Movie Review: Green Lantern
By Matthew Huntley
June 27, 2011

This is a real thing. Can you believe this is a real thing?

As a superhero movie, Green Lantern isn’t what you expect. What you expect is a loud, unwatchable mess with incoherent action, annoying characters and cheesy special effects. That’s at least what the advertising campaign promised, but that’s not what you get.

Sure, the movie is loud and there are some cheesy special effects, but it’s hardly unwatchable or annoying. On the contrary, it’s all delivered with high energy and spirit. After the movie, you feel like you just watched a Saturday morning cartoon show, one that was bright and tolerable. It’s silly and mostly for kids, but that’s a pleasant surprise considering how bad it could have been.

Overall, Green Lantern is about as “superhero movie” as you can get. It adheres to the classic structure epitomized by Superman: The Movie, Spider-Man and Iron Man. And even though it’s not nearly as well-made or memorable as those movies, it’s got a charm and self-mocking sense of humor, which it uses to its advantage. Luckily, the one thing it does not do is take itself seriously. But then, given its premise, how could it?

At the beginning, a voice over tells us a group of alien beings called the Guardians of the Universe have been protecting the galaxy for millions of years. They formed the Green Lantern Corps and divided the universe into thousands of sectors, each overseen by a Green Lantern soldier, who is taught to believe in courage over fear and wears a special ring that utilizes the green essence of willpower.

Since the Lanterns’ MO is fearlessness, it only makes sense their enemy is Parallax, an ugly, monstrous creature with a giant face and tentacles who is the embodiment of fear (naturally, he’s comprised of yellow essence). Long ago, Parallax was captured and imprisoned by Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), but he escapes, killing three other Lanterns and fatally wounding Sur. With his last ounce of strength, Sur makes his way to Earth to find a worthy successor for his ring, which allows its owner to materialize anything with his mind, from water to a race track, so long as he believes in himself.

That’s a pretty cool power, which is something Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is about to discover. Hal is a reckless aircraft pilot who’s not too shy about showing off his flying skills, even though he still can’t shake the death of his father. The memories of his dad’s fatal crash still haunt him and cause him problems in the air with his wingman/ex-girlfriend, Carol (Blake Lively).

When Sur’s ring chooses him, Hal is transported back to the Lanterns’ home planet of Oa, where he’s informed of his new powers by representatives from different species, including Tomar-Re (voice of Geoffrey Rush) and Kilowog (voice of Michael Clarke Duncan). They have their doubts about him, as does Sinestro (Mark Strong), who doesn’t believe a human is worthy of the Green Lantern oath and responsibility to protect others.

Hal is hesitant himself, but he has a villain to fight, and this one is in the form of a mad scientist named Dr. Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), who becomes even madder when Parallax’s DNA infects his body and he obtains telekinetic and telepathic powers, not to mention one giant head.

From here, the movie more or less follows the genre’s usual pattern: the hero initially has fun with his newfound abilities; he saves a few people from certain death; he fights some bullies; he doubts his purpose; and finally he obtains the courage to look inside himself and overcome his own insecurities and defeat evil. We’ve seen it a hundred times and we’ll see it a hundred more.

The problem is Green Lantern doesn’t really have anything to separate itself from other, better superhero movies. It’s too fanciful to be taken seriously but also too light and harmless to get angry at. I think if I was a kid, I would really like this movie. It’s got zippy action, a likable hero, a strong message and a lot of neat, diverse characters with distinct personalities. I also liked how it was hip to its own genre, as when Hal’s science buddy (Taika Waititi) sees him don his black and green tights and says in a geek-like manner, “You’re a superhero!” Carol also makes a point about Hal’s eye mask and touches on the incredulity of superheroes being able to conceal their secret identity: “What, you thought I wouldn’t recognize you just because I can’t see your cheekbones?”

Green Lantern builds to a somewhat exciting conclusion and I enjoyed the movie as light-hearted children’s fare (it’s based on a revived 1959 DC Comics character), but not much beyond that. Still, despite what the trailer suggests, it’s not a painful experience; it’s just too fluffy and inconsequential to warrant a trip to the theater. Granted, my review may be skewed by low expectations, but I’d rather have a movie exceed my low expectations instead of meet or, worse yet, fall below them.