Review: ‘Green Lantern’

There are two kinds of people I pity this weekend: the people who are already Green Lantern fans and the people who aren’t. People who love the comics are going to be mighty disappointed by this movie’s mish-mash of disparate plot points, clunky action sequences and rushed storytelling. People who wouldn’t know a Green Lantern from a beige flashlight probably won’t know what the Sam Hell is going on. Despite an excellent director and a surprisingly strong cast, Green Lantern is a mess of a comic book adaptation, failing to introduce the admittedly pretty weird concept in a cogent way or even tell a compelling story within that shoddily crafted world.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Green Lantern is a 50-year-old comic book series that for most of its run has told the story of Hal Jordan, a human being drafted into ‘The Green Lantern Corps,’ a.k.a. Space Cops. They use rings that channel the force of the user’s will into energy constructs. Every aspect of the emotional spectrum has a parallel in the color spectrum. Constructs made of will, like those used by the Green Lanterns, come out green. Constructs made of fear, like those used by Green Lantern’s villain Parallax, come out yellow. There’s more to it, but we could go on for pages so let’s get a move on.

Frankly, the whole thing is pretty silly. I’m a fan of the comics and evenI’m forced to admit that it’s pretty silly. But in the right hands it works. Apparently the right hands were busy the day they made the movie version, because all of the inherent conceits of the character feel arbitrary and bizarre now. Important myth-building elements like traveling to outer space, training to be a Green Lantern, establishing the villains, interacting with other galactic guardians and so on are rushed to the point of near-incoherence, leaving Green Lantern feeling unfocused. Pretty ironic for a movie about willpower.

Ryan Reynolds plays Hal Jordan, a cocky, immature test pilot who is selected to join the Green Lantern Corps. after the previous protector of Sector 2814 (which includes Earth and God knows how many other planets) is killed by the villainous Parallax. Hal’s then thrown into a galactic war but waffles repeatedly because he doubts his fearlessness (fearlessness being the main criteria for selection). Reynolds is perfectly fine in the role, since we truly believe that he’s cocky and immature. Blake Lively is less convincing as a fellow test pilot/business woman, but compared to Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist in The World is Not Enough she’s practically well cast.

Actually, the cast doesn’t really let Green Lantern down. Mark Strong is an excellent Sinestro… a heroic Green Lantern whose name gives away future sequel plans. His is a commanding presence and the birdlike way he gestures with his neck makes excellent use of facial prosthetics that could have undermined a lesser actor’s performance. Peter Sarsgaard threatens to steal the film with his beautifully put-upon villain Hector Hammond, a scientist who gains psychic powers after coming into contact with Parallax. As the film bluntly states, Hammond is the polar opposite of Jordan: a thinker as opposed to a doer. He’s jealous and depressed and sports a head of hair than only Johnny Depp in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas would be jealous of. It’s wonderful to see a actor in an over-the-top fantasy film playing an evil version of Eeyore, but his screen time is intercut with interstellar goings on that aren’t nearly as compelling, even though by all rights they should have been more so.

Yes, the cast isn’t the problem with Green Lantern. The problem is that the film tries to introduce every single element of a sweeping, decades-long narrative into the first film of a proposed franchise. There’s hardly any opportunity to breath, and not in a fun rollercoaster way… more like in a “forced to solve deathtraps by Jigsaw” way. And nothing gets the time it needs to feel believable or important. Hal’s Green Lantern training is five minutes long. His screen time with the other Green Lanterns aren’t much longer. The bizarre history of the DC Universe is glossed over so quickly that it never feels so much like a myth as it feels like Wikipedia plot summary of an MMORPG. But it still takes up enough screen time to distract from the more human elements of the story, like the tragedy of Hector Hammond and the relationships between Hal and his family and friends.

Green Lantern doesn’t tell a story. It gives you the gist of it. What’s more, it changes just enough elements of the original story that worked that it makes you lose interest in learning more. It flies along at quick enough pace to keep you distracted for a couple hours but it doesn’t do its job. This is not the start of a great new blockbuster franchise. It may have already put an end to it.