Release Date: June 17, 2011
Director: Martin Campbell
Writers: Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively and Peter Sarsgaard
MPAA Rating: PG-13
At its heart, Green Lantern is a film about fear and responsibility.
I know this because the words “fear” and “responsibility” appear in the script around eight million times apiece.
The story centers around Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a man-child fighter pilot who is both irresponsible and filled with fear. Hal can’t seem to overcome having witnessed his father’s plane explode during a mission when Hal was a young boy – a trauma that fills him with fear at inopportune times during his own flights. However, Hal’s life is forever changed when a mystical ring from outer space finds him and offers itself to him, earning Hal a job in the Green Lantern Corps, a group of space cops who police the universe.
The rings Hal and the other Green Lanterns wear are fueled by every living being’s “pure will” – manifested in a green mist that allows the wearer of the ring to conjure any object his mind can dream up. But, there is a yang to the rings yin – a dark side to the force if you will – in the form of Parallax, a powerful being that feeds on fear instead of will. While pure will energy is apparently green, fear is represented by a yellow mist (you get the sense watching the story unfold that these concepts were created during a time when mood rings were still popular).
The main reason that Green Lantern doesn’t really work is that when you strip away all of the colorful alien races and beautiful visual effects, you are left with a film that has a paper-thin story and bland stock characters. The story is muddled, overly predictable and generic. Everyone in the film is a boring two-dimensional archetype that act in the most uninteresting and predictable way possible. They don’t ever seem like real people (or aliens, as the case may be). You get the sense that everyone involved in this film, from the writers to the director to the actors, were simply going through the motions.
Hal is given a love interest, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), who for convenience sake is also a fellow test pilot and the daughter of Hal’s boss. Carol seems to be there just to drive the plot along – she gives Hal the pep talk he needs to get his life together, gives him someone to care about besides himself and ends up in peril several times, giving him someone to save in overly-dramatic ways. Lively does an adequate job in the role, but the character is so poorly-defined and uninteresting that anyone could have played the part.
Most of the rest of the cast are archetypes that can be boiled down to generic descriptions. In the Green Lantern Corps, there’s the surly drill instructor (Michael Clarke Duncan), the bitter guy who doesn’t believe in Hal (Mark Strong) and the reassuring guy who looks like a fish (Geoffrey Rush). The characters on Earth are more easily defined by their jobs than their personality traits – people like the senator (Tim Robbins) and the scientist who works for a secret government organization (Angela Bassett).
The only person who really interjects any life into his role is Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Hector Hammond, a socially-awkward scientist who accidentally exposes himself to alien DNA. From this exposure, Hector gets telekinetic powers and a really big forehead. Hammond is as generically conceived as all the other characters – he’s jealous of Hal, in love with Carol and tired of being a brainy scientist instead of a handsome man of action. Yet somehow, Sarsgaard is able to make the character quirky and interesting enough that you actually care when he is on the screen. Unfortunately, most of the other actors, through a combination of bland writing and general apathy, fail to do the same.
The film plods along, splitting time between Earth and Oa, the planet where the Green Lantern Corps resides. Most of the scenes in space look quite stunning and all of the special effects are well-rendered, but the film just feels lifeless. There’s nothing particularly captivating or engaging about the plot and even the action sequences never really come together in a compelling way, so the experience often feels like watching a friend play a video game.
Reynolds is charming and has a few good one-liners. And there are moments where the characters seem self-aware and make comments pointing out how absurd the events happening around them seem. (There’s a particularly enjoyable self-aware moment when Carol gets her first good up-close look at Hal in his Green Lantern costume as he attempts to disguise his voice and appearance from her.) But none of it is enough to save the film.
Instead of being the fun summer popcorn movie it could have been, Green Lantern is a predictable, lifeless film with an overly complicated backstory. For a movie so ham-handed in working in the themes of fear and willpower, it seems like everyone was too afraid to stray from an easy formula and unwilling to find a way to make the proceedings compelling in any way. I wonder what color mist represents apathy.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.