Dull 'Green Lantern' Fails to Shine
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
Word on the street about this new superhero picture, yet another comic book adaptation, has been pretty lousy. And by "the street," I mean Twitter. And by "pretty lousy," I mean people are calling it "Battlefield Earth" bad." Ouch. As it happens, "Green Lantern" is not "Battlefield Earth" bad. It simply doesn't take itself quite so seriously as to reach those lows. What "Green Lantern" ought to have gone for is some level of "Flash Gordon" bad. This movie, directed by Martin Campbell with no doubt lots of input from executives of both the film studio and DC Comics (which I think are part of the same conglomerate anyway, but you get the idea), at certain points revels sufficiently in the more ridiculous aspects of both its backstory and its galaxy-spanning production design that one suspects its going for the sense of self-conscious kitsch that made the Dino De Laurentiis-produced 1980 film such a goof. Too bad Queen wasn't around to score this one, I thought more than once.
That might have made some difference, but, man, it would have taken quite a lot more self-conscious kitschiness to knock the pompous stuffing out of the philosophical quasi-conceits that the film's script tries to sell. The Green Lantern's emerald power beam, you see, is a product of willpower, whose most ungood counterpart is fear, whose color is yellow. And said emerald beam is wielded across the universe by thousands of chosen protectors whose naked skin is covered in a green, logo-sporting protective coating, and this league of Green Lanterns is ... oh, God, do I have to rehash the whole unbelievably prolix myth, which, according to a more well-versed-in-comic-books friend who also saw the film, is taken from some iteration of the source material?
Suffice it to say that at a certain point in the picture, Green Power "chooses" callow but gifted fighter jet pilot Hal Jordan, of ultra-buff body and ready smirk, played by Ryan Reynolds, of ultra-buff body and ready smirk. I was reminded somehow of "What's Up, Tiger Lily"'s Phil Moskowitz, Lovable Rogue. That's how really stock the character is. And of course he's got dad issues, too. Hal's female counterpart is Carol, who is not only nearly his match as a fighter pilot, but is also an ace businesswoman (that's how we can tell she's more mature than Hal). She is played by Blake Lively, and some in the audience might be heard to observe, "What is she, like, 15?" And frankly she is also not too terribly convincing these days playing anything other than somebody who doesn't know how to frame a cellphone picture. What. Ever. As I think they said on that TV show she used to be on.
So anyway, Hal is the recipient of Green Power, and on the Yellow Power spot we have Hector, a weedy balding professor and "loser" (according to the thoughts of his senator father, played by a Tim Robbins who's made up to look kinda like Jeff Morrow in "This Island Earth," in one of the film's neater "knowing" touches) who's infected with the fear material when conducting a semi-autopsy on a dead alien Lantern league guy. I must say Peter Sarsgaard really walks away with the role, first approaching it in a kind of inverse Wally Cox-as-Underdog way, very determinedly milquetoasty, and then when he gets infected and starts looking like a cross between Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Rondo Hatton, laying on the despicably snide with a trowel. Sarsgaard suggests a smarter, more malevolent film than this one, while the cartoonish 3-D graphics and strainingly "awesome" special effects (particularly that of the yellow fear villain creature called Parallax) suggest a more pulpily enjoyable one.
But as many suggestions as are made over the course of the picture, they never add up to a picture that's willing to forsake its transparently insincere and unnecessary patina of earnestness in order to deliver a just plain good time. Add to that its overstuffing of the plot components -- I haven't even gotten into the relationships Hal has with his motley intergalactic Lantern compatriots, which suggest the mutant crowd of Guillermo del Toro's "Hellboy" pictures without replicating anything like their wit and charm (and doesn't that almost go without saying by this point?) -- and you've got a pretty joyless comic book movie experience. Which is still not, you know, "Battleship Earth" bad. Just saying. Sometimes these distinctions count.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.