Like many American boys, I grew up watching superhero cartoons on Saturday mornings. Among them were the programmes that featured “The Justice League of America”: Superman, Batman, Aquaman and Wonder Woman were all present and each week they battled Lex Luthor and his minions. My favourite character was the Green Lantern: I not only admired the power of his ring to create any contraption or structure at will, but I also thought he was the most restrained and low key of the heroes. There was none of the “underpants on the outside” exhuberance of Superman, nor the lacking in mystery mystery of Batman (how anyone failed to spot he was Bruce Wayne was beyond me): rather, the Green Lantern spoke little and often used cleverness to defeat his foes. For example, I recall in one episode he faced his own clone and used a yellow Yield sign in order to deflect a blast from the doppelganger’s power ring.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before Hollywood made a film out of this particular tale. It was also an opportunity for me to give 3D cinema technology a try, something which I had been avoiding. Would the film follow in the spirit of its comic predecessor, or would Hollywood’s influence intrude on childhood’s perspective? Would the technology enhance the film or would it be a distraction?
The result is rather a mixed bag. Ryan Reynolds plays Hal Jordan, a fearless test pilot who begins the story by waking up late, rushing to work in a dilapidated Dodge Charger while he wraps his nephew’s birthday present in newspaper and then Hal engages in a reckless air maneuever to outwit drone aircraft which results in the crash of his own jet. From the start, this seemed out of synch with the mature, low-key Hal Jordan I recalled from the cartoons. The new Hal is a well intentioned ne’er do well, who enjoys bars, fast cars and seducing any woman he can. His real love, however, is Carol Ferris (played by Blake Lively), the daughter of the CEO of the company which produces the drones that Hal defeats. She, however, knows Hal too well and sees that while he has potential, he is too irresponsible for a lasting relationship. In other words, the beginning of the film is burdened with cinematic cliches about jet pilots which are as old as Top Gun.
Matters aren’t helped by the fact that Ryan Reynolds is a comic actor and it shows. Hitherto, I’ve seen few films in which the main hero could be described as “gormless” (to use a British slang term) but Reynolds qualifies: he continually seems on the verge of a prat-fall or letting slip some comic line. This tendency bursts forth when he has his first conversation with Carol in his superhero costume: fortunately the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, and Carol recognises him right away, stating that a mask covering merely Hal’s cheekbones wasn’t going to prevent recognition.
The other weakness in the film is the development of the villains: Dr. Hector Hammond, as played by Peter Saarsgard, could have been given more air time. He becomes an avatar of evil after he’s exposed to an alien residue. However, the characteristics which made him susceptible were already embedded in his psyche prior to his infection: he has an ongoing conflict with his father, a Senator (as played by Tim Robbins), which is again something of a cliche. Furthermore, he too is in love with Carol Ferris, though this is given somewhat light treatment. Altogether, his fall felt too rushed: he perhaps should have had more time to explore the powers which he had accrued and been intoxicated by them. Furthermore, the deforming effects of the new powers seemed somewhat exaggerated.
The other main villain, Parallax, is more of an evil cloud than a coherent being. Yes, he wants to defeat the Green Lanterns and control the universe: but his relationship with the power of fear could have done with more exposition. Furthermore, after defeating Sinestro (a Green Lantern in this film as per the comic tales) and a squadron of his “strongest lanterns”, Parallax’s is rather quickly defeated by Hal on his own.
One final narrative weakness is a divergence from the comic books: Sinestro convinces his superiors to forge a yellow ring utilising the power of fear. The comics say nothing of the kind. Furthermore, the makers of the film chose to wait until after the end credits before Sinestro falls prey to the temptation to put on this new, menacing ring. Most of the audience had departed prior to this important event being revealed.
The other difficulty with this film is its use of 3D technology. A trailer for the new “Fright Night” used this more effectively than “The Green Lantern”: I was rocked in my seat by a crucifix seeming to fly out of the screen. In the case of the Green Lantern, there wasn’t much which seemed to justify the overhead of wearing the special glasses. I don’t recall a single instance in which the action seemed to reach out of the screen in such a way as to startle or surprise. The 2D version is likely much more cost effective.
This all said, the film works a form of light entertainment: it moves briskly, and the audience is never bored. The characters do have human reactions to the power of the Green Lantern, constantly citing how “cool” the new powers are. Hal Jordan may not be the serious, soft spoken Green Lantern of old, but he’s mostly inoffensive and sincere. This movie belongs in the category of “Saturday Matinees”, films which are watchable not because of artistic merit, but merely because they’re fun. Because of this, I do hope that a sequel is made, though perhaps with the addition of Sinestro as a villain, there will be an opportunity to make it a better film than this one. It’s worth suggesting to “The Green Lantern”‘s creators that they should try to make a movie in which the characters have three dimensions and the picture uses only two.