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Author: Robert Reineke
June 16, 2011
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SYNOPSIS: In a universe as vast as it is mysterious, a small but powerful force has existed for centuries. Protectors of peace and justice, they are called the Green Lantern Corps. A brotherhood of warriors sworn to keep intergalactic order, each Green Lantern wears a ring that grants him superpowers. But when a new enemy called Parallax threatens to destroy the balance of power in the Universe, their fate and the fate of Earth lie in the hands of their newest recruit, the first human ever selected: Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds).

GREEN LANTERN is the latest superhero film adaptation which Warner Bros. has a lot riding on with their need to jumpstart new franchises with Harry Potter coming to the end. There are stars, Ryan Reynolds, big concepts, a galactic peace keeping force, big action sequences, and a ton of special effects. It aims to be a spiritual heir to Star Wars in a lot of ways and thereís no question that the ten year old version of myself would have loved it. As an adult, I have mixed feelings.

Green Lantern was originally created in 1940 for DC Comics by artist Martin Nodell and writer, un-credited Batman co-creator, Bill Finger, as basically a hero with a magical ring on his finger. In 1959, Green Lantern was recreated in the mold of the science fiction leanings of DC Comics and group editor Julius Schwartz. Taking a page from the pulp, space opera Lensman series of E.E. ďDocĒ Smith, the new Green Lantern followed the adventures of test pilot Hal Jordan who is chosen by a dying alien Abin Sur to wear the ring of the Green Lantern Corp, a group of galactic space cops, under the leadership of the immortal Guardians of the Galaxy on the planet Oa. Whether theyíre called Green Lanterns, Lensmen, or Jedi Knights the concept is a pretty compelling one. Green Lantern has been a staple of comic books ever since and currently is one of the best-selling comics on the market. So, naturally, itís next up in the adaptation chain.

The film sticks closely to the comic book version. Irresponsible test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), who has father abandonment issues after watching his father die in a plane crash as a child, is summoned to the crash site of the mortally wounded Abin Sur (Temeura Morrison). Soon Hal finds himself summoned to the planet Oa where he gets a crash course in being a Green Lantern by the cgi creations Tomar Re and Kilowog, voiced by Jeffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan respectively, and the Green Lantern leader Sinestro (Mark Strong). But is the short training going to be enough for Hal to overcome his own fears and deal with the threat of the mutated Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a man with telekinetic powers and his own daddy issues, the cosmic embodiment of fear Parallax, and Halís romantic entanglements with his boss, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively)? I think we all know the answers to those questions.

The story of Green Lantern is very straightforward. Perhaps itís too straightforward, as if itís compensating for throwing a lot of high concepts at the audience by stripping down the plot to the bare essentials. In doing so, itís relying on the charm of the actors, the direction of the action, and the impressiveness of the special effects to carry the audience over familiar story beats, even if the background is much more exotic than the standard superhero movie.

Ryan Reynolds is generally up to the task. His ironic detachment doesnít serve him well in all circumstances, but he injects humor into the role at regular intervals which keeps the story grounded in reality. The script doesnít always play to his strengths as heís a lot more at home showing how much joy he has in his newfound powers than in the angst the movie throws at us in his having doubts about accepting additional responsibility. We need more joy in superhero movies and Reynolds gets that, even if the script doesnít always. Unfortunately, the script does a lot of talking about his problems instead of showing his doubts and fears in interesting ways.

Thereís one standout in the supporting actors department and thatís Mark Strong as the Green Lantern Sinestro. Every scene heís in crackles with energy and tension, as he leads the rest of the Green Lanterns and debates with the Guardians over what the best course of action is. The only problem is that heís not in the film enough and he really ought to be Hal Jordanís mentor.

Blake Lively isnít given much to do and itís hard to really evaluate her. She doesnít make much of an impression, but how big an impression can she make when her only job is to alternate between scolding Hal and giving him pep talks? Kilowog and Tomar Re are little more than exposition machines. The script really shortchanges the supporting characters.

Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond is surprisingly solid as a big headed villain. Heís genuinely creepy, funny, pathetic, and threatening. His ďdaddy issuesĒ and Halís ďdaddy issuesĒ donít really tie together and the conflict between the two never really seems personal, other than Hal is handsome and Hector is not, but Sarsgaard definitely is able to make an impression even if his role in the story is mostly just to provide Hal was an opportunity for heroism prior to the final fight.

Parallax is the main villain. The cloud design is somewhat goofy, but it works well enough. He comes off as a legitimate threat, pulling yellow energy skeletons right out of people and leaving them as lifeless husks, but he pretty much defines one dimensional. But, heís there to trigger the story and make for an impressive final fight, and he serves both those purposes well.

Martin Campbell is known as an action director and youíll get no complaints from me over how he directs most of the action. The camera doesnít shake, the geography is fairly clear, and the action has consequences. A couple of action scenes donít quite work though. Green Lanternís debut saving a crashing helicopter is a bit underwhelming, probably because itís very straightforward. An initial fight with Hector Hammond has them both rolling around on the floor for a large section of it which renders it inert. But thereís a fun fighter plane sequence at the beginning, some nice training sequences, and a big third act fight that has an impressive scale.

However, Martin Campbellís direction of the scenes connecting the action sequences is where most of the issues of the film are. The single biggest problem is that Campbell fails to get the script written to a point where we see Hal struggle with responsibility and fear. Rather we get told heís struggling with responsibility and fear. And it rings hollow, because the actions donít match the words. Hal says heís quitting right after his initial training sessions, but he spends the middle portion of the movie acting like he hadnít quit, catching crashing helicopters and fighting Hector Hammond. The movie tries to have its cake and eat it too and doesnít pull it off. The film starts promising and ends well, but the middle is treading water for the most part.

Campbell also struggles tonally with the material. There are times when I think this is going to be a splendid movie for kids that adults can enjoy too, and then Campbell has Hammond stick a needle in a guyís head. With fear being a theme, itís a little expected, but it bounces between gritty realism and pop science fiction action without finding a way to integrate the two.

The editing is also a problem. I suspect that thereís a slightly longer and better cut out there. Halís meeting with Abin Sur is cut surprisingly brief. This is a big moment, why the hurry to get to the next action scene? The myriad alien Green Lanterns are mere Easter eggs for the fans. And thereís a curious decision where Hal asks permission to fight Parallax when thereís no clear reason why he needs permission in the first place.

The special effects in Green Lantern are fairly impressive on the big screen. Thereís nothing technically wrong with the special effects except perhaps that a different aesthetic might have been more visually pleasing than the black, techno-organic look chosen for the Green Lantern costumes. One of the nice things is they aim big. There are scores of alien Green Lanterns. The final fight doesnít take place in an abandoned warehouse, but instead in the streets of a major city and across space. Itís ambitious but perhaps not enough. Iím of the opinion that the best special effect is a compelling story which evokes the audienceís willing suspension of disbelief. And a better script would have given the action more a kick.

The movie is in 3D and with all the CGI it comes off fine in the format, particularly the scenes on Oa and in space. I donít think you need the 3D, but I donít think youíll regret seeing it in 3D either.

GREEN LANTERN sets up an interesting universe for sequels, but as a standalone film it has significant issues. This is a movie thatís disappointing in the way that many big blockbusters are. A script thatís not quite ready, a director thatís not quite a good fit for the material, and you end up with a film that has a good premise and many solid parts, but is ultimately less than the sum of its parts. Itís kind of glides along when it needs to fly.

GRADE: C

Robert Reineke is a Civil and Environmental Engineer residing in Wisconsin.
Heís earned a BS and MS degrees from the University of Wisconsin and has been reading Batman comics since the 1970s.
Heís of the firm belief that there are plenty of Batman comics written before Frank Miller that are worthy of discussion.
Heís also writing a monthly column on the films of Akira Kurosawa at Where the Long Tail Ends.

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