Green Lantern, The: Martin Cambell’s Underwhelming Adventure, Starring Ryan Reynolds

Watching Martin Campbell’s new comic strip picture “The Green Lantern” is like going to Disneyland (or any other amusement park) and spending the whole day in rides that vary in duration, thril, and excitement, at the end of which you feel oversaturated and exhausted but not particularly satisfied.

Both underwhelming and overwhelming, though in the wrong ways, “Green Lantern” is a movie without a real plot, or engaging character.  The experience (and more than a narrative movie, it’s a sensorial experience) unfolds as a series of set-pieces loosely tied up by a premise—but no more.

Add to it a hero, who’s semi-earnest and semi-goofy, played by an appealing actor who is not particularly adept at irreverent comedy, Ryan Reynolds, and you have a rather joyless movie, in which the action sequences just get bigger, noisier and more lavishly spectacular as it goes along—until it stops, arbitrarily.

The effort to combine action, adventure, and humor, with a touch of human feelings is unsuccessful, and end result is a soulless, machine-like mega-budget popcorn flick, which only the very young and indiscriminating viewers (and, of course, the hardcore fanboys) can fully embrace.

According to the production notes, the picture was conceived as a contemporary origin story for Hal Jordan, the most popular of the six figures of  the comic book series, which was created in 1940.  Indeed, the character goes back over 70 years, first appearing in “All-American Comics” in 1940, and evolving over time.

In a boring prologue, a sonorous voice-over narration informs us of the setting and background. At the edge of space, a war has been raging between those who rule with fear, and those who protect life, the Green Lantern Corps.  Whenever one great warrior is lost, another must be chosen quickly, except that this time around, a human (sort of) is selected.

It turns out that an evil, soul-sucking force called Parallax is spreading its domination across the 3,600 sectors of the universe, striking fear even in the Green Lanterns, a group that draws its energy from the power of the will, which is the opposite of fear (will and fear are thesis and antithesis, there is no synthesis and nothing in between).

The few ideas and minor plot that the movie possesses all appear in the first reel, in which a top fighter named Abin Sur (Tamuera Morrison) is fatally wounded by Parallax, which puts him under pressure to transfer his special gifts to a new Lantern in the little time that remains.  The dying Abin bequeaths the magical ring and some basic instructions to American pilot  Hal Jordan, an initially brash, immature, irresponsible guy, who needs to prove his mettle.

But after the initial chapters, or half an hour, the movie forgets all about plot and turns into a repetitive series of adventures in Planet Earth and swift  flights to the distant planet Oa (some of the picture was shot in New Orleans, see related story).

The writers, Greg Berlanti (also a producer and initially assigned ) and three other scribes, go out of their way to construct Hal Jordan as an interesting if flawed superhero, but they end up creating a cliché-ridden, one-dimensional figure, a guy with a chip on his shoulder.

Once again, a mainstream Hollywood movie adopts a cheap Freudian psychology for its pseudo-text. The story is about overcoming fears and anxieties that are product of the past, and there are two sets of patriarchal fathers and insecure sons.  Haunted by imagers and memories of the death of his heroic father, which we see in flashbacks, Hal wants to make his father proud and redeem his honor.

The director wants to have it both ways: Create a relatable human character that the audience can repond to, but also give him special, extraordinary qualities, like the ability to go and fight in other worlds.  Indeed, his job takes him to the farthest reaches of space, and it’s too bas that he always hurries to comeback to Earth as nothing interesting awaits for him there.

Not to neglect the potential women moviegoers, the film, which in essence is a young boys fare, offers the character of Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), Hal’s childhood sweetheart, who’s now an ambitious peer.   As depicted and staged, the evolving romantic affair between Hal and Carol, is not particularly involving or convincing, and it doesn’t help that there is no strong chemistry between the stars.

Ryan Reynolds is a handsome and appealing star, but his part is so underdeveloped that there is little he can work with.  Reynolds has done comedy (“The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock), but as a type, he is more of a straight-laced man.  Thus, he is not particularly effective at delivering the film’s stabs at offbeat, tongue-in-cheek humor.

The secondary cast includes Mark Strong as the red-skinned Sinestro, one of the leaders, who is shrewd and sneering but not completely trustworthy.  The scenes in which Strong’s Sinestro seeks advice from the anciend Guardians of the Universe, evoked laughter at the screening i attended, perhaps because of their bizarre appearance–their heads are pallid and oddly shaped and they do not speak but intone like a chorus in a Greek tragedy.

Peter Sarsgaard is assigned with what is (realtively speaking) the film’ s most fully developed role, the mad scientist Hector Hammond, whose exposure to Parallax turns him into a destructive, psychotic creature.   Assisted by impressive special effects (eyes that turn yellow, freakish voice, hair loss, shape-shifting face), Sarsgaard gives a suitably creepy performance and is responsible for the film’s few scary moments.

As a greedy Senator and Hector’s father, Tim Robbins is totally wasted in a series of brief, almost incomprehensible scenes, which give the impression that his part might have been chopped in the editing process.

The new technology allows for some decent fighting scenes, big explosions, and fantastical escapades.  But the action sequences are directed in a mechanical, impersonal way, and are totally removed from the slender plot that the movie has. With the exception of a few scenes, there is no good use (really no need) of 3D (other than legitmizing a higher ticket price).

A much better and more enjoyable picture could have been made out of a superhero who’s plucked from the Earth and goes off-planet to protect it.  Overall, “Green Lantern” represents a step down for Martin Campbell, who did such a good job with inviograting the James Bond series in 2006 with “Casino Royale,” which also was an origin story.

Hal repeatedly exclaims: “Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power—Green Lantern’s light!”  It’s as if the filmmakers feel a need to remind us what the story is all about, when we get lost in this overcrowded spectacle, which is no more than an aggregate of  sights and sounds.  Some of  visual and technical elements are lavish and striking, courtesy of the talented production designer Grant Major, but the editing is choppy and abrupt, turning the already troubled scenario into a chaotic mess.

I realize that in order to please the series’ fans, the filmmakers had to use verbatim lines of dialogue, such as “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight.”  Nonetheless, in the context of the film, and in the way that these lines are spoken by Reynolds, they are neither witty nor campy fun.

Despite the admiration for the occasionally brilliant visual and sound effects, the overall impression is that “Green Lantern” is a cheesy B-flick, at once underbaked and overbaked.