Test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is given a ring which grants super-powers by a dying alien and recruited into an intergalactic peace-keeping force. Hal tries to avoid the responsibility, but a threat to the Earth and the Green Lantern Corps forces him to become a hero.
Though seemingly every Marvel character short of Howard The Duck and the Disco Dazzler is either a big-screen franchise or in fast-track development, DC Comics has lagged behind its longtime rival. Tentpole superheroes Batman and Superman remain the world’s finest heroes, but hog all the action. Longtime DC fans have got used to slap-in-the-face disappointments like Swamp Thing, Steel, Catwoman, Constantine and Jonah Hex. Green Lantern is the first of DC’s second-tier stars — a status not to be ashamed of, since being on the rung below pop culture icons Bats and Supes still means looking down on Johnny-come-latelys like Spider-Man and Wolverine — to benefit from the major summer movie mounting which has made hits of Iron Man and Thor and established an ongoing Marvel film universe.
This take on Green Lantern — daredevil test pilot-turned-space cop — is based on the 1959 science-fiction reboot of a formerly magic character, but draws most on the recent reworking of the Lantern mythos material by writer Geoff Johns (who even gets a buy-his-books ad in the end credits). Elements carried over from the comic differentiate this outing from standard a-man-can-fly super-heroics since Hal Jordan’s adventures run to stretches of spacefaring action and awe-inspiring sci-fi/comic book/’70s concept album imagery (in 3D), though the Earthbound sections rather slavishly try to follow the Marvel method. Former Deadpool Ryan Reynolds plays a cocky slacker foul-up with dead daddy issues (yawn!), whose recruitment into the Green Lantern Corps prompts his own sidekick (Taika Waititi) to wonder whether “on their planet, ‘responsible’ means ‘asshole’”. Like the movies’ Peter Parker or Tony Stark — and unlike the comics’ straighter-arrow Hal Jordan — Reynolds does panicky comedy schtick to delay hard-to-sell oath-reciting heroism. Love interest Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) is a patchwork of Lois and Pepper — an exasperated ex who will come back to Hal when he becomes more heroic but is mainly here to be imperilled in the climax and poke fun at the skintight CGI outfit.
Though Warner/DC aren’t apparently building up to a Justice League movie the way Marvel are shooting The Avengers, this seems like a prologue for a bigger story to come. Thousands of CG Green Lanterns are seen in a crowd scene, but only two get to speak — Geoffrey Rush-voiced fish humanoid Tomar-Re, and Michael Clarke Duncan-voiced hippo/hulk drill sergeant Kilowog. Hal has to battle on his own, since the rest of the Corps sit this one out and let the rookie defend our expendable galactic sector. Peter Sarsgaard’s head-enlarged nerd Hector Hammond, the traditional distorted mirror/rival of the hero, seems more a preliminary sparring partner than a title fight opponent, while the film’s major menace is an angry, tentacled cloud. Mark Strong simmers on the sidelines as a Corps member in good standing whose 1950s-coined name (Sinestro — it was a more innocent age) and moustache suggest he might go evil before Green Lantern 2. And Jordan’s extended circle of family members, work colleagues, rivals and political connections just crowds Reynolds’ big kid with a power ring into a corner of his own film. When the climax comes, it feels less apocalyptic than just rushed, as the hero goes from complete wash-out to standing up to a primal force of the universe in about five minutes.
Martin Campbell made Zorro and Bond work as contemporary heroes, but doesn’t quite have the feel for poor old Hal Jordan. Green Lantern is dazzling in pieces, but we’ve seen too many sharper versions of the superhero origin story in the last few years. It’s not Jonah Hex, but the battery runs low too quickly.