Green Lantern is not a great film. But it’s also not as terrible as you’ve been told.
It is the first attempt by Warner Bros. to exploit the big-screen potential of its seemingly endless DC Comics catalog, and it’s absolutely a mixed bag of failures and successes.
Truth be told, I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the course of the last four months since the film debut in theaters thinking about where I stand on the movie. And judging from the veritable cacophony of opinions floating around inside my brain, it seems that this movie was everything to me at once.
Green Lantern tells the story of Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a showboating, risk-taking test pilot and the first human to be inducted into the intergalactic police force known as the Green Lantern Corps. Armed with a power ring that transforms its wearer’s willpower into energy constructs, Jordan is given a crash course in Saving The World 101 when a being known as Parallax, an entity of living fear, makes its way toward Earth en route to destroying the entire universe.
Along the way, he is forced to confront earthly matters such as maintaining his friendship (and perhaps more) with his former flame-turned-boss, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), who seems to be the only person in his life willing to call him out on the fact that he tends to turn tail at the first sign of failure.
Carol is consistently pained to see Hal, who she admits is a man of incredible potential, regularly buckle under his fears of inadequacy and his reservations about failing to meet expectations.
When Hal’s life begins to span solar systems and galaxies, he is again confronted by the fear of failure when the Corps’ greatest Green Lantern, Sinestro (Mark Strong) remarks that the young human is unworthy of wielding the most powerful weapon in the universe.
The film also features the villain Hector Hammond (played with delicious creepiness by Peter Sarsgaard), a scientist who, like Hal, is weighed down by the burden of expectations. About halfway through the film, Hammond is infected by Parallax and imbued with telekinetic and telepathic abilities.
In the end, Hal’s greatest fears are realized when he begins to grasp the extent of his new responsibilities as a Green Lantern, and in facing Parallax he is forced to either overcome fear or literally succumb to it.
For an introductory film, Green Lantern unnecessarily spins a lot of plates all at once. There are multiple concurrent story threads going on, and frankly less than half of them are truly needed to tell the story presented in the movie.
Even though it’s clear from the screenplay that this was intended to be the opening salvo in a Green Lantern franchise (and, perhaps, was also meant to open the door to more DC Comics adaptations), the film insists on throwing what feels like about three movies’ worth of Green Lantern mythos at the audience.
Unfortunately, as has been proven by numerous comic book films, when you deal with too many storylines, the cohesiveness of the film invariably begins to break down. For example, despite presenting a legitimate threat, Hammond eventually turns out to be little more than a McGuffin, a simple plot device needed to draw Parallax to Earth.
For a character the audience grows to fear and loathe and in whom so much of the story is invested to end up as little more than the means to an end seems to be something of a cheat in the grand scheme of things.
The movie also falls into another common trap in terms of superhero films: Exposition.
But where movies like The Dark Knight and the first two entries of the Spider-Man franchise seemed to find interesting ways to get the point across to the audience, Green Lantern’s approach to exposition is literally characters standing around explaining the plot.
There are also pacing issues. While it’s encouraging and appreciated that the filmmakers were determined to convey as much Green Lantern lore as possible, much of it seemed rushed. In particular, the scene in which Hal learns to harness the ring’s power comes to mind (although this is the only scene in the movie to handle exposition in a more entertaining manner).
Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan), the Green Lantern Corps drill sergeant, puts Hal through the ringer in a series of exercises to teach him how to create energy constructs with the ring. It’s fun and entertaining, but it’s too much information crammed into too short a time.
However, as mentioned at the top of the review, this movie isn’t nearly as bad as the major film critics have led you to believe.
The performances pretty much fire on all cylinders. Ryan Reynolds has a gift that’s particularly rare, and it’s one that I haven’t really seen an actor convey since the early days of Harrison Ford’s career. In every role he plays, Reynolds is unmistakably Reynolds, and yet he tweaks that persona to accommodate whatever the role calls for.
It’s a gift he utilizes to perfection as Hal Jordan. He’s every bit as charming, funny, and likable as he is in any other movie, but here Reynolds is working with something beneath the surface; something only Carol can see.
Speaking of Carol, Blake Lively is remarkably charming in this movie. It’s easy for a superhero movie to put its female lead into the classic damsel in distress role (and, to be fair, Green Lantern’s guilty of it, too). But in this film, Lively is every bit as strong and powerful as she is funny and gorgeous.
Had this film had bigger success at the box office, it’s likely we’d be talking about how Blake Lively was about to become the next big thing.
There aren’t enough words to praise Peter Sarsgaard’s performance as Hector Hammond (as much as the film’s writers are to be praised for crafting the character’s arc). When we meet Hammond, he’s sad and pathetic; a lonely creature with no desire to change his station. And yet as the film progresses, Sarsgaard releases every bit of pent-up frustration we (the audience) had guessed was lying in wait form the beginning.
Mark Strong’s portrayal of Sinestro is more-than-serviceable inasmuch as the character calls for a disposition of disdain and stoicism, and yet Sinestro (who, in the comics, becomes Jordan’s arch nemesis) doesn’t manage to leave a lasting impression.
Ultimately, though, the failure of this character’s development lands at the feet of the writers. Sinestro’s arc makes little sense given his characteristics, and a mid-credits sequence that was clearly meant to pave the path to a sequel falls flat as a result.
Indeed, the sloppy, on-again/off-again writing is the movie’s greatest detriment. It’s clear from watching the movie that Martin Campbell was working his butt off to make this movie the gateway for a franchise, but the script tends to confound him at every turn.
The film’s visual effects are also a mixed bag. The rendering of Oa, the home planet of the Green Lantern Corps, is breathtaking, as are most of the space-centered action sequences. But the design of Parallax leaves much to be desired (I’m all for deviating from the comics a bit, but I don’t recall Parallax looking quite so much like a fart cloud in the comics), as do the CGI costumes worn by Hal and Sinestro.
Warner Bros. wills Green Lantern onto Blu-ray with a marvelous 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode that makes every color and image spark to magnificent life. Blacks are clearly-defined, the colors are sharp and dazzling, and action scenes set in the depths of space and in orbit of the sun blend seamlessly with aerial dogfights and parking lot brawls.
The attention to detail and depth doesn’t particularly flatter the aforementioned CGI Green Lantern uniforms, but it is indicative of a transfer that’s preserves (and in some instances exceeds) true reference quality.
As good as the picture is, though, there are times when skin tones become a bit muddy, but that’s a minor blip on the radar for a transfer that comes with no artifacting or aliasing that I could detect.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is equally brilliant, particularly during those action-packed sequences that favor the LFE channel. Green Lantern is the Star Wars of the DC Universe, and this sound mix treats it as such; the impact is felt through the ears as much as through the eyes when dozens of Green Lanterns soar past the camera. Every explosion and laser blast packs a great punch and never obscures a single line of dialogue.
Beyond the Feature
The Green Lantern: Extended Cut Blu-ray boasts a wide array of bonus features, and they are, with rare exception, excellent supplements in spite of their connection to a middle-of-the-road movie.
The only major disappointment in terms of extras is the extended cut itself. As far as I could tell, the only footage not included in the theatrical version is a retelling of a traumatic event in Hal’s childhood – an event that’s retold about five minutes later in footage that was included in the theatrical release. It’s one of the cheaper uses of the “extended cut” trick I’ve seen in recent years.
Notwithstanding, the rest of the bonus features are extremely good.
Maximum Movie Mode – I’ve been a fan of this Warner Bros. feature since Watchmen, and Green Lantern boasts another picture-in-picture delight, with tons of information (Warner’s deserves high praise for rarely repeating itself within its aftermarket supplements) and entertainment, hosted by DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns.
Focus Points – These are mini-documentaries that can be watched as one 47-minute feature or as eight separate features. The Focus Points can also be accessed while watching the film in Maximum Movie Mode.
The Universe According to Green Lantern (20 min) – Some of the Emerald Knight’s creators discuss the character’s impact and appeal.
Ryan Reynolds Becomes the Green Lantern (9 min) – The actor talks about Hal Jordan and the challenges of bringing DC’s bravest and boldest character to life.
Deleted Scenes (7 min) – As per usual, the deleted scenes underwhelm me in a big, bad way. Fortunately, Warner Bros. elected non to inundate us with a horde of cutting floor fodder.
Justice League #1 (9 min) – The first issue of the flagship title of DC Comics’ “New 52” is presented for your reading enjoyment; as a comics nerd, this was a particularly nice surprise.
Preview of Green Lantern: The Animated Series (7 min) – A few minutes of the forthcoming series from Cartoon Network.
The two-disc set also comes with an Ultraviolet Digital Copy/DVD of the film as well as a PS3 code for a Sinestro-inspired Batman skin for the upcoming game Batman: Arkham City.
All bonus features are presented in high definition.
Green Lantern was a movie, more than any other in recent memory, that I was prepared to love and embrace with open arms. It could have opened the door to Warner Bros. making films out of other DC heroes (you know, the ones whose names aren’t Superman or Batman).
Instead, it’s an enjoyable but incredibly flawed piece. It’s very hit-and-miss and, ultimately, fairly forgettable.
Nevertheless, Warner Bros. has done a great job of compiling a Blu-ray experience that’s pretty easy on the eyes, a lot of fun for the ears, and packed with extra goodness.
Shop for Green Lantern: Extended Cut on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (October 14, 2011 release date).