Friday, July 1, 2011

Green Lantern: No Light in the Superhero Fog

This emerald-colored sci-fi comic creation opens promisingly: with an appropriately menacing CGI baddy - a being called Parallax that powers itself with the energy of fear - floating through space, wreaking death and havoc. Then there's the home world of the Lantern Core, a place filled with the green light of pure willpower and 7200 Green Lanterns - drawn from races throughout the universe - sworn to protect the universe against evil, a kind of intergalactic CIA special forces team. They have cool flying spaceship pods and those fashionable green rings (not to mention skin-tight green suits), and they're as Booya as a team of military recruits fresh from the World Wrestling Federation.

Then we cut to that human on planet Earth - Hal Jordan, played with deadly sincere deadpan joylessness by poster boy Ryan Renalds (who, it should be known, can be in other contexts somewhat interesting) - and the entire shebang grinds to a halt.

Jordan is a good-for-nothin' flyboy in the spirit of Top Gun and just about every other airborne cliche (including the Airplane films, which was supposed to end this kind of earnest silliness). Watching him ham it over half-baked dialogue with even more dreadful co-star Blake Lively is about as painful as summer moviegoing can get.

Which is a shame, since the D.C. comic universe is filled with great characters, and the Green Lanterns were always some of my childhood favorites.

Naturally, one of those Lanterns gets killed in the line of duty, and down to Earth floats the ring to chose - none other than our super boring hero, Mr. Jordan.

To give Jordan some antagonist to thrust against we have the always wonderful Peter Sarsgaard, who gets to chew the scenery in the role of creepy nerd-turned-infected-space-baddy Hector Hammond. Unfortunately, Hammond's character is redundant to the all-power-all-fearing Parallax and - at about the point you'd expect - is easily dispensed with.

Even this evil invasion of fear is under-imagined as a yet-again-recreation of September 11th smoke-filled imagery (once chilling when Spielberg did it in War of the Worlds, now merely a b-version of Harry Potter sorcery).

All this would be bearable - for the outer space scenes are well rendered and the comic tension well preserved throughout - were it not that the translation of the Green Lantern's key effect, that of trans-substantiating his will into any object of his choosing using the power of his green ring, comes off much more dorky on film than the idea looks in a printed comic. That and also that any scene where Renalds has to talk for more than five seconds inevitably turns deadly dull.

After seeing this movie, one has to ask whether there are not, indeed, some comic book characters that don't deserve to star in their own film. If there is anything to fear here, it's that the universe of entertaining superheros is quickly running thin.

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