Watching this film was a truly upsetting experience for me. Green Lantern was the only monthly comic I was into as a kid. I read the 90s run (1-50) in real time, and explored the Silver Age stuff as well (particularly the acclaimed 70s run with Green Arrow). Part of me gave up on the idea that a film would ever be made, thinking that the cost would be too prohibitive, but I’d always hoped it would one day happen. Thus, I’ve been waiting 20 years for this movie.
The result is disappointing to say the least.
For those who don’t know, Hal Jordan is a test pilot who happens to be chosen to join the Green Lantern Corps, a group of intergalactic peacekeepers that each have a power ring bestowed upon them by the Guardians, a group of immortal beings who seek to promote law and order in the universe. Green Lantern’s quite different to other superheroes we’ve seen on the big screen, and perhaps this is why the film is so problematic. First off, there are 3600 Green Lanterns at any one time (give or take) and initially Hal is the only human among them. Secondly, the power ring enables the user to create glowing green constructs with the power of their mind – it’s basically the most powerful weapon in the universe.
With such a powerful character, this of course meant that the really good GL stories were the ones that concerned the clash of ideas, rather than the clash of super-powers. Green Lantern Special 1 from the late 80s had Hal coming to blows with John Stewart, an African-American Green Lantern who took it upon himself to liberate scores of political prisoners in apartheid-era South Africa. The boundary between right and wrong was blurred, as John was breaking the law in an effort to do what was morally right, however some of these prisoners then went on a murder spree, killing white families in their homes. Fascinating stuff. Even the retconning of ‘Emerald Dawn’, the 90s origin story, introduced Hal Jordan as a drunk driver responsible for the death of his best friend. This was the kind of stuff that, for me, elevated Green Lantern above the rest of the DC stable
Martin Campbell’s take on Green Lantern, unfortunately, features none of this kind of intellectual elegance. What we have is a bright, loud, dumbed-down superhero flick that tonally spends a lot of time in Fantastic Four territory. Ryan Reynolds should have been a great choice for Hal Jordan – he has the right look and has a history of playing cocky, self-involved characters. In this film, however, he gives the flattest performance of his career, which is a shame.
The chemistry between he and Blake Lively (who plays Carol Ferris, Hal’s boss and lifelong best friend), however, is wonderful and one of the few things that works. The script may regularly let them down, but the scenes these two share together are perfect. The second most impressive part of the film comes in the form of Peter Sarsgaard, who plays xenobiologist Hector Hammond. Sarsgaard is brilliant in the role of the fumbling, antisocial mad scientist, and his scenes are a real treat. Geoffrey Rush and Mark Strong deliver their performances with conviction also, rising above their dialogue again and again.
Green Lantern reportedly had a budget of $200 million. Not that you’d notice. Some of it does look good – particularly the alien members of the Corps, which showcase some of the best creature facial animation I’ve seen in a while – but there are some visually dreadful moments. The decision to represent the GL uniform in CGI is a double-edged sword. It means we don’t have our hero looking awkward in spandex, which is nice, however during flying scenes it means we have a CGI body with Reynolds’ head floating on top, which really doesn’t work.
The film has some good action scenes (the training sequence being the standout), but the wildly shifting tone simply feels awkward. It’s a bright, shiny family film yet the fights can be pretty brutal. It’s not like Green Lantern needed a Batman-like grittiness, but rather a single, consistent vision – something that Campbell et al haven’t provided. The first act is all over the place, and feels like it has been re-jigged several times in post-production. The opening voiceover does that annoying thing of explaining something that will be explained later on, and feels like a last-minute addition. Then, the most significant event in Hal’s life is only glimpsed as flashbacks, when it should have opened the film and been given time to properly play out.
When all’s said and done, Green Lantern tries to do too much, but somehow manages to be lightweight at the same time. The film has a running time of two hours, yet felt like only 30 minutes of narrative. Not all films have to be as compressed as The Dark Knight, but this one should have gone into more depth with fewer events/characters. It needed to focus on Hector Hammond or Parallax, or even better, simply ditched Parallax altogether. The film tries to please everybody, with the actual result being it pleases no one. The Green Lantern: First Flight animation did a better job than this.
I went into Green Lantern with low expectations (partly because Australia had to wait A WHOLE TWO MONTHS longer to see it than the rest of the world) and yet I was still disappointed. There are glimmers of a good film buried somewhere amongst the dross. There are a dozen scenes that are good in isolation, and the casting is brilliant. The extravagant budget hasn’t been well spent, however, and the script is all kinds of shit. I am desperately hoping for a sequel or even a reboot of sorts (there are at least three other human characters to choose from, after all), because I know the GL universe has the potential to be better than this.Rating: