Review: ‘Green Lantern’

Man, that doesn't look like Seth Rogen at all. Good CGI. Warner Bros.
Man, that doesn't look like Seth Rogen at all. Good CGI. Warner Bros.

1. The heart of "geek" culture, or "fanboy," whatever you want to call it, is caring too much about something that, in the grand scheme of matters, doesn't really matter. It's not about comic books, or science fiction, or a specific pursuit: You can be a geek about baseball, or politics (not policy; politics), or rap, or estate law, anything. What matters is that you are so deeply invested in it that you lose all perspective on its importance, that its value to you is so high that it become the center of all you think about it. This is ultimately healthy, I'd argue. History is made by the obsessives, those with a singular focus on an activity or diversion that the rest of us pay less attention to; to care about something more than is rational is a uniquely human characteristic. Comic books, like baseball, like fantasy fiction, like freaking Civil War reenacters, allow you to go so far down the rabbit hole of obsession that, ultimately, you can be more connected to the material than those who created it. This is, in a strange way, empowering.

2. The main problem, among many, of "Green Lantern" is that the filmmakers seem to care so little about their material. The film walks on tender feet, trying not to offend those who know more about their characters, their story, than its makers do. When Zach Snyder signed on to direct "Watchmen," his major attribute for fans was not necessarily his directorial skill; it was that he loved "Watchmen," that he was such a fan of the material himself that it was as important to him that it be done justice as it was for fans. (That he was too slavishly devoted to the text was its own, different problem.) With "Green Lantern," director Martin Campbell clearly thinks this is all kind of silly, so he just plods forward, with no particular direction or perspective, nothing invested in this at all. The whole movie has a real "here you go, nerds" feel to it. It's less cynical than calculated, a recitation of the "Green Lantern" story by someone who isn't into "Green Lantern" at all. I'm not sure why people would be into the Green Lantern character; he's a pretty empty character, and his superpowers, all told, are kind of dumb. But I want a "Green Lantern" film to try to convince me why I should care.

3. Ryan Reynolds plays Hal Jordan, a fighter pilot (a profession that might have made more sense in a previous generation) for a global arms corporation that ... you know, I'm not sure I understood the point of anything Hal Jordan does or is, from his committment issues to the theoretically tragic loss of his dad to his relationship with his fellow fighter pilot Blake Lively. (Fellow Fighter Pilot Blake Lively should be the name of someone's fantasy football team.) The film doesn't really do anything with the Jordan character until he gets the special green ring from a dying alien, and Jordan discovers that he is part of an intergalactic police force protecting the galaxy from evil, as well as the color yellow. The ring is the source of any superpowers; it can "project" weapons from its wearer's mind, though the film doesn't have much fun with that. (I hope that if I ever have a ring like that, I come up with something better than "shooting a gun.") The power of the ring is derived from "will," and its evil twin is "fear," so other worlds have basically derived alternative energy sources from, well, serotonin, I guess. Mostly, the "will" vs. "fear" angle attempts to give the story some sort of mythic power that isn't there.

4. But maybe it is: The movie is so busy trying to hit everything on the Please Fanboy checklist than it never focuses in on anything or anyone in particular. I don't understand a single supporting character in "Green Lantern," from Lively's character, whom I'm pretty sure is named Love Interest, to Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett as Old People (pretty much), to Peter Sarsgaard's bad guy, who has nothing to do with the plot whatsoever and is quickly dispatched so Green Lantern can fight his real opponent. (I defy anyone to explain to me exactly why Sarsgaard's character is in this movie. He serves zero purpose. I don't remember the last time a movie's villain was utterly superfluous to the plot.) Much has been made of the choice of Reynolds as Green Lantern, but he's one of the few things this movie has going for it. He doesn't have a character to play, but he tries anyway, able to be both snide and snickering and also wide-eyed and sincere. He'd make a fun, wise-cracking, I-can't-believe-I'm-a-freaking-superhero superhero, if he were ever given a movie that slowed down to let him breathe enough to do so. Reynolds isn't the problem.

5. You have to think that "Green Lantern" is going to have to mark some sort of turning point for the comic book genre. Some comic book movies have been too insider fanboy ("Watchmen," "Kick-Ass"), and some have been too dismissive and weird ("Jonah Hex"), but this is the first one I can remember feeling so impersonal. This is as formulaic and by-the-numbers as any Kate Hudson romantic comedy. But this is worse, because you expect a romantic comedy not to try. A film like "Green Lantern" exists because of passion, because of devotion and fanaticism. To then produce such a bland, confused mishmash like this is more offensive, somehow. This is impersonal filmmaking about something that is deeply, if irrationally, personal. This is slop for fanboys that knows it's slop for fanboys and doesn't try to be anything other than that. But it isn't made by a fanboy. So fanboys, of course, hate it. They should. This is a blue-light special version of a superhero movie. This is what happens when they go wrong. This is what happens when they don't care.

Grade: C-