Years from now when the dust settles over the Great 3D Debate Green Lantern might come to be regarded its Waterloo after which audience sentiment turned against the controversial format for good. Granted greatness was probably never within Green Lantern’s reach but the film does have a handful of thrilling moments moments that are betrayed by a 3D transfer that diminishes their spectacle and renders disbelief all but impossible to suspend. My condolences to the visual effects technicians who toiled untold hours to seamlessly blend the film’s fantastical environments and characters only to have them separated again in the service of a cheap gimmick. Green Lantern may just be the most expensive diorama ever made.
A hasty 3D transfer is only the most visible blemish of a film that visibly strains under the many burdens of franchise-building. Drawing upon a multitude of flashbacks dialogue swollen with exposition and a turgid (but admittedly gorgeous) CGI prologue narrated by Geoffrey Rush director Martin Campbell sets about the arduous work of laying out Green Lantern’s dense mythology establishing two separate worlds introducing two different villains and tossing in a love story (gotta grab that fourth quadrant) to boot. It’s little wonder then that the movie doesn’t gather any discernable momentum until well beyond its halfway point after all the boxes of its achingly familiar origin-story template have been checked. Green Lantern is redeemed to a large extent by a genuinely rousing third act but it may not be enough to guarantee the sequel its producers so plainly crave.
The terminally likeable Ryan Reynolds stars as Hal Jordan a flaky self-absorbed test pilot who is carried by a mysterious green orb to a spaceship crash site whereupon a dying purple alien hands him a ring that allows him to spontaneously manifest emerald-tinted race cars or gatling guns or giant fists or anything else his imagination can conjure and which the production's effects budget allows for. Shortly after donning the ring he is summoned to the planet Oa where he’s trained in the proper use of his new jewelry and formally inducted into the Green Lantern Corps an intergalactic police force that maintains order throughout the universe. Currently threatening that order is Parallax a massive amorphous blob that feeds on fear literally sucking it from the sentient beings in his vicinity. As Parallax drifts across the universe on a planet-devouring binge – he attaches to them like the facehuggers in Alien – the Corp’s imperious leader Sinestro (Mark Strong) and the Guardians a council of feckless big-headed alien sages argue over how best to confront him. Meanwhile back on earth Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) a scientist teacher-turned-Parallax surrogate is planning to use his newfound powers to move in on Hal’s once-and-future ladyfriend Carol Ferris (Blake Lively).
With his grotesquely misshapen cranium Hammond makes for a terrific pulp villain and Sarsgaard is at his hammy Malkovichian best in the role. But is his counterpart Reynolds really the superhero type? He certainly fits the suit and he’s got charisma to spare but he lacks the screen presence of a Christian Bale or Robert Downey Jr. whose respective turns as warrior-narcissists set the standard for the comic-book genre. For an actor so often praised for his down-to-earth demeanor larger-than-life may simply lie outside of Reynolds’ range. Hal Jordan’s egotism isn’t convincing – you just know there’s a self-effacing remark lurking behind every gibe or boast ready to defuse it – nor does self-doubt his thematic adversary seem all that formidable of an obstacle to him. As a consequence the angle of his character arc is nearly flat.
His director Campbell appears similarly ill-suited for his role. Campbell’s previous efforts Casino Royale and Edge of Darkness were both grim revenge thrillers built around unsmiling anti-heroes. He seems flummoxed in Green Lantern’s ostensibly lighthearted milieu: comic relief comes across as a unwelcome chore; a plodding lackluster score drains the energy out of set pieces; and a penchant for super-shallow depth of field exacerbates the aforementioned 3D-transfer ugliness. It took over 70 years for a Green Lantern film to be made; it may be just as long before we see a second one.