Opening Green Lantern in the same month—or the same galaxy—as X-Men: First Class was probably a scheduling necessity, but it forces a ruinous comparison. Capably adapted from one of the bazillion storylines in DC’s 70-year-old Green Lantern comics series, the new movie has some promising sci-fi elements and a pair of normally appealing stars. But the picture is slathered with so much CGI goop that at several points it’s indistinguishable from a Saturday morning cartoon show. Very soon you start wondering why you had to leave your living room to see it.
The movie begins in deep space with a riot of digital hubbub (pricelessly silly in big-deal 3D). We meet the Guardians of the Universe, a council of wizened Yodas ensconced on very high stools (which amusingly recall the much more amusing Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension). The Guardians have divided the galactic vastness into thousands of separate sectors, all patrolled by an interstellar police force called the Green Lantern Corps, each member of which is armed with a super-powerful green ring and a glowing green lantern with which to recharge it when the super-power runs low. We also make the acquaintance of a rather amorphous evil entity called Parallax—a destroyer of worlds and so forth. When Parallax attacks a Green Lantern patrol ship, the captain is forced to ditch his craft on the nearest reachable planet, which turns out to be Earth. Wounded and dying, he recruits a local human, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), to take up his ring and lantern and join the Corps. As a bonus, Hal also gets to wear a bright green super-suit with built-in muscles and a tiny green mask.
Hal is a brave, handsome, and of course headstrong test pilot in the employ of Ferris Aviation, where he’s maintained a years-long touch-and-go relationship with the boss’s daughter, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively)—a test pilot herself, naturally. Since considerable time is devoted to this underpowered romance, it’s unfortunate that Reynolds and Lively—such engaging actors in other films—never really warm to each other here. But then they’re given little assistance by the dialogue. Carol laments that proud loner Hal has always been “scared I was getting too close.” Changing into his flight suit, Hal says to her, “Let’s get these pants off and fly some planes.” Smooth.
The story ping-pongs back and forth between the Earth-bound love dawdling and the Guardians’ heavily computerized home planet, where Hal undergoes Green Lantern training under the gimlet eye of a harsh taskmaster named Sinestro (an unrecognizable Mark Strong). As with every other off-planet actor in the movie, Strong’s bulb-headed alien makeup forcefully recalls the cornball days of early Star Trek cranial prosthetics. No matter how dire the doings in this film, inducements to giggling are usually close at hand.
Reynolds is too mild a presence to make Hal very compelling. A couple of personality doodles have been sketched in—Hal is haunted by the death of his test-pilot dad, and hobbled by a vague feeling of unworthiness—but when a guy looks like Ryan Reynolds, and has Blake Lively making love eyes at him, it’s hard to accept that his life could be all that tormented. This leaves the field clear for Peter Saarsgard to move in and make up the live-wire deficit. Saarsgard appears to be having a ton of fun as Hector Hammond, a brainiac science professor who becomes infected by the universal Force of Evil (which turns out to be yellow). Before long, the mutating Hector and the increasingly fearless Hal are engaged in super-being smackdowns of an elaborate but not especially thrilling sort—even when Parallax weighs in (as a sort of humongous smoke bomb) to make it a threesome. Despite the movie’s super-budget (officially $150 million, rumored to be twice that), it’s undone by digital cheesiness at every turn. There’s a possibly delusional promise of a sequel at the end—a notion dependent on whether this rather limp opening installment covers its outsized expenses. Big bets are not recommended.
The oddest aspect of Green Lantern—and I wonder if the filmmakers were even aware of it—is its frankly fascist sci-fi philosophy. The green rings and lanterns are charged with the Power of Will, the various counterpoised yellow thingies with the Power of Fear. At one point, Sinestro (who would trust a guy with a name like that?) says, “Fear is the enemy of Will. Fear is what stops you and makes you weak.” At which point I wondered what kind of movie Leni Riefenstahl might have made from this material. Possibly a more interesting one.
Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, will be published in November by St. Martin’s Press.