A visual delight hampered with a plodding narrative, this hit-or-miss superhero origin story has cocky test pilot (is there any other kind) Hal Jordan unwittingly assigned to be a Green Lantern, a sort-of intergalactic patrolman with unthinkable powers. The film starts out great, with a terrific intro scene for the primary villain, Parralax, an exciting attack scene with another Lantern, Abin Sur, and a strong introduction to Hal Jordan as he accidentally destroys his fighter plane in an attempt to thwart two state-of-the-art stealth bombers during a test run. Abin Sur crash lands on Earth and is led to Jordan by the power of his ring, the key weapon of the Lanterns, which automatically seeks out whoever is worthy of possessing it. Jordan is then whisked away by the ring to Oa, the HQ for the Green Lantern Corps, where he is taught the basics of his newfound powers by three vastly different-looking Lanterns named Tomar-Re, Kilowog, and Sinestro. Meanwhile, back on Earth, an acquaintance of Jordan, Hector Hammond, is assigned to perform an autopsy on Abin Sur for the government, but, in the process, he is exposed to an alien organism that begins to both cloud his thoughts and provide telekinetic abilities. However, it is here the quality of the film starts to get a smidgen rocky; after being overworked in his training, and being told by Sinestro that he isn’t worthy of Abin Sur’s legacy, Jordan up and quits, keeping the ring, but returning to Earth assignment- and responsibility-free. We then get an alarming number of build-up scenes, with Jordan and Hammond dealing with their increasingly powerful abilities, along with their bouts with self-esteem and self-worth, before the third-act barrels in and saves the day with a plethora of action, colorful eye candy, and exciting hero moments.
If there are two huge flaws of this movie (I’ll get to the other one later), one of them is the lack of Oa in the finished film. I do not know whether the filmmakers could not scramble the effects shots together in time, or whether the screenwriters actually didn’t think the home planet of the Lantern Corps was that interesting, but after Jordan makes it to Oa, his elongated return to Earth seems relatively safe, unoriginal, and, occasionally, rather boring. Imagine if in The Last Starfighter, Alex never contacts Centauri to get back into the fight against the Ko-Dan Armada, and he remains in the trailer park wondering if he was worthy of being a Starfighter until Xur finally hunts him down and faces him mano a mano. The plethora of Green Lanterns we are briefly introduced to ends up coming off as a massive tease; it is not enough to promise more of them in a sequel after they have been introduced and then eschewed for goofy flirty scenes with Jordan and his love interest, Carol Ferris, played by Blake Lively.
Which brings me to the second huge flaw of the film which is, surprise surprise, a forced, lackluster, uninteresting, and underplayed love interest, poorly rendered here by Lively. I place the blame squarely at Lively’s feet because a. she does not seem mature enough for neither her bureaucratic position nor her relationship with Jordan, b. her casting screams of a sort of contemporary cynicism that equates widespread fame over concentrated talent, and c. the script actually does try and give her a sense of professionalism and, later in the film, participation in the action scenes, which she deflates with her barely-trying performance. This is not necessarily an attack on Lively as an actress, for she was fairly solid in her white-trash role in The Town, but here, she is a rickety element of the film’s foundation.
Which is a shame, because the rest of the cast is fairly awesome. Reynolds is able to coast through this thing on his effortless charm and movie-star good looks, keeping even the most ludicrous of situations grounded with his constant wisecracks; while he is too feminine and goofy to cut a truly badass, Han Solo-esque figure (like, say, Nathan Fillion, the voice of Green Lantern in a recent cartoon), he is well-suited for this superhero schtick. Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, and Jay O. Sanders are dignified and respectable as various government members related to Jordan and Hammond, and Mark Strong, as well as the voices of Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan, make for killer alien Green Lanterns. But my favorite element of the film had to be Peter Sarsgaard’s performance as Hector Hammond. Sporting a terrible haircut, a history professor’s mustache, and his trademark snarky mumbling, Sarsgaard plays out Hammond’s painfully tragic, well-presented arc with a surprising amount of seriousness and pathos. His character is not the casually dismissed, hot-to-cold mad scientist like Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock or, dare I say, Arnold as Mr. Freeze, but rather the relative yin to Hal Jordan’s yang; the great dilemma of his character is the question of whether, had he been chosen by the green-powered ring rather than his rotten, yellow-powered infection, he could have ended up as the hero. While his powers end up paling in comparison to those of Parallax, the film’s central antagonistic force, his story is far more compelling than either Parallax’s or Jordan’s, and his screentime proves to be the most richly rewarding in the film. I must also mention the film’s near-perfect rendering of Jordan’s limitless ring-based powers. For a superpower that is limited, solely, by the extent of human imagination, the ring’s intuition-based system is well-presented, and always stems from something we can extrapolate from Jordan’s own psyche, rather than some sort of random, FX company-conceived deus ex machina. That was my main concern going into the feature, and I must admit, after noticing the hints at Jordan’s future weaponry throughout the film, it seemed to be one of the easier hurdles for the filmmakers to conquer.
Recommended for fans of sci-fi/fantasy-oriented superhero flicks like Hellboy, Thor, or The Incredibles. In terms of the superhero flicks out right now, I’d say it ranks somewhere above X-Men: First Class, but not quite up to the character and world-building excellence of Thor. That being said, I’m definitely ready for Captain America to swoop in and put all three of these movies to shame.