Movie Review: 'Green Lantern' Avoids Cheese and Charm in Film Debut

A still from the science fiction/comic book film "Green Lantern."
A still from the science fiction/comic book film "Green Lantern." (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

In the past couple of days, the talk surrounding "Green Lantern" has changed from "Is it any good?" to "How bad is it?"

Most critics' answers have been somewhere on the spectrum of "dreadful" to "crime against humanity." Which switches the dialogue again, to "Is it really that bad?" And the answer is simply no, it really isn't.

***Beware the power of minimal "Green Lantern" plot spoilers!***

There are a lot of bad comic book movies out there: "Ghost Rider," "Elektra," "Catwoman," "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" (excuse me, "LXG"), and perennial punching bag "Batman & Robin." Take comfort in the knowledge that "Green Lantern" is better than all of those movies by a significant amount. [10 Coolest Green Lantern Ring Constructs]

But "better than the worst" isn't just the worst DVD box pullquote ever, it also doesn't tell you a lot about a movie.

"Green Lantern," more than any comic book film in recent memory other than the literal translation of "Sin City," sticks very close to the source material. For a comic book fan, there's a lot to like just from that fact: Abin Sur, Sinestro, Kilowog, Tomar-Re, the Guardians and Oa itself are all faithfully rendered, and there's no denying that seeing images from the page come to life on the big screen is, for a fan, a big part of the appeal of any comic book film. It all looks good, and the mythology is treated with respect. (Not a shock, given the involvement of DC chief creative officer and Green Lantern comic series writer Geoff Johns.) [Infographic: Science Fiction Superhero – Green Lantern]

Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan was deemed an odd choice by many at first — Hal's generally pretty straight-laced, and Reynolds starred in "Van Wilder." Yet he equips himself well here, easing from "troubled test pilot" to "newly minted superhero" with requisite aplomb. When he has to turn on the bravado in the third act — you've probably heard his empowered growl of "Green Lantern's light!" in the TV spots — it's a little less believable, but he's not really in that mode for long. (More on that later.)

The concerns that fans had from the initial trailer all turn out to be complete non-issues: "Too much goofy comedy"? Sure, Hal Jordan tells Carol Ferris, "Let's take these pants off and fly some planes," but that's really the extent of such moments. "Too many CGI aliens leading to "Episode I" flashbacks"? The Oa scenes are kept pretty short (you end up wanting to see a lot more of the Green Lantern Corps), and the creatures blend in fairly seamlessly. "The Green Lantern costume has feet instead of boots"? You'd have to be looking really closely to notice. "Blake Lively is a terrible actress"? She might not win an Oscar or even an MTV Movie Award (you have to be in a "Twilight" film to win one of those) for this, but she's perfectly capable in a limited role. (And since it's seeming obligatory to complain about the 3D in a movie like this, it's also totally fine.) [NASA Says Space Photo Looks Like Green Lantern's Ring]

In fact, the filmmakers — headed by director Martin Campbell — seemed to be so intent in scrubbing the film of any type of cheese, that it's also thoroughly lacking in charm. In "X-Men: First Class," a large part of the fun was seeing the blossoming friendship of Xavier and Magneto. In "Thor," the title character's easygoing charisma helped elevate the material.

There isn't a lot of that in "Green Lantern."

The romance between Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris starts and ends vaguely — you get the sense that they have some sort of fondness for each other, but you're not really given much reason to root for them as a couple. Hal's friendship with Thomas Kalmaku — wisely not referred to in the film by his old comic book nickname of "Pieface" — essentially exists just to propel a couple of plot points forward. There's a scene with Hal Jordan and his siblings, which is an unexpected dimension for a superhero movie, but it doesn't last long and is never touched on again. Not much is personally at stake for the hero of the film.

The most action-packed scene comes in the middle of the film, where Green Lantern makes his superhero debut by saving the day at a gala event. The actual climax of the film then feels a bit unfulfilling, partially due to the fact that the movie's ultimate opponent is Parallax, depicted in the film as basically a yellow tornado with a face. There's an example of something that was changed from the comics —  where Parallax looks more like a bug — which doesn't really end up working. (Whether or not a giant yellow bug would be any better is open for discussion.)

This glowing emerald nebula seen by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is reminiscent of the glowing ring wielded by the superhero Green Lantern. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

There is still stuff to like in "Green Lantern." Peter Sarsgaard (Hector Hammond) and Mark Strong (Sinestro) both fare well in their roles. In fact, there are plenty of good actors involved — Tim Robbins as Hector's senator father, Angela Bassett as DC Universe mainstay Amanda Waller, Geoffrey Rush as the voice of Tomar-Re — even though those parts are limited to glorified cameos.

There's nothing truly bad about "Green Lantern," but there's nothing really memorable in it either. For a movie that has as much potential for fun as this one — space travel, exotic aliens, and a ring with the power to construct anything the user can think of — it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

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