Directed by: Martin Campbell
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Once the heat of summer sets in, sometimes it’s nice to just spend a few hours in an air conditioned room being mildly entertained. Summer superhero movies are perfect for this — entertaining but greatly improved if you don’t want to think too hard. “The Green Lantern” is a classic example of the summer superhero movie — it’s got huge special effects shots, enough humor to keep things light, and it is not a movie to engage your brain in the slightest.
The hero of the piece is Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a test pilot who is a screwup everywhere except in the air, though even there he has a tendency to break rules and get himself in trouble. When he’s chosen to join the ranks of the Green Lanterns, an intergalactic group who keep peace and order in the universe, it seems pretty cool. Then he learns that to really use the tool he’s been given — a ring which can make manifest anything he can imagine — he needs an iron will and to be fearless, and he’s not so sure he’s up to the job.
The film shines when Reynolds is able to let his natural comedic talent out. The sequences where Hal is being trained to use his new powers are great (though the special effects aren’t always up to speed), and his initial forays into superheroism involve some fairly silly solutions to the problems at hand. There’s also a wonderful sendup of the idea that a small mask can hide a person’s identity. Unfortunately, the film all too often veers into serious territory, with Hal agonizing over the girl who got away, Carol (Blake Lively), and angsting that he isn’t as fearless as he needs to be to do his job as a Lantern.
The special effects are occasionally laughable, as when Hal is learning to fly and we are essentially looking at Reynold’s head and a screen full of CGI. The two don’t always line up very well. Other shots are very well done, though, and it’s fun to see what Hal thinks up for the ring to materialize in glowing green energy.
The cast is a good one — Reynolds is a natural in superhero roles, and Lively makes for a good romantic interest. Mark Strong, who plays the only other Lantern with a recognizably human face, is solid, and Peter Sarsgaard gets to do some pathos-filled scenery chewing as the very creepy Hector Hammond. Tim Robbins gets to sleaze it up as a corrupt senator, and seems to be enjoying himself while doing so.
Unfortunately, none of the actors dial their performances up enough to compete with the special effects. Sarsgaard gets close, but doesn’t quite get there. One thing Disney has been doing right in their “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise is casting actors who can gnaw the scenery with the best of them, and turning them loose. Over-the-top scenery, like that of the alien planet that hosts the Green Lantern Corps, requires over-the-top performances, and “The Green Lantern” doesn’t balance the two.
It’s a pity, because “The Green Lantern” has serious potential. On the bright side, it’s good enough to be worth matinee prices if you’re looking to get out of the heat — just don’t expect it to do more than keep you mildly entertained while you enjoy the cool air.