DC have not had a lot of luck adapting their properties to the screen. Superman and Batman have made the transition both totally unscathed and almost unrecognisable in various incarnations, but a lot of the second stringers have been genuinely dire, with movies like Jonah Hex, Constantine, Catwoman, and even the bizarre and ill-advised Shaquille O’Neal vehicle Steel failing to impress. Green Lantern is a character that isn’t especially well-known outside of comics fandom, but if Iron Man and Thor can be mainstream film successes, surely a huge, intergalactic tale of superpowered cops and weird aliens should be able to make it to the screen, right?
The short answer, is yes, but not like this. While elements of Green Lantern are appealling, and while most of the cast seem to be to be trying so hard to make the whole thing fun that they’re likely to strain something, the overall result is such a shambolic lurching mess that the few elements that are enjoyable are lost in a mire of meandering plotting and endless exposition. Worse, the film eschews the far more interesting space-based stuff to keep the film firmly grounded on Earth (and therefore, you know, cheap) for the majority of its runtime.
Ryan Reynolds plays Hal Jordan, a reckless manchild test fighter pilot (qualities I imagine are often associated with the job). Emotionally crippled by the death of his father at a young age, he hurtles through every manchild cliche so quickly that it’s genuinely surprising that there isn’t a scene of him watching cartoons in his pants. His boss / charisma-free love interest is Carol Ferris (played by the ironically-named Blake Lively), a one-note attempt by idiots to write an empowered woman (she’s a successful businesswoman and a fighter pilot), yet her whole role in the film is for men to fight over her, or to cower while imperilled. Rounding out the film’s never-explained love triangle and central trio is Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard, looking like a ginger Julian Assange), a nerdy biologist who feels crushed by his overbearing senator father. Yes, instead of a galaxy-spanning epic, Green Lantern is a film about the messy collision between superpowers, daddy issues and outright misogyny. Buried proved that Ryan Reynolds can carry more drama than the light and fluffy rom coms and action flicks that have made up his career to date, but in Green Lantern he seems to be in default ‘grinning and wisecracks’ mode. Most of the performances are weak – though Stellan Sarsgaard and Mark Strong seem to be trying – and actors like Tim Robbins are wasted on glorified cameos.
So, the plot: The Green Lantern Corps are intergalactic peacekeepers, each with a ring that focuses their willpower into constructs of green energy. When its bearer is mortally wounded, the ring picks Hal as its new owner, who must step up and overcome his fear if he’s to fulfil his destiny. Except sometimes it’s more his daddy issues that he has to face. Or sometimes they’re the same thing, and sometimes they’re completely different. A better writer (or team – there are four writing credits on this thing) would have been able to tie it all together in a meaningful way, rather than the very vague ‘fear is bad, parents mess you up’ message that meanders in and out of frame throughout the film. The most interesting parts of the film – Hal learning to use his powers and training with other Green Lanterns – are sadly sidelined for a lot of boring exposition.
A determination to complete as much of the film as possible with CGI rather than practical effects makes Green Lantern look bizarre and unfinished for far too much of its runtime. A lot of the effects are rough, but even the absolutely vital effects like Hal’s suit (inexplicably 100% CG) look shiny and incomplete all too frequently. Worse, he frequently has a CGI mask imposed on his face, and when your character is already reduced to a floating head in a sea of pixels, flattening and hiding the main character’s browline makes for a complete inability to read expressions.
There are moments in the outer space scenes that look suitably epic, but they are few and far between. For the most part the CGI is just jarring. Most of the Green Lanterns are well-designed but poorly-realised. The Guardians, the taciturn and immortal Smurfs that oversee the Green Lantern Corps, feature lip-syncing that would embarrass most videogames. By the end of the film, the villain Parallax looks like a skull with snake / dragon /arm / leg / things radiating from the centre – like something a 14 year-old boy would draw in the margins of his textbook during a particularly dull lesson. There is a post-credits sequence that reduces Sinestro (50’s sci-fi name aside, he is the only halfway interesting character in the film) to a cackling idiot. Fans of the comics will know where his story is leading, and to see it reduced to a 10-second snippet totally undoes the restrained performance that Mark Strong managed to deliver in the middle of all the prosthetics and mocap suits.
If it’s your fondest wish to see these characters realised on screen then you might get something out of Green Lantern, but most people will leave this film baffled and annoyed. There isn’t a single fully-functional element of Green Lantern, from the cast to script, score to direction to effects – everything is sub-par. Maybe if the filmmakers and studio had committed to the idea of the big dumb space opera Green Lantern needed to be in order to distinguish itself from all the other superhero films, it wouldn’t be such a letdown. As it is, it’s a joyless unfocused mess.