Taken as a piece of comedy, Green Lantern isn't so bad -- worth a chuckle, even. But taken as a serious attempt to make an entertaining hero film? Egads. Disastrous. The wheels have fallen off, and can be seen gently tumbling down the hill.
Ryan Reynolds is your typical irresponsible fighter pilot. You know the guy, you probably remember the archetype from Top Gun. This is the type of fellow who speeds down the highway, and yet is always late, so then has to double park his vintage ride right there on the street, like a total miscreant. He's a foolhardy individual, shunning responsibility, so of course they've entrusted him with a one hundred and forty million dollar fighter jet. Don't act like that doesn't happen, because it does. It definitely does. And so, in our introduction to Reynolds' Hal Jordan, we learn that this is a guy who just won't play by the rules, unless the rules include having rock-hard abs. If those are the rules he'll play by them all night long.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves, because the green ring hasn't even chosen Hal yet. The opening scenes start with an expository voiceover on Lantern philosophy and rules, as if the screenplay is already throwing up its hands to say, "Ugh, I give up." We're whisked off to the glamorous planet of Ryut where some Green Lanterns are doing Lantern stuff in space suits. They're under attack! Yeeps, there's something terrible out there, an awful yellow something of fear, and this guy is almost certainly the bad guy! The angry yellow fellow is named Parallax, though he looks a bit like the "Yellow Bastard" from Sin City. Parallax mocks the doomed Lanterns as they perish, just so you know the type of hombre you're dealing with, and then we get defeated scriptwriter technique number two.
Six months later...
One can only imagine what Parallax has been up to for the past six months, though I could definitely see a fear-monster of his ilk starting fake wedding registries and buying illegal fireworks across state lines. Such is the level of his nastiness. A new Lantern heads out to challenge him, but it all goes terribly awry, and THIS is how Ryan Reynolds finally gets to become THE Green Lantern, the first human one ever, protector of Earth and overall swell fighter pilot dude.
We've got to see young Hal Jordan strut his stuff. It's here that the "daddy issues" theme will present itself, a theme that will hammer you over the head, Thor style, until you pledge to understand that Hal Jordan is complicated and troubled. Blake Lively is Jordan's fellow F-35 pilot (naturally), and they are tasked with dogfighting the newest in robot fighter plane technology, as part of a presentation. They're employed by a defense contractor, you see. Blake Lively is Carol Ferris (in the movie), the daughter of someone named Mr. Ferris who heads up (or used to head up) Ferris Aero-planes. That established, Reynolds and Lively don their flight suits to duel the robot fighter planes, so they can sell them to the government, so that everyone lives happily ever after off the tax dollar fat of the land. Unfortunately, frickin' Hal Jordan pulls one of his typical jerk moves, and instead of allowing the robo-planes (patent pending) to shine, he goes out and instead wins the dogfight.
Ugh, men are the worst -- amiright, ladies?
This puts the government contract in peril, because who in sam hell would want to buy robot fighter planes that can't even shoot down a mavericky loose cannon sort of guy? Chances are, should these robot planes ever come up against someone who took their job seriously, they'd be in a whole heap of robot trouble. This whole "winning" thing makes Carol Ferris furious, because it's just like Hal Jordan to blow a billion dollar defense contract.
So, Hal Jordan, super jerk. Got it. No way this guy finds redemption, eh? And where the heck is that green ring at, anyway?
Flashcut to a doomed alien Lantern crashing on Earth and telling the ring to go choose someone worthy. Sadly, the ring doesn't want to leave him, so he has to throw rocks at it in order to get it to leave. Whoops, sorry, that was Harry and the Hendersons. No, the ring finds Jordan, and he's whisked off to Abin Sur's side (the Lantern who crashed). Sur and Jordan chat for a bit, and then Sur hands over the ring, telling Jordan to grab the lantern out of his spacecraft. And say the oath! It's handled with all the haphazardness of a first date, which it kind of is, except for the alien dying, plus the whole Lantern angle.
Now, let's reflect on what we've learned. Jordan is not equipped to be a Green Lantern, that's been made extremely clear, but we can tell from the posters and title of the film that he'll likely just have to figure it out. That transformation would make sense as a narrative for a film, and is the momentum behind quality superhero products we've seen before, so it's not the concept that's so mightily flawed. It's the execution. The motivation behind the villains, including the yellow fear monster, could have been thought up by a reasonably priced blender. The plot doesn't flow in the slightest. The whole mess is an extended trailer, or the sound a 10th grader makes when he knows he hasn't done his homework and the teacher is about to ask him about it. The movie shouts at you the entire time, punishing the audience, but it never says anything remotely important or interesting. Here are some of the key notes the film hits:
Hal Jordan is crazy!
Ugh, can he and Carol Ferris MAKE THIS WORK??!!
This guy just blew a defense contract!
The Lanterns are under attack!
Hal Jordan is now Green Lantern!
But he's also awesome!
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Each of these scenes is five minutes, and none of them have much to do with the other. Main characters make sweeping proclamations that don't relate to anything. At one point we're told that fear is the enemy, and that Lanterns don't fear, and then the bad guy comes ... and he's not scary, but the Lanterns are terrified and getting obliterated, and wait, I thought they didn't fear? The movie wants logic to bend about 12 different ways, and it doesn't earn any of it. Either the bad guy actually is scary, or the Lanterns actually are courageous, and Hal actually is irresponsible, or he's not, and just make a decision already.
There are also moments where it's not entirely clear they weren't making a Waiting for Guffman-style comedy. When Hal Jordan transforms into Green Lantern a little mask appears over his eyes. This is to "protect" his identity. And amazingly, it basically works. I imagine when people starting asking questions about who the Green Lantern was eyewitnesses would say, "He had the hair, height, and facial structure of Ryan Reynolds. But I didn't get a great shot of his forehead ... so really, it could be anyone." I mean, why bother with a mask that clearly hides nothing? Just skip it altogether or make it a real mask. But don't show us a cheesy mask and then make it logically effective within the story.
There's also a character who is introduced to the camera as he's playing chess. Did they have a meeting where people threw out ways "to make a guy look smart" without having to waste dialogue? Oh, I see. This smarty is playing chess. Better keep an eye on that one, audience! In another scene a villain is put under sedation, wakes up only to hear another character give a speech, before someone shouts, "Keep him under!" Why wasn't he kept under in the first place? And why did he get to hear the speech before someone gave the order to knock him out again? It's almost as if no one cared to try hard enough to tell a coherent and engaging story.
Then there's the issue of scope. We're told that 3,600 Green Lanterns protect the universe, they have meetings, a code, and a home planet. We're then informed that the home planet must be protected from Parallax! But why? Why must it? Four seconds ago I didn't even know this place existed, and now I'm supposed to care if it gets eaten by a yellow fear monster? Again, nothing is earned, no story is told, and everything is handled with the care of a toddler. Knock some buildings over, make a few loud noises, and hope mom comes soon with a bottle. Spoiler alert: she doesn't.
All of these items (and more!) add up to a big ol' mess. There's a scene in the film where Hal Jordan's friend looks at him, in full Lantern regalia, and giddily exclaims, "You're a superhero!" Sadly, as an audience with decades of legitimate superhero films under our belt, we can all see the lie in his eyes.