Hal Jordan is a fighter pilot, and thanks to Top Gun we all know that fighter pilots are supposed to be cocky. So to play Hal it only makes sense to hire Ryan Reynolds, who projects a certain low-level cockiness even when he doesn't intend to.
What we don't expect is a guy who seems to resent the acquisition of superpowers because it takes time away from his moping, which is what we get with Reynolds's take on the much-loved DC hero Green Lantern.
Green Lantern is one of those films where it seems like the director, writer, and star are all envisioning slightly different films. Director Martin Campbell has a dark, stolid style that threatened to slow down his previous action films: his Bond films (Casino Royale and Goldeneye), the Mel Gibson thriller Edge of Darkness, and earlier works like The Mask of Zorro were all stories that were high-adrenaline in premise but somehow stiffened up in execution. The same goes here: Green Lantern should soar like its titular hero, but the focus on the angst infesting everyone like a plague -- hero Hal, human villain Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), Lantern leader Sinestro (Mark Strong), and even the cryptic elders who created the Lantern Corps and who seem to come from the Talosian race that imprisoned Christopher Pike in "The Cage" -- gives the whole movie lead boots that strain even the most triumphant moments.
The writers, Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, and Michael Goldenberg, of course, provide the basis for this emotional dolor, but there are plenty of ways in which the same dialog could have been used in the service of a much more uplifting film. Some corners of the wandering screenplay convey a genre-savviness and a twinkle in the eye (Hal, who wasn't told the Green Lantern oath when he got the ring, wryly tries out a number of possibilities, including "To infinity and beyond!" and "By the power of Greyskull!"). Berlanti and Guggenheim are two of the people behind No Ordinary Family, which was driven by the kind of energy that's in short supply here.
Script and Star
Part of the problem is the amount of material the script for Green Lantern has to cover. The storyline is forced to accommodate Hal's internal conflicts (manifested in his high-friction relationship with his briefly seen family), the introduction of the Lanterns and their Guardians, the origin and resurfacing of the planet-killing enemy Parallax, Hector's transformation into a blobby-headed monster with the power of fear at his command, plus all the stuff with the defense contractor involving Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) and Senator Hammond (Tim Robbins). With that much exposition, it's no wonder the production has trouble lifting off.
And then there's Hal himself. Ryan Reynolds seems to have decided that Hal Jordan isn't just going through a rough patch -- he's one of those guys who doesn't know from joy, whose natural mien is to see the dark side. You wait through the whole film for Hal to become excited and energized by his abilities, but the most he is able to manage is grim resolve. It's hard to cheer for someone whose main emotional achievement is to find it within himself not to walk away from the stuff he doesn't want to deal with.
This Hal Jordon never really conveys a sense that being a superhero is -- well, empowering, for one thing, or even fun. There are moments in the storyline that are clearly set aside for this purpose, but Reynolds doesn't show up for them.
Friends and Girlfriends
Sure, superheroes are supposed to be full of conflict. Both Spider-Man and the original Superman revolve around conflicts that divide the hero from himself. But those heroes engage at full throttle in a crisis. Hal fights villains with a preoccupied air, as if he'd really rather be at home staring at a wall.
The long checklist of plot points does a disservice to the supporting cast -- particularly Taika Waititi as Tom, who's positioned as Hal's best friend but who shows up in only a handful of scenes, some of which don't even wait until the cut to the next scene to forget he exists. It would be a cheap shot to say that Blake Lively, as love interest Carol, doesn't live up to her own name, but the fact is that despite having considerably more screen time than the best friend she's utterly forgettable, and the connection forged between Carol and Hal is not exactly one of intense devotion. I can't picture Hal turning back time for Carol the way Superman did for Lois, for example. It's much easier to imagine him coursing through space on the way home from Oa muttering to himself, "What's my girlfriend's name again? Carrie? Caroline? Damn, it was something like that."
Effects and Franchises
On the level of craft, Green Lantern is made well enough. The hero's "constructs" -- the things he can make with his mind using the ring -- are supposed to look a little cartoonish, and they're fun to watch in execution. The Lanterns' home planet, Oa -- full of strange landscapes and stranger creatures -- never elevates above the "I'm looking at really competent CGI" level. On Oa you never leave behind the sense that Reynolds is on a green screen soundstage, which is a shame.
Green Lantern has the elements of an engaging superhero drama, but it does not completely succeed in providing one. The ponderous quantity of material being covered clearly signals a hope for a franchise, but the unavoidable sequel tag after the closing credits is perhaps the wrongest part of the movie. I won't spoil it, but suffice to say that one of the characters does something completely unnecessary and inexplicable just to set up the next movie. When you're making a superhero movie, it's bad enough if you can't get it to rev up and take off -- but your last moment with the audience certainly shouldn't be one that elicits the response, "What the -- ? Why did he do that?"