It has finally arrived: The first major DC Comics film that doesn’t feature Batman or Superman. If you believe the hype that was drummed up to promote this film, you would assume that it was DC’s answer to Iron Man. The comparison isn’t entirely without merit; both characters have similarities – both like girls, fast cars and don’t always play by the rules. Sadly for DC and Warner Bros., the similarities end there. Green Lantern carves a niche as a space opera, a welcome prospect in a tiring genre, but never quite makes it as a true franchise launching pad.
On paper, putting the Green Lantern universe on the big screen couldn’t have been an easy task, although Thor proved that it was possible to adapt tricky material successfully. There are over three thousand Lanterns in the intergalactic Corps, all from different alien races. So many in fact, that even the comic book has failed to elaborate on most of them. The man given the task of condensing seven decades of comic history, and make the mythology work for the general movie-going public, as well as the fanboys, is Martin Campbell. He resurrected the Bond franchise twice (in my two favourites, Goldeneye and Casino Royale), and showed a flair for old-fashioned adventure in his Zorro pictures.
Green Lantern opens with the films primary antagonist, the entity known as Parallax, who attacks Sector 2814 (clue #1 that we’re in sci-fi territory) and mortally wounds Lantern Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), who escapes and crash-lands on Earth. In his dying moments, Sur commands his ring to find a worthy successor. Test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is whisked away to the crash site, where he is appointed Green Lantern by the dying alien. He travels to the Corps home base on the planet Oa, and meets Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush) and Kilowog (Michael Duncan Clarke) before encountering Sinestro (Mark Strong), who is not pleased that a human – considered primitive by other species – has become a Green Lantern. Seeing himself unfit and fearful of Sinestro, Hal quits and returns to Earth.
Meanwhile, after being summoned by a secret government organization, scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) performs an autopsy on Sur’s body, but a piece of Parallax’s DNA inside the corpse infects him, mutating the doc and giving him telepathy and telekinetic powers…at the cost of his sanity. When he realises that his own father, U.S. Senator Robert Hammond (Tim Robbins), had manipulated him into performing the autopsy, Hector attempts to kill him by sabotaging his helicopter at a party. But Hal uses his new-found powers to save the Senator and all of the guests, including his childhood sweetheart Carol Ferris (Blake Lively).
Later on, she recognizes him under the mask in a sly dig at Superman.
After battling Hector in his lab, Hal begins to understand the power and responsibility required to defend the planet from Parallex. He returns to Oa to seek the aid of the Guardians, the creators of the Corps, but they decline. To save his home world, Hal must embrace his destiny.
If it seems like this review has just devolved into a plot summary, you’d be right, as Green Lantern is stuffed with exposition and set-up, enlivened by ceaseless special effects. The storyline is solid considering the character’s weighty legacy, and thankfully you won’t need a detailed knowledge of the source to enjoy the film. The expansive mythology helps to gloss over a number of questionable scenes, like Hal’s training on Oa, which is more like a video game than a movie, or the inexplicable birthday party with Hal’s nephew, who is never seen or heard from again. You wonder why they bothered putting him in the movie.
You’ll have that question a few times, and it must be said that the film completely wastes fine actors like Robbins. His plot thread is perfunctory at best. This is a very strange ensemble.
When Reynolds was announced as Jordan, the comic book world was aghast, as he would be the first person to play a major character in both the DC and Marvel universe, having appeared as Wade Wilson (Deadpool) in 2009’s regrettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Reynolds brings his usual dry wit and physicality to the role, almost ripping off his turn as Hannibal King in Blade: Trinity. The only issue I had with his interpretation of Hal, is his on-screen chemistry with Lively. You won’t believe the relationship, and like so many films in the genre, the romance brings the film to a screeching halt when it should be going supersonic.
Sarsgaard steals the show as Hammond. His portrayal of the standard issue mad scientist is suitably over-the-top, and he challenges Reynolds for a share of the best lines. His prosthetic-heavy transformation is both creepy and amusing, making him resemble Eric Stoltz in Mask.
Green Lantern‘s greatest asset is certainly the visual effects, which are extensive and occasionally inspired. Hal’s CGI suit is well handled, taking on a life of its own, pulsating with otherworldly energy. The sizeable budget is definitely on-screen, and while the artifice of the film becomes wearing after a while, children in the audience are going to be pleased.
Overall, Campbell’s film is average summer entertainment, and not quite the disaster some critics have led you to belive. The plot creeps along incoherently, with scenes that feel disconnected and aimless, but Campbell makes up for such deficiencies with a tight grip on the Lantern’s origin. He deserves credit for bringing this character and his world to the big screen so accurately. That said, Marvel shouldn’t worry about their comic book movie crown being stolen any time soon, as DC are still playing catch-up in their naive hope for a Justice League movie. Green Lantern leaves people asking the question: Can DC make a great film without Christopher Nolan?