The birth of Green Lantern as depicted on Super Friends has always struck me as an inexplicable presence in my pop-cultural memory bank. But as depicted in Martin Campbell’s obscenely expensive live-action film about the DC Comics character, Hal Jordon’s transformation into a Green Lantern, though far from an aesthete’s wet dream, makes sense as an origin story of almost unparalleled import. Plucked from the ground and carried off in an orb of green light, to be given a green ring by a dying alien, Abin Sur, Hal’s experience may seem as random as the horrific accident that years ago obliterated his father’s life, though really it’s an act of intelligent design that encourages this all-American, practically suicidal fuck-up to reckon with the meaning of his life.
The story, of a man chosen to battle a great, planet-annihilating evil, is an unmistakably Catholic one, a study of fathers and sons, of birth and rebirth against a backdrop of CGI fire and brimstone. Ryan Reynolds, cast in the role of Hal because of his superhuman musculature, is understood as a pumped-up Jesus, though you wish he exhibited, even after he accepts the sacrifice required by his “job description,” half of the emotional intensity Tobey Maguire effortlessly displayed throughout Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies. As limp a noodle as the love interest played by Blake Lively, Reynolds isn’t invested in his character’s backstory and is only striking when his body gets to do the talking—or rather, is lavishly presented as a bibilical symbol of spiritual sacrifice, most immaculately during a climax that recalls the nearly dead Spider-Man being hoisted across a train by MTA passengers in Spider-Man 2
Green Lantern is a mediocrity, neither folly nor kitsch. Sector 2814 is an uninspired vision of alien life, computer wallpaper masquerading as a planet, whose bulbous-headed immortals, like Angela Bassett’s unfortunate ‘do, feel like dreary vestiges from the Star Trek and Star Wars universes. The 3D isn’t assaultive, and while the dominant green of Dione Beebe’s color wheel appropriately pops, the CGI is often murky: The Parallax suggests a composite of fecal matter with a head, though a closer look reveals his body is made of the souls that give him his power.
Campbell, though a capable director of action (Hal’s training session with the Michael Clarke Duncan-voiced Kilowog is proof of that), doesn’t have a poet’s instincts. A more sensitive talent might have picked up Reynolds’s slack, amplifying and making glorious, even aching, the symbol of fire that consumes more than one character in the film. In lieu of having sight and sound link the traumas of the past and present, the script condescends to audiences by blaring the parallels between Hal’s life and that of the nebbish Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), who develops psionic evil powers by touching the Parallax goo buried inside Abin Sur’s body. At least there’s joy in Sarsgaard’s performance. As Hector blows up into a facsimile of the Elephant Man, the actor chews the film’s scenery with the gusto of Christopher Lloyd; his commitment, unlike Green Lantern, is practically radioactive.