A cocky pilot for the family aviation company of his lifelong friend and ex-flame Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), Hal encounters the dying alien Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) who bequeaths his power ring unto him with the declaration that the ring has chosen him, a choice the amiable but reckless Hal finds curious at best. After the ring bonds with him and he speaks the Oath, Hal is transported to the Lanterns' home world of Oa, where he meets the great warrior Sinestro (Mark Strong), the towering drill instructor Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan) and the scholarly Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush). Hal endures what seems like a whole day of training before quitting, saying that the ring made a mistake choosing him. Still traumatized by the boyhood memory of his pilot dad's (Jon Tenney) fiery death, Hal must conquer his fears if he's to serve as a Green Lantern.
Meanwhile, scientist Hector Hammond (played by a heavily made-up Peter Sarsgaard), the son of an ambitious U.S. senator (Tim Robbins), is brought in by the government (in the person of Dr. Amanda Waller, played by Angela Bassett) to study Abin Sur's remains. Abin Sur had been mortally wounded by the planet-killing Parallax, and his remains bear traces of the cosmic entity's fear-thriving energy, which infects Hector. He soon develops telepathic powers, his skull swelling to a gargantuan size and driving this already odd man into utter madness. Hal must defeat both Hector and Parallax if he's to overcome his fears, save the world and prove himself worthy of being in the Corps.
Despite having rich source material to draw from, there is just so much that director Martin Campbell and the script writers (Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg) get wrong that it is a compliment to even call Green Lantern a movie, rather than a vapid black hole which sits in place of a movie about a green superhero. The first mistake Green Lantern makes, is that it fails to establish any kind of coherent context or mythos for its titular superhero. The movie opens with some heavy exposition blurted out by fish-man Tomar-Re (voiced by the always impeccable Geoffrey Rush) about “emerald willpower,” ancient beings, power rings, space sectors, Green Lanterns and some “yellow fear” bad guy named Parallax. No mention of the fact that in this comic book reality, all emotions (will, fear, anger, love, etc…) give off different kinds of “lights” that can be harnessed as power; the naming of “green willpower” and “yellow fear” are deemed sufficient explanation. Nope, not good.
Part of the problem of the film is that it seems to borrow heavily from Geoff Johns’ groundbreaking Secret Origins arc. However, instead of using it as a script, they attempt to mash together different elements while dropping the more complicated material. The result, with Parallax being introduced and Hammond coming in later, sounds right on paper but is inadequately translated to the screen. Oh, and I should also mention that they are trying to do all of this within 105 minutes. While I’ll admit that setting up Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern mythos is daunting, most of the successful origin stories coming out now make an effort to keep the film grounded. Here, there seems to be little attempt to ease the audience into the mythology. You either accept from the opening minutes of the film that a grey cloud that glows yellow with a skeletal face is ravaging the universe, or you don’t.
One part of the film that actually works is the cast, with Reynolds leading the way. Jordan has a cockiness that blends with humanity in the comics, and Reynolds seems to tap into that with ease. He has plenty of one-liners to keep the audience laughing, but they never go overboard with it. He can be serious when he wants, and when he is emotionally wounded, we believe it. Even Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, former flame and childhood friend of Jordan’s, holds her own. Doing the best he can in his shrunken role, Peter Sarsgaard is nearly unrecognizable in his swollen head prosthetic and is a cruel, menacing character that has some shocking moments.
Additionally, Mark Strong manages to make Sinestro—a tall, purple alien with a window’s peak and pencil mustache—intimidating and serious. The camera doesn’t shy away from him either, and the makeup and costume look great on him. There is also a key portion of his character that appears in the middle of the credits, so stick around for that. The real stunner, though, is Abin Sur’s makeup. The muscle tissue and purple glow might cause some to stare in awe, which is a shame because he isn’t around very long. The effects (for all the controversy and money surrounding them) are just…ok. There are some enjoyable moments (Hector Hammond’s psychic powers are surprisingly fun), but they are over pretty quickly. Parallax looks like a silly cartoon (but commits some bizarrely grisly acts) and only some of the CGI aliens work as believable characters (Tomar-Re), while others don’t (Kilowog, The Guardians). The Green Lantern costume Reynolds wears works sometimes and looks cartoony other times, and though the power ring constructs are well done, they’re often used in over-the-top ways meant to fetishize the effect, rather than enhance the film.