A comic-book movie, with a story as fanciful and preposterous as Green Lantern’s, demands a star with enough charisma and gravitas to force us to take it all seriously, and Ryan Reynolds just doesn’t fit the bill.
I’ll grant that he looks enough like a superhero to portray the Green Lantern. But when we’re being told that our universe is defended from the forces of evil by an intergalactic army of 3,600 heroes whose power comes from special rings that harness the energy of the collective will power of every creature in existence, and (furthermore) that will power is colored green, we need something other than Reynolds’ goofy demeanor to ground the story in some semblance of reality. We don’t get it, and we’re left with nothing but an overblown live-action cartoon.
Even a cartoon can succeed, of course, but then it’s got to be so much darn fun that we forgive it its other faults. Green Lantern, an adaptation of the long-running DC Comics title, fails even on those terms. None of the major action sequences is particularly thrilling or visually exciting. It doesn’t help that the movie’s primary villain, Parallax, is a giant dark space-cloud. In the final battle, the Green Lantern appears to be fighting a thunderstorm.
The bad guys seem like an afterthought because so much time is spent on the origin story, in which test pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds) becomes a member of the elite Green Lantern Corps after inheriting one of the aforementioned rings from a dying space alien. Jordan is introduced as a fun-loving rake who has long been afraid of commitment — but he accepts the ring and its matching magic lantern, along with the grave responsibilities that these items confer, without giving it a second thought.
Soon he’s whisked away to the distant planet Oa, headquarters for the Green Lantern Corps and home to the mysterious alien race known as the Guardians, who long ago discovered how to use the power of will to forge the rings and lanterns that protect our universe. There he’s trained by his fellow Lanterns on how to form “constructs,” solid projections of whatever he can imagine. The leader of the corps, Sinestro (Mark Strong), doubts that Jordan has the makings of a truly great Lantern.
A word now about the almost wholly useless secondary characters. There’s Dr. Hector Hammond (Peter Saarsgard), a shy scientist who comes to do the bidding of Parallax. His storyline fizzles out, almost literally, with no payoff. Also there’s Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), herself a test pilot and head of the aviation company for which Jordan works. Carol is supposed to have the force of personality to put Hal in his place, but Lively is completely wrong for the part; with her weak voice and slight manner, she’s not believable for a moment.
It turns out that the only thing the Green Lantern Corps has to fear is fear itself. Parallax feeds on the fear of others and spits the force of their own fear back at them. There’s much talk in the movie about the need for the force of will (the color green) to overcome the insidious power of fear (the color yellow).
Which results in a big showdown on Earth and in outer space. But that’s really beside the point. Green Lantern, it turns out, is merely a feature-length commercial for its own sequel, as a bonus scene midway through the end credits makes clear. It’s a brilliant teaser, actually: a scene that makes not one iota of sense, given what we’ve just watched. We’re expected to come back for part two, I guess, for an explanation.