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Green Lantern (Warner Bros., PG-13)

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There is some intense world-building needed to fully explain the existence of a universe-spanning police squad packed with aliens armed with rings juiced with willpower, and this film not only doesn’t shy away from it, it revels in it.

 

 

In a summer absolutely packed to the gills with comic book-based movies (Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, Thor, Priest, and X-Men: First Class already in—and, in some cases, long gone from—theaters and Captain America: The First Avenger, The Smurfs, and Cowboys & Aliens yet to come), the pre-release marketing message for Green Lantern seemed to stress its status as middle of the pack, superhero comfort food that would hew closely to the conventions entrenched over the decade-plus superhero flick renaissance and prove that DC Comics could play the popcorn movie game just as capably as Marvel. Green Lantern, in essence, is DC’s Iron Man, an attempt to finally break out a character long stuck in the shadows of better-known heroes into multimedia glory. Green Lantern largely succeeds on the basis of familiarity and formula, but also because it brings its own unexpected and unique twist. But more on that in a minute.
 
As befits a superhero movie, Green Lantern opens with an extended origin sequence where we meet Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a devil-may-care test pilot, as he and his childhood friend Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) conduct a practice dogfight against a pair of experimental unmanned planes, a lengthy air battle that apes, both shamelessly and gloriously, from Top Gun for the better part of ten minutes. Hal wins the day through willpower and fearlessness at protecting his own well-being, which is convenient because, at that exact moment in the far reaches of outer space, a purple space cop named Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) is protecting his own well-being using a ring powered by will to fight a gruesome monster named Parallax that feeds on fear. Sur is mortally wounded in the fight, so his power ring jettisons him to Earth, the closest planet possessing a warrior fearless enough to take up his mantle as a member of the Green Lantern Corps, a squadron of interstellar cops who harness the power of their own will to defend the universe from existential threats. That warrior, surprise surprise, is Hal.
 
Hal accepts the ring, the lantern, and the responsibility, and jets off to Oa—home to the Corps, the Guardians that lead the Corps, and the power battery that powers all of the Lanterns’, um, lanterns—to undergo training at the hands of the gruff, burly Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan) and the pink-skinned, hot-headed Sinestro (Mark Strong), a student of Sur’s who is none too impressed by the weak-willed human that has replaced his mentor and begins seeking a new, controversial way to defeat Parallax. The entire experience leaves Hal wondering if the ring really chose the right guy, and if he really has the will to wield it.
 
But parallelism comes into play once again when nebbish scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), Hal’s childhood friend and sometimes rival for Carol’s affections, gets tapped by the government to investigate Sur’s corpse. In the course of said investigation, the constantly down-trodden Hector gets infected by Parallax, gaining a beastly appearance (think Ken Griffey, Jr. after drinking too much nerve tonic) and new fear-based powers with a side of mind-reading to boot. Add in that Hector’s father (Tim Robbins) is the U.S. senator behind Ferris’ experimental plane program and the path has now been set for hero to collide with villain.
 
Ultimately, Green Lantern’s greatest strength is that it unabashedly embraces the conventions of the genre that birthed it—not superhero stories, but science fiction. There is some intense world-building needed to fully explain the existence of a universe-spanning police squad packed with aliens armed with rings juiced with willpower, and this film not only doesn’t shy away from it, it revels in it, never glossing over details when a finely worded monologue or lengthy bit of narration will do. As a well-known comic book geek, I often spend the weeks after a comic book movie comes out fielding questions to explain the comic book canon that said movie inadequately explained, something that definitely will not be a problem here. The extensive exposition will no doubt tax the patience of some, but if you’re willing to lose yourself in the film’s fantastic alien worlds, it’s more than willing to make it worth your while.
 
The film’s greatest weakness, however, is its villain. The screenplay (by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Michael Goldenberg, and Marc Guggenheim, the latter no stranger to comics) tries to cast Hector and Hal as two sides of the same coin, but the connections between them feel tenuous, and are ultimately completely undermined by a particularly clunky piece of dialogue in the pair’s final confrontation. Add in a few preposterous conveniences for the sake of plot advancement and an unnecessary second finale (shades of Ang Lee’s Hulk) and the ending, ultimately, feels less than satisfying, though not so unsatisfying as to completely dilute the film’s far more numerous successes.
 
Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, The Mask of Zorro) succeeds in packing the film with plenty of visual punch, from Hal’s eerily glowing suit (which looks a lot cooler on the big screen than TV commercials would have you believe) to the surreal futurescapes on Oa. The latter is captured in a series of Avtar-ish flyover sequences that really take advantage of the 3D presentation, further enhancing the film’s world-building endeavors. In his action scenes, Campbell also thankfully picks clarity over Michael Bay-esque quick cuts without sacrificing any of the visceral thrills of the fights.
 
Green Lantern doesn’t generally call on its stars to do much outside represent their archetypes, but within that framework, everyone does, at the very least, a solid job. Reynolds easily captures Hal’s cocksure personality, quick wit, and easy smile. Lively is neither particularly good nor particularly bad in a role played mostly for eye candy and plot contrivance, playing well off of Reynolds and believably delivering her dialogue without ever making too deep an impression. Sarsgaard tries his damnedest to get the maximum mileage out of what the script gave him, and he displays Hector’s downtrodden nature in the early scenes with particular skill. The most electrifying performer by far is Mark Strong as Sinestro, who demands attention in every scene he appears in despite his medium-sized role. Anyone who has read two Green Lantern comics knows that Sinestro will play a huge role in any sequel, and the idea of a second film that more consistently hits this film’s high notes and is centered around Strong’s Sinestro is such an exciting proposition that I’d be happy to buy my ticket for Green Lantern 2 right now. Where do I sign up? | Jason Green
 
 
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