Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Temuera Morrison, Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett, Geoffrey Rush (voice), Michael Clarke Duncan (voice), Clancy Brown (voice), Nick Jones Jr., Paul Parducci (voice), Jay O. Sanders, Taika Waititi, Jeff Wolfe
Written by: Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Goldenberg, based on a story by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim
Directed by: Martin Campbell
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Running Time: 105
Date: 06/14/2011

Green Lantern (2011)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Blackest Night

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When I heard that Martin Campbell would be directing the new Green Lantern movie, my hopes went up. This was the guy who had made such terrific entertainments out of two other pulp characters, including the breezy The Mask of Zorro (1998) and two James Bond reboots, Goldeneye (1995), and Casino Royale (2006), the latter of which may be the best of the series. Campbell has a good sense of lightness and pace where needed, and just a hint of depth if necessary. Surely he could do something good with Green Lantern.

Then it occurred to me that Campbell's overall track record has been rather uneven, including an atrocious sequel, The Legend of Zorro (2005), the overly preachy Beyond Borders (2003), and the grimly unappealing Edge of Darkness (2010). And so it is that Green Lantern falls somewhere in the middle of all this. It definitely makes fine use of Campbell's fine sense of pulp pacing, as well as for slick, clear action sequences. But the problem is that the story isn't pulp enough. The Green Lantern saga has always been notable for its extra weight, its sense of propriety, and Campbell just can't make it fly.

Campbell and his four screenwriters manage to come up with a nifty gimmick, also used in the recently-released animated film Green Lantern: Emerald Knights. In the comic books, Hal Jordan, Green Lantern's alter-ego, was found to be without fear. In this movie, he has fear, but he has courage enough to face those fears. They also make Hal more playful, and doubtful, a bit like a Marvel hero; he's uncertain of his fate as a superhero. This is the kind of stuff that makes superheroes appealing. Unfortunately, when Hal accepts his fate, he loses his irresponsible edge and at least half of his character.

Ryan Reynolds plays Hal, and he's a good choice in that he's funny and also chiseled enough to look good in tights. I was worried, since Reynolds had been so obnoxiously awful in two other comic book movies: Blade: Trinity (2004) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), but not too worried given his award-worthy performance in last year's Buried. Anyway, Hal is a test pilot, reckless and troublesome. In the movie's opening bit, he manages to render two new state-of-the-art fighter planes totally worthless and crash his own plane besides. He loses his job, of course. But that's when a purple alien, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) crash-lands on earth and hands over his green power ring to Hal.

Before long, Hal journeys to the distant planet of OA, the home of the Guardians of the Universe, the creators of the power rings and the masters of the Green Lantern Corps. Hal learns a bit about his new calling, meets a few other Lanterns, but most notably the aptly-named Sinestro (Mark Strong), who greets Hal with something less than warmth. Abin Sur was in the middle of fighting a deadly force known as the Parallax, and he died trying. And now the Guardians and the rest of the Corps are trying to figure out a way to fight it, with little success.

The movie looks great, with terrific special effects and crisp action sequences, and at 105 minutes, it's not too long. It's presented in 3D, with no discernable improvement. But it also feels somewhat flat, like it had been phoned in, or completed as part of a contractual obligation. It doesn't help that no other real characters are around to help bring Hal to life. The movie gives Hal a best buddy, Thomas (Taika Waititi), who shows up for a couple of scenes, and then disappears. His romantic interest is Blake Lively, who looks good in a skirt, but who exudes little personality otherwise. Strong is currently a popular actor to cast as villains, but he has yet to play anything with more than two dimensions. Peter Saarsgard gets in a few good moments as a straggly, intensely withdrawn scientist, but after his makeup takes hold, he turns into a pretty half-baked villain. Even the likes of Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, and Geoffrey Rush (the latter in voice form only) are fairly well wasted here. I realized about halfway through that I had no interest in seeing it again.

It ends with an all-too-predictable "button," outlining the potential future sequel. (Will anyone be interested?) In this summer of many comic book movies, this one so far takes a distant third to X-Men: First Class and Thor, though the race is not over yet.

Warner Home Video has released a seriously great-looking Blu-Ray with glorious sound. There's an "extended" cut, nine minutes longer, as well as the theatrical cut. Extras include "maximum movie mode," deleted scenes, and tons of featurettes. There's also a digital copy available.

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