Green Lantern (Review)
The third superhero movie of the year thus far ends up a mild disappointment, ditching depth for a straightforward and overstuffed action flick that nevertheless delivers some solid entertainment.
It’s been called the year of the superhero film. Green Lantern is the third comic book superhero movie to come out this year, following Thor and X-Men: First Class. Martin Campbell makes his first foray into the genre, adapting a superhero that has been around since the 1940’s. While Thor and First Class featured more drama and depth than most superhero films, Green Lantern instead opts to be a simpler superhero action flick, which ends up entertaining frequently but feeling a little dated, much like old-school superhero films.
As a 1940s creation, Green Lantern‘s premise is a bit silly at face value: an intergalactic police corps is empowered by green rings that can manifest anything that the wearer imagines, since green is the color of will and is the most powerful force in the universe. Each member of the Lantern Corps protects a planet, having been chosen by the ring. The main source of trouble is usually yellow power, which is the color of fear. Keep in mind, this was a comic created in the 40s. Ryan Reynolds plays as the first human Lantern, Hal Jordan, an arrogant and reckless jet pilot who lost his father in a plane crash and hides a crippling fear of suffering the same fate. His fear is so bad that he accidentally crashes a jet during a training session, getting fired from his job and losing the favor of his childhood sweetheart and friend & wingman Carol Ferris (Blake Lively). Meanwhile, an unstoppable and evil entity known as Parallax, a raging cloud of planet-consuming yellow power, is on a rampage through the galaxy, and the Lantern Corps is powerless to stop him. Giving his life fighting Parallax, one Lantern named Abin Sur crashes on Earth and releases his ring to choose a new Lantern. The ring, of course, settles on Hal, who journeys to the Lantern homeworld of Oa to get trained by the intensely reluctant Sinestro (Mark Strong) so that he can join the Corps against Parallax. Back on Earth, scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) is given the privilege of doing a report on the body of the deceased Abin Sur and gets infected with traces of residual yellow power from Sur’s battle with Parallax, which causes his head to swell and his anger and fear to grow the point of supervillainy. Hal must overcome his fear, master the ring, and defeat both Parallax and Hammond before they destroy Earth. Again, 1940s comic book here.
Martin Campbell is easily one of my favorite directors working today. He made two solid action flicks out of the Zorro franchise, ushered a new era of absurdity in the 007 film Goldeneye, and ironically grounded the series back in reality with the fantastic reboot Casino Royale. He even managed to make last year’s otherwise horrible Mel Gibson thriller Edge of Darkness minimally bearable. Campbell’s handle on visceral action sequences is matched by few other current directors. His sense of energy is still palpable in Green Lantern, as the action has a very fast-paced feel to it. Lanterns rapidly switching between conjured weapons and flying around to punch and shoot things is very exciting to watch, even if it is ridiculous. Campbell has never done a film of this scope before, but on a strictly directorial level, he handles it relatively well, even if he does seem a tad overwhelmed at times. The actors on hand here illustrate Campbell’s high and low points in terms of handling his actors. Sometimes, he can bring out excellent performances from his players, and other times he doesn’t much care about deep performances and instead lets the actors go their own way. This results in fairly average performances from the likes of Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively (who seems very out of place), while Peter Sarsgaard and Tim Robbins do very well and make their respective and collective scenes very entertaining to watch.
What makes Green Lantern falter slightly in comparison to the other superhero films released this year is that it lacks the emotional depth that they had. It’s simply an comic book action movie that occasionally makes attempts at emotion for the sake thereof. That said, when it’s trying to channel the style of a comic book, it succeeds spectacularly. The action of Green Lantern hits delightfully hard, with multiple instances of over-the-top mayhem and characters getting thrown through walls, and so on. In a fun twist, the film takes care to reference or poke fun at superhero tropes, such as the concept that a small mask that covers the eyes is enough to conceal one’s identity. Parallax, though shallow as a character, is a terrifying presence; seeing him hovering over planets as he prepares to devour them is a sight to behold.
There’s nothing notably bad about Green Lantern, though at the same time it does not provide the soaring entertainment that the other superhero films of the year had. Even standing on its own, it’s a rather average film with some above-average action sequences. The plot is way too busy and the film, as a result, is very overstuffed with story. At the same time, it’s a consistently engaging movie where boredom is very rare. Additionally, the film has the feel of a superhero movie from the 90s, which makes the emotional shallowness something of a nostalgia trip. Whether or not this was intentional is irrelevant. When it comes down to it, Green Lantern is probably worth a matinee showing in the theaters, as it does look good on the big screen and even manages to impress in 3D. It’s good, but it’s not great.
Score: *** (out of 5)
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence