The force of will is the energy that gives the DC superhero Green Lantern his powers, and it is also the element that makes Green Lantern reasonably watchable. Structurally, the film is riddled with problems, the worst being a poor script full of holes and unnecessary repetition, and yet the whole enterprise moves at a thrilling pace, and is executed about as well as the cast and crew can manage.
One of The Onion's recent videos referred to Green Lantern as a superhero "who everyone certainly knew about before they saw the movie's trailer." It's a funny joke, but also true, and apparently indicative of the writers' fears, as the movie spends an excessive laying out the comics' mythology. The key points, as explained by Geoffrey Rush in the film's opening narration: the universe consists of 3,600 "sectors," and in each sector are guardians known as the Green Lantern Corps, each with a power ring that allows them to create whatever they wish out of energy created by willpower. No Earthling has ever been chosen to be part of the Green Lantern Corps, until a member named Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), injured and dying, crash-lands on Earth, and the ring selects renegade test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) to take his place.
As someone unfamiliar with the comics, the mythology of the Green Lantern series is one of the best parts of the film. The Corps is housed on the planet of Oa, visualized in the film via colorful, vivid computer graphics. None of it looks photorealistic, but it has a perfect comic book charm, and the 3D effects -- perhaps the best to date -- add plenty of scope and depth. On Oa, Hal learns of the villain approaching their universe, an ally turned evil known as Parallax (voice of Clancy Brown), who feeds on the opposing energy of fear. The film's fear vs. willpower conflict is effective as well, illustrated by the differences between confident, crackerjack Hal and a weaselly, bitter scientist named Hector Hammond, who is played by Peter Sarsgaard with hilarious, wicked relish. Hammond is chosen to examine Abin Sur's body after Jordan buries it and flees the scene, and some of Parallax's fear energy infects him, morphing him into a telekinetic monster with a bloated face. Amused, Hammond uses his newfound powers to exact revenge on his father (Tim Robbins) and to try and claim Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), a beautiful pilot who likes Hal more than Hector.
There should be more of Hector in the movie, because Hector and Hal actually have a character dynamic. Instead, there's more of Carol, who is both without any driving motivation in the film other than to motivate Hal, and also played by Lively without the slightest bit of flair or charm (making her last name sorely ironic). The scenes between Hal and Carol are forgettable at best and annoying at worst, particularly an entirely unnecessary and weirdly out-of-place scene between the second and third acts where Carol and Hal's friend Thomas (Taika Waititi) try and give Hal confidence. A forgettable scene with Hal visiting his brother's place for his nephew's birthday is equally useless, designed to bleed a little sympathy and drama from stony cliches. Even Hal himself is lacking. The character has no actual motivation other than the appearance of Abin Sur and the power ring; although the writers give him fears to overcome (specifically the death of his father, in a test plane accident), very little drives Hal in his training to become a Green Lantern. The character is saved by Reynolds' usual comedy routine, but it would be nice if there were more meat on the bones.
When Reynolds is not boosting the picture, the proceedings are livened up by inventive, amusing action. Some people will probably find Hal's powers unintentionally funny: for example, when battling one villain, Hal uses his mind to create giant springs underneath a tanker truck to fling it in the air, then visualizes giant machine guns in order to blow it up. It's definitely goofy, but in an endearing, Flash Gordon kind of way. Director Martin Campbell stages these scenes with relieving clarity and breakneck pacing, and said beats occur frequently enough to keep the viewer engaged.
The Dark Knight is an excellent movie, but since then, there have been a great number of comic book movies that seem as if they feel obligated to ground comic books in reality, in order to shave off some of the inherent silliness in superheroes. Green Lantern is far from a great movie, but more than any film since Spider-Man 2, it embraces that goofiness, the spirited sense of awe and creativity that captures the mind of a kid reading a comic book. At the last minute, Warner raised the budget of Green Lantern almost $10 million for additional special effects. I may have enjoyed those special effects, but maybe next time, they spend that money on the script.
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