Far be it for me to start off my review by referencing another’s review, but just before I screened “Green Lantern,” I read a review by Mr. Beaks from Ain’t It Cool News (though beware: he spoils a bit more of the movie than I will).
In it, he discusses the state of the superhero movie from the perspective of the studios making them. He says they’re little more than templates, plugging in the hero’s powers and characters, and then it’s “Hero Journey 101,” meaning very basic and very bland. The studios don’t have to struggle to make an actual good movie … so they don’t.
I typically don’t read reviews before I see a movie, and I don’t always agree with the AICN reviewers, but this idea intrigued me. And damn if this guy wasn’t dead-on right.
“Lantern,” though, is unique enough as a hero (and the world he inhabits) that you can overlook some of it. Some of it.
“Lantern” has the (dis?)advantage of not being as iconic a character as a Batman, Spider-Man or Superman, and as such, an origin story can potentially be more interesting than seeing those guys going through the paces for half a movie. Here we see hotshot test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) as a man who has trouble handling responsibility, is haunted by the death of his father (Jon Tenney) and tends to wake up in the morning with strange blonde women in his bed.
Then he meets Abin Sur (Teumera Morrison of the “Star Wars” prequels), one of the Green Lantern Corps — an intergalactic peacekeeping force (or space cops, as Hal aptly notes later on). Abin Sur is dying, having been mortally wounded by the villainous Parallax (who is a sort of a massive intergalactic cloud who sucks the souls out of his victims and destroys entire worlds).
Abin Sur tells Hal his ring has chosen Hal to replace him as a Green Lantern. He gives him the ring and dies. You can probably guess a little of what happens next.
It’s a little ironic to me that the best parts of the movie are also its worst. I enjoyed seeing Hal on Oa, the Green Lantern home planet, training with Kilowog, the Lanterns’ drill instructor for new recruits, and I thought Mark Strong played an excellent Sinestro, the de facto leader of the Lanterns who is destined to become Hal’s greatest enemy.
But there was just too much going on that came off as silly and derivative, beginning with Peter Sarsgaard’s Hector Hammond. Hector is a longtime friend of Hal and Hal’s would-be gal, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively, playing Heroine in Peril 419), who is infected by the yellow fear energy. (Oops … I forgot to tell you this world establishes that green is the color of will — sort of the good side of the Force — while yellow is fear-based and, as such, the preferred pigment of evil). He then becomes the psychic villain … Hector Hammond. (Note that I don’t know enough about GL to know if he Hector has a proper super-villain name. I’m just going off the movie).
Hector is the son of a senator (an oddly placed Tim Robbins) and under the control of Parallax, who wants to destroy all of the Green Lanterns. (Though, really, what’s the point, if someone else will just step in to take his place?).
Much has been made of the all-CG suit, and I, too, was a skeptic, but let me report that the suit was fantastic for the most part. The mask is still a little iffy, but the suit itself, with its pulsing green energy, was marvelously done, and I applaud director Martin Campbell for having the guts to go with it.
Then we have the romance angle between Hal and Carol, a wacky sidekick buddy character who pops in and out of the movie doing nothing but listening to Hal explain things to the audience, and some macho posturing by the Lanterns, who tell Hal in no uncertain terms that he’s not worthy to be a Lantern, that Abin Sur was irreplaceable and that Hal is very soon going to die and good luck.
Then we get at least a sniff of DC’s maybe-it-is maybe-it-isn’t emulation of Marvel’s multi-film “Avengers” arc, introducing the character of Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett), who in the comics (and the fantastic “Justice League” animated series a few years back) antagonizes the Justice League (which, for those of you who don’t know, includes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, GL, and Flash, among others). Could WB be prepping for a Justice League movie, finally? Dunno, but she’s here for a spell.
So what we end up with is a bit of a mess story-wise. That’s not the worst thing in the world, except that it short-shrifts the better stuff in the movie. We only get a truncated version of Hal training with Kilowog (who was a really fun character) and we also have to cut between the fantastical world of Oa and the rather dull-by-comparison California setting.
The fight sequences are kind of hit or miss. Some of the fights look pretty bad from the movie’s trailer, and they fare a bit better on the screen, but there’s too much of Hal playing around with the ring rather than actually using it. (I mean, the Lantern power helping him win a fight outside a bar? Really?). A battle inside a secret government lab is better than advertised (but don’t take that as an endorsement of the scene; it looked terrible in the commercials), and the film’s finale, an Earth-and-space battle between Hal and Parallax, is pretty good stuff if a bit predictably pulling from a lesson Hal learned early on.
Then we get to the post-credits sequence. There’s a certain plot element that the film touched on but hadn’t actually gone through, and I found it an interesting and gutsy choice to hold off on it presumably until the second film, where it can be built properly and completely. Turns out I gave the filmmakers too much credit, as we get that aspect ruined by a terribly placed post-credits nod to that particular development. It completely ruined the goodwill “Green Lantern” had built up with me, with a character making a certain choice for what amounts to no good reason, solely for the sake of providing a cool moment post-credits. I hated it.
By now, you’ve probably made your decision to see “Green Lantern” or not, so I’ll tell you as a comic book fan there were things I loved about it, and a few things I didn’t. As a movie reviewer, there were things I hated about it, and a few things I didn’t. That’s as much an endorsement as I can give it. I’ll watch it again, secretly hoping I don’t notice the flaws next time, but I’m not too optimistic about it.