The venerable DC Comics has two big names in its catalogue - the extraterrestrial Superman and earthbound Batman - both of which have yielded profits in various media for the past seven decades. Though of a similar vintage, The Green Lantern has flickered on and off over the decades, with a half-dozen different human protagonists playing the space-cop character, and until now has remained on DC's second shelf with Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman.
One consequence is that the new Warner Brothers. movie groans with the strain of explaining who Green Lantern is, while also trying to sell the movie as a big, eye-popping summer entertainment. What gets sacrificed on the altar of this new franchise launch is any real sense of fun.
In an overcalculated effort to cover all the bases, the movie is tonally all over the place. Spectacular and pompous, grim and glib, and disconcertingly choppy, it grabs bits from Star Wars, The Mask, Top Gun and Superman, in a sort of superhero chop suey. Four writers are credited to the screenplay, which unfolds as if the scenes were worked on in isolation chambers - cutesy romantic followed by high-tech gibberish, followed by cosmic mythological mumbo jumbo.
In the needlessly elaborate voice-over introduction, we learn that the "Green Lantern Corps" is a federation of space cops who have divided up the universe in 3,600 sections to patrol. They are overseen by the guardians, who energize the universe with the force of Will. Then, an enemy emerges called Parallax, who uses the force of Fear, which is defined as the opposite of Will. (Colour-coding keeps things clear: Will is green and Fear is yellow.) When one of the top Green Lantern Corps soldiers was fatally wounded by Parallax, he transferred his power - along with an accompanying magic ring and its power charger, a green lantern - to a new Lantern, human test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds).
A separate snazzier introduction takes us out of legend mode into regular life on earth, where Hal is introduced as a smart-alecky, womanizing, reckless test pilot. Though apparently fearless, Hal is haunted by a childhood flashback in which he saw his own pilot dad go up in flames on the tarmac. One evening, Hal gets snatched up in a ball of green light and is transported to an distant space training centre. There, he gets advice from the fish-faced alien Tomar-re (Geoffrey Rush), gets knocked about by the military trainer Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan) and sneered at by the Lantern commander, Sinestro (Mark Strong). Hal decides that as a vulnerable human, he may not be cut out for this line of work.
Unless, of course, a threat to humanity and the love of a good woman can cause him to man up, as Hal realizes he, along with the guardians of the universe, have been suffering from a linguistic misunderstanding; What is needed isn't "fearlessness," but "courage." Ho-hum.
As the cocky pilot, Reynolds is in his familiar element in early scenes but as the film moves into its second hour, the lack of connection between Hal, the wise guy, and Hal, the wide-eyed sincere mask-wearing humanity-saving hero, feels incoherent. The character doesn't evolve, he diverges down two parallel paths.
The ultimate showdown sees Hal facing the evil monster Parallax who goes on a Godzilla-style city-stomping visit to earth. Moderately more compelling are the two other bad guys of the piece, with Strong, buried under beet-red makeup as the ambiguously-motivated Sinestro.
Best is Peter Sarsgaard as scientist Hector Hammond, who is inadvertently exposed to Parallax's poison, which causes Hector's head to swell with growths and his eyes to turn yellow as releases his pent-up rage at a lifetime of geekdom. Though comic book stories can no longer be described as appealing solely to adolescent sensibilities, clichés die hard: Why is a bad skin condition still the surest indication that a character wants to wreak vengeance on humanity?
- Directed by Martin Campbell
- Written by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg
- Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively and Peter Sarsgaard
- Classification: 14A