A film review by Craig J. Koban June 22, 2011

GREEN LANTERN jjj

2011, PG-13, 105 mins.

 

Hal Jordan/Green Lantern: Ryan Reynolds / Carol: Blake Lively / Hector: Peter Sarsgaard / Sinestro: Mark Strong / Abin Sur: Temuera Morrison / Dr. Waller: Angela Bassett / Sen. Hammond: Tim Robbins / Parallax: Clancy Brown / Kilowog: Michael Clarke Duncan / Tomar-Re: Geoffrey Rush

Directed by Martin Campbell / Written by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg, based on the comic-book series.

SCREENED IN
3D

GREEN LANTERN just may be the only super hero that did not become a costumed crusader by choice, per se.  

His parents did not die as a child, making him thirst for vengeance to become a masked vigilante as an adult.  He's certainly not a mutant, nor was he born with powers, nor is he the product of cosmic radiation.  And he certainly is not an extraterrestrial from another planet like a certain famous Kryptonian.  Nope, Green Lantern might be the only hero that was drafted into super hero service.  He's also perhaps – in his alter ego form – the most arrogant, cocky, and self-absorbed hero and the only one that can make his thoughts materialize in front of him through sheer will power via a magic ring. 

Of course, I am referring to the Hal Jordan Green Lantern (Silver Age variety; sorry Alan Scott purists) of DC Comics fame that saw the light of day in printed page form in 1959.  Jordan - a charismatic, daring, if not irresponsible and egomaniacal figure - was a test pilot turned intergalactic warrior/peacekeeper via the Green Lantern Corps, a police service for the entire known universe.  Each Lantern that made up the Corp was given a magical ring upon a very, very picky selection process by the Guardians Of The Universe.  What makes the ring special is that its user – utilizing the strongest of their will power - can turn their thoughts into reality.  It also allows them to fly across massive distances through time and space.  In short: cool. 

Of course, the history of the Guardians and the Green Lanterns are solemnly explained during the film’s opening sections, which is perhaps a bit too heavy on exposition when it could have just thrust viewers into the thick of things.  We learn that millions of years before the Earth was even born the Guardians used the “green essence” of the “emotional spectrum of willpower” to create the Lanterns and, in turn, split the universe into 3600 sectors (not quite a lot, I guess, if we are talking about the whole cosmos).  We also learn that the strongest of all the Lanterns, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) of “Sector 2814” defeated the galaxy’s most feared enemy, Parallax, and entombed him on the ruined planet of Ryut.  He does manage to - as all villains eventually do - escape his tomb and battles Abin Sur, this time mortally wounding him.  Fortunately, Sur exiles himself to Earth by crash landing on the planet, where he desperately seeks out a new Lantern to replace him. 

If all of this exposition sounds a bit stilted and dull that’s because it probably is; GREEN LANTERN perhaps engages in too much explaining too early on, but once it grounds itself on Earth and introduces us to Hal Jordan (a pitch perfectly cast Ryan Reynolds) the narrative picks up pace.  Jordan, as already explained, is a hotshot, top gun fighter pilot that, when not bedding women in what appears to be multiple one-night flings, seems to flip the bird to his superiors and to orders in general.  After destroying a very expensive fighter plane during a routine training exercise (granted, he had a valid reason to do so), Jordan is royally canned from the service, after which he makes the startling discovery of Sur’s crash landed ship.  Sur gives Jordan his ring and the lantern that powers it and, before he dies, instructs Jordan to put the ring on, point his fist at the lantern, and speak the oath of the Corps to become the first human Lantern in all existence.  Jordan takes all of this news as best as anyone that stumbles across a dying purple alien that wants to recruit him into service. 

When Jordan does manage to learn how to properly incant the correct oath (after hilariously flubbed attempts, including chanting "by the power of Greyskull" and "to infinity and beyond"), he finds himself suddenly hurtled through a vast star gate of some kind that whisks him to an alien planet that is the HQ of the Corps itself.  While there he is given a very quick boot camp on how to become a Lantern from Sinestro (Mark Strong) who has his firm doubts about Jordan’s potential.  As Jordan does return home with his new powers and emerald laced suit in tow he learns that Parallax has his sights set on Earth.  Jordan learns, to his displeasure, that he not only has to save his home world from an entity that seems to be able to devour planets, but he also has to battle a new enemy in the form of Dr. Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a nerdy, uneasy, and anti-social scientist that has recently become a mutated, Elephant Man-esque creature that has telepathic powers.  Worse yet, Hammond has his eyes set on Jordan’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Carol Ferris (Blake Lively).  Who has time to police the entire universe when you got this many problems on the homefront?

A few positive things can be noticed about GREEN LANTERN that modestly helps erode any issues one may have with its ponderous, explanation-heavy scripting: It's more appealingly space opera akin to STAR WARS than it is a super hero genre film, and it certainly has broad shouldered ambition and scope as far as most super hero films go.  GREEN LANTERN is, as some critics have pained to criticize, awash in CGI artifice, but how, dare I say, could one make a film like this without modern technology?  The Lantern home base planet is lavishly and stunningly realized, not to mention that the film has great fun and innovation with presenting the entirety of the Corps, who come in the form of remarkably varied alien life forms and number in the thousands.  Even Jordan’s Lantern suit is intriguing in design: it almost breathes as another layer to his existing skin, pulsating with green hued energy.  Generating his super hero attire in CGI may seem unnecessary, but it gives it an aura of the fantastical: it literally should feel like something not of this earth.  Spandex or a rubber muscle suit would have been even more distracting.

Granted, GREEN LANTERN is not a comic book film that takes itself too literally or seriously.  Like this summer’s highly enjoyable THOR, the film finds a delicate middle ground between severity and camp.  Its universe and hero are never intended to be plausible at all, and this is especially true of Jordan’s abilities to will his thoughts into tangible forms, whether it be machine guns, swords, planes, etc..  My favourite sequence in the film has him secure a crashing helicopter by using his ring to reform it as a Hot Wheels-inspired funny car on a racetrack (it just seem plausible for a guy like Jordan thinking of that as a possible choice in the heat of a desperate situation).  The film also has other moments of self-deprecating humor at the expense of the super hero genre as a whole.  One obligatory scene has the masked Lantern come to visit his alter-ego’s girlfriend, but Carol within a second can see through the painfully small mask that covers Jordan's eyes and easily deduces that Green Lantern is indeed her ex-boyfriend.   

Of course, moments of well-timed laughs amidst the seriousness of the overall storyline are assisted greatly by the casting of Reynold’s as the title hero, who more than has the physique, the square jaw, and the easygoing and charming self-importance to make him the embodiment of Jordan from the comics.  He also does a thankless job of making his character arc – that of a smug and narcissistic loner that transforms into a self-sacrificing hero to the universe – seem that much more credible.  The other supporting performers are solid too, like the always commanding Mark Strong as Sinestro, a Spockian looking, fuchsia-skinned alien-Lantern that evokes the actor's innate abilities to be a solidly empowered and magnetic screen presence, even under a heavy CGI makeover/facelift.   

Perhaps the most memorable side performance comes from the atypically cast (at least for summer tentpole films like this) Peter Sarsgaard as the introverted professor that becomes a conflicted, tormented, and wholeheartedly sinister bad guy that is made all the more menacing because of his suppressed daddy issues and need to be heard.  Sarsgaard’s casting is one of the film’s triumphant creative coups: he is arguably one of the most unsettling and creepy comic book film antagonists since Heath Ledger’s Joker.  Sarsgaard has just the right caged unpredictability and subverted intensity to make Hammond a memorably unstable villain. 

Sarsgaard's performance, though, is also tied up to one of the film’s nagging faults, which is its script’s inability to flesh out some of the character dynamics.  Hammond’s relationship to his politician father that secretly despises him (played in a all-too-brief cameo by Tim Robbins) is underdeveloped, not to mention that Jordan’s own internalized issues with his dead father are only sketchily hinted instead of being thoroughly explored.  All if this is exacerbated by GREEN LANTERN’s egregiously short running time: at barely over 90 minutes, there’s just not enough screen time to tackle the arduous task of encompassing the source comic’s vast and galaxy sprawling mythos and characters, which has the negative side-effect of making the film superficially appear epic in feel.  Lastly, Blake Lively is a truly gorgeous screen presence and is headstrong in her portrayal of the opinionated and independent minded Carol, but she is mournfully reduced to playing a female-in-distress persona as the film hurtles to a climax. 

Yet, for as thinly written as GREEN LANTERN is, the remaining film is still an agreeably colorful, vibrant, amusing, frequently extraordinary looking, and invigorating comic book adventure that does reasonable justice to its hero’s graphic novel origins.  The film was directed by the underrated Martin Campbell, who has dabbled in widely diverse subject matter as far ranging as James Bond (CASINO ROYALE), Zorro (THE MASK OF ZORRO), and revenge fuelled cops (last year’s terribly under-seen EDGE OF DARKNESS).  He is able to hybrid reality with computer simulated fakery as good as anyone could have with material such as this, an even when the visuals stumble on occasion, Campbell at least goes for broke and tries to conjure a super hero odyssey unlike anything we’ve seen before.  If you don’t scrutinize too much (as far too many harsh critics have) GREEN LANTERN is a sci-fi/adventure fantasy that gets great mileage out of its game performances and its willingness to be a tongue-in-cheek escapist spectacle of sights and sound.  

Yes, SUPERMAN and THE DARK KNIGHT it ain’t, but GREEN LANTERN ain’t that bad either, or nearly as bad as you’ve been let on.

REVIEW ADDENDUM

I did not mention 3D very much in my review of GREEN LANTERN, but I will say this much: as far as upconverted 3D goes, this film contains the best I've seen.  Granted, considering the reliably terrible quality of hasty and last-minute multi-dimensional uplifts that I've seen in so many other films, that's not saying much.

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