The past few years have brought us a glut of superhero origin stories. With so many similar films out there, it can be hard to make something that stands out while still maintaining the formula that draws old fans and new viewers alike. It’s not always necessary to make something completely new, of course; we like our big, action-packed superhero movies for a reason. Origin stories allow everyone to get in on the fun without feeling like there’s something they’re not understanding.
Green Lantern attempts to join the club, promising an adventure with a large cast of heroes and a vast environment for them to explore. While the film clearly has a lot of potential for something very fun, the end result is a boring march through much-treaded territory.
The Green Lantern Corps is a group of fearless intergalactic heroes sworn to protect the galaxy with the help of their magic rings, which allow them to channel their willpower to control the physical world. They meet their match in Parallax, a being who feeds on fear. When one of their greatest warriors is unable to defeat Parallax, he spends his last moments traveling to the nearest inhabited planet, Earth, to allow his ring to choose his successor. The ring chooses Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a reckless test pilot without much sense of responsibility. With the Earth in danger, Hal must overcome his fears and learn to be a hero.
The most important part of an origin story is staying true to the fans while inviting a new audience to enjoy the world. Many films do this correctly, condensing decades worth of comic history into an understandable format for a newcomer without leaving the fans unsatisfied. Green Lantern is not one of these films. The plot is not terribly hard to follow, but it is still explained in detail several times throughout the film. I’m not talking about minute details about how the rings work, either; there are three separate occasions where it is explained who Parallax is and why he is dangerous. It leaves the audience feeling somewhat insulted at being so thoroughly babied by the script.
The characters have the exact opposite issue. There are quite a few side characters, all with a personal connection to Hal, and none of them are introduced properly. In looking up the actors on IMDB, I learned more about the characters than I did in the entire film. Hal’s love interest, Carol (Blake Lively), is the most well-explained, and by the end of the movie we still know nothing about her other than her job and her relationship with Hal. The most glaring back story omission is with Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard). There are hints about some sort of previous bad blood between them, but no explanation of how Hector and Hal know each other or why the meaningful glances between them are supposed to have meaning at all. Given his role, this is a pretty big thing to overlook.
Hal Jordan himself isn’t terribly likeable, and considering that we’re supposed to empathize with his struggle to overcome his fears, this is a problem. Reynolds is not very charming and his problems don’t seem too hard to overcome. Nothing seems too hard for him to overcome, in fact: his battles are all over too quickly, and it never feels like he’s really in danger. The final battle against Parallax could have been pretty damn epic, but at no point does Hal lose control of his opponent. The dull battles are not helped by the sparse and uncreative use of the ring. It’s a magic ring that can do anything. Couldn’t the writers think of something more interesting than machine guns?
The writing is not only lacking in regard to the rings. The dialogue is poor, with most of the one-liners falling flat between lines of stiff conversation. One would hope that the abundant CG would at least give us something pretty to look at, but many of the textures look off, and the very few aliens with makeup and masks look worlds better than their digital counterparts.
Coming into this with no prior knowledge of the Green Lantern universe, I found myself wanting to know more. What kind of planet is Oa? What are the other Lanterns like? Where are their planets, and how do they all work together? It’s usually the sign of a good movie to be left wanting more, but in this case, it’s an overall dissatisfaction that there’s apparently a lot of cool stuff going on but the movie didn’t want to share it. Fans of the series may enjoy seeing the characters in action, but with such shoddy writing, it’s just as likely to end in disappointment.
Alex Katz: 55 – Bad: I’d like to say it’s just origin story fatigue from years of introducing new superheroes to moviegoing audiences, but sadly, Green Lantern wouldn’t have been any less dull if it came out the year before Iron Man rewrote the book on superhero origins. Green Lantern suffers from a poorly-written script, reasonable actors that have basically nothing to do, CGI that jumps back and forth from well done to seriously dodgy, and a complete lack of scope. It’s yet another movie that purports an epic scope, while taking place mostly on Earth. The film desperately wants to have a big, cosmic scale, stuffing Green Lantern mythos in at every opportunity, to the point where none of it manages to stick. Or matter. I do hope, though, that this movie makes a good amount of money. It’s DC’s last chance at getting film adaptations of someone other than Superman and Batman off the ground. They’re not off to a good start.
Matthew Razak: 60 – Okay: I think Green Lantern would have had an easier time if it hadn’t been the third origin film to land this summer. It basically suffers from many of the same flaws as Thor did, but seems far more tired because we’ve already seen this story two times already this summer. The special effects are all over the place, the character development is null and void and the story feels like to separate entities. The filmmakers sadly decided to go really big and cram the entire introduction to the Green Lantern mythos into one film instead of giving us the introduction to just Hal Jordan. It’s too big and too unwieldy. Still, by the end of the film I wanted more because when the film does shine it does it well and I think Reynolds could easily give a strong performance given some material that doesn’t suck.