In this color-coded comic book of a movie, green is good and yellow is bad — very bad — but it hardly adds up to box office gold. It’s not that this is a bad film. There is just nothing new here, and these days to launch a new super hero franchise, something extra is required.
The choice of Ryan Reynolds to play daredevil jet pilot Hal Jordan, who becomes the first human to possess the cherished green ring, was controversial. Fans of the comic book voiced their disappointment, but Reynolds has the boyish charm, dashing good looks and self-deprecating humor to win over critics, so I thought.
But Hal’s daddy issues and serious self-doubts require more gravitas than Reynolds is given room to explore and his character comes off too glib, leaving the movie stuck in second gear, an odd problem for a feature that has many, many moving parts. The writers, led by Greg Berlanti, have a lot of explaining to do to get this franchise underway: How Hal’s father, also a jet pilot, died, and how that affects Hal as an adult. How the Green Lantern protectors came to be and the malevolent force named Parallax (a big amorphous blob) that now threatens the universe. And that’s only the first 30 minutes. We still have to get to how Hal becomes a Green Lantern, and how he saves the earth from Parallax. Fade to black and start to work on “GL: The Sequel.”
It’s an intriguing set up as a mortally wounded alien Lantern is guided to earth and the ring itself chooses Hal for his supposed fearlessness. He’s then jettisoned to the GL home planet of Oa (pronounced as if you had a tongue depressor in your mouth). There he meets Sinestro (Mark Strong), the leader of the Lanterns, who is skeptical, if not scornful, that a human can master the green ring that controls will power. Not the kind of will power where you say to yourself, “I’m not going to eat that Twinkie. I’m not going to eat that Twinkie.” No, this is way cooler because whatever you imagine can manifest itself physically like whipping up blowtorches or Gatling guns out of thin air.
As neat as that is, Hal is reluctant to assume the grave responsibility of protecting the universe and returns home, where he learns those will-power powers can come in handy, especially when Parallax decides to pay earth a visit.
While Reynolds looks good in Day-Glo green, the most compelling character is this star-studded production is Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond, son of Sen. Hammond played by Tim Robbins. Hector, a mild-mannered scientist who also has daddy issues, morphs into a bulbous-headed freak when he accidentally comes into contact with nasty yellow goo, an opposite energy force to the good green kind.
Hector is controlled by Parallax and although his motivations lack full explanation, Sarsgaard’s timid, whiny portrayal is fascinating and even sympathetic. Part of the fun of this is the triangle between Hal, Hector and Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) who, we learn, have all known each other since childhood. Although there is never any doubt Hal/Green Lantern will get the girl, poor Hector doesn’t take it very well.
Martin Campbell is best known for “Casino Royale,” the crackling smart 007 reboot, but those talents seem less noticeable here. Production and CG effects are adequate, but hardly a reason to see this, either in 3D or 2D. Even the sentinels of the universe, the group that guides the Lanterns, look like something out of an old “Star Trek” episode with their mega-cephalic domes and withered gray skin.
“Green Lantern” doesn’t entirely lay a big, green egg, but they will have to do better.