The main problem with Green Lantern is that the character’s gimmick – he can create anything he imagines out of thin air using an advanced-technology ring – is a tad silly. This makes it hard for anyone over age seven to suspend enough disbelief to go along for the ride, which is a basic requirement for any movie hoping to attract ticket buyers who have outgrown their Underoos.
Granted, comic-book characters such as Batman, Spider-Man and Iron Man aren’t exactly regular joes. More recently, Thor was an actual deity. But all of those heightened-reality heroes somehow seemed better grounded in their worlds, where logic may have been loopy but wasn’t outright goofy. When Green Lantern rescues an imperiled Senator by creating a massive Hot Wheels racetrack, however, it’s hard not to wince.
Ryan Reynolds plays the title hero and his alter ego, test pilot Hal Jordan, as one of those 30-something adolescents so beloved by beer commercials and bad sitcoms. Shortly after crashing a jet due to a combination of cockiness and daddy issues, Jordan is transported to where a dying Green Lantern has made an emergency landing. Turns out the universe is protected by thousands of those high-powered space cops, and Jordan has been selected to be the first human one. He needs to get up to speed pretty quickly, though, because a world-destroying baddie called Parallax is headed our way.
As with Thor, the movie’s off-world scenes are more imaginative and interesting than its earthbound aspects. The Green Lanterns’ base planet Oa and its wild variety of aliens, each outfitted in variations of the same costume, is a CGI wonder. The planet’s head honchos, huge-domed know-it-alls called the Guardians, sit on towering stone spires reminiscent of the ridiculously high thrones in Pan’s Labyrinth. And Parallax itself, a lava-faced monstrosity with massive smoke dreadlocks, is genuinely creepy.
British actor Mark Strong is excellent (although unrecognizable) as the alien and arrogantly alpha-male Green Lantern Sinestro, whose initial doubts about the noncommittal Jordan seem pretty well founded. It’s hard not to wish Strong and Reynolds had switched roles. It would have been interesting to see Hal Jordan played as a grownup instead of a man-child, while Reynolds could have made Sinestro more of an indignantly immature whiner.
Peter Sarsgaard is adequate as the nerdish scientist Hector Hammond, who gets infected with some Parallax nastiness that gives him powers he can’t help misusing. Unfortunately, Gossip Girl star Blake Lively is blankly lifeless as Jordan’s off-and-on love interest and the object of Hector’s obsession.
Director Martin Campbell, who did such a good job of rebooting the James Bond franchise with Casino Royale, does nothing special with the weak screenplay here. Don’t go expecting a grittily realistic take on funny-book fantasy, in other words.
A bonus end-credits scene makes no sense story-wise, but clearly is intended to set up a sequel. That may be overly optimistic on the studio’s part, unless Green Lantern conjures up a lot more box-office green than it deserves.