Nick Nunziata: Green Lantern has a few major uphill battles coming right out of the gate. First of all, in many ways this is a hybrid of Thor and Iron Man. Regardless of the actual timelines and histories of each franchise, Green Lantern comes on the heels of a pretty robust ($450,000,000+ internationally) success of a cosmic sci-fi tinged Marvel hit and Robert Downey’s become an A-list star thanks to powered suits and military connections. They’re not identical but they have common ground, something theoretically could help Green Lantern but also lend it a “been there, done that” vibe.
Additionally, the film’s conceit is a rather tough sell. An alien bequeaths a brash fighter pilot (Ryan Reynolds) a lantern and ring from outer space forged out of willpower and able to unleash green hued weaponry as projected from the mind of the user. Dude accessorizes a lantern and a ring and he’s a mid-summer superhero.
An uphill battle but not insurmountable.
Renn Brown: I’d add to those challenges the fact that this full-scale blockbuster is arguably the superhero film to most unapologetically dive into the oddities of comic books, while simultaneously being saddled with telling an extremely routine origin story. With all of these combinations of pressures and ambitions it very nearly collapses into a heaping pile of green-glowing mess, even if there’s enough freshness and enthusiasm present to keep it chugging along. So what we have is a film that shows interest in weird aliens, in space opera, and demonstrates a genuine care for its main characters- these are good things. Never going any deeper with the weird aliens, hamstringing the space opera with all of the earthbound character work, and employing a tin-eared script are not good things.
What I’m ultimately trying to drive at is that Green Lantern doesn’t stink of cynicism or disregard for the things that make a good movie, it just doesn’t accomplish any of them particularly well, which makes it harder to enjoy the top-notch special effects, wonderful villains, and a lead who could have done so much with just a little more material.
Nick Nunziata: It’s incredibly bland, something which will help it with the younger folks and the really casual moviegoers but as a comic book movie it embraces and tries to legitimize some of the hammy elements of the story but doesn’t do much to stake its own ground. I actually do not feel that the movie cares much about its characters. There’s not the genuine feel of a relationship between Hal Jordan and his bespectacled nerd friend. There’s no sparks between he and Blake Lively’s Carol Ferris. The dead pilot father (portrayed by the laser-focused weapon of bland that is Jon Tenney) whose ghost drives Hal Jordan, no connection. Even reliable character actors like Jay O. Sanders, Angela Bassett, and Tim Robbins come and go onscreen without making a connection and that’s precisely why they get hired.
Luckily the special effects work really, really well.
Renn Brown: I guess it would be better stated that the film had all of the right characters in place, and had genuine care for its main character specifically. It’s true though- few of those relationships work. It’s demonstrative of screenwriting that seems to be perfectly aware of all the right things that needed to be done, without any understanding of how to accomplish any of it. Hector Hammond is a good example of where the film tries to set up significant character background, but it does so in strange ways. The most important part of his inner turmoil, that he harbors unrequited love for Carol, is told rather than shown when that should have been a central issue that brought him into understandable direct conflict with Hal. Instead, we see much more of his relationship with his father, which is (oddly enough) very supportive and loving! Sure, Tim Robbins plays it greasy, but if it weren’t for the little telepathic flashes, we’d have nothing but a Senator being infinitely patient with his bizarre son, offering him opportunities, inviting him to influential parties, and accepting responsibility when his son is harmed by his actions, promising to go to any lengths to save him. All of that would be perfect set-up for Hammond to be a tragic figure who rejects familial kindness out of paranoia and innate evil, but instead it’s all part of a weird tapestry of motivations that don’t do justice to Skarsgaard’s amazing, joyfully sinister performance.
Hal Jordon’s motivations are much more focused and clear, but consider how they’re given to us: isolated flashbacks of his dead father’s accident, what he tells us in the conversation with his nephew, his date with Carol, and a stern talking-to from Carol. There’s no consistency or through-line here. It’s amazing how well the film pulls off delivering huge chunks of space mythology exposition by mostly telling us, but it fails to organically create the emotional beats in its main character. Reynolds brings heart to it, the same way he brings great delivery to so-so dialogue, but the script stands him up. Too often Reynolds looks like an ignored date, standing outside the door in his growing green suit with an earnest face and a droopy bouquet of flowers, while the script snores away in its bedroom without hearing the doorbell.
The effects are indeed wonderful. Obviously there’s such a large volume that the iffy effects kind of melt into the bigger picture from time to time, but the things that need to work –the suit, the space landscapes, the villainous hell-nebula that is Parallax– definitely do.
Nick Nunziata: Parallax is a great villain. Supremely Golden Age too, which is great. A pissed-off face screaming through space and hating everything in its path. It exists only to destroy things. It has no motivation, it gives no speeches, it holds off from killing no victims in order to give the hero a last bit of exposition. It’s a space face and that’s it. Its angry vortex snarls are handled by Clancy Brown, which doesn’t hurt. I imagine director Martin Campbell’s coaching for those scenes consisted of him saying “Carnivale‘s third season”, followed by him pressing record and capturing the tormented wails of a curly-haired actor.
Of course there are other villains personified by men in suits with bad ideas and the rapidly bloating face and deceased hairline of the aformentioned Peter Sarsgard’s infected nerd. Fueled by a little of Parallax’s being, the actor cries in pain and moves things with his mind to great effect. It’s a Peter Lorre role and Mr. Sarsgard provides much needed energy and pizazz as Hector Hammond. He’s a sniveling loser, and a nice change of pace from the villains in a lot of films like this.
People who know the comic know that Sinestro (the ubiquitous and highly proficient Mark Strong) is the Lantern’s “Big Bad” but not here. Instead he and the completely CG Michael Clark Duncan and Geoffrey Rush exist primarily to deliver massive amounts of exposition and sell the globally diverse green Lantern Corps. It’s like someone came in and granted the denizens of the Mos Eisley Cantina their own union.
Renn Brown: Strong is someone else who brought everything he could and sneaks in a lot of charisma into a character that’s not properly exploited. His immediate dismissal of “the human” facing Jordan’s need to prove himself would be a huge driving force in another, more focused film, here it is just the flimsy excuse for Jordan to jet back to earth for a while. The script did manage to do a good job with Sinestro by making his present devotion to the core and his alienitarianism feel genuine, while laying seeds for his eventual shift in alliances. Strong obviously deserves most of the credit though, as he’s a good enough actor to put a palpable sense of duty behind the frustrations of Sinestro, and making the hints of evil more subtle and less “shifty eyes.”
Going back to the current villains, the earth-based threat paired with the coming promised galactic destruction works in theory, but they trip over themselves. Hammond should be wrecking major shit long before he does, so he’s overshadowed by Parallax just as he’s getting started. Every film should be so lucky as to have more great villainy than it knows what to do with, but it’s just another example of the film setting up strong elements and then squandering them.
Nick Nunziata: It’s a movie without an identity. As hard as Reynolds tries and as polished as Martin Campbell tries to present it, Green Lantern has all the ingredients and just doesn’t manage to assemble them in a way that connects emotionally. In some ways it reminded me of the Star Wars prequels in how it should have been sufficient thanks to the spit and polish and presence of plentiful eye candy of all sorts but just wasn’t. It’s not a bad film, and it’s not even a bad summer film. It’s just homogenized a little too much. These kinds of films need to be aimed straight down the middle and carry enough of the source material’s bloodline to justify their existence but Green Lantern doesn’t fully go out on a limb with the crazy space stuff or make the Earthbound stuff seem like anything more than buildup. If it were just a little insane it may have made the blandness less of an issue but the script, the score (which is really bad), and the lack of passion keep it from being anything more than a fun diversion. It does have its moments though, and my hat’s off to the people who realized the Parallax effect. He’s as close to Sinistar as we’ll ever get at the multiplex.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Nick’s Box Office Prediction: $48,000,000 opening weekend
Renn Brown: Sometimes Hollywood thinks you’re stupid and coasts with the thinnest of bullshit to make a buck, and sometimes a group of people tries very hard to make something worthwhile and simply don’t have the time or refinement to get it together. The thing is- it doesn’t ultimately matter. Incompetent is incompetent, and Green Lantern is lacking just a little too much structure, verbal sizzle, or savvy character development to coast on the strength of its better elements. Those great elements are there though, and they suggest that this particular production could have generated a good movie with more time and development, or that the franchise could grow into itself. One hopes that happens- I want more of Mark Strong’s Sinestro, I want more of the beautiful cosmic landscape, I want more action from the corps, I want more Reynolds as Jordon, I want more villains with the scale of Parallax, and most of all I want more of this kind of imagination and acceptance of the weird from superhero films. That is a lot of things I want to see more of from a movie I’d probably be okay never seeing again. Green Lantern proves there is cinema in this character and concept, it just doesn’t fulfill the promise.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Renn’s Box Office Prediction: $59,000,000