Green Lantern is a comic-book movie that’s ripped straight from the comic book. To some people, that will be a plus, to others a minus; more specifically, those who enjoyed the cartoonyness of The Fantastic Four movies can appreciate it; those who didn’t and want a half-hearted “message” to justify their camp will not.
The premise is ridiculous: The Green Lanterns are a gang of buff aliens sworn to protect the 3,600 sectors of the universe. One day a nasty alien called a “Parallax” shows up and starts bumping off the Lanterns, including one Abin Sur, apparently the protector of earth’s sector, who escapes to our planet, mortally wounded.
Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a test pilot and “man without fear” (fearlessness being a big plus to the Lanterns) who’s chosen by Abin Sur to take up his mantle, or ring, or lantern, or whatever. Soon after Hal’s traveling through the galaxy to the planet Oa, where fish men and talking brick shit-houses explain the origins of the Lanterns.
There’s the obligatory scenes of Hal’s cross-training, which introduces us to the power of the Lanterns—basically anything goes so long as it’s green and comes from the ring all Lanterns wear; they can fly, construct objects of any size and shape, and, presumably, whip up some dynamite green eggs and ham.
Back on earth, Abin Sur’s body is getting diced up, and, wouldn’t you know it, a strain of the Parallax infects the autopsy performer Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) and causes him to go bonkers and try to kill his father, Senator Hammond (Tim Robbins), by sabotaging his helicopter, in addition to some other alien-y hijinx.
Add to that Hammond’s hots for Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), another scientist of Natalie-Portman implausibility.
The plot details are only as important as the action sequences they set up, and it’s here where Green Lantern wears its special effects on its sleeve. I admit that, from the trailer, they looked extremely cheesy (to say nothing of the aliens’ makeup), but that’s the point—Lantern embraces its camp and sticks closer to the ‘60s Batman television show than your standard superhero movie. The opening exposition plays up that fact by providing an almost-unnecessary backstory, listing all the goofy names and sector numbers as if we’re supposed to care, much less understand.
The performances follow a similar vein. Whereas Thor asked us to take Natalie Portman’s improbably hot scientist seriously, Lantern throws it in our faces by having the buxom, young Lively parade around the realms of science in outfits she may as well bathe in. Reynolds is also well cast as Jordan, a role that more or less requires him to simply look pretty and be glib.
In other words, be Ryan Reynolds. And he has a lot of fun with it. Sure, there’s the whole theme of fearlessness and dealing with that, but it’s just as hokey as all the super-brained aliens, bald aliens with eyebrows that’d make Salvador Dali envious, absurd flashbacks, hydrocephalic aliens, etc.
And Lantern has the critical ability to make fun of itself—given the premise, how could it not? When Jordan saves the Senator by conjuring up a green racecar, complete with racetrack, to speed him out of danger, one of his friends, who realizes that Jordan’s the Lantern, chides him by snarkily asking, “Is that the best you could come up with?”
With the only limit to a Lantern’s power being their imaginations, I figure they get that a lot. The fact that everyone sees through Jordan’s flimsy disguise is another running gag that’s actually more realistic than most serious superhero movies. And the final action sequence is perfectly over the top and reminiscent of a time when action scenes lasted longer than a few punches.
Green Lantern isn’t a great movie, it’s not even the best of the summer, but it’s clever, funny, and, with its camp, becomes something of a sly metaphor for the excessive use of CGI. The possibilities it offers, much like the Lanterns’ powers, are endless, and anyone who leaves the film by likewise asking, “Is that the best you could come up with?” is missing Green Lantern’s greatest joke.