How to start a review about Green Lantern? Generally the reviewer would state that it was actually quite a good movie and then tell you not to bother about what you may have heard elsewhere. Can we please assume that I’ve done that? Yes.
Then on with the movie review itself… Warning, some of what follows may be spoilerish…
By now I guess that most DC fans will have seen Green Lantern, but for those of you unfamiliar with the set-up it is the story of a cocky, second-generation test-pilot called Hal Jordan who is drafted into an interstellar police agency called the Green Lantern Corps. This happens when his legendary predecessor, Abin Sur, is killed by a creature called Parallax that only he was every able to defeat. Parallex makes a return and its up Hal, as Abin’s successor, to defeat him.
This is an adaptation of the Geoff Johns version of the Green Lantern mythology so there is a lot about “fear” and “willpower” and “yellow” and “green”. It’s an origin story that lifts heavily from Johns “Secret Origin” arc of the Green Lantern comicbook (the Hal/Carol/Hector triangle in particular). Also, despite being about Hal Jordan, this film in really an assemble piece in the same way that the Star Trek reboot was. Trek was about Kirk over coming his issues, but also featured the separate tales of the bridge crew. Lantern is about Jordan overcoming with his fear of commitment/failure/responsibility, but it’s also about the arcs of Carol Ferris, Hector Hammond, and Sinestro.
Ryan Reynolds (double-R good comic book name) is pretty good as Hal Jordan. He’s a little softer round the edges than the comic book Hal, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The template of the 1950s hero appears wooden to us today, that can dog Hal as a character and make him pretty hard to like. In the comic he’s meant to be charismatic, but that rarely comes across on the page. Reynolds and the script manages to skate around that. His Hal is cocky and sure of himself, but he isn’t wooden and easily connects with the people around him. At one point he tells his nephew that “I may be a screw up in every other part of my life, but one thing I do know how to do if fly!”
Whether they’ve tried too hard to humanize Hal is debatable. He’s meant to be Chuck Yeager or one of the Apollo astronauts. He’s the best of the best – that’s why the ring chose him – by trying too hard to soften him up the film constantly runs the risk of going to far. And there are sections where this Hal comes across more like Kyle Rayner, he even powers the ring up for the first time in an alleyway behind a bar. (That’s not a dig at Kyle, but he’s a different type of character – an everyman as opposed to the ultimate top-gun).
Blake Lively as Carol Ferris is a strong character and nicely contrasts Hal. Their relationship feels real and is possibly the most grounded thing in the movie. She’s not a passive force in the movie, but a lot of what she does as a Ferris executive takes place off-screen. Carol knows Hal better that he knows himself and gives him the kick-up the backside that he needs to step up as man, a person, and a hero. Hal’s best friend his Tom, his mechanic from the comics, who gets polished into a 21st century nerd.
Mark Strong as Sinestro is stately and well-played, and gets as much screen time as any other Lanterns. Hector Hammond is introduced as a scientist who studies Abin Sur’s body and who becomes infected with the Parallax entity. The twist works well enough and Hammond’s transformation is contrasted and paralleled with Hal Jordan’s induction into the Corps. Where it doesn’t quite work is that Hammond isn’t introduced early enough. If he’d been at the Ferris Aircraft test flight and his relationship with Carol/Hal been set-up it could have been an interesting juxtaposition, but it just feels like there is another movie that occasional intruding into this one. Likewise Sinestro’s wrangles with Parallax in deep-space and with the Guardians feels disconnected from the events on Earth.
The magnitude of the plot – the use of Parallax as the main villain – requires the mythology to be put in place before we encounter Hal Jordan. This leads to a very retro opening to Green Lantern – the exposition, the monologue, the outer-space sequence makes this feel like something out of the mid-1980s. It’s like one of those really inventive mid-level fantasy films you just don’t get any more. However, as the first outer-space scenes go on they feel less like a movie and more like the cut-scenes from a computer game. If anything the movie needs more of its own cut-scenes as there are obvious linking scenes that feel like they’ve been skipped (Sur’s crash landing, Hal barging into the Guardian’s audience, etc).
The scenes on Oa aren’t as light weight as you may have heard and are pivotal to the plot – especially once the decision to include Parallax was taken. He’s a threat to the entire Corps, yet his defeat is left to Hal Jordan. The constant back and forth to Oa is necessary to explain why the Guardians are standing back and how they intend to let Earth fall to give them time to marshal their forces against it. That creates the opening for Hal to work in and save the day. It should work, but there is just something missing in the tension between Earth and Oa.
Where Green Lantern is really let down is in the structure of its story. The acting, the individual scenes, even the effects are all very nicely done. But, the structure of the whole isn’t balanced effectively. We don’t follow Hal Jordan on his journey of discovery. The first trailer about does this, we follow Hal’s discovery and it works effectively. However, what the film actually opens with is a massive info dump and exposition downloads us with all the mythology . Its pretty much all of the third trailer:
This means there is nothing shocking about Hal’s discovery of Abin Sur or the ring. We can’t share his confusion or bewilderment at the situation. It would also have given more contrast and shock to the scenes where Hal awakens on Oa. I can make the comparison with the 1996 and 2005 Doctor Who relaunches. The 1996 relaunch was embedded within the mythology and a treat for the fans, but it failed almost because of that. The 2005 relaunch was mythology free and could be enjoyed by everybody. This GL film feels like the 1996 Dr Who movie whereas it should have tried more to be like the 2005 version.
In summary, Green Lantern is a decent film that occasionally flashes into brilliance. The teams, the lead character, and assemble feels a lot like Star Trek (2009), but it never quite pitches up to that level.