With Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong and Tim Robbins; Running Time: 105 minutes; Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action); Written by Greg Berlanti & Michael Green & Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg; Directed by Martin Campbell.
Superhero movies generally go in one of three directions. There’s the special effects extravaganza in which the writing and characterization is thin. You may enjoy the pyrotechnics but there’s nothing of substance. “Thor” is a good example of this. Then there are the movies that bring a rich mythology with the character and see the story as a chance to metaphorically explore deeper issues. Movies like “The Dark Knight” and “X-Men: First Class” fall into this category.
Then there are the ones that provide the requisite thrills and chills but are really comedies, with a hero who is able to step back and appreciate the absurdity of his situation before going out and kicking serious butt. The first “Iron Man” is a sterling example of this. While GREEN LANTERN falls short of those heights, it is on its own is an entertaining entry in what might be called the ironic superhero genre.
Based on the DC Comics character, Green Lantern is really Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a hotshot fighter pilot with some issues. One night he finds himself whisked to the site of a crashed spaceship where a dying alien bequeaths him a ring and a green lantern. When he puts on the ring and charges it by saying the special oath he suddenly finds himself knowing, he discovers he’s part of a corps of such heroes throughout the universe who have utilized the power of “will” to fight evil. If he can think it, the ring can make it happen.
This is essentially the story of Green Lantern’s origin, so the villains are somewhat less important. There’s a creature named Parallax which is using the power of fear to slaughter planets and, eventually, vanquish all of the Green Lanterns. Back on Earth, Parallax has infected Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a meek scientist who is the son of a powerful senator (Tim Robbins). Only someone who has never encountered a comic book or movie can fail to guess who will triumph by film’s end.
Where the film works best is where Reynolds shows us a reluctant superhero slowly becoming aware of the full extent of his powers and deciding that it’s time to stop letting others define who he is. Sarsgaard, as Hector, is the mirror image of Reynolds’ Jordan, completely defined by others. Tapping into the power of fear, he strives to make things worse rather than better.
There’s a rich mythology into which the film barely taps, although the fact that the leader of the good guys is a Green Lantern named Sinestro (played by “Kick Ass” baddie Mark Strong) ought to give one pause as to where the intended sequels may be heading. And that, after all, is what “Green Lantern” is really about: the attempt to launch a new movie franchise. There’s room for improvement, but Reynolds is engaging, as is Blake Lively (“The Town”) as Carol Ferris, the industrialist who has known Jordan since childhood and the prerequisite Love Interest.
“Green Lantern” has room to grow if Warner Brothers has the will power to deepen the characters and sharpen the writing in the inevitable sequel. If it falls short of greatness, it at least has enough energy to make it an entertaining summer entry.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.