Release date (UK) – 17th June 2011
Certificate – 12A
Country – USA
Director – Martin Campbell
Run time – 114 mins
Starring – Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, Temuera Morrison
And the voices of – Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan
Into an already crowded summer for comic book superhero adaptations comes the latest from DC comics, Green Lantern. Whether it can match the critical and commercial success of it’s rival Marvel’s Thor and X-Men: First Class remains to be seen (though early word regarding the former suggests not). More importantly, as Green Lantern is one of the lesser known DC titles with an already complex mythology, can it successfully introduce this character to an audience that is largely unfamiliar with it?
The film begins with a lengthy voice over prologue where we learn that the universe is divided into 3,600 sectors. Each sector protected by a Green Lantern, one of a group of intergalactic peace keepers sworn to keep order throughout the galaxy. Each Green Lantern is entrusted with a ring that gives them super powers and a lantern to power it. After many years in captivity, having been captured by Green Lantern Abin Sur (Morrison), evil being Parallax escapes, killing three Green Lanterns and fatally wounding Abin Sur. Sur crash lands on earth and sends the ring out to find a replacement. It chooses cocky, arrogant test pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds), the first human ever chosen. Jordan is given little time to come to terms with his new role when the ring transports him back to the Green Lantern Corps home planet Oa. There he is trained to harness the power of the ring by Tomar-Re (Rush) and Kilowog (Duncan). Disillusioned by a cynical Sinestro (Strong), who believes no human is worthy enough to become a Green Lantern, Jordan returns to Earth. But as the evil Parallax approaches, Jordan must gather all his strength and belief to help save the Earth from destruction.
As you can probably tell from the synopsis above, Green Lantern has to fit a lot of plot into it’s 114 mins running time. That doesn’t even include Jordan’s relationship with fellow test-pilot and childhood sweetheart Carol (Lively) nor the transformation of scientist Hector Hammond (Sarsgaard) who is infected by Parallax after performing an autopsy on the body of Abin Sur at the behest of his senator father (Robbins). Oh and Hector is also an old acquaintance of Hal and Carol’s and has been in love with Carol since he first met her.
Sadly the script, and it’s attempt to tell this story, is one of many downfalls of Green Lantern that ultimately makes it something of a slog to sit through, taking too many story-telling shortcuts and reverting to too much expositional dialogue.
One of the major casualties of this approach is the Green Lantern Corps themselves. We are told how they are warriors that have kept the peace for many years, but we are offered no actual examples of this. If you judge their efficiency by what you’re shown, they seem to spend most their time just hanging around Oa in a big crowd. When you do see a few of them in action, it tends to end in them being killed by Parallax. Hal Jordan is dismissed as an unworthy successor to Abin Dur, but he’s the only Green Lantern who actually gets anything done. In the final showdown he fights alone (so much for the Green Lantern Corps fighting together) with a handful of them only making a convenient appearance right at the last minute.
This habit of telling us stuff and never showing it continues throughout. We are told that Hal’s humanity, initially thought to be his greatest weakness, is actually his greatest strength but nothing actually happens to show this. At one point Carol tells Hal that the ring chose him because it knew he could overcome his fears. Again we have to accept this as fact rather than rely on actually seeing something to represent this. That Carol is the one who says this line of clunky exposition makes it even worse. Why is this character suddenly an expert on the ring’s intentions? This kind of lazy shorthand continues throughout and it soon begins to grate. The remainder of the dialogue is equally poor (“The bigger you are the faster you burn”) and its attempts at humour never rise above that of a second rate TV sitcom.
Another problem is inconsistency of tone. The powers that the ring gives Hal often resemble a live action Looney Tunes cartoon but these jar slightly with the more gruesome disturbing stuff involving Parallax and the way he dispatches his victims (which in the final showdown include a lot of innocent people) and there’s also a nasty death involving fire (thankfully not shown). If the overall tone had been kept as goofy and fun as the ring effects occasionally are, then the film might have been more enjoyable. The attempt to combine the two doesn’t quite work. The ring effects just end up looking a little daft next to the more serious stuff. A scene where Hal stops a helicopter crash by turning it into a race car going around a toy race track just looks dumb and cheesy. It’s a nice nod to an earlier scene where Hal briefly plays with his Nephew’s toy race car, showing how he uses his memory to create things with the ring’s power, but it still looks stupid.
The effects in general give fairly mixed results. I didn’t have a problem with the suit effect (though it still feels like an unnecessary and expensive choice), but the eye mask looks wrong. Parallax is a rather unconvincing floaty head in a cloud though the way he kills his victims is quite effective. Some of the make-up effects are well done and Oa is well realised if a little underdeveloped.
Another poor choice was Martin Campbell as director. Campbell is an excellent director of physical action and has an already proven track record of impressive origin stories. Both The Mask of Zorro and Casino Royale were excellent at bringing an existing character to the screen in a new way. His style of film-making never quite works here though and he seems ill at ease with the effects-heavy nature of the piece. It’s hardly surprising that the best set-piece is the early one with the fighter jets. The least obviously special effects led scene.
If there are any positives here, it’s that nobody really disgraces themselves on the acting front. Reynolds is still a likeable presence despite playing an arrogant character. He doesn’t always seem comfortable acting out the goofier stuff but that kind of works within the context of a character trying to come to terms with an odd situation. Peter Sarsgaard is very good and is clearly having a great time with the crazy bad guy role. He does occasionally switch between being a tragic villain and a jokey camp one but he’s always enjoyable to watch. Mark Strong is also very good, giving the right balance of gravitas and dignity to his character, which is quite a feat seeing as he’s playing a red-faced, pointy eared alien. The rest of the cast are servicable if uninspired. Blake Lively does her best with a role that doesn’t give her a great deal to do, and considering what she’s shown she can do in a film like The Town, this is a shame. Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett, Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan are all wasted and don’t get to make much of an impression. Pity the poor actors hired to play his family members though, introduced briefly at the beginning and then never mentioned or seen again.
In the end, Green Lantern seems like a wasted opportunity. Like a lot of recent Hollywood blockbusters it relies too much on CGI and too little on a strong script with compelling believable characters. With a tighter script and a more consistent tone, it could have been a great deal of goofy, harmless fun, but it’s faults make it something a tedious experience that feels longer than it is. Both Thor and X-Men: First Class may not have been perfect either but they had enough positives that made up for it. Younger kids might enjoy it and undemanding Green Lantern fans may be happy enough seeing their hero on the big screen at last, but I expect wider audiences may find a film involving a powerful ring powered by a lantern a little bit too daft. A mid-credits sting sets up a rather obvious villain for the possible sequel and hopefully if that gets made, some of the faults can be ironed out. It’s also worth pointing out that, predictably, the 3D offers nothing to the experience and if you really must go and see this, check out the 2D alternative.