By Richard von Busack
He was the artist of the Justice League of America, the one who could make his thoughts manifest into reality with the help of an emerald ring from beyond space. Thanks to CGI, the technology is now here to make it possible: no superhero movie would have been more difficult to make without digital animation.
Unfortunately, we have the technology but lack Green Lantern’s own kind of imagination. Ryan Reynold’s Hal Jordan, needing a spectral weapon, conjures up a green glowing machine gun.
Green Lantern’s director is Martin Campbell, who revivified such venerable action heroes as Zorro and James Bond. Campbell didn’t get where he is by making heroism stupid. The opening fifteen minutes of his The Mask of Zorro always induce unmanly sniveling in these parts. And Green Lantern’s payoff (a kind of galactic tug of war) is big and satisfying, punctuated with the kind of mano y mano that makes the ending at least look clearly conceived.
The introduction is a slog, with an echoing narrator pointing out what a lot of the fans will know already. The far away world of Oa is the home to the Guardians of the universe, big headed, blue and ancient; they look enough like multiple versions of the all-powerful Wizard of Oz that L. Frank Baum seems to get two name checks in this story instead of one. Sitting atop redwood-tall thrones, these ancients thrive on the force of the willpower of all sentient beings: a fountain of verdant light. They supervise the actions of the elite Green Lantern Corps, 36000 warriors assigned to patrol sectors of space. Their weapons are rings of great power, which must be replenished from lantern-shaped batteries.
There is an unloosed menace called Parallax —a Lovecraftian thing, a colossal space jellyfish with a bulbous, snaggletoothed head. Fighting it, our galaxy’s protector Abin Sur is mortally wounded and crash-lands on Earth. Temuera Morrison plays the dying Lantern; considering the heavy rubbery purple makeup he has on, Morrison plays an affecting death scene. Sensing that his life power is ebbing, Sur’s power ring sends out a beacon to find a new candidate.
While Hal Jordan’s powers are godlike, the way he got them was about as heroic as winning the lottery. Jordan is an arrogant test pilot who has lost his job for “cratering” his experimental plane, just to prove he can win a simulated dogfight.
Despite this gaff, he carries on an irresolute affair with Carrol Ferris, a fellow aeronaut and the heiress to the aerospace company he had worked for. She’s played by Blake Lively, unjustly promoted to the big screen from Gossip Girl.
Flown to Oa in a bubble of green light, Jordan gets into the familiar stuff of the cocky recruit cowed by his trainers: Michael Clarke Duncan voicing the massive apelike Killiwog, and Mark Strong as Sinestro.
Strong’s own look is essentially what would happen if you took a British Army sergeant major, dyed him puce and gave him six inches more forehead. Sinestro is a human-phobe, who feels Jordan is too fearful to make a good Lantern.
Meanwhile on Earth, an acquaintance of Jordan’s, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) has troubles of his own. He’s a senator’s son who teaches science at community college; he picks up an alien infection and goes rogue. He becomes psychic and telekinetic, and swells up to look like a cross between Philip Seymour Hoffman and a beluga whale.
Bearing in mind that Green Lantern isn’t an easy character to write for, the much rewritten script looks like committee work. The script combines the drawn-out origin story with the piggybacked villains most customary to sequels. The subject of the drama—fear, in a word—was executed with much more insight in Batman Begins. Jordan’s own personal trauma is retrofitted in with the clumsiest kind of flashbacks, when he’s at the controls of a stalled plane.
There are some pleasing innovations, such as the secret identity not being much use. (I guess Iron Man gave the filmmakers the strength to try this).
The scenes don’t always connect, though. In one, it seems that Hal has left Carol at a bar after a tender scene where they’ve just been dancing together. In another, it looks like our hero let a dangerous super-manic go back to his apartment to get some sleep, instead of taking him into custody.
And the arrival of Parallax on earth is depicted with a lot of feet on the ground but not much visual sweep. A swarming horror is coiled around a skyscrapers, vacuuming out skeletons—it seems foolproof. The crowd scene is staged in “Coast City” but it’s apparently was got in the most non-descript parts of downtown New Orleans; it’s not the typical LA downtown shot, but it looks like so much like it that might as well have been LA. So here’s another ill-looking shoot, courtesy of Louisiana’s tax incentives.
Green Lantern isn’t a disgrace; it’s just consistently underwhelming. One neither gets a sense of the technical stops being pulled out, nor of a dreamy fairy tale of ultimate power and responsibility. Sarsgaard knows where to take the villain role, and he couldn’t be more fun: he’s raving mad and big in the voice, and when he slaps Jordan down with the power of his mind, he’s a nightmare vision of a bad father.
It’s Reynolds who seems too mild for the part, and one wonders if someone a little more unaware (or uncaring) about his own troubled side could have made the redemption plot more dramatic.
Admittedly, Reynolds isn’t just an empty green suit. In the Abin Sur death scene, Jordan’s impulsiveness is admirable: he doesn’t just gawk at the sight of a crashed space ship, he leaps in to free the pilot.
And there is a good polite response by Jordan to the Senator (Tim Robbins) when the older man helps himself to the cliché about the difference between thinkers and doers. The conversational scene is oddly one of Jordan’s most heroic moments; it shows he has some intelligence under the bravado.
Uniformed in skintight green that pulses in 3D, with a glowing stylized lantern on his muscular chest, he’s aesthetically pleasing. And there are times when he’s gliding through the air that the excitement of old comic books comes to life.
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