GREEN LANTERN (2011)

On this Thursday,
Just past midnight,
I went to see
Green Lantern, right?
Let those who'd do
the same tonight
beware my warning:
Green Lantern's shite.

On an episode of Aaron Sorkin's short-lived television series Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip—way back in 2006—a character bemoaned the prevalence of the "one-sheet" mentality in Hollywood: "You know, a movie poster, a one-sheet:  Oh, I think we'll do the Green Lantern — I can see the one-sheet now. Don't worry that we don't have a story — we're gonna make all our money before word-of-mouth can kill us, anyway."

Not for the first time, Sorkin was remarkably prescient. Green Lantern is a pretty bad movie, but more than that, it's just pointless. Was anyone clamoring for a big-screen version of Hal Jordan's Green Lantern—a character so unrepentantly dull that he has been killed off, resurrected, rebooted, reinvented, and replaced more than just about any hero in comics? If he ever had a high point it was during the 1970s, when writer Denny O'Neill and artist Neal Adams made him the stiff, conservative straight man in a socially conscious double-act with lefty hero Green Arrow. Since then writers have struggled with a way—any way—to make the character interesting, which has including killing him, turning him evil, and—most frequently—giving his power ring to someone with more personality.

(I've always made the analogy that DC Comics is to Marvel Comics as Disney cartoons are to Warner Bros. cartoons. Mickey and Superman may be more iconic, but they have no personality: you'd really much rather hang out with Bugs Bunny or Spider-Man. [Batman is the exception among the DC heroes—he has personality—but he's angry and bitter: he's Donald Duck.] In this analogy Green Lantern is probably Pluto, or Daisy Duck, or some character who delivers pizza to Mickey whose name I don't even know.)

But I digress, mostly to avoid talking about this movie, because I've already wasted two hours seeing it and I begrudge every additional minute I have to spend thinking about it.

Anyway, Green Lantern—directed by Martin Campbell, and written by committee—doesn't even come close to making the character or the concept interesting. The movie opens with what feels like 10-minutes of video-game voice-over that explains how the Guardians of the Galaxy harnessed the "emerald energy of will" to fight the "yellow energy of fear," and redistricted the entire universe to appoint a protector—a "Green Lantern"—for each sector. When our sector's Lantern, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), is mortally wounded fighting a giant flying space tumor called Parallax, his power ring seeks out a worthy successor in Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds). Hal is a smug but oddly fragile test pilot, whose father died in a plane: basically, he's Tom Cruise in Top Gun, after Goose died and before he got his edge back. He works for Ferris Aviation, which is being taken over by his ex-girlfriend Carol Ferris (Blake Lively).

And…that's about it as far as Hal's character is concerned. Smug, daddy issues, hot ex-girlfriend. What more do you need? I think the movie is supposed to be about Hal conquering his fear and accepting his responsibility as a hero, but there's no real character here, let alone a character arc. Except for one freak-out in the cockpit of his plane, Hal doesn't seem crippled by fear: he just seems like a lazy slacker. Reynolds—who made his career playing lazy slackers—was probably not the right casting for this, but he's game and likable enough: he just gets no assistance from a thin-to-the-point-of-non-existence script.

A bigger problem is that Green Lantern just looks silly. I'm guessing that the real reason the movie got made is that someone said, "Hey, we finally have the technology to make realistic giant green fists and all the other glowing green shit that Green Lantern can create with his power ring." And they do: and it still looks silly. It always looked silly, even in the comics, but here it looks particularly ridiculous, the unnatural glow just reminding you that 90 percent of what you're watching (including the hero's costume) is a CGI-effect. Nothing is believable, particularly the world of Oa, where Hal undergoes his brief, remarkably unstructured training for the Green Lantern Corps. (Hey, little blue dudes: if you're going to give some random guy a magic ring that lets him do anything—and let him keep it, even if he quits—you might think about a better training program than having him be slapped around by a giant lizard-skinned gorilla. Just a thought.)

I have a hatred of green screen backgrounds and CGI crowd scenes, particularly when they are as phony looking as these. I said this when I reviewed Thor, and I'll say it again: just because you can create an entire world in CGI doesn't mean you should. Use it to enhance, but maybe you should build a few actual sets, and hire some actual god-damned extras. When we know you're just standing in front of a green screen it destroys our ability to suspend disbelief, and it makes your scenes feel shallow and artificial. (It's the modern equivalent of those rear-projection driving scenes from the '40s and '50s, and it's no more convincing.)

The closest Green Lantern comes to being an actual movie is when Peter Sarsgaard is on-screen as nerdy Hector Hammond, an embittered scientist who is brought in by his senator father (Tim Robbins) to examine Abin Sur's body. Sarsgaard is a phenomenal actor, and he creates a real character here. Unfortunately, he's the only real character in the movie, and even he is eventually subsumed (literally and figuratively) under the larger threat of Parallax, which is not a character at all but just a motivation-less, world-eating worm farm.

(Actually, Parallax reminded me most of these things. Remember these things?)

See, I'm digressing again. But screw it. The movie just isn't any good, okay? Shallow, phony looking, lazy, boring, and poorly conceived from the bottom up. (Thor was much better, and I panned Thor.) There needed to be a better reason to make a Green Lantern film than the fact that they could, and—despite the inevitable post-credits sequel bait—this movie gives us absolutely no reason to hope for another one.

The Unaffiliated Critic

Michael G. McDunnah is a freelance writer, a recovering lit major, a pop-culture junkie, and an unaffiliated critic. He lives in Chicago.

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