May 2024

Green Lantern (2011)

DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell


Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett, Jay O. Sanders, Michael Clarke Duncan (voice), Geoffrey Rush (voice), Clancy Brown (voice)


Green Lantern is passable entertainment for two hours of diversion for comic book movie fans who aren’t too demanding, but for anyone else—and probably even them—it’s generic and disposable. DC Comics, in its efforts to keep up with Marvel’s churning out of X-Men, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and Hulk installments, greenlit (no pun intended) Green Lantern after the massive box office success and critical acclaim of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Unfortunately, while not as dismal as Daredevil, Green Lantern is content to follow the cookie cutter comic book movie formula, never daring to rise above and beyond like the best of the genre, instead inhabiting a middle ground of mediocrity with little distinguishing it from its various cousins who occupy the same territory.

At least the premise is a little different. Hotshot fighter pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) finds his world turned upside down when he stumbles across a dying alien (Temuera Morrison) who gives him a green lantern and a ring that hold seemingly unlimited cosmic powers. After donning the ring and pledging allegiance to the lantern, Hal is abruptly transported to another world, where he learns that by being “chosen” by the ring as its previous owner’s successor, he has become part of a corps of intergalactic warriors led by Sinestro (Mark Strong) sworn to defend the galaxy from the forces of evil. Like Peter Parker, Hal must learn to use his newfound powers less for thrill-seeking and more for defending the Earth. Meanwhile, a seemingly all-powerful planet-devouring entity known as Parallax has broken free from its prison and is heading for Earth, where it has telepathically bonded with a scientist named Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) and is using him as its minion.

The intergalactic aspects of Green Lantern could have made it unique—similar to how Thor‘s Asgard sequences set it apart—but not enough is done with them. The movie whisks right through the exposition/training scenes, scratching the surface of the Green Lantern Corps, giving us a couple perfunctory training scenes and Hal/Sinestro interaction, and then jetting back to Earth where he must—of course—confront the fledgling supervillain whose emergence parallels his own, win back his ex Carol (Blake Lively), and defeat Parallax in a climactic battle. Parallax is a little goofy—a floating amorphous cloud with a sinister face forming at its center—and thinly-explained. Hector Hammond has potential to be more interesting—an underachieving nerdy son of a Senator (Tim Robbins), but the movie does little more than tantalizingly hint at his Daddy issues, futile attraction to Carol, and jealousy of Hal, before he goes into one-dimensional supervillain mode (and his demise is a cheat).

Ryan Reynolds does an adequate job with his limited material, traversing a cliched path from cocky hotshot to heroic savior. He’s likable enough, but his smug cockiness occasionally rubs the wrong way. Blake Lively is an adequate but flat love interest, showing little spark either individually or with Reynolds (ironic, considering the two are married offscreen). A barely recognizable Peter Sarsgaard gets hints of an intriguing character, but is wasted as the movie nears its climax by a screenplay that takes time to develop him, then doesn’t know what to do with him, and peremptorily tosses him aside in favor of the CGI talking cloud Parallax, making Hector seem rather pointless.  Even more annoyingly, the movie wastes the perfect casting of Mark Strong as Sinestro, who is terminally underdeveloped. A few familiar faces pop up in supporting roles, including Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett, but Robbins doesn’t get much to do, and Bassett gets even less, in an even more thankless role than she had in The Score. Michael Clarke Duncan and Geoffrey Rush lend their voices to a couple of the CGI alien members of the Green Lantern Corps (Rush has a nice voice for dispensing Jedi Master-esque nuggets of wisdom), and Clancy Brown is the voice of Parallax.

Green Lantern has some of the most CGI of any superhero comic book movie, but it’s a mixed bag. There are a couple moderately impressive shots of the Corps’ alien homeworld, and the effects team do a nice job of modeling the CGI Sinestro’s features off of Mark Strong’s, but other effects—including Parallax and the CGI green mask and uniform Hal dons as Green Lantern (why not just have Reynolds wear a real costume and mask?)–are hokey (at least Clancy Brown, who speaks Parallax’s few bits of dialogue, sounds menacing).  There are a couple nifty action sequences, especially when Hal thwarts the chaos Hector unleashes at a formal party by conjuring a rollercoaster-esque ride for a crashing helicopter, but the final fight, with Hal doing battle with a giant evil cloud, is not the most exciting of superhero climaxes. There is nothing likely to surprise anyone, and certain plot elements feel like recycled and abbreviated versions of scenes from better superhero movies (Hal and Sinestro’s dynamic faintly resembles that of Bruce and Ra’s Al Ghul from Batman Begins, only given shorthand development). Speaking of Sinestro, any Green Lantern comic fan can tell you about the Green Lantern Corps leader’s descent into villainy and destiny as Hal’s arch-foe, but he’s not developed enough here to make the mid-credits scene alluding to this feel like it has any lead-up or motivation (clearly set-up for a sequel which, in the wake of the first outing’s unimpressive reception, has not materialized).

If you’re bored, channel-surfing for something to watch, and wander across Green Lantern, it’s adequate for a couple hours of diverting escapism, but doesn’t come anywhere near the epic heights of Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, nor is as sharp as Iron Man or as unique as Thor. It’s moderately entertaining, but generates little excitement. Batman, at least in Christopher Nolan’s hands, remains DC Comics’ most successful onscreen superhero.