Green Lantern makes a fatal mistake (well okay, it makes more than one, but this is a big ‘un) by assuming that it only needs to produce what the fanboys want. It delivers some cool little touches from the Hal Jordan mythology– the energy constructs from his ring, for example, or the appearance of Kilowog, who Michael Clarke Duncan knocks out of the park – then assumes that its job is done and slaps together a motley collection of half-backed clichés to hold it together. Sure, comic lovers will thrill when Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) recites the Lantern oath for the first time, but I bet they’d be a lot happier if he had something interesting to do afterwards.
No such luck. After receiving his signature power ring from dying alien Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), Jordan bounces haphazardly between Lantern HQ on the planet Oa and Earth, where a brewing threat from the sinister Parallax threatens to destroy them both. One might wonder why Parallax – who looks like a giant set of space dreadlocks with the face of Oz the Great and Terrible – serves as the chief bad guy, when arch-nemesis Sinestro (Mark Strong) plays a key role here as a still-good fellow Lantern. Apparently, we need to wait for the sequel for that, a fatal case of overreaching that sidelines one of the film’s biggest assets in favor of overblown CGI. Parallax is more special effect run amuck than actual villain. Strong’s terrific turn as Sinestro – Right there, people! Right there mocking us! – only pours salt in that wound.
So too does Peter Sarsgaard, playing meek scientist Hector Hammond transformed by Parallax into a psychic powerhouse. Green Lantern gives him clichéd daddy issues with his Senator father (Tim Robbins) and a botched background with Jordan, but Sarsgaard rapidly overcomes those shortcomings with his loopy intensity. Pity he basically serves as Parallax’s lapdog: another great component that Green Lantern all but squanders.
Reynolds himself lifts the film higher than it should go as well. On the script page, Jordan is flat, milquetoast and a little whiney – going on and on about how he doesn’t deserve the honor of the ring. But Reynolds’ easy quips and smoldering presence rescue us from terminal boredom and provide a reliable rooting interest. I wish I could say the same for Blake Lively, playing love interest Carol Ferris. Unfortunately, she fails to register any kind of presence, and the already rocky narrative grinds to a halt whenever she appears onscreen.
Speaking of the narrative… yeah, it’s pretty much a hash. Director Martin Campbell takes on so much here that he hardly knows where to start. We begin with a brief synopsis of the Corps in general, followed by a breakdown of Parallax’s threat and the death of Abin Sur. Then it’s on to an extended pretend dogfight with Jordan to establish yet another passel of daddy issues; a segue to his nephew’s birthday for reasons that have nothing to do with the story and everything to do with setting up a future construct shot; out to Abin Sur’s ship for the ring delivery; back home to figure out the lamp; an interruption from Ferris right when we’re getting to the good stuff for a drink and reiteration of key plot points; and then finally to Oa for training and more complications. By then, the film is nearly forty minutes in and nothing of interest has taken place: so concerned with rushing to and fro that it misses the purpose of the exercise.
The real culprit here – as evinced by the brazen franchise greed and the need to follow the blockbuster playbook page by page – is viewing the character as a cash cow rather than anyone people would want to pay to see. Chris Nolan’s Batman films (and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Bryan Singer’s various X-Men dabblings) work because their creators commit to the onscreen figures before worrying about the cereal tie-ins. Green Lantern lacks the widespread recognition of those other superheroes, and needs the same commitment if they expect him to thrive. Rival Marvel Studios knows how to elevate the less-culturally entrenched members of its canon to grade-A status (witness the success of Thor and Iron Man). In this test, at least, DC utterly fails to match their example, producing a depressingly routine adventure that neither excites, enthralls, nor holds our interest. You need more than a ring guys: you need a man. He’s nowhere to be found here, buried beneath an indifferent production that never understands its real priorities.