Film Review: Green Lantern

Considering members of the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps have the ability to create anything they can imagine using “the green energy of will,” Martin Campbell’s big-screen adaptation of the Green Lantern comic book series is not an awful lot of fun. And when your closest cinematic antecedent is Jim Carrey’s memorable turn in The Mask, that’s saying something.

    Anchored by upbeat everyman Ryan Reynolds as the titular energy-suited space cop – though the use of a CG costume and mask is frequently distracting – Green Lantern serves up a thoroughly mediocre repast consisting of a few engaging performances and a side of intermittent superhero action without any emotional calories whatsoever.

Green Lantern

 Directed by Martin Campbell

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins

    The first sign of clunkiness is the presence of multiple prologues, one about the formation of the Green Lantern Corps, another (or was it two more?) about a being called Parallax that feeds on the “yellow energy of fear” and escapes imprisonment by the Corps, and then some more backstory about Hal Jordan as a kid witnessing the death of his father.

    With all that out of the way, we get to the meat and potatoes of full-grown, fully insouciant Hal Jordan (Reynolds) as a fighter test pilot who has apparently seen Top Gun a few too many times – which is to say he acts a whole lot like Ryan Reynolds – and harbours feelings for his former sweetheart and current boss, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively).

    The arrival of a purple alien – the moribund but legendary Green Lantern Abin Sur seeking a successor – complicates things, as Hal is transported to the world of Oa where his Corps mentors Sinestro (Mark Strong) and Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clark Duncan) train him to fight and teach him about Parallax, leading him to realize Earth is in danger.

    Meanwhile, the honour of performing the alien autopsy on Abin Sur falls to Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a scientist and senator’s son carrying his own torch for Carol. During the procedure, contact with the essence of Parallax transmogrifies him into a rampaging, psychokinetic Quasimodo.

    Sarsgaard gives a scene-stealing performance as the offbeat Dr. Hammond, a sadly misused and poorly motivated villain whose slurred muttering and remorselessly freakish appearance might otherwise – as the lone antagonist in a better-written movie – have become a literally transcendent character along the lines of Jack Sparrow, Alex DeLarge, or the Terminator.

    Instead, he is reduced to second-string status so that Earth can be invaded by a giant Parallax cloud like a smellier-looking relative of what passed for world-devouring Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

    Why Hal prevails without any help from his Green Lantern amigos – who consistently refer to the human species as young and weak – when the same feat was beyond his predecessor, Abin Sur, is unclear, but there you have it.

    Director Martin Campbell is the man responsible for the Antonio Banderas Zorro movies and for resurrecting James Bond not once but twice (with GoldenEye and Casino Royale), so along with the overuse of CGI, it’s the adaptation and the writing that is primarily suspect – it’s clear that Ryan Reynolds, for one, is giving it his all, but that isn’t enough.

    As central as they might be to the comic book mythology, tritely colour-coded emotional energies offer a weak framework for the story, leading directly to a number of silly lines and plot points therein.

    Hal’s training sequence on Oa, clearly intended to provide a momentum boost heading into the second act, is a cutesy montage of special effects and one-liners nakedly intended for the benefit of the audience rather than the characters participating.

    And the (“green”) energy of will itself, so liberally daubed around the frame, is applied with as little creativity as the dreamscapes of Inception – where is the whimsy? It’s all swords, chainsaws, guns, and aircraft, like a weaponized Home Hardware flyer instead of someone’s imagination.

    One bright spot is seeing Mark Strong as a good guy, for once, though a scene after the credits spells out other intentions should Green Lantern earn a sequel at the box office. And Blake Lively, though completely unbelievable as a pilot or as VP of a fictional Boeing simulacrum, nails the emotional core of her role, giving the cocky but likeable Hal a tender counterpart.

    Even so, the various elements add up to a woefully uneven whole. Predictable, derivative, and pedestrian, if essentially watchable – should you find yourself bored at a megaplex this week – Green Lantern is not a complete train wreck, but it’s certainly a mess.