The movie, DC’s latest attempt at creating a comic book franchise even half as successful as Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” series, has been saddled with one of the more ludicrous basic conceits out there (sorry, my fellow comic geeks, but it’s true). Thankfully, though, a few of the movie’s key players have enough acting superpowers to turn “Green Lantern” into a surprisingly engaging look at the real nature of courage, the pressure of expectations, and finding something worth living for.
Of course, there’s quite a bit of slightly silly plot to get through first. I won’t go over it here, because it would take up the rest of the review and make at least 20 minutes of the movie completely useless (not to mention probably scaring you off from seeing the movie entirely). Don’t worry, there’s more than enough exposition to make sure you’ll be more up to speed than you probably want to be.
Luckily, Hal (Ryan Reynolds) shows up pretty quickly. A test pilot with a tendency for getting into trouble, Hal has a surprising core of seriousness beneath his sarcasm that makes you think he knows just how badly he keeps shooting himself in the foot. Unlike the cliche he’s playing off of, Hal remembers every time he’s let someone else down, and he keeps doing it mostly because he’s afraid he’ll still let them down even if he tries not to.
A huge portion of the credit for that is due to Reynolds, who uses his experience in mediocre romantic comedies to turn slightly stiff dialogue into something that seems absolutely heartfelt.
His signature one liners are also there, though on a more subtle scale than usual. They’re absolutely necessary to the movie’s success, as a gentle puncture for the movie when the self-seriousness of phrases like “The yellow power of fear” get to be too much to take seriously.
On the villainous end, Peter Sarsgaard makes Hector Hammond (a.k.a. Mr. Swollen Head) so oddly sweet and painfully lonely that I desperately wished he’d gotten more screen time. He was almost tender with the dead alien he looked at, genuinely defensive of fellow scientists he never got to work with, and utterly heartbroken when he found out he’d been chosen only because his father pulled strings. When he started moving into “evil” territory, I understood completely.
The movie very briefly touches on his and Hal’s dynamic as mutual failures, and the odd almost-understanding that exists between them because of it, and it was interesting enough I can only wish they’d cut some of the background exposition and spent more time on the two of them. Was it only color-coded superpowers that made one a hero and one a villain?
Though she was given very little to do, Blake Lively was perfectly competent as Hal’s love interest and fellow pilot (and, to my mind, more believable in her basic intelligence and skill than Scarlet Johanssen as the Black Widow). Angela Bassett seems wasted in a tiny role as Dr. Amanda Waller, but those who follow the comic books know she’s really just being set up for a supervillain turn in a potential sequel.
But even if you don’t know the comic books, Hal and Hector somehow combine to make “Green Lantern” a movie worth watching. In them, the fear that needs to be overcome is more than a smoke alien who is apparently rampaging around the cosmos. It’s every escape you’ve ever made from a serious conversation, or that whisper of “freak” from someone you’re trying to teach. It’s that feeling that you’ll never be anything more than a waste of space, and when you finally overcome that it’s a thrill far greater than even flying.
Even if you have to wear a dorky eye mask to do it.