Thank goodness emerald green is such a pleasant colour to look at. Had our hero been called the Sinopia Sunlight or the Rusty Blowtorch, then we would have been forced to endure this terrible screenplay (full of painfully literal dialogue and endless exposition), some wildly misjudged acting choices and been awash in a distressing visual palette. Instead, thanks to the soothing tranquillity of Green Lantern’s signature colour, the potentially-aggressive awfulness of this film is downgraded to an inoffensive, forgettable blandness. So, that’s kind of a compliment. I suspect those things are rare in discussions of Martin Campbell’s adaptation of the DC comic character.
Ryan Reynolds stars as Hal Jordan, a fighter pilot/loose cannon/smooth-talking, wise-cracking ladykiller/walking cliché selected by a fallen member of the Green Lantern Corps (kind of an intergalactic space cop brigade) to be their first human inductee. Adorned with a will-powered ring (which comes with its own handy, easy-carry charger!), each member has the capability of forging weapons out of their pure imagination, and uses these creations to fight off the fear-inducing evil nasties across the universe. But Jordan isn’t sure he has the bravery to protect the cosmos from such villainy, and fellow Lantern Sinestro (Mark Strong) is similarly dubious of the human’s capability. He is eventually put to the test when old friend Dr. Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) becomes infected with the alien powers of the planet-eating Parallax. Jordan must man-up to save Earth – as well as his former-flame Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) – from its clutches.
Reynolds, who was presumably cast because of his normally boundless-charm and certainly not on accounts of his negligible star appeal, sadly sees his charisma sucked into the green screen chasm. Some actors are able to play convincingly in front of a green screen. He is not one of them. Instead, he is doomed to float weightlessly in the fantastical realm of Oa (the planet where the other Green Lanterns chill), which is mighty pretty, but not once believable as a setting where characters interact. Of all the cast, Peter Sarsgaard fares worse, and not just because he has to wear some Elephant Man-style prosthetics whilst screeching like a piglet as the mutated Hammond. He chooses to play the Doctor like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory … only less threatening. Also, apparently Sarsgaard’s Hammond went to high school with the characters played by Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, which is perhaps the only joke in the movie to actually land.
Perhaps what is most astounding (Impressive? Bizarre?) about the screenplay – penned by no less than four screenwriters – is how absolutely free of subtext it is. I didn’t even realise that it was possible for a piece of art to be so literal, and so devoid of deeper reading. Everything the characters think, they say. Every piece of information discovered is shared, almost instantly. Everyone tells the truth almost all of the time, and in the rare instances when they don’t, some handy voiceover tells us exactly what it is the characters are really thinking. There are no surprises, no unearthed feelings; the audience is never required to read an actor’s face, or given pause to consider where the story might be going.
There is room for at least another compliment: I did enjoy the way that Campbell embraced the imagination-charged powers of his hero. Although many of the special effects look a little silly and fake, there is some real ingenuity in the weapons created out of thin air by our hero (although the ‘race car’ sequence is almost too stupid to discuss). The final battle with Parallax is perhaps the only action set piece to quicken the pulse, but quicken the pulse it indeed does. Perhaps the real tragedy of this very expensive mess is the fact that there are a number of intriguing characters from DC’s Green Lantern comic history to choose a protagonist out of. Instead, they went with the totally forgettable, handsome, wealthy white-boy with a cheeky sense-of-humour and daddy issues. Because we’ve never seen that before.
Green Lantern arrives in Australian cinemas August 11, 2011.