As kids we all had our favorite comic books. Typically there were two distinct camps; Marvel and DC. Personally, I preferred the Marvel superheroes mostly because they were more relatable, more human. The top notch DC heroes included superman and Batman which has provided fodder for films and television for years. Now, thanks to the fantastic advances in computer generated special effects some of the more popular second tier heroes are getting their time to shine. One of the ones getting the big budget action flick treatment is ‘Green Lantern’. There was a certain special appeal to this character. He had a glamorous job, a test pilot, just like the real day superheroes, the Astronauts, but otherwise he was a normal enough guy. He wasn’t a ‘strange visitor from another star’ like Superman or endowed with unlimited financial resources like Bruce Wayne. Hal Jordan just happen to be in the right place at the right time when he was given the Ring of Power, the ring brought into reality anything he could imagine and his force of will could sustain. For a kid in Brooklyn on a lazy summer afternoon this was the perfect fuel for daydreams. Slipping on this little green ring could make anyone into an all powerful super being of mythological proportions. As a big aficionado of mythology this was perfect for my entertainment. After all most cultures contain tales of a special gift from the gods that elevated the mortal recipient unimaginable power; Green Lantern’ fit this motif to a tee. When I heard that this emerald hero was to be the next in line for a cinematic treatment I was naturally excited. Unfortunately, my expectations were not met and the film fell short of its potential. This is a prime example of the sizzle completely overwhelming the steak. The film worked well enough as a popcorn action flick but it could have been so much more. A significant part of why this movie was perceived as a failure is the incredible job some of the recent Marvel Comic films have provided. Movies such as "Iron Man’ and ‘Spider-Man 2’ were not only the top examples of a comic book derived film they were able to stand on their own as examples of truly great cinema. Films like that possessed qualities missing in ‘Green Lantern’; emotional depth, pathos and solid character development. With "Green Lantern’ the filmmaker played things too tongue in check, too lighthearted to work on the current accepted level of expectations for comic films.
The film begins with a touch of exposition briefly covering the origins of the Green Lantern Corp, the protectors of the universe. Thousands of entities each wielding the green ring of will protect their assigned sector under the watchful guidance of the immortal race of Oa. Their planet charges the lanterns that in turn recharge the rings. These rings enable the Green Lantern to manifest constructs, objects derived by their imagination and made real through their force of will. When one Lantern, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), is mortally wounded in a battle with an all powerful ancient enemy, Parallax (voiced by Clancy Brown) he removes his ring sending it off to locate his replacement. The ring soars off to find test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds). The comics had numerous wearers of the ring but Jordan is the one from the Silver age that people my age best remember. He is spirited off by the ring to Oa to receive his training, the field commander of the corps, Sinestro (Mark Strong),is displeased with the first human inductee, the race is far too immature but the ring never makes the wrong choice. Meanwhile back on earth Parallax has infected a scientist, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), giving him a swelled head, literally, with mental powers and a decidedly evil streak to help Parallax break free and conquer Oa. Hal has to prove himself to the other Lanterns, his girlfriend, fellow test pilot Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) and save the earth from Hammond and Oa from Parallax.
An early incarnation of this film was to be scripted by Robert Smigel and starring Jack Black as Jordan. That would have completely destroyed the concept. As it turned out the screenplay by Greg Berlanti and Michael Green was just too superficial to work well. They both have extensive experience in Tween oriented television but in this case it didn’t translate properly to this project. It is not unusual for an origin story to fall short considering much of it has to contend with establishing character background and the specific rules of the universe necessary to frame the story. Here Reynolds brings his comical carefree personae to the plate that had some potential but it wasn’t properly explored. The story touched upon being a redemption story with the Peter Pan syndrome afflicted Jordan finding the way and means to finally grow up and persist in order to accomplish larger than himself. There was not sufficient time afforded to this thread to completely establish this trope within the context of the story.
The director Martin Campbell is known in the action flick genre for a few of the recent James Bond movies. Most of those films have plots that serve as scaffolds to hang the action sequences regardless of any deeper story. This approach had been acceptable for comic book movies until recent examples have proven the fans of these films now demand much more emotional integrity from this class of movie. Some of the more comical elements would have been better swapped for scenes that expounded on the crisis of self doubt felt by Jordan. Although Reynolds is excellent in the naughty boy who never matured he needs to work on portraying a greater sense of turmoil in his characters. In this incarnation of Green Lantern Jordan is riddled with angst and fear; the opposite of what it takes to stand as part of the Green Lantern Corps. This is not helped by the CGI physic given to Hal when the ring is activated. The unnatural an impossibly ‘V’ shaped form takes you out of the moment and comes across as ridiculous. The mask is another unnecessary affectation. At least Carol, a lifelong friend calls him out on it that hiding his cheek bones doesn’t disguise who he is. Grab some popcorn and have some fun, just don’t expect too much.