Movie Review: Second-Tier Blockbuster

In brightest day, in blackest night…
No cliche will escape my sight…
I guess it’s really not that bad…
But it certainly is loud and bright.

Film: Green Lantern
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Peter Sarsgaard, Blake Lively, Mark Strong
Written by: Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Goldenberg
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Genre: Superhero, action, fantasy
Rating: 6 out of 10 / B-


The Green Lantern Corps is an interstellar organization that policies the universe, each member given a ring powered by the force of will and allows them to do amazing things. When Lantern Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) crash lands on Earth, he passes his ring and its power to cocky test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) as he dies. Hal is suddenly swept up into the cosmic battle between the Corps, led by Sinestro (Mark Strong), and a malevolent entity called Parallax that feeds on fear.  The battle that becomes very personal when Parallax targets Earth as his next conquest. While romancing fellow pilot Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) and stopping the schemes of bitter mad scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), Hal must overcome his own self-doubt if he’s to help the Corps save the universe.

Shown above: the casting process. The ring has chosen.

Whether he deserves it or not, Green Lantern has generally been labeled as a “second-tier” hero in the DC roster. While he’s been around for decades and has a sizable and loyal following, he lacks the immediate iconography associated with Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. Riding the wave of another barrage of comic book films, the Green Lantern finally got his own movie, but in many ways it seems that the film was a rather obligatory gesture, a summer offering because the latest Superman and Batman films were still being filmed (and let’s all forget about that aborted Wonder Woman TV show).  Second-tier heroes can make excellent films. Marvel turned Iron Man and Thor into surprise financial and critical successes. Sadly, Green Lantern isn’t an excellent film. It’s a second-tier blockbuster.

Most of the blame lies with director Martin Campbell and the litany of writers credited with the screenplay. Campbell brought new life into the James Bond franchise with the thrilling, kinetic Casino Royale, but little of that verve is on display here. The direction is very by-the-numbers and uninspired. It’s not good or bad, it just is. Scenes tend to end too abruptly, and a good balance between action spectacle and quiet character interaction is never fully realized. The script doesn’t help matters anyway, full of “comic book movie” cliches and simplicity, dripping with false gravitas. It’s not a very deep or metaphorical film, but it certainly thinks it is. While there’s something to be said for a film that just aims to be entertaining, Green Lantern believes it’s something more when it has little evidence to back up its claims.

You see, the fish-man alien is a symbol for…wait, where are you going?

The primary reason for the film’s existence seems to be as a 100-minute show reel for CGI wizardry, and in that respect it succeeds and exceeds expectations. The Lantern suits are all digital, appearing to be made of pure energy fused into the flesh of the wearer. The ring effects are crisp, vivid and well-integrated into the film. In fact, all the CGI is virtually seamless, an excellent example of how a digital backlot can enhance a film. There are dozens of Green Lanterns depicted, each one a unique and interesting species, including the fish-like Tomar-Re (Geoffry Rush) and the hulking Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan). The most striking design goes to Parallax itself. It appears to be composed of a Lovecraftian mass of shifting, blackened flesh, all tentacles and fangs and mouths prophesying doom. It’s a truly captivating villain, appropriately cosmic in the most frightening sense. All of it is buoyed by James Netwon Howard’s compelling classical/electronica hybrid score.

While Parallax may be appropriately cosmic, this is part of what prevents the film from fully succeeding. The film cuts too much between Hal on Earth and the intergalactic battles of the Corps.  In fact, it begins with a fresh deposit of exposition explaining the Corps and their fight against Parallax. It takes too long to get to Hal himself, and when we do, his Earth-bound problems, such as his relationship with Carol, seem trivial. It’s like starting the first X-Men film off with the Dark Phoenix Saga right off the bat. We get very little feel for the kind of person Hal was prior to his encounter with Abin Sur, most of it revealed in “tell don’t show” dialogue and an awkward, extended (and at times melodramatically silly) flashback to a defining moment in Hal’s childhood. While Hal, Carol and Hector all have a history together, it’s never sufficiently explained, and the threat Hector poses seems minute compared to an entity that can devour worlds whole. The film spins around so much between the mundane and the multi-dimensional that it makes a viewer dizzy. Unlike a film like Thor, which has no choice but to focus on the cosmic aspect of the hero, the focus on the Corps seems like an excuse to whip out the big CGI guns multiple times, even while it hurts the story it’s trying to tell.

Hal whips it out.

The film succeeds best as a story (and not as a spectacle) when it focuses more on the human cast. Ryan Reynolds may not have seemed like a prime candidate for the lead, but he does his job very well. His chiseled good looks, action hero body and limitless innate charisma (not to mention a butt you could eat breakfast off of) all serve him well, and he makes many of the film’s lines genuinely funny. Although his character seems like an afterthought, Peter Sarsgaard does an excellent job with Hector Hammond, making him an incredibly flawed human suddenly drunk with his newfound abilities. Blake Lively is decent in her role, but she’s not required to do much, so it’s hard to tell if the character is flat because of Lively’s delivery or because of the script’s lack of nuance. Mark Strong is appropriately grand as Sinestro, every line delivered with an almost Shakespearean weight that it probably doesn’t deserve. He’s able to make it all sound very, very important and not at all ridiculous, which is admittedly impressive (and quickly becoming his signature).

Green Lantern isn’t a great film, but it also isn’t a bad one. It’s just your average, everyday, neighborhood summer blockbuster in (digital) tights. It has nothing important to say beyond “You will be entertained,” but it goes after that message with all the light and sound it can. You may want to bring aspirin. As the next Green Lantern film is already being developed, it remains to be seen where the franchise can go, since it started out so big right away. Green Lantern deserves a better film for his first theatrical run, and not just a sloppy second-tier summer diversion. But hey, at least it’s not that awful Wolverine movie.

JOHNNY M is a frequent FBOTU contributor and proud member of the Pink Lantern Corps.<a href="; title="imageimage

%d bloggers like this: