Director Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern exists in a time when rainbow bridges aren’t laughed at and secret agent mutants enhance the drama, which is why the newest entry in DC Comics’ long lineage of films feels like a regression. The talent amassed for this origin story can understandably excite onlookers, but the end result won’t make many want to come back for more. A disjointed plot that may alienate audience members instead of pull them in is a bad start to Warner Brothers franchise kick-starter hopeful. The real shame is that Ryan Reynolds is a natural choice for Hal Jordan, and the rest of the cast exude similar confidence, but the material they are working with hinders the film from ever lifting off the ground. Even Campbell seems to be unwilling to commit to the material. Short, choppy, and overpopulated with CG and not enough heart, this is one comic book film you might want to skip this summer. Hit the jump for my full review.
Throughout the universe exists a galactic police force known as the Green Lantern Corps. With the use of their power rings, which grants its chosen wearer the ability to create anything their mind imagines, they patrol the 3600 individual sectors of the universe. When the cosmic entity known as Parallax is released and begins to feed on fear, the lone Green Lantern strong enough to defeat it, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), is gravely wounded and sets off to find his replacement. Enter cocky fighter test pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds), whose confidence in the air gets him in trouble on the ground. While Abin Sur’s pupil, Sinestro (Mark Strong), sees only weakness in Jordan, he may end up being the strongest Lantern yet. With Parallax threatening the universe, Jordan has to overcome his desire to run from responsibility and commit to being a hero.
One of the first sink or swim moments in the film occurs right in the opening scene, when aliens that have crash-landed on the planet Ryut release Parallax from its dormant state. The entire scene looks straight out of a video game—not a $150 million-plus live-action film. For me, using this to setup the film is a poor idea as it asks the audience to grant the film a pass before they are even invested in the film. Too much, too soon.
Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, and Michael Goldenberg all share screenplay credit for Green Lantern, which might be why the film feels disjointed. Sometimes a committee of writers can find synergy and produce a truly collaborative script that flows. Unfortunately, this grouping hit a bump in the road and kept going, again and again. Instead of utilizing Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) as one of Jordan’s greatest nemesis, the script treats him like a pawn. He would have been a great villain to ground the film and reign in the mythology to make Lantern an easier pill to swallow, but instead everything seems to revolve around Parallax.
Part of the problem of the film is that it seems to borrow heavily from Geoff Johns’ groundbreaking Secret Origins arc. However, instead of using it as a script, they attempt to mash together different elements while dropping the more complicated material. The result, with Parallax being introduced and Hammond coming in later, sounds right on paper but is inadequately translated to the screen. Oh, and I should also mention that they are trying to do all of this within 105 minutes.
While I’ll admit that setting up Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern mythos is daunting, most of the successful origin stories coming out now make an effort to keep the film grounded. Here, there seems to be little attempt to ease the audience into the mythology. You either accept from the opening minutes of the film that a grey cloud that glows yellow with a skeletal face is ravaging the universe, or you don’t.
Paradoxically, while the film shoves Parallax down your throat, it uses the home planet of the Green Lanterns, Oa, as a sideshow. Jordan is immediately sent there once he speaks the oath for training. While you might want to sit back and relax as the film introduces you to the way the power ring works and see Jordan progress, they abruptly stop to send us back to Earth. There almost seems to be a lack of confidence from Campbell, as if he is suddenly asking too much of the audience. That’s a real shame because Jordan’s training is one of the few moments where the film seems to find the right balance between intrigue and fun without being unnecessarily self-deprecating.
One part of the film that actually works is the cast, with Reynolds leading the way. Jordan has a cockiness that blends with humanity in the comics, and Reynolds seems to tap into that with ease. He has plenty of one-liners to keep the audience laughing, but they never go overboard with it. He can be serious when he wants, and when he is emotionally wounded, we believe it. Even Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, former flame and childhood friend of Jordan’s, holds her own. Doing the best he can in his shrunken role, Peter Sarsgaard is nearly unrecognizable in his swollen head prosthetic and is a cruel, menacing character that has some shocking moments.
Additionally, Mark Strong manages to make Sinestro—a tall, purple alien with a window’s peak and pencil mustache—intimidating and serious. The camera doesn’t shy away from him either, and the makeup and costume look great on him. There is also a key portion of his character that appears in the middle of the credits, so stick around for that. The real stunner, though, is Abin Sur’s makeup. The muscle tissue and purple glow might cause some to stare in awe, which is a shame because he isn’t around very long. One thing to note is that on close-ups, Jordan’s suit looks great, but from distances it still appears obviously fake. Curiously, the suits just flat out work on all of the other Lanterns. As for the 3D, some of the scenes on Oa seem to shine, but because most of the film takes place on Earth, it once again feels more like an unnecessary expense.
Campbell is known for starting Pierce Brosnan’s career as James Bond and later delivering a knockout with Casino Royale, which effectively rebooted the Bond franchise. With that type of success in hand, one would expect him to be able to deliver yet again. Regrettably, Lantern never lives up to the lofty expectations set by both the talented parties involved with the film (even James Newton Howard’s score is mostly uninspired) and the decades of solid material that precedes it. A new franchise typically begins with an origin story that gets you excited for the upcoming films. You simply can’t wait for what will come. With Green Lantern, you might just hope the next volume is better than the first.