(by Dustin Putman
The umpteenth comic book to be made into a splashy summer popcorn extravaganza (this one hailing from DC Comics), "Green Lantern" returns audiences yet again to Origin Story Central, where the fine details might be different but the plot trajectory is very much the same. One has to wonder if all these superhero tales were created by way of "Mad Libs." Nevertheless, as tiresome as the genre is fast becoming the key to any formula-driven genre is in how well it's pulled off. In concept, "Green Lantern" must have shown promise. Director Martin Campbell (2010's "Edge of Darkness") is no slouch, proving well-equipped to shoot action as he regenerated the dying 007 franchise with 2006's "Casino Royale," Alas, he has done away here with that picture's sultry grittiness and propensity for practical stunts and effects, going the overblown, undercooked, CGI-crazy route instead. When your live-action film is so processed that it starts to look entirely animated half the time—not even simple dialogue scenes in supposed real-world settings look authentic, the actors plastered in front of green screen—it should be a wake-up call to reel things in. As is, the results are supremely off-putting, a bunch of phoney-looking technological razzmatazz relied upon to shield what a wreck the human story is. Article continues below
In a near-infinite universe made up of 3,600 sectors, the most ancient of all is planet Oa, where the Green Lantern Corps. has made it their mission of fighting the evil and destruction threatening the galaxy. There are no accidents in who becomes the latest guardian of their massively powerful, peace-seeking organization, and, as it turns out, hot-shot Air Force test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is destined to be their first Earthling ambassador. When an alien by the name of Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) is wounded and crashes onto our native planet, it is Hal who finds him and is gifted, via a mystical ring and a lantern, with all of his super powers. Hal, still haunted by the death of his father when he was a child, has the will to become a great warrior, but first must release the hang-ups and fears inside himself. He'd better work through his personal issues quick, too. As a demonic entity called Parallax (voiced by Clancy Brown) moves closer to Earth, dead-set on devouring the world, a human adversary is born out of eccentric scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard). Called in by the government to research the corpse of Abin Sur, he is promptly contaminated, morphing into a deformed, telepathic lunatic with designs on bringing down not only his controlling father, Senator Hammond (Tim Robbins), but Hal as well.
"Green Lantern" was written by Michael Goldenberg (2007's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix") and a trio of prolific television scribes (Greg Berlanti, Michael Green and Marc Guggenheim) happy to branch out from their small-screen beginnings. As far as feature films go, however, this is not an auspicious start. The picture is full of severed story threads and barely-formed characters, due to either an editorial hack job or a screenplay that was not ready to be put into production when it was. A brother (Mike Doyle) and kid nephew (Dylan James) to Hal are set up in the first act, only to never be seen or heard from again. Dr. Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett), reportedly a pivotal character in the comic series, seems to be in a different movie altogether, then also gets abruptly written out with no warning or closure. There is a fleeting suggestion that Hector shares a past with Hal and Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), fellow pilot and resident love interest, but it's neither developed nor given context. Without this connection, the emotional stakes for all involved drop precipitously. Topping off the mess that is the writing, a coda popping up in the middle of the end credits suggesting who the bad guy might be if a sequel is ever made is patently asinine, making no logical sense with what has just been watched for the last 110 minutes.
As Hal Jordan, Ryan Reynolds (2010's "Buried") does about as well as can be expected, but is never able to find the dramatic core to his character. Throughout, Hal is struggling to make peace with the tragic memories still plaguing his adulthood, but he doesn't really come into his own as a fleshed-out individual. He's a flimsy, threadbare construct of what the writers think a superhero should be (a womanizer, a daredevil, a nice guy at heart) without the genuine interest in bothering to get to know him. As he sits around brooding and trying to figure out his next step in the second act, it brings the narrative to a crushing halt. Inert to the point of physical discomfort, the middle forty-five minutes are a dirge of wasted time meandering on the sidelines when it should be gathering momentum. As longtime friend (and maybe more) Carol Ferris, Blake Lively (2010's "The Town") wavers between being on-pitch and looking like a deer caught in the headlights as she struggles to find meaning in her thankless role. There are a few passable moments of chemistry between Hal and Carol, but why most of them take place in tranquil outdoor locations during the dawn and dusk hours is left unanswered. Inappropriately resembling Rocky Dennis from 1985's "Mask," Peter Sarsgaard (2009's "Orphan") is delicious early on as an offbeat recluse and then goes bat-shit insane as he gets sucked to the dark side. His motivations remain murky, but Sarsgaard at least makes the most of a limited part. Angela Bassett (2011's "Jumping the Broom") and Tim Robbins (2008's "City of Ember) are a different story; even if they tried, that wouldn't change the fact that their characters are criminally underutilized and go nowhere.
Lifeless, joyless, and a whole lot less than meets the eye, "Green Lantern" is dormant for so long that the climax might just have the power to startle. The purple-skinned aliens from Oa look like villainous "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers" rejects, but the otherworldly Parallax, an intimidating ectoplasmic cloud monster, is downright inspired. Its attempted takeover during the finale brings a certain amount of spectacle to an otherwise unspectacular enterprise. Also worth noting is the self-referential fun the film has when Carol identifies a partially-masked Hal right off the bat. "I've known you my whole life," says Carol. "You think I wouldn't recognize you just because I can't see your cheekbones?" As far as superheroes go, Hal Jordan does have some neat abilities (he can make materialize any object that comes into his mind). What he can't do, sadly, is fix what has already been ruined. His being never adequately explored as he goes through the threadbare motions of little by little accepting his newfound responsibilities, Hal, like "Green Lantern," is but a cipher in search of a soul.