Here’s the thing, I’ve been waiting for a Green Lantern movie since 1980. That’s a long time (and a big stack of comic books). On hearing Green Lantern was finally getting his own live-action franchise I was cautiously optimistic. And then every still, trailer, and commercial I saw made me increasingly less so. Was this really what I waited so long to see?
Director Martin Campbell unleashes a CGI extravangza which certainly isn’t the Green Lantern of my childhood. However, the script by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg gets enough of the character right and does a fair job of combining various story threads, told over several decades, into a single cohesive narrative that by the time the credits rolled, I’ll admit, I had a slight grin on my face.
Of course it’s also possible that my longtime love for the character and my growing unease at something during its marketing began to look all too similar to Marvel’s botched Fantastic Four franchise may have caused a psychotic break.
Either way, I had a good time. Although the film is light on epic moments, it’s solid and there’s an obvious care shown towards the characters and world recreated here. It’s a big step for DC Comics when you realize this is the first property outside of Superman or Batman to get a big-budget summer movie. And although it makes some changes, some of which I’ll no doubt gripe about in far too many paragraphs to follow, it gets the feel right. In other words, much like Bryan Singer‘s first X-Men flick, it’s far from perfect, but it’ll do.
The film, for the most part, keeps to the classic retelling of Hal Jordan‘s origin as well as borrowing heavily from comic writer Geoff Johns‘ recent updated version of the same story. After a big budget sci-fi prologue which introduces one of the film’s villains, the mysterious space smoke monster Parallax, we’re thrown right into the everyday routine of irresponsible test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds).
After botching an attempt to help sell the military on new Ferris Aircraft technology, Jordan finds himself in hot water with his boss Carl Ferris (Jay O. Sanders) and the boss’s daughter Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) with whom Hal has a turbulent past. His relationships with his brothers (Mike Doyle, Nick Jandl) aren’t on much better terms. I’ll give credit to the writers here for allowing Hal to be something of a self-centered jerk and not letting Reynolds’ charm smooth over too many of the character’s rougher edges.
Jordan’s life is changed irrevocably when an alien named Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) crashes on Earth. Slowly dying, the Green Lantern seeks out a replacement. The ring chooses Hal Jordan. At first Jordan struggles with the responsibility handed to him, but eventually proves himself a worthy addition to the Green Lantern Corps.
I’ve gotten this far without explaining the basic concept of the rings, so here goes. In an effort to police the galaxy the Guardians divided the known universe into separate sectors and assigned one protector to watch over that realm of space. Each was armed only with a green ring which drew its power from the Central Power Battery of Oa. The green energy of the rings is expressed through the will of the user to create both simple and complex constructs which are only limited by his or her (or it some cases its) imagination.
Longtime fans of the character will recognize quite a few familiar faces (even if some of them have been tweeked a bit) including Sinestro (Mark Strong), Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan), and Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush), all of who briefly train Jordan on his initial trip to the planet Oa. We also get appearances by Hal’s longtime friend Thomas “Pieface” Kalmaku (Taika Waititi), although without his charming nickname, and Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett).
As Hal Jordan’s story unfolds so does that of the creation of another of the film’s villains, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard). The nerdy son of a Senator (Tim Robbins), Hammond is called upon to do the autopsy of Abin Sur, only to find himself exposed to Parallax’s influence. As Jordan struggles with his new role, Hammond adapts to his newfound abilities and altered physical appearance. The juxtaposition of the two stories unfolding works well, much like that of the competing green and yellow energies of the Guardians and Parallax, and I have to admit Sarsgaard makes Hammond far more entertaining on screen than I expected.
Lively also surprises as the film’s love interest, although she does struggle in a couple of scenes where she has to express a multitude of emotions below the surface while delivering some very wordy dialogue. In terms of storyline the film’s writing does a fair job in jamming together an incredible amount of plot in under two-hours. In terms of dialogue I will freely admit it struggles at times. Although there are few truly groan worthy scenes, Shakespeare this ain’t.
The film makes several changes, both large and small, to the character of Hal Jordan. I adapted to the CGI costumes, and even if I was disappointed with the unnecessary alterations to what is one of the best super-hero costume of all-time, the reasoning behind it was solid enough: The costume, as it is in the comics, is simply another construct from the ring and should reflect that (thus the energy-infused glowing costumes). The more alien redesign of the lantern itself still bugs me, though.
Of all the changes the one most fundamental to the character really ruffled my feathers. Hal Jordan is chosen as Green Lantern because he’s without fear. It’s his defining characteristic and has been his greatest strength (and weakness) since the character’s creation more than 50 years ago that factors into every bad decision and hero act he’s made over the years.
Borrowing more from the Geoff Johns’ retelling of his origin, this Hal Jordan is haunted by the death of his father (Jon Tenney), also a test pilot, and his fear has caused him to push the limits in every facet of his life, while pushing away those closest to him, in an attempt to ignore and overcome that fear. It’s a huge change to such a defining piece of the character. It also produces the film’s weakest scene (where Hal shows his emotions by admiring his fears to Carol) which bears the brunt of this awkward and unnecessary change head-on.
On a positive note, I also thought the comradery of the Corps was well handled. Although Green Lantern has often been described as a street cop, here the Corps feels much more like an army. I was particularity impressed with Strong’s turn as Sinestro who, if the franchise continues, should see a much expanded role in the next film. The creators of the Corps, the immortal Guardians, have been altered slightly as well in an attempt, I assume, not to make them look like little blue Oompa-Loompas. Although the film doesn’t quite get them right, I will give credit for the effort.
This isn’t the Green Lantern from my childhood, and there’s way, way too much CGI for my tastes, but it’s also far from the complete clusterfuck I was dreading. There’s plenty of room for improvement in the sequel (which is already being written), but as a first film it will do. The main character and backbone of the story are more or less intact and there’s plenty of room in this universe for the character to go from here.
It’s not in the same category as Richard Donner’s Superman, but it has that earnest steady feel as it unfolds the world of this character on-screen. At the same time it also bears a more than passing resemblance to Top Gun. If you can handle a CGI explosion one step away from a fully animated movie, centered around a maverick fighter pilot turned space cop, armed with a magic ring given to him by aliens, then this film is for you. And if that isn’t enough for you to give it at least a chance, I don’t know what to tell you.