A devil-may-care pilot suddenly becomes tasked with protecting the entire world in Green Lantern, a superhero movie that is pretty much what people mean when they derisively sneer “superhero movie” while pooh-pooh-ing the quality of summer movies.
And that kind of “all these sequels and prequels, p-shaw” snobbery is unfair, no more fair than saying “blah, more like The Tree of Still Life” about art movies. This summer’s X-Men: First Class is a strong contender for top 10 films of 2011. Superhero movies, even franchises, can be fantastic things — sparkling, heartfelt, action-packed.
Just, you know, not this one.
Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a test pilot of snazzy fighter planes. When in the sky, he’ll go to any lengths — protocol be damned — to accomplish his mission. Hal’s bravado and apparent lack of fear may have something to do with a plane crash that killed his pilot father years earlier. Ex-girlfriend-or-something Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) seems to still like him but is all tsk-tsk-y about his crazy ways, particularly after he crashes one of the jets during a test of drones her father’s company is trying to sell to the military. All this life-on-the-edge stuff makes Hal seem like a loose cannon to those who know him here on earth, but to a ring with a honking green stone in it, he seems like hero material.
See, while Hal is dealing with all his Earthly problems, out in space, a group of intergalactic protectors called the Green Lantern Corp aisre facing a terrible new menace that has already taken the life of a few of their members. One of the bravest, Abin Sur (Temura Morrison), is able to make it to Earth and pass on the ring and its power-charging green lantern to Hal before he dies. To learn about his new powers, Hal is transported to the Green Lanterns’ home planet, where he meets other Green Lanterns — some of them friendly, some of them disapproving but none of them human (Hal would be the first human to join their ranks). Hal leaves the planet not particularly certain this universe-protecting gig is one for him.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, the government found the body of Abin Sur, and Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a schlubby scientist, is asked to do the autopsy. A slip of the hand gets him infected with alien goo and soon he finds himself possessing powers, facial growths and a connection to Parallax, the smoke-head-villain who eats worlds and caused Abin Sur’s death.
The best way I can describe Parallax is, well, remember the movie Mars Attacks!? Parallax is a bit like one of those alien-heads (which, if you’ll remember, were kind of B-movie skeleton-face-with-too-big-brain characters) only instead of a defined body Parallax’s head comes out of a kind of smoke-octopus body, or like a mop, but made out of smoke. Parallax (whose head is also sort of smoky looking) can destroy worlds and suck the life out of a body (or some nifty effect that looks like that). Whereas the Green Lanterns get their power from Will (as in, the force of will of all the beings of the universe, that kind of will), Parallax gets his from Fear. So part of the question of how to fight him is — do the Green Lanterns do it with will? Or with the more corrosive fear?
Did I mention Parallax looks a bit like a mop? These big questions of will versus fear are much harder to take seriously when they concern the world-ending powers of a smoke-mop with a B-movie alien head. A certain amount of ridiculousness is a part of any superhero movie but it’s hard to really let go and be in the moment when your green-body-suit-wearing, mostly CGI heroes are fighting an evil giant mop. And then there’s the “oath” — the “truth, justice and the American way”-type pledge that all the Green Lanterns repeat when they join on. It is not horrible, but when it’s fit into a fight scene with the mop and a bulbous-headed Peter Sarsgaard, you just don’t get that swelling-score, hero-about-to-kick-ass feeling.
As heroes meant to kick ass go, Ryan Reynolds is neither great nor awful. He is a generic hunky actor shoved into a movie very big on effects (the 3-D ones being the most unnecessary). He fills out the suit (metaphorically speaking, because the suit itself appears to be mostly computer-generated) but not the character. I can give you Hal Jordan’s storyline, but of his character’s inner life or turmoil (about the death of his father or becoming a space cop) we are told much but see very little. Even this kind of neutral space-filling is still way more than Blake Lively is able to do with her character. A Blake Lively mannequin could have filled the role just as well, possibly even emoted more convincingly.
A good superhero movie needs some combination of humanity and spectacle. The X-Men and Spider-Man movies tend to be heavy on the humanity. Iron Man was all about big fun spectacle. Green Lantern, with its empty-feeling computer-generated worlds and its big but not quite bad-enough villains, has neither. C
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action. Directed by Martin Campbell and written by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldberg, Green Lantern is an hour and 45 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.