By Matt Smith
If there’s one single thing I can point to that makes this otherwise enjoyable diversion less than perfect it’s the desire to condense about forty years worth of material into a single two hour film. It’s not enough that we get yet another origin story, but we are also introduced to the grandeur of the Green Lantern Corps, key players in plot developments that don’t happen for quite some time in comic lore, and what could have been a satisfying villain/Big Bad that turns out to be sadly underdeveloped, no doubt because of all the other stuff that’s taking up much needed breathing room in a severely idea-bloated script. But you have to go with what you’re given, and despite the limitations in where this material is able to go in a single film, I can’t say that any one part is particularly groan inducing, even if it doesn’t all add up to a cohesive experience.
Green Lantern tells the story of Hal Jordan, who discovers a crashed alien ship containing fallen Lantern soldier Abin Sur, and who is chosen by the power ring of the Green Lanterns (which runs on its bearer’s Will) to become the new Green Lantern of Sector 2814 (one of thousands of space sectors where Earth just happens to be). He gets zipped away to the planet Oa, the home of the Green Lantern Corps, where we are also introduced to future important characters like Kilowog, Tomar-Re, and Sinstero, who leads the corps in its policing endeavors, and who must train Jordan and attempt to stop the ancient intergalactic entity Parallax who has broken free from his prison and is out devouring planets, and who also was responsible for Abin Sur’s death earlier in the film. And then we also have Earth, where Jordan spends a fair amount of his time attempting to save and woo Carol Ferris, the VP of Ferris Aircraft, where Jordan works as a test pilot.
None of this even gets into one of the most intriguing plot threads that gets wrapped up way too quickly, and which leads to other problems in the film: Dr. Hector Hammond, who is possessed by Parallax while examining the body of Abin Sur. I’ll discuss my issue with this decision shortly, but first let me just say that this is entirely too much for one two hour film to handle. If we had only been introduced to the Corps briefly (or even for much of the film’s length instead of what we do have), or if we had only been given the idea of what Parallax is and what his intent was, or even the exact opposite of this, cutting back on the human / Earth plot instead, I think the film could have been much stronger, and would have lead organically into a second movie by extension. The filmmakers must have foregone the assumption that they would be given that chance, however, and just threw everything into the pot all at once. I don’t know how non-fans can possibly keep up with all the new information, because Hal Jordan’s history is pretty complex.
So, back to Hammond, the poor possessed man who gets short shrift. An enjoyable, awkward character played very eccentrically by Peter Sarsgaard, Hammond is a rare comic book villain that has comparable powers to the hero that is also a character worth exploring in and of himself. He’s sad and lonely, has a complex with his father’s disapproval, and in many ways is the exact opposite of Hal Jordan until he discovers that the power of Fear that Parallax has imbued him with makes him extremely powerful, even as his body begins to fail and he is driven mad by the cosmic entity. One of the best scenes in the whole movie is between Hammond and Jordan, when Hammond tells Jordan that he was always afraid of failure, until he embraced his fear and it made him all powerful. This exploration of the relationship between willpower and evil is given a lot of lip service in Green Lantern, but ultimately never goes anywhere because the character gets killed off and is hidden among the bigger threat of Parallax’s intention of consuming Earth.
Story weaknesses and bloat aside, the other major factor I keep returning to strongly regarding the movie is that it’s score is truly horrible. Most of the time, I can ignore film scores that are mediocre, even though I really love film music, but it has to at least contribute or at the very least not work as a hinderance to the movie it’s in. Here it does neither. Until I saw Green Lantern, I thought that Thor probably had the worst music I would hear in a movie this year. Well, fret not, because here we have a meandering, worthless mixture of techno programming and soaring strings that goes absolutely nowhere. It’s noticeable enough to be a distraction at points, which is a very bad thing. Odd considering the score was composed by James Newton Howard, who usually turns in really good work – good enough for people to know who he is in any case. Here, his effort is abysmal. I hope someday a special edition of this movie gets made with only an entirely different score as the change they made. I’d rewatch it just on the strength of that decision alone.
So, I didn’t out and out hate Green Lantern, even though it may seem like it. It’s an enjoyable enough diversion, and there are some parts that are really terrific. Reynolds is just fine as Jordan, who is a bit snarky in the comics, and Blake Lively is an actress I still hold in high regard from her work on The Town even if she does go a bit in the wrong direction here. The relationship between both actors and their roles brings to mind the classic images of Superman and Lois Lane in Richard Donner’s first Superman movie, even down to similar imagery and a similar type of relationship, though without the pretense of Carol never knowing who this mysterious hero really is. “You think I don’t recognize you just because I can’t see your cheek bones?” she asks of Hal when he shows up at her window in his uniform, immediately addressing the acknowledged absurdity of hidden identities that people with superpowers have to have in comic book lore, and establishing their relationship’s different parameters in relation to other heroes and their love interests on film.
I also want to address the use of CGI in the movie, which is exstensive. It works. The suits worn by the Corps are extensions of their biological makeups, and it’s not really a distraction at all, especially when surrounded by entire worlds (like that of Oa, or the emptiness of space) that are just as fake, yet well realized, even if there are a few too many shots of the Lanterns just standing around on rocky grounds listening to speeches from their leaders. We have a truly different and weird type of superhero, one with cosmic powers and interstellar storytelling scope, and that requires the extensive use of animation and motion capture. And it’s done really well, which is honestly enough for me to like it.
Ultimately, and I know I keep harping on it, but that’s just because so much of this movie works for me on a case by case basis, I just wish the filmmakers had developed a single story thread and several really strong characters instead of juggling too much. The movie would have been stronger, our relationships with Hal and Hammond (a true tragic figure) would have had more meaning come time for their confrontation, and we would have the set up for a truly entertaining comic book franchise. If they can work these problems out – and that’s a big if – I’d happily rejoin the Green Lantern universe for a few more films. If not, I’ll just stick to the comics and the animated films, which really do nail the character, and are a lot of fun.