Green Lantern  (2011)

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Green Lantern may be the biggest comic book superhero left who has never had either a movie or TV show. And I’m glad to see the character finally getting his due, because over the decades since it was first conceived, the Green Lantern Corps has evolved to have more awesomeness than almost any other backstory in comics.

And they didn’t miss what makes the Green Lantern a cool subject for a movie... a good Green Lantern story needs to be truly epic in scope, and in this film, they went for it — they didn’t hold back. The story sweeps across the centuries and the light years like nobody’s business.

The bad news is that Hal Jordan is played by Ryan Reynolds. Aaaaaand there ends any hope of really being able to enjoy the film.

Ever notice that Ryan Reynolds is typecast these days... as an asshole? It really is what he excels at playing. (Though when that’s overtly the goal, he can still manage to fuck it up). And the screenwriters of this thing, unfortunately, decided to let Hal Jordan be totally a Reynolds character, which means instead of him just being brash and headstrong before learning his lessons, he’s obnoxious and repellent. He’s trying to be one of those guys who’s arrogant but irresistably charming, like Downey’s Tony Stark. He’s not charming, he’s just a complete dick. If this were a teen comedy, he would be the guy that we cheer the comeuppance of by the weedy protagonist. If this were a romcom, he’d be the guy who doesn’t get the girl because she deserves better than him. If this were a cowboy movie or a war movie or a spy movie he’d be the guy who gets killed halfway through, to establish how dangerous the bad guys are. But here, we’re supposed to root for him.

Fortunately, aside from this one horrible flaw, the movie is otherwise not nearly as bad as you may have heard people say it is. There are enemies on both a human scale and a cosmic scale — and as the former, Peter Sarsgaard rocks. He’s a sort of deformed mutant superpowered Philip Seymour Hoffman. Also pretty rockful is Mark Strong as Sinestro, the top gun of the Green Lantern Corps. There are rumors that the script got dumbed down quite a lot by interfering suits, but the script is not where this movie goes bad. If you just sort of look around Ryan Reynolds’ performance, you can enjoy this.

You’ll also have to look around some dodgy CGI. They have to use a hell of a lot of it — in this story, there’s no room to skimp — and that means that the budget per effect-minute has to stretch kinda thin. The supply of visual imagination is a bit limited too. The worst bit is probably the face of the nonhuman Green Lantern drill sergeant, Kilowog (who was voiced by the great Michael Clarke Duncan). But there are still some cool visuals in other parts.

I guess there’s one more questionable area that has to be discussed. This movie is about facing fear and finding the courage to triumph. And... I’m afraid they’ve turned it into a sports movie. It’s Rocky III, or Blue Crush. The thing is, though, they had to go there. That is the central theme of the whole Green Lantern mythos. The movie can’t be about anything else, if it’s true to its source. Admittedly, they could have done better at handling it with some freshness.

I initially set out to be pretty scathing, but the consensus among the movie-geek crowd (at least the part of it that I’m in contact with) is so negative, that I feel I have to speak up for this film’s strengths. It does have some that make it worth a look. I did enjoy a good percentage of it. And I kind of hope there’s a sequel — it wouldn’t be hard for a followup to be much improved over the opener. There’s plenty of room for this series (if it becomes one) to expand upward. I can hope, anyway. And in the meantime, this one is fun enough, if you don’t let Ryan Reynolds get to you too much. But make no mistake, that won’t be easy; unless you expend a lot of willpower on making yourself tolerate Reynolds’ horrid Hal Jordan, he’s quite likely to ruin the movie.

And to be fair, I have to admit that the awfulness of this version of Hal Jordan might still be there if someone else were doing the acting. I don’t know to what degree the part was written for his persona, or was reworked by him, but I suspect the answer is “a lot”, since much of the performance feels quite improvisational. This Hal Jordan might have had nowhere near such a severe case of douchebaggery in earlier screenplay drafts. But he definitely had some early on, as it’s integral to some expensive early scenes that set up his character as it was before heroization. By contrasting this arrogant alpha-asshole with his opposite in Sarsgaard’s character, and having one turn out heroic when given power and the other turn evil, the movie ends up delivering an unintentional message that confuses privileged entitlement with worthiness and virtue, and that might well have already been there before Reynolds came on board. So there’s that much more to have to look past in order to enjoy the good parts of the movie.