast is unimpressive — they do well with what they have to work with.
Humor also lacks in the film; unexpected for anything starring Reynolds. There are moments when he gets to do his thing, but they come more in ad-lib form than being creatively written into the story. A chief difference between “Green Lantern” and this summer’s “Thor,” two other-worldly superhero stories, would have to be the degree of self-seriousness. “Thor” had a surprising amount of levity to counter its overbearing mythology, which “Lantern” doesn’t have. Yet another difference between what Marvel has done with its properties compared to DC.
Much like Hal’s downfall during his training on Oa with Kilowog and Sinestro (the criminally underused character played by Mark Strong), the film’s limit in imagination caps off its potential. All the entertainment value in the world, which “Green Lantern” has in spades, simply can’t counter its inability to inspire. You can follow the film with ease, enjoy the unique action sequences without rolling your eyes and genuinely like the characters, but there’s no denying something’s missing from the finished product to elevate it to level of many of its superhero film contemporaries.
Directed by Martin Campbell
Written by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong