Green Lantern is the third comic book movie to come out in what already feels like a long summer movie season, and the third to credit no fewer than four screenwriters (X-Men: First Class actually had five). It also suffers the worst from a lot of good intentions and cross-purposes in getting yet another superhero franchise off the ground, chasing character arcs and mythology like a dog after a car, with about as much likelihood of success. With wild space alien characters and a ring that harnesses the power of will, Green Lantern demands more faith from its audience than the 60s-grooving X-Men or the comparatively straightforward Thor. Remarkably it does get you to believe in a interstellar corps of peace-keepers, but gets hopelessly tangled in something far more mundane-- that common superhero movie ambition to do too much at once.
Ryan Reynolds, gifted with the genetic superpowers of charisma and looks, carries this shaky film a lot further than it should have gone, though even he seems muted by the excess of visual effects and frantic plot threads director Martin Campbell is attempting to wrangle. At first Reynolds is a natural as the cocky, charming test pilot Hal Jordan, flirting and flying planes with the CEO's daughter Carol (Blake Lively) and suffering a routine set of daddy issues. We know thanks to a rushed, unnecessary exposition that there's something big shaking up in space, so when he's transported by glowing green ball to the dying corpse of a purple alien, we're not nearly as surprised as Hal is. He takes the ring and lantern from the dying alien Abin Sur, and after a mystical reciting of the oath and an encounter with some toughs in an alley, another cookie cutter movie superhero is born.
The parts of Green Lantern that don't feel maddeningly generic and familiar are the parts that take place in space, once Hal is summoned up to the planet Oa to meet the other Green Lanterns-- there are more than 3,000 of them, most of them depicted as a mass of silent, funky-looking aliens-- and get some combat training from fish-like Tomar Re (Geoffrey Rush, who also gets to do the opening narration for some reason), rock-like giant Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan), and devil-like Sinestro (Mark Strong), who despite bearing pointed eyebrows and fire-red skin is not the villain of the piece. The CGI creation of Oa is shiny and well-realized, and in a few short scenes, all of them heavy on portentous and meaningless dialogue, Strong manages to build Sinestro as the only character with any interesting motivations, trying to protect the universe while also knocking the puny yet cocky Hal down a few pegs.
Green Lantern starts finding its feet once Hal arrives in space, finally explaining its massive mythology and indulging in the special effects Warner Bros. paid dearly for. Then, inexplicably, the movie rockets back down to Earth, Hal rejecting all these cool new powers he's been given (though somehow keeping the ring), moping around with Carol and killing time while local scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) morphs into a human incarnation of the great, amorphous blob space villain Parallax. Though Sarsgaard is a campy trip as Hector, particularly once his face swells up like a bee sting gone horribly wrong, his story-- which also encompasses the paltry roles Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett play-- has almost nothing to do with the main plot. He's a more interesting villain than the galaxy-threatening blob Parallax, but unfortunately Green Lantern is more invested in the latter; a less rushed movie franchise might have let Hector develop as a villain over the course of two or three films, but much like X-Men: First Class, they seem mysteriously insistent on cramming everything into the first round. Every single character suffers as a result, but Hector and Sinestro seem to bear the worst of it.
The script perks up a little for the big third act finale, which ties nicely into earlier action scenes and actually allows Reynolds to look like he's enjoying his new Lantern powers; Campbell, for his inability to manage the massive story, does well by the action sequences throughout. But despite starring a hero whose power is literally is that of imagination, Green Lantern is unbearably rote, another slog through a superhero origin and love story and climactic battle. It's not entirely Green Lantern's fault that it's the third superhero film to hit theaters in the last two months, or the 30th or so in the last decade, but at this point in the genre the same old origin story simply isn't enough. Instead of being bold with Green Lantern's out-there source material, Campbell and company have reverted to the tiresome, too-familiar mean.
To find out whether you should see Green Lantern in 2D or 3D read our latest installment of To 3D Or Not To 3D.