When he's granted a mystical green ring that bestows him with otherworldly powers, test pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds) becomes the first human to earn membership into an intergalactic squadron tasked with keeping peace within the universe. His mission: to combat an enemy called Parallax, which threatens to destroy the universe's balance of power.
Comic books turned to movies are subject to a crushing double standard not just from general audiences but from fans. On the one hand, comic book stories themselves often offer up flights of fancy bordering on whimsy with little connection to the real world. On the other hand, film adaptations of those stories are required to explain all of that through a lens of realism in order to sell itself and the power fantasy it is offering as something which could actually happen.
It's a problem thrown into stark contrast as the prologue of "Green Lantern" begins explaining about the cadre of space police and their weapon of willpower which is somehow naturally colored green. A weapon and a force whose worst enemy is fear, which is somehow naturally colored yellow and signified by an octopus-like vampiric space cloud called Parallax.
With all the goodwill in the world it's going to be difficult to take that seriously once people start saying it out loud and repeatedly. The reality is comic book storytelling works on a different set of rules than films do and knowing how far to go in one direction versus another is a minefield for any director. How true to remain to the original to satisfy the purists versus how far to actually adapt to make it all work. It's a minefield director Martin Campbell ("Casino Royale") navigates unsuccessfully as often as he does successfully. The result is an extremely uneven film.
The good, it should be said, is very good. It looks spectacular, particularly during the frequent trips to outer space. After discovering a strange green ring from a dying alien, test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds") is quickly whisked off to the planet of Oa to be trained as one the elite Green Lantern Corps.
Sony Imageworks have produced a living, breathing universe full of visual grandeur. Not to be outdone, cinematographer Dione Beebe ("Miami Vice") and production designer Grant Major ("The Lord of the Rings") have put together an exciting package whether it's a small apartment or planes flying above the desert. The result is one of the most resplendent comic book films of the modern era. The abundant CGI also aides the 3D process, making "Green Lantern" the first big summer picture which really benefits from being seen in 3D.
Campbell has chosen to go the verisimilitude route—from the group of alien explorers uncovering Parallax's prison to xenobiologist Hector Hammond's (Peter Sarsgaard) dissection of Hal's dead alien—trying to compliment the visual aesthetic. It's a choice which should work much better than it does, but it consistently runs into the fanciful side of "Green Lantern" in the shape of green Gatling guns and jet fighters and various other will-powered constructs which are Green Lantern's traditional hook.
To be fair his actor's do a very good job of selling it and outside of its look, "Green Lantern's" casting is its strongest element. Mark Strong ("Sherlock Holmes") is pitch perfect as Sinestro and Reynolds natural screen charisma is perfect match for the conception of Hal as fearless to the point of recklessness. The supporting roles benefit from similar casting choices, from Angela Bassett's firm government scientist to Sarsgaard's quiet loathing for himself and his smarmy senator father (Tim Robbins).
Campbell and his actors have made it work as well as it can, giving up whimsy for practicality as much as possible when it comes time to actually make the various objects. But it takes the film too long to get really comfortable with Green Lantern and actually let lose in full-on special effects fisticuffs once Parallax actually arrives on Earth to eat all of the people on it.
Which is strange when you consider how the short film is: less than two hours including a very long credits sequence. For a film with as many moving parts as "Green Lantern"—from the politics of the Green Lanterns to the web of interrelationships between Hector, Hal and long-time friend/employer/potential romantic interest Carol Ferris (Blake Lively)—that is far too short a running time, and it shows. "Green Lantern" moves along at brisk clip, getting Hal quickly to Oa and back to Earth, then throwing some Green Lantern crises in his way. So brisk in fact that you could get whiplash from how fast the third act comes together as Hal goes from questioning his role as a Green Lantern to breaking in on old acquaintance (and rival for Carol's affection) Hector's secret government laboratory.
What's that you say? Old acquaintance and rival for Carol's affection? Where did that come from? All good questions which are raised and never answered as "Green Lantern" runs head long into the hurdle of bad pacing and editing choices, a problem it never overcomes.
"Green Lantern" ultimately decides to ditch character and plot in favor of splendor and action scenes, which is damaging enough when it's chosen from the outset. It's even worse when it seems to have been a choice in post-production. Campbell is a smart enough filmmaker to realize that it's the character relationships which draw audiences into these cosmic goings-on and he seems to have tried hard to deal with that. There are hints that Hal has not ever really gotten over the death of his test pilot father. There are very strong hints that Hal, Hector and Carol grew up together; that Hector's bookish nature made him feel inadequate next to Hal and his father. As "Green Lantern" races to its conclusion these hints become intrinsic to the final confrontation between Hal and Hector, but it's hard to tell because so much of it is missing.
Missing not in such a way that it was never thought about, but missing somewhere on the editing floor to keep the film action heavy rather than character focused. The holes become so evident, with character's referring to things it feels like we were supposed to see; it robs all tension from the climax. "Green Lantern" ends up becoming a patchwork, a mix of good ideas and bad editing choices.
There's a good movie in there somewhere and enough of it shines through that "Green Lantern" is not an out-and-out failure. But that realization also makes it a bit of a disappointment, because it's easy to see the promise that hasn't been lived up to. Better luck next time.