Almost one year to the day when Warner Bros. and DC Comics released the awful and embarrassing “Jonah Hex” to more than 3,000 large and mostly empty theaters, the partnership between the two entities is banking a lot, literally and figuratively, on “Green Lantern”. A long simmering project, which underwent a well-storied rewrite and return to post-production after initial trailers and testing with audiences warranted dismal returns, “Green Lantern” has finally arrived, in 3-D, for our mass consumption.
And oh how I wish it was better. Honestly I do. Watching “Green Lantern” you can see so much hard work being put into the landscape this movie exists within that you almost feel bad tearing it down. That is until you see the story unfold and then just stare at the screen in befuddled confusion about what the purpose of all of this is.
Muddled narration informs us that in centuries past, the Guardians of the Universe were formed as a pseudo-police force traversing across the galaxy. Dividing the universe into 3,600 sectors, one officer – a Green Lantern, occupies and oversees each sector. One such officer, Abin Sur (Temeura Morrison), defeated the vile and evil Parallax (voice of Clancy Brown) and imprisoned him, vaulting Sur to a status as the most revered and respected Green Lantern of them all. Trouble arrives when Parallax escapes from prison and sets his sights on retribution against Abin Sur and any and all Green Lanterns who get in his way.
Enter Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), who is a rather self-absorbed and arrogant Air Force test pilot, in a relationship with fellow pilot Carol Ferris (Blake Lively). We learn early on that Jordan disappoints and fails people’s expectations time and time again, but because he’s witty and apparently charming, he gets by with an off-the-cuff sorry or well-timed apology. One night, after leaving his nephew’s 11-year old birthday party, a mysterious green cloud engulfs Jordan and abducts him miles and miles away until an unceremonious dumping places him facedown near the fresh wreckage of a spaceship.
The cloud was summoned by Abin Sur and generated by his Green Lantern ring, following Sur’s command to find a successor and to choose well. Taking the ring, Jordan learns of his fate and begrudgingly accepts his new responsibilities. Soon, Jordan is sent to Sur’s home planet of Oa and meets another Green Lantern, Sinestro (Mark Strong), as well as a hybrid bird/fish creature named Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) and a strong “Thing”-like entity known as Kilowog (voice of Michael Clarke Duncan). Initially, Jordan is rejected and returns to Earth but when a scientist, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), is injected with a sample of Parallax’s DNA while conducting Abin Sur’s autopsy, Jordan’s Green Lantern training comes into play. Soon thereafter, he is accepted and needed in a fight to save all of humanity from the evil Parallax wishes to reap on everyone and everything in the universe.
Okay. There are significant problems here. For starters, the film falls deep down the rabbit hole of how much is too much when it comes to CGI sets, backdrops, and characters. The opening minutes of this film look akin to an extremely expensive animated film or video game with live actors dropped in.
Even if you can hang with the mind-numbing and instantly forgettable narration which opens the film, and all the random and insular reference points the film makes with its mythology, your payoff is meager at best. We are introduced to Hal, mutually smitten with Carol, but willing to play a game of aerial one-upsmanship that places her and himself at high risk, apparently only to prove that he suffers from daddy issues and recoils from authority. Hal is disarmingly unappealing initially and yet little to none of this matters in the long run. After the debacle in training, when Hal atones for being late and worrying his nephew at that birthday party, the screenplay takes outright ambivalence to the whole life lesson facing Hal with his family. In fact, I may need a second viewing, but I don’t recall this nephew or Hal’s family appearing ever again in the film. Is Hal a flawed man who means well and can make his nephew smile again with a few “I’m sorry”’s? Meh. He’s kind of a jerk.
Peter Sarsgaard is quite fascinating in the role of schlubby professor Hector Hammond. A tremendous actor, Sarsgaard relishes his opportunity to play a insane and megalomanical character. With aplomb, Sarsgaard sells Hammond’s crazed and manic villainy with a rapidly swelling head and temperament to match. He seems to be the only one truly having fun with all of this and Sarsgaard is able to play off the silliness of what’s happening around him and make his scenes effective enough and often entertaining.
And as torturous as the CGI can be, some of the visual effects are impressive. Although I am not entirely sure I understand why he looks like a cross between an octopus and a landfill, there are some impressively orchestrated scenes with Parallax near the end of the film which justify that expense I suppose. The voice work by Clancy Brown as Parallax, and Oscar nominees Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan in supporting roles, make the talking CGI characters come to life somewhat.
Unfortunately, director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, Goldeneye, Edge Of Darkness) seems over his head in managing all of this. Ryan Reynolds will come out of this fine, but Blake Lively undoes some of the goodwill a strong performance in “The Town” earned her in 2010. Here, she might as well be just another computer generated “thing” for Reynolds to act with. There’s just nothing there – her character seemingly one more element victimized by all the eyes, hands, and computers that got a hand in crafting this muddled and confusing production.
Reports leaked that the final price tag for the film was up near $300 MM. Quickly, studio executives backtracked and said that the figure also included marketing and promotional costs, which exist with every film. After seeing “The Green Lantern”, it would not surprise me at all if Warner Bros. turned over an open checkbook to the producers, hoping that the struggles and problems which dogged the production could somehow be saved by an antibiotic cocktail of more money and more computers.
“Green Lantern” is an ambitious film but one which suffocates under that same ambition. The film embodies an unbridled love of excess; excessive money, excessive visual effects, excessive characterizations, and a screenplay that excessively ignores simple for more, more, and then some more. Ryan Reynolds is a talented actor with terrific charisma and perhaps an action-movie franchise awaits his future. This failure is not his fault, but “Green Lantern” feels like a project that never had a chance and was doomed to fail from its inception.