Humorist Frank Gelett Burgess is often credited as having said “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.”
Echoing this thought, a person doesn’t need to know much about comic books to enjoy a good comic book movie.
“Thor” and “X-Men: First Class” are a few recent movies which have taken inspiration from comic books with impressive results, delighting audiences who know much — or practically nothing — about the characters.
With “Green Lantern,” however, knowing nothing or everything about the comic book from which it’s drawn makes little difference, as the movie itself is a clunker of cosmic proportions.
For those unfamiliar, “Green Lantern” (the movie) tells the story of cocky test pilot (is there any other kind?) Hal Jordan, played here by the usually charismatic Ryan Reynolds.
For all his skills and attitude, Jordan is still haunted by the death of his father, also a test pilot who died in front of Hal when he was just a boy — children witnessing the death of their parents in the comics rarely grow up well-adjusted — think of what it did to Bruce Wayne, but I digress...
Jordan, it seems, has a little trouble with responsibility.
He’s coming off a relationship with Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), who is a fellow pilot and the daughter of his employer, manufacturer Carl Ferris (Jay O. Sanders), and losing his job after an epic fail (of sorts) during a test wherein he’s charged with proving that human pilots are superior to computer-run fighter planes.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the galaxy is the planet Oa — the home base of a cosmic police force, the Green Lantern Corps, who have been charged by a race of near-immortal beings called the Guardians (looking here like very old CGI Smurfs in choir gowns) with keeping order throughout the 3600 sectors into which they have divided the universe.
During the movie’s opening sequence, the Corps’ greatest Lantern, a purple-skinned alien named Abin Sur (played too briefly by Temuera Morrison, noble even beneath layers of prosthetics) is mortally wounded and takes space flight to find a successor (where else?) on Earth.
After Abin Sur’s ship crash lands, Sur manages to live on long enough to hand his ring over to his unknowing replacement, Jordan, telling him that the ring gives great power to those who “believe in the triumph of the will and conquer the weakness of fear.”
Also, that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Or something like that.
To tell much more would be to spoil what few pleasant surprises there are in the thinly written script, but suffice it to say that Jordan learns about Oa and the new bit of magical bling he now owns, endures the obligatory training montage, and must overcome his fear to take on the mantle of “hero” and protect the Earth from Parallax, a being which draws strength from the fear of others.
The problem with “Green Lantern” isn’t so much that it’s a bad movie, but it’s not a great movie either and therein lies the problem — with considerable production values, decades of comics mythology, and several A-list stars involved, “Green Lantern” should be a much, much better movie than it is.
Granted, there are some enjoyable bits — Hal’s training sequence at the oversized hands of a giant pig-faced alien named “Kilowogg,” foreshadowing of the villainy-to-come from current Lantern, Sinestro (Mark Strong) — but as a whole, “Green Lantern” feels like such a missed opportunity.
The usually charismatic Reynolds — abs on full display here — seems miscast as the troubled Jordan, neither fully stepping into the role of burdened hero nor allowed to be his usual self, cracking wise and getting away with much on his charm alone.
Fans of the comics might have envisioned him better as another Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, whose personality is near-identical to that of Reynolds’ own.
Other talents wasted are the likes of Oscar-winner Tim Robbins and the actor with the most piraty-sounding name in existence, Peter Sarsgaard (”Saahhrrrsgaaahhrrd!!”) as nerd-turned-psychic/telekenetic freak Dr. Hector Hammond.
Even Parrallax, interpreted here as a kind of smoking, galactic calamari, seems to get little screen time until the final act — something too many “comic book” movies suffer from when they boast “origin” stories — too much exposition, not enough action and the action on display tends to be too little, too late.
Honestly, I wanted to like this movie — no, I wanted to REALLY like this movie.
As a longtime fan of the comic series (already knowing the characters and enjoying the few tidbits thrown in for the fans’ sakes), the proceedings came off as too cartoony — too goofy — to be taken seriously, even by comic book movie standards.
Not that most people DO take comic book movies seriously, but compare Adam West’s version of “Batman” 2008’s “The Dark Knight” by Christopher Nolan, and the difference between doing something well and doing something poorly — if not campy — becomes painfully obvious.
Before current comic writers corrected the problem, the Green Lanterns’ rings were ineffective against the color yellow (no, this is not a joke), later found out to be the color of “fear” on the emotional spectrum.
In this case, I can think of something else that’s the color yellow — cheese, which, I’m sad to say, is on full display in this movie.
“Green Lantern” didn’t forever ruin comic book movies for me, but if nothing else, it did make me look forward to next month’s release of “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
“Green Lantern” is rated PG-13 for mild language, typical superhero action shenanigans, charbroiling of a senator, and the gratuitous abs of Ryan Reynolds.