"Green Lantern"

If you go to the theater as often as I do, you develop a sixth sense called Trailer Interpretation. For me, trailer watching is more than just good or bad, see it or skip it; each three minute preview is an opportunity to determine what type of expectations I should have for a given film. I look for faces I recognize beyond the third or fourth billed actor, names in the credits who I trust or distrust, jokes that come from more than one person, and whether action sequences fall more into the gritty, realistic camp or the CGI, over-the-top camp. I’ve turned Trailer Interpretation into a personal art form, allowing it to become a voice in the back of my head that only talks during the ten minutes leading up to a new movie. As Jiminy Cricket is to Pinocchio, so this voice is to me and the voice is rarely wrong. Sometimes, however, I refuse to listen to the voice. I make excuses based on an actor I like or mythology that interests me or even just the fact that I like a certain genre of film (in this case, the comic book/superhero genre) and I ignore the warnings that the voice so desperately whispers in my ear. And that, dear readers, is why I occasionally find myself in a theater at midnight, watching a pile of rubbish like “Green Lantern” and expecting something good when I should have known better.

“Green Lantern” tells the story of Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a hotshot test pilot with a scarred psyche and a history of screwing up anything good that comes his way. After ruining a new jet and infuriating his boss/childhood pal/former girlfriend Carol (Blake Lively), Hal is suddenly enveloped by a green light and whisked a hundred miles away to an alien crash site. There he meets Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), a mighty warrior and member of the intergalactic peace keeping core known as the Green Lanterns, who happens to be on the verge of death after an encounter with a serious enemy known as Parallax (Clancy Brown). Abin Sur gives Hal his magical ring just before he dies. Shortly afterward, he finds himself on the distant planet of Oa, the home of the Lanterns, where he learns that the ring can essentially form anything that he can imagine. He is trained briefly by Sinestro (Mark Strong) before deciding that he doesn’t have what it takes to be a Lantern. Meanwhile back on earth, biology professor Hector (Peter Sarsgaard) has discovered Abin Sur’s body and has been possessed by the essence of Parallax, forcing Hal to reconsider his rejection of the Lantern Core and fight to save his home planet.

There is a great deal more to the plot of this film but it is so convoluted and jumbled together that I honestly didn’t even know what to include in my summary and what to keep out. “Green Lantern” tries to cover way too much ground in one film and yet at the same time, it fails to really go anywhere. It’s like the on screen personification of buying a big, expensive off road vehicle and then getting it stuck in the first mud pit you come across; sure, your ride looks nice and all but you’re still stuck in the mud spinning your wheels. It’s quite a mess, really. “Lantern” is written like an over-extended TV pilot which makes a lot of sense considering the lead screenwriters (Greg Berlanti and Michael Green) have spent their careers writing for low rent TV shows. The settings jump from place to place with great abruptness, there are plot holes roughly the size of 18 wheelers, and a miserable flashback that is supposed to illustrates Hal’s haunted past but really does nothing more than make the audience groan. “Lantern” is RIPE with clichés and its predictability is only bested by the cringe-worthy dialogue. Gems like, “The superhero always gets the girl!” and, “The mask thing is pretty cool” litter the landscape of this film. Berlanti and Green should never be allowed near a film again. Director Martin Campbell (“Casino Royale”) does nothing to help the situation, continually allowing the movie to drift aimlessly through its thoroughly uninspiring narrative. I had hoped Campbell would bring some grit to the film and keep it from becoming overly kitschy but that hope turned out to be ill advised. This movie doesn’t even have the decency to be campy; it treads so heavily as to become cheesy, one step up (or down) from a Saturday morning cartoon.

From an acting standpoint, “Lantern” is a wreck. It’s all about Reynolds, obviously, but he struggles to hold on to the spotlight. I’m a huge fan of Reynolds and last year’s “Buried” proves that his range of talent stretches far beyond comedic roles. But in what should have been his finest hour, Reynolds comes across as unappealing and lacking in charisma, a combination I didn’t think was possible going in. His counterparts, meanwhile, are given next to nothing to work with and all of them end up with performances that they’ll wish they could leave off their resumes. These are all fine actors but if you’d never heard of any of them and I showed you this film, first you’d say they were all community theater actors, and then you’d punch me in the face for making you watch “Green Lantern.” The poor use of this cast and the apparent lack of motivation falls squarely on the shoulders of Campbell. Even Sarsgaard, one of the most professional actors of his generation, seems completely out of sync and wholly un-invested. His “villain” may be the worst aspect of this entire film. As any superhero movie fan will tell you, a compelling villain is just as important, if not more important, than a compelling protagonist.

All of that brings us to the CGI and the special effects which are, in all truthfulness, horrid. HORRID. “Lantern” looks like a video game and in no way do I intend that to be a compliment. It appeared to me that many of the effects were done simply to show off the technology that Campbell had at his disposal with no thought given as to whether or not it should be done. CGI should be used as an aid to the movie making process, a supplement when a filmmaker’s imagination dreams up something that can’t be done in real life. It should NOT be used in place of stunts, costumes, and camerawork. Even the suit is needlessly computer generated and it looks bloody awful on top of that. “Lantern” reminded me all too much of “Phantom Menace” which threw out all of the incredible work George Lucas had done in the first three “Star Wars” films in favor of lifeless CGI. And that’s exactly what “Lantern” is: lifeless. There is so much to work with, so much that could have been, but instead the end product belongs in the pantheon of bad superhero films along with “Daredevil,” “HULK,” and “Spiderman 3.”

Grade: D