Film review by: Witney Seibold
Martin Campbell‘s “Green Lantern” is a pretty dumb film. It seems that as we work our way down the list of known comic book superheroes slated for film adaptation, we’re dipping ever deeper into the B- and C-list, giving big-budget Hollywood treatment to superheroes that may have a loyal and stalwart fan-base, but who are increasingly far-fetched. We can all understand Batman, as he’s a masked vigilante, getting revenge on all criminals for the death of his parents. We can all understand Spider-Man, as he’s just a nerdy kid who had bug powers accidentally gifted to him. It’s a little harder to get behind a concept as admittedly strange as The Green Lantern, who was given a magic ring by a space alien, and who was drafted into an intergalactic military, but is still named after, oddly enough, a green lantern.
This new film version bothers to explain, only in the most cursory fashion, just how the Green Lantern Corps works, but it’s still rather confusing. Evidently, the color green is the color of pure will. Pure will is the strongest source of energy in the universe. The Green Lantern Corps acts as the peacekeepers of the universe, and their magical rings allow them to temporarily create just about anything they can imagine. They imagine things like rocks and swords and guns and chainsaws. The rings also, somehow, select whom they want to be worn by, and there’s a lot of portentous readings of the line “The ring chose you!” The rings require batteries, in that they need to be charged up using a green rock that looks like a lantern… Y’know what? It’s all too convoluted.
But Martin Campbell’s film commits even more grievous cinematic sins, in that its not the least bit emotionally engaging, and, indeed, is even sloppily made. There are scenes where our hero, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is on a distant planet, learning how to use his new superpowers and taking lessons from the pink-skinned Sinestro (Mark Strong in a prosthetic forehead), and in the next is sauntering through his apartment door, dropping his keys as if nothing had happened. There are no transitions from one scene to the next, making for some jarring jump cuts. Later in the film, during a climactic battle between the Green Lantern and a psychic rival named Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), a colossal negative space wedgie named Parallax breaks in through the windows of the warehouse where the battle was taking place. We knew that this Parallax was coming to Earth, but we didn’t learn until that moment that this gigantic cloud of evil, about the size of a major city, had made its way through the atmosphere, and had collected around that particular warehouse. Again: jarring. There’s another scene where Hal leaves one locale during the day, and is instantly transported across town where it is suddenly night. This is such an elementary mistake, I’m surprised to see it in a big-budget Hollywood action film.
The story for those who aren’t familiar with Green Lantern lore: Hal Jordan is a test pilot for the military. He flies with his one-time lover Carol Ferris (Blake Lively, woefully miscast as a jet pilot, who only looks comfortable during the scenes where she has to wear a nice dress at a fancy ball), and works for the usual set of glad-handing suits, represented by Tim Robbins. These scenes are a bit bland, but only serve as prologue to the superhero mayhem. While Hal is flying planes and getting into trouble, a la “Top Gun,” an alien crash lands on Earth with a magic ring looking for a new owner. The ring selects Hal to be a member of the Green Lantern Corps, and Hal is transported through a wormhole to the other side of the universe where he meets a collection of alien begins, all of whom have their own magic rings, and who have sworn to stop evil. There’s an evil yellow, soul-swallowing cloud working its way to Earth, as it wants revenge on the ring that sent it to prison. The rings select people based on their courage. The Green Lantern Corps are rules by a group of big-headed purple elders who seem to offer no practical advice.
Hal is shown around by a mugwump-looking creature named Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush), and is trained, ever so briefly, by Sinestro. With a name like that, he sounds like he, perhaps, ought to be watched closely. It turns out that Sinestro is a villain in the comics. Fitting. The scenes on the distant planets and the scenes on Earth are so tonally different, and the transitions so jarring that they feel like they come from two different movies altogether. I wish more filmmakers would spend less time designing the look of their distant CGI-constructed planets, and more time constructing their tone and pace and sense of place. I had a similar complaint about Asgard in the recent “Thor.” I didn’t really ever feel like we were in a real place. Computers let us construct images and places, but not tones or environments. That takes a level of artistry.
Oh yes, Peter Sarsgaard plays a nebbishy xenobiologist named Hector who has been drafted by the CIA to do an autopsy on the corpse of the crashed alien. While poking through the alien’s wounds, he becomes infected by an alien virus of some kind that makes him slowly mutate, and gives him psychic powers. Sarsgaard is such a good actor, and seemed to feel so aware of his place in this silly superhero movie that he came across as the most sympathetic and believable. It’s sad when your best character is the “B” villain.
When Carol learns that Hal has green superpowers and can fly and create things out of thin air, she only looks at him in a disappointed fashion. Well, fine. You have the most extraordinary abilities any human has ever had. But do you ever call? What does a glowing space marine have to do to please you? Although I did like that his little green Robin-sized face mask does literally nothing to hide his identity. The film at least acknowledges that a little mask won’t do much.
I suppose kids might like “Green Lantern,” but anyone over the age of 10 will be disappointed, unmoved and confused. In recent years we’ve seen some pretty serious superhero treatment given to Batman, Spider-Man and Iron Man. The Green Lantern is given a CGI suit (the suit was animated onto the actor, giving his body a weird disconnect from his head), the most advanced movie animation, the biggest of budgets, and the most portentous of line readings from some talented actors, but it’s still not serious, emotionally realistic, or even respectful to the admittedly strange source material.
I have predicted in the past that the superhero trend is already on the wane, and big-budget superhero films will cease being made relatively soon. The pull-out of major film studios from the yearly Comic Con in San Diego is one sign. If my prediction that “The Avengers” will tank come true, that will be another. This “Green Lantern” film is definitely a sure sign. If this is all we’re going to get from here on out, then perhaps we should be glad.