Monday, June 20, 2011

Green Lantern / **½ (PG-13)

Hal Jordan/Green Lantern: Ryan Reynolds
Carol Ferris: Blake Lively
Hector Hammond: Peter Sarsgaard
Sinestro: Mark Strong
Senator Hammond: Tim Robbins
Dr. Amanda Waller: Angela Bassett
Abin Sur: Temuera Morrison

And featuring the voices of:
Tomar-Re: Geoffrey Rush
Kilowog: Michael Clarke Duncan
Parallax: Clancy Brown

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Martin Campbell. Written by Greg Berlanti & Michael Green & Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg. Based on characters appearing in DC Comics. Running time: 105 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action).

As Hollywood delves further into superhero mythology as explored by the major comic book companies Marvel and DC, we begin to get heroes that are more difficult for the average moviegoer to discern. We pass beyond the territory of the goodness of Superman or the dark vigilantism of Batman. With the latest comic book adaptation from DC, we are introduced to “Green Lantern”. Green Lantern, the hero, is simple enough, but his mythology is a little more involved at the introductory level than Batman’s or Superman’s.

As the movie opens, we find ourselves in space where an alien entity known as Parallax has escaped imprisonment by the alien Abin Sur. Parallax feeds off the energy of fear. Abin Sur is part of the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic police organization that utilizes the energy of will to power the rings that endow them with superpowers. Uh huh.

On Earth, we meet a test pilot named Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds, “Definitely, Maybe”). Like all movie hero pilots, Jordan is cocky, disobeys orders, defies authority, destroys hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment to make his own personal point, but is the best damn pilot in the business. Still, Jordan’s life seems driven by fear, possibly because as a young child he witnessed the death of his father in a jet accident. His father claimed to be fearless. Do you think there’s going to be some lesson about the nature of fear to be learned from Jordan’s story?

After a battle with the escaped Parallax, Abin Sur crash lands on Earth where his ring has sought out a new wearer worthy to be part of the fearless ranks of the Green Lantern Corps. There’s that word again. Jordan is the man chosen by the ring. Although he does experience fear, the ring saw something in Jordan. What could it be?

I’ve mocked some of the set up here, but the direction by Martin Campbell (“Casino Royale”) does an unusually good job of navigating the spacescape and all the alien characters. The origin story of Jordan is made from slightly worn material, however. It lacks the humanity it needs to fully engage the audience. Yes, Jordan is flawed, yet there’s a sexy woman, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively, “The Town”), who cares for him anyway. The screenplay tries to place some humor into Jordan’s character for texture, but the comedy is fairly fleeting. That’s a shame because Ryan Reynolds is a rare leading man gifted in comedy.

The plot thickens on Earth when Dr. Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett, “Jumping the Broom”) recruits college professor, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard, “Knight and Day”), to examine the recovered body of Abin Sur. Hammond is the son of a U.S. Senator (Tim Robbins, “War of the Worlds”), who pulled strings to get his son the job, but still doesn’t respect him. A lingering aspect of Parallax infects Hector, deforming him and imbuing him with telekinetic powers. This storyline is typical superhero fare and is not fully developed because of the time spent developing the presence of the GL Corps.

While the GL Corps doesn’t ultimately have much of a role to play in this particular storyline, they are the most interesting aspect of the movie. Sinestro appears to be the leader of the Corps. Mark Strong (“Sherlock Holmes”) handles the character with an even temperament. He’s authoritative but fair. This is my favorite role in which I’ve seen Strong, who usually specializes in teeth gnashing. From my knowledge of the Green Lantern comics and one hint in the movie, I suspect he will play a larger role in the sequel.

“Green Lantern” will easily satisfy fanboys of the comic book, especially because the filmmaker’s expert handling of the Green Lantern Corps themselves. However, there seems to be some spark lacking from the movie as a whole. Perhaps if the filmmakers had more faith in Jordan as a hero, they could’ve provided us with a more focused origin story that left the GL Corps out of the mix for the time being. Although the Corps scenes were the most interesting of the movie, a stronger introduction to Jordan and his Earthbound supporting cast would’ve made Green Lantern a little more compelling as his own character. I couldn’t recommend this first installment in the franchise to many beyond the GL fanbase, but I have better hopes for the sequel.

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