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‘Green Lantern’ won’t stem superhero-movie fatigue

Green Lantern
Directed by Martin Campbell
Written by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldberg
USA, 2011

Fatigue. That’s the general emotion that any relatively sane fanboy will be feeling come the end of the summer in regards to comic book adaptations – so imagine the mindset of the general public. Regardless, and somewhat miraculously, Hollywood keeps churning them out because, almost without fail, they make money and, more importantly, hold the promise of sequels.

With X-Men: First Class, Thor, and Priest behind us and Captain America: The First Avenger and Cowboys and Aliens still looming, DC Comics plays its main card in a Marvel-heavy year with one of its most treasured yet odd staple characters. The story is simple – an old intergalactic threat (called Parallax) is accidentally set free (or breaks free, it’s hard to tell) and is on the loose once more with a hidden history and an insatiable urge to eat entire planets Unicorn style, feeding off their inhabitants’ fear. In steps the Green Lantern Corp; an ancient army of super soldiers who have learnt how to harness the power of will (which is green, in case you hadn’t guessed) and funnel it through lanterns into individual rings that grant the bearer the power to create anything his or her (or its) mind can imagine. The stronger their will, the stronger the manifestation will be. But with their most fearless warrior downed in a surprise attack from Parallax, his ring searches for a new and worthy owner and finds it on Earth in the hands of a cocky young pilot named  Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds).

As with all origin tales, there’s a lot to fit into this first installment, as you have to introduce the mythology of the world (or Universe in this case), set up the main bad guy(s), a love interest, showcase the central protagonist as they morph from everyday mortal to baffled mortal to reluctant superhero to determined superhero, and then quickly tie everything up neatly with a satisfying conclusion, while still leaving enough strands open for inevitable sequels. It’s a tough thing to pull off, particularly in a decade so rife with comic book origin tales and an audience that has undoubtedly seen it all before, but Green Lantern manages to entertain sufficiently during its opening act thanks mostly to the effortless charm of Reynolds and the slightly more off-kilter (read; sci-fi with surreal elements) set up.

After a cheesy opening title segment we are thrown straight into the action and it rarely lets up throughout the running time. Martin Campbell (Vertical Limit, The Legend of Zorro, Goldeneye) does an amiable job but there’s little of the grittiness or verve that he showcased in Casino Royale or even Edge of Darkness. Instead, it’s very much comic book direction by-the-numbers, and almost all of the action set-pieces fall upon the shoulders of the special effects crew, as this is a heavily effects-burdened movie. Sadly, as the trailers suggested, they don’t pull it off. For the best part of the film the visuals are merely serviceable, albeit silly (partly down to its concept and partly the execution), but over the course of the film, the eye-rolling moments accumulate thanks to sloppy transitions and unconvincing animation work, while only a couple of moments actually impress.

The cast do their best, but there’s little meat to work with as none of these are the most interesting of characters. Mark Strong is overwhelmingly sincere as the leader (?) of the Green Lanterns but comes across as ridiculous with his porn star moustache and heavily CGI’d face and body. Blake Lively makes all the right noises but can’t seem to find a satisfying core as love interest Carol Ferris, and Peter Sarsgaard, one of my all time favourite actors, seems completely lost in a role that’s so indignant that it’s actually embarrassing.

But then there is Reynolds. A man who managed to make Van Wilder a minor cult classic and even Definitely, Maybe watchable. He’s his usual charming, humorous, shirtless self and is without doubt the beating heart of the movie. After sideline roles in fellow comic book films Blade: Trinity and Wolverine: Origins, it’s great to finally see him in a strong, central superhero role, though he would be better suited as The Flash, and even the Reynolds can’t pull off the silly blue eyes and glowing green eye mask they lumber him with.

Ultimately, Green Lantern is an enjoyable enough film that manages to stand out ever-so-slightly amidst the never-ending adaptations thanks to its odd premise and universe. Sadly, though, the filmmakers and special effects crew don’t seem to be able to pull off such an exotically trippy adaptation required, and we’re left with something that, upon walking out, just blurs into one large green CGI mess with very little to look forward to in a follow up.

2011 belongs to Marvel, it would seem, and with Avengers knocking at the door, it’s lucky DC are returning yet again to their reliable duo, Superman and Batman, for 2012.

Al White