“I know, right?”
You all clicked on this hoping to see the oath, so here’s the oath:
“In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight,
Let those who worship evil’s might,
Beware my power, Green Lantern’s light.”
There. Can we talk about the movie now?
Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds, Buried) is a cocky test pilot with a troubled past and disdain for authority. His reckless ways in the air land him in trouble with his employers and his on-again-off-again love interest Carol Ferris (Blake Lively, The Town). That’s the least of his worries, though, after an alien spacecraft crash lands on Earth and its dying pilot, Abin Sur (Temura Morrison, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones) gives him a powerful ring and lantern, telling Hal that he is a Green Lantern.
What’s a Green Lantern? That’s what Hal learns as he’s whisked off into space, to the planet Oa, where he discovers he’s the newest member of an intergalactic peacekeeping force. There, he meets his trainers, Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech) and Kilowog (Michael Clark Duncan, Daredevil), along with the esteemed Sinestro (Mark Strong, Sherlock Holmes), who has some radical ideas about how the Green Lantern Corps is to be run.
Back on Earth, quirky scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard, Orphan) becomes infected with a piece of Parallax, the alien who killed Abin Sur. Now, Hector is getting smarter, more grotesque, and more bloodthirsty. In conjunction with this, Parallax itself is headed straight for Earth. Is Hal Jordan’s will strong enough to conquer his fears, save the world, and prove himself worthy of the Green Lantern name?
Origin stories. Both movie fans and comic book fans like to grouse about them, saying they’re boring, or that they’re all the same, and that they just want the origin done with quickly, because the really good stories are the ones that follow. Green Lantern gives these criticisms some traction, as it covers the same superhero origin story template seen in so many other recent films. We meet the hero, hero gets his powers, hero romances the girl, hero has to prove himself worthy, and so on. While all this is going on, the villain, who knows the hero personally, slowly rises in power and/or madness until the eventual third act special effects showdown. While Green Lantern hits all the right notes, it doesn’t bring enough new to the origin template to make it stand out.
In their treatment of Hal Jordan, the filmmakers aren’t looking at how to portray the character, but how to make the audience like the character. That might seem like the same thing, but there’s a big difference. First, we learn of Hal’s tragic childhood, so we’re sad for him. Then, he does the “cocky flyboy” thing, so we’re laughing along with him as he doesn’t take anything seriously. Then, we see him taking huge risks that pay off during a dogfight, so we’re shown his action movie side. Then, most insultingly, we get a smarmy heart-to-heart talk between Hal and his young nephew, in which we learn that deep down inside, Hal has a big heart. The problem is, none of this is character development. It’s just a series of tricks, employed to convince the viewers to like this guy. The unforgivably cheesy nephew scene is the worst of the bunch, with each beat carefully calculated to pull at heartstrings—so calculated that it doesn’t feel genuine in any way.
Does this mean I hated Green Lantern? No, the movie has its good points as well. The scenes on Oa are brief, probably briefer than fans would prefer, but the otherworldly setting with its variety of crazy-looking aliens is a lot of fun. It’s here that the movie really captures the sense of wonder feeling that we want from fantasy adventure blockbusters. But, once we’re just getting settled in at Oa, it’s over and we’re back on Earth. Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) keeps everything moving quickly, with big set pieces like a helicopter rescue, an explosive battle with Hector Hammond, and then into the sky and back to space for the final confrontation with Parallax. Campbell is one of the best action directors in the business, and the flying n’ fighting is captured with his usual skillful touch.
Ryan Reynolds throws himself into the part as much as he can. Sometimes he seems inconsistent, going from sarcastic and silly one minute to stoic and serious the next, but that’s more a fault of the script and not his performance. Mark Strong nails the self-righteous arrogance of Sinestro, and the actors lending their voices to fellow Lanterns bring them to life nicely. Blake Lively isn’t given much to do other than be the love interest, but she gets to show some spunk here and there, and gets one of the movie’s funniest lines. As Hammond, Peter Sarsgaard begins quiet and withdrawn, while showing some jealously for the good-looking, successful Hal. He later goes into full-on quirky mode as his appearance is distorted and grossened from Parallax’s influence. When this happens, he delivers lines about how he’s never felt better, but in a tone of voice that makes him sound wheezy and sickly. Is this an intentional contradiction, to illustrate his rapid descent into madness, or is it merely a contradiction? I’m not sure. Veteran actors Tim Robbins (The Hudsucker Proxy) and Angela Basset (Strange Days) show up in supporting roles, but aren’t given much to do.
Today’s big-budget blockbusters are made with the Blu-ray in mind, and Green Lantern is no exception. Basic colors are important to the mythos, and the greens are bright and vivid, contrasting nicely against those evil yellows. Additionally, flesh tones (including the alien ones) are natural, and black levels are deep and rich. The audio is powerful and immersive during some action scenes, but at other times the sound is concentrated only in the front speakers. That’s more of a nitpick than a complaint, though, because the audio is clean and clear otherwise.
I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this question: What would have been the right way to make this movie? What do we want to see from Green Lantern?
• We want Hal as a test pilot (check),
• We want him getting the ring from Abin Sur (check),
• We want the oath (check),
• We want to see Oa and all the other Lanterns and crazy space stuff (check),
• We want romance with Carol Ferris (check),
• We want to see Sinestro being a total dick (check),
• And, of course, we want Hal leaping into action to save the world and/or the universe (check).
In this sense, the filmmakers have shown real passion for the character and a drive to deliver the Green Lantern that fans want to see. It would have been easy for Hollywood to rewrite the entire mythology from scratch, or make Hal only get the ring in the movie’s last few minutes, or any of the other stupid changes the studios love to make to our favorite comic heroes. For all its faults, the Green Lantern movie is a Green Lantern movie.
This set includes the 114-minute theatrical cut, and a 123-minute extended cut, which provides a more detailed look at Hal’s tragic childhood. Extras kick off with Maximum Movie Mode, a picture-in-picture commentary running the length of the theatrical cut, made up of comic book writer Geoff Johns (The Sinestro Corps War) interviewing cast and crew members, as well as windows showing artwork and character bios. Johns is also a presence throughout the eight featurettes, covering various aspects of production. Thankfully, none of the material from the commentary is repeated during the featurettes. Johns shows up once more in “The Universe According to Green Lantern,” a comprehensive look at the character’s history in the comics. While there’s a lot of great information here and interviews with numerous comic pros, note that it focuses almost entirely on Hal. Kyle only gets a brief a mention, Guy and John are left out completely, and Alan? Who’s that? Rounding out the extras are deleted scenes and a digital copy of September 2011’s Justice League #1, depicting the first meeting between Green Lantern and Batman. It’s light on plot, but will make a nice starting point for people who liked the movie but have never read the comics. A second disc contains a DVD version of the movie, a digital copy for your mobile device du jour, and a Sinsestro skin for the video game Batman: Arkham City. No, you don’t get to play as Sinestro, the skin just tweaks Batman’s costume so he’s wearing Sinestro’s colors.
Green Lantern has big effects and big action, but a by-the-numbers origin story keeps it from reaching the glorious heights it could have reached. What the filmmakers really want to know is, would I want a sequel? Yes, I would. Despite the flaws, there’s just enough here to enjoy that I’d look forward to improvements in part two.