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Green Lantern

June 18, 2011
Green Lantern

It’s the summer, and the season for comic book movies.  While most of this year seems dominated by Marvel offerings, DC makes a showing this week with Green Lantern.  It’s a silly little intergalactic romp, but unlike The Green Hornet it’s silly in spite of itself.  And where it’s not silly it’s bloated, muddy, and just not as much fun as it could be.

If you thought Thor had a complicated history in print, The Green Lantern‘s source material is an intractable mess. The screenwriters managed to do a decent job extracting a unitary storyline from a morass of retcons — rather an achievement given that there are four of them — but I think that even the core mythology is inherently more complicated than familiar titles like Batman or Superman.  Yes, both of those properties touch on vast worlds of their own, but they can be boiled down to outlines anyone can get on board with in moments.

To understand The Green Lantern, however, requires a significantly larger amount of exposition, the basics of which the movie tries to get across in an opening monologue.  There are universal energies connected to certain emotions, including the green energy of willpower and the yellow energy of fear.  It’s the green energy that powers the Green Lantern Corps, who act as a team of 3600 intergalactic police officers, each assigned to its own sector.  Earth is in sector 2814, which until recently was patrolled by Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison).  He was a powerful Lantern who once imprisoned the entity Parallax, which is powered yellow energy and feeds on fear.  Unfortunately, Abin Sur was killed when Parallax escaped from the Forbidden Sector.

After crash-landing on Earth, Abin Sur’s ring selects Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) as its new bearer.  Hal, for his part, is a test pilot with Ferris Aircraft, known for his habit of pushing the envelope in all directions and for his lack of responsibility for his actions.  Hal is transported to Oa, a planet at the center of the universe where the Corps is headquartered, and where the details of his new role is explained: willpower charges the central battery which charges Hal’s lantern, which charges his ring, which translates Hal’s will and imagination into green CG effects.  This is all communicated to him by a few more seasoned Lanterns: Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush), Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan), and Thaal Sinestro (Mark Strong).  Hal will be in charge of sector 2814 — including Earth — protecting it from evil, which rather obviously will soon include Parallax.

If all of this seems a bit large and overwrought, you’re not alone, but there’s even more to keep track of.  Back in more pedestrian territory, there’s a love interest in fellow test-pilot — and company executive — Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) that feels entirely bolted-on.  More importantly, Dr. Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) is a xenobiologist who gets a crack at giving Abin Sur an autopsy, at which point he comes into contact with a fragment of Parallax and is poisoned by the yellow energy.  He develops tremendous psychic powers and the ability to act on his long-simmering jealousies.

Hector’s father the senator (Tim Robbins) draws the explicit distinction between him and Hal: thinkers versus doers.  And as much as the movie tries to portray him as a jerk, it never really contradicts him: scientists are venal, jealous, bloated, ugly, creepy, and parasitic.  Heroes are the strong, handsome doers, even whose flaws turn out to be assets in disguise.  The popular jock is, on a cosmic scale, simply a better person than the outcast dweeb.

And so even where Green Lantern isn’t overgrown and overblown, it’s almost offensively stereotypical.  It seems apparent that this all played better on the comic book page; it would almost have to have done.

It’s not all bad, though; it looks fantastic, even in 2D.  And James Newton Howard’s score is just spectacular, especially the theme when we first see Oa, redolent of Toto’s work on Lynch’s Dune.  But it’s too little to save a boring mishmash of a film that defeats its own purposes: if you turn your brain off you can’t understand what’s happening; if you turn it on you can’t enjoy it.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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