by Tony Dayoub
There are many reasons why Green Lantern fails. Here are three of the primary ones. First, the movie spends far too much time on the GL's earthbound subplots instead of his distinctive galactic milieu. Second, Warner Brothers is so concerned with strip-mining its stable of DC Comics characters in order to compete with Marvel Entertainment that the larger conglomerate slavishly follows their rival's blueprint for success instead of merely looking for inspiration in it. Last, the filmmakers who cooked Green Lantern up miss a great opportunity to offer us a different take on the superhero film, transforming the square stoic of the comics into the same prototypical smart-aleck movie antihero that's a dime a dozen these days. More on this in a moment, but let's begin with a quick primer for those unfamiliar with the 52-year-old comic book hero.
Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a test pilot who becomes an intergalactic cop when he finds a dying alien peacekeeper (Temuera Morrison) with a power ring able to conjure up anything its wearer can imagine. The near-sentient ring chooses Jordan as the alien's successor because he is fearless and virtuous, the best example humanity can offer. Jordan is then inducted into the Green Lantern Corps, a fraternity of aliens from across the vast universe who each police their own sector under the guidance of the immortal, blue-skinned ancients known as the Guardians. With little training, Jordan is enlisted in the search for his predecessor's killer, a renegade monster named Parallax (Clancy Brown). This yellow cloud creature is the embodiment of fear, growing more powerful with each star system it destroys, and Earth is, of course, its next target. Jordan must juggle his newfound powers, his doubts about joining a legendary police force, and his relationship problems with his boss, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), as he learns to accept his new career as a Green Lantern.
In comics, one of GL's most interesting qualities is his distinct, conservative outlook as a lawman. His initial, unwavering belief that the all-knowing Guardians are always right—despite evidence to the contrary—immediately puts him at odds with a fellow Green Lantern, the magenta-skinned Sinestro (Mark Strong), as well as many of his fellow heroes (most notably the liberal Green Arrow). GL's right-leaning streak is a characteristic that has so far gone unexplored in the increasingly tedious succession of superhero movies making their way to the multiplexes. The miscasting of Reynolds—the happy-go-lucky antithesis of the comic book's stern, awe-struck spaceman—is a mistake that fundamentally mars Green Lantern, the film. The comic book GL is singular for being eager to help the militaristic corps vanquish all evil-doers. In this film, Reynolds portrays him, not unlike Ralph Hinkley in TV's comedicThe Greatest American Hero, as a reluctant participant inconveniently drafted into service by the ring.
This angst-ridden take on Green Lantern is representative of Warner Brothers' decision to take a page from Marvel Entertainment's playbook. Now, Jordan is a mope like Spider-Man, fretting about whether he is up to the task of handling such a responsibility. This despite his background as the type of aircraft pilot entrusted with powerful, complicated jet prototypes whose cost lies somewhere in the multi-millions. No matter, the filmmakers reinforce Jordan's immaturity by having the character recklessly scuttle one of the planes he's testing. Like Robert Downey's Iron Man, Reynolds continually tries to prove to his straitlaced girlfriend that he's got the stuff to be a better man. Green Lantern even has its own version of Samuel Jackson's Nick Fury, Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett), DC Comics' chief government operative presiding over that pubishing universe's metahumans. Instead of concentrating on successfully launching Green Lantern, a second-tier character, into an ignorant public's consciousness, Warner Brothers is already starting to build its own mega-movie universe of crossovers much like Marvel's. At least Marvel had one triumph—in the form of the diverting Iron Man—that they could build on.
The interesting dynamic between Jordan and his fellow Green Lanterns is left mostly unexplored. Jordan's initial wonder at the sights he encounters in space get a brief cameo thanks to Reynolds' enthusiasm when his character learns he can fly. But beyond that, Jordan doesn't get much interaction with his unusual cohorts, Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush) or Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan)—save for one brief training sequence. He barely gets more time with Sinestro, his jealous rival for fair-haired boy status in the eyes of the patriarchal Guardians. Like in this summer's Thor, you want Green Lantern to escape its earthly confines and spend more time in its epic-scale, cosmic arena. There's certainly enough in Green Lantern's backstory to forge a Star Wars-level space saga, if one wanted to. But the movie repeatedly abandons that setting in favor of the more pedestrian, predictable romantic plotlines on Earth in an effort to appeal to a female demographic that will (unless they show up for a look at Reynolds' twelve-pack) likely skip out on the film altogether. As for Warner Brothers' hopes for a new superhero mega-franchise, Green Lantern is quickly starting to look like an ambitious failure.