An attempt to infuse an earnest piece of comicbook lore with an irreverent, tongue-in-cheek sensibility yields decidedly mixed results in “Green Lantern.” Starring a ripped, wisecracking Ryan Reynolds as the greenest member of a mighty intergalactic league of superheroes, helmer Martin Campbell’s visually lavish sci-fi adventure is a highly unstable alloy of the serious, the goofy and the downright derivative. Sans Batman/Superman-level name recognition, this risky DC Comics franchise launcher will rep a real test of Warners’ marketing muscle, though it functions well enough as eye-popping spectacle to appeal to summer moviegoers beyond its core constituency of salivating fanboys.
More than usual for this type of megabudget fare, the studio will rely on favorable reviews and word of mouth to counteract negative buzz that has persisted since the release of the film’s first trailer in November. With four credited writers onboard (including producer Greg Berlanti, once slated to direct), the picture has been conceived as a present-day origin story for Hal Jordan, the most popular of the six human protagonists who have wielded the green power ring since the creation of the enduring comicbook series in 1940.
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Packing so much exposition that some viewers may require maps and flow charts, a sonorous voiceover introduces the Green Lantern Corps, a federation of alien warriors who use their extraordinary abilities for good. But an evil, soul-sucking force called Parallax is spreading its tentacles across the 3,600 sectors of the universe, striking fear even in the intrepid Lanterns, who draw their energy from the power of the will, fear’s very antithesis. One of their top fighters, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), is mortally wounded by Parallax and realizes he must transfer his gifts to a new Lantern in the time that remains.
Cut to planet Earth, home of brash U.S. fighter pilot Hal (Reynolds), to whom the dying Abin Sur bequeaths a ring, a lantern and some cryptic instructions. Swiftly teleported to the distant planet Oa, Hal runs the usual rookie obstacle course, receiving sage advice from chicken-fish hybrid Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush); rough training from piggish Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan); and sneering disapproval from Sinestro (Mark Strong), the Lanterns’ supercilious, red-skinned leader.
Sinestro disdains human weakness, and indeed, Hal’s reckless nature hides feelings of insecurity rooted in his father’s fiery death years earlier, as glimpsed in a manipulative childhood flashback. Paradoxically, this trauma makes him just the guy to don suit and mask, recite the catchy Green Lantern oath, and prove that courage is a far greater weapon than fearlessness.
Yet it also underlines the irony that this cinematic enterprise should feel so risk-averse in almost every particular, and so slavishly devoted to its innumerable bigscreen forebears. For all its industrial-strength visual wonders, “Green Lantern” is marked by a spirit of profound timidity, straitjacketed by its need to satiate its target audience without seeming too geeky for the mainstream.
Pic does show an admirable boldness early on, embracing its material with a po-faced sincerity that may get laughs from the uninitiated; this is especially true whenever Sinestro seeks advice from the ancient Guardians of the Universe, whose pallid, oval-shaped heads and stilted diction suggest a council of Yodas several millennia past their expiration date. Yet the filmmakers mock their own bid for seriousness with a jokey, self-conscious attitude elsewhere that, far from providing knowing comic relief, merely saps the picture of gravitas.
Even the casting of Reynolds, arguably the film’s biggest gamble, soon reveals its calculation; the amusingly glib, too-smart-for-the-galaxy actor seems to have been chosen primarily to inoculate the film against its own encroaching cheesiness. As Hal learns to fly, conjure weapons with his mind and charm the socks off childhood sweetheart Carol Ferris (an underserved Blake Lively), Reynolds looks alternately flabbergasted and self-satisfied, providing little emotional bandwidth for a hero whose sense of wonder the viewer is never allowed to access. It’s especially disappointing given the rich psychological dimensions Campbell brought to a very different origin story in 2006’s “Casino Royale.”
Registering more vividly, as villains often do, are Strong as the never entirely trustworthy Sinestro and Peter Sarsgaard as geeky scientist Hector Hammond, whose exposure to Parallax triggers a descent into psychotic monomania. With yellow eyes and a freakishly engorged noggin, Sarsgaard is feverishly creepy despite inadequate motivation from the script, which makes a perfunctory attempt to set up a tangled backstory for Hal, Carol, Hector and Hector’s smarmy-politico father (Tim Robbins). The viewer is left with the annoying sense that the ruling powers of the universe, in their infinite wisdom, have entrusted the fate of humanity to a Waspy, overprivileged social circle with major daddy issues.
If it offers little worth listening to in terms of dialogue or music, “Green Lantern” does provide consistent visual diversions in Grant Major’s production design, whose otherworldly cityscapes bear some resemblance to the all-digital backgrounds in the most recent “Star Wars” pictures. Even when its fantastical effects look blatantly artificial, the cleanly edited film has an elegance and overall design coherence that bespeak an able craftsman at the helm.
While hardly essential to the viewing experience, the application of 3D is well judged in its occasional isolation of foreground elements, and image brightness was at acceptable levels at the screening caught.