In 2006, Robert Smigel, the man behind Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and TV Funhouse, produced a script for Green Lantern. It was to star Jack Black and would have been an inexplicably gross-out comedy for sorts. Fan reaction was so acidic that production was canceled entirely. Now, in 2011, Green Lantern has finally made it to the big screen sans fart jokes and with Ryan Reynolds in the lead. While this version is nowhere near the abortion that Smigel’s would have been, it’s far from the film it ought to be.

The world of Green Lantern is a sprawling and odd one. Its stories frequently take place in strange galaxies and are populated by even stranger creatures. Warner Brothers, perhaps for fear of alienating general audiences, has clipped Green Lantern’s wings. Plot wise, the film remains fairly faithful to the comic. The Green Lanterns Corps are a group of intergalactic lawmen. Using rings that allow them to bring to life whatever they imagine with their minds eye, they keep peace throughout the cosmos. When the evil Parallax escapes his bonds and kills Abin Sur, the most powerful of the Lanterns, Hal Jordan, a talented and charismatic but hugely irresponsible test pilot, is selected to take his places in the Green Lantern Corp and save the universe from destruction. This loose framework ought to have been enough but the screenwriters seem either unsure of what they wanted to accomplish or were instructed assemble a hackjob. Green Lantern features aliens and a love story and space travel and so on but none of it seems to matter. None of it is taken seriously enough to count. Every sequence feels as though it’s biding its time until the big scene. But the scene never comes. Like Hellboy years before it, Green Lantern is a movie that begs to be outright weird but the scripts just wont allow it to take off into the strangeness it requires. Unlike Hellboy, Lantern cannot recover from this. Much of Lantern is about as generic as movies get.

The casting of Ryan Reynolds is what really damns Green Lantern. For all his charm and ability, Reynolds just isn’t Hal Jordan. When it was announced that Ryan Reynolds had been cast in the lead, I adjusted my expectations, but held on to hope that maybe he would stretch his abilities just this once. He does not. It isn’t that he tries and fails, he simply isn’t playing Hal Jordan. His character is named Hal Jordan but he’s just playing Ryan Reynolds. One gets the feeling that, in an early stage of the films development, Jordan is described to as “roguish” and every executive in the room thought of Ryan Reynolds in unison. What’s maddening is that Reynolds could probably pull Jordan off were only he made to and here seems to lie the problem. The studio didn’t want to finally make a Green Lantern movie. They wanted to have Ryan Reynolds star in a superhero movie. It was more important that Reynolds be Reynolds than for Green Lantern to be Green Lantern.

Perhaps a more comfortable director may have coaxed something more out of him but sadly, Martin Campbell is intensely out of his element.  Campbell is a talented director, reinventing James Bond not once but twice as the man at the helm of both Goldeneye and Casino Royale, but asking him to handle a film so heavily dependant on CGI and greens screens was a mistake. The sequences in space, though easily the best portions of the movie, are stilted and stagey as though handled by someone too afraid to move. Worse yet, the earthbound segments of the feel like autopilot, like a slightly above average made-for-tv movie. One might suspect that the man who made Bond truly visceral for the first time could at least add some spark to a superhero story. But he cannot.

The most frustrating of all of Lantern’s elements may be the inconsistent genius of the Green Lantern Corps. The Lantern home planet of Oa almost works. Despite resembling a mix of Avatar’s Pandora and the inside of a fish tank, what’s seen of the planet is kind of gorgeous but it never feels like any creature would ever call it home. When Jordan is trained to fly, the film once again botches an incredible opportunity to make this world feel alive. Instead, we are treated to a number of flips and spins and twirls. The casting of the Lanterns themselves is similarly flawed. Geoffrey Rush is fits nicely as the fish-like Tomar Re. Conversely, the casting of Michael Clark Duncan as the mammoth Kilowog is dull and obvious.  However, Mark Strong as Sinestro, the lead Lantern, is the true victory of the film. What sets strong apart is that he, unlike almost everyone else involved in the movie, gives a discernable damn. He plays Sinestro as though he somehow knew the character. His dignity, conviction and intensity are staggering. Were the rest of the production on par with Strong’s performance, Green Lantern would be among the greatest superhero movies. He’s a revelation and unquestionably the best part of the film.

After having waited so long, it’s hard to not like a Green Lantern movie but this 2011 effort will no doubt try the nerves of even the most dedicated fans. The only group that Green Lantern can be heartily recommended to is Ryan Reynolds enthusiasts, of which there seem to be many. If seeing Reynolds smirk and mug in a computer animated suit it your idea of a good time, do anything you can to see Green Lantern. I’ll be waiting for the reboot.


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