Silver Screen: Green Lantern *1/2

Silver Screen: Green Lantern *1/2
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Silver Screen: Green Lantern *1/2
Bryan Miller

The Green Lantern might well be the most difficult mainstream superhero to translate to the big screen. He has very little name recognition outside of Nerddom, he's got no real rogues gallery, his amorphous powers lend themselves more to cartoonish fantasy than the realism-tinged superheroics Hollywood favors, and his name sounds like the moniker of a flashlight company. This was going to be a tough one to pull off under the best of circumstances.

How about the worst of circumstances? That seems to be the context for this gaudy, grating, counterfeit blockbuster, a paint-by-numbers summer action flick that's only enjoyable when it occasionally passes the tipping point into outright silliness.

The very likable Ryan Reynolds stars as Hal Jordan, a cocky test pilot-- but, wait, the movie doesn't start there. No, the first five minutes of the movie is all computer-generated effects and exposition. Via a lengthy prologue set in space, we learn that the universe is divided into some three-thousand-odd sectors, each of which is patrolled by a member of the Green Lantern Corps, a squadron of intergalactic policemen tasked by a group of withered, immortal beings called the Guardians to protect the cosmos using condensed willpower. This willpower is channeled, most inconveniently, through an easy-to-lose ring that must itself be recharged in a glowing green lantern which itself must not be recharged.

Right, so back to Earth where Jordan almost literally reenacts a scene from Top Gun, freaking out during a dogfight by having flashbacks to his own test-pilot daddy's fatal crash, thus triggering his own midflight disaster. He's on the outs with the government contractor who hired him, run by the company owner's daughter (Blake Lively), when the alien Abin Sur, near death and crash-landing on the blue planet, bequeaths his ring and his power to the uncertain Jordan.

Meanwhile, the cosmic menace Parallax, a giant black cloud that feeds on the yellow energy of fear, plans to consume Earth as a means to gain enough power to stage an assault on the Guardians. The rest of the Corps, who shun the temperamental Jordan, are willing to let the Earth go, so it's up to Hal, with a little assistance from his new Green Lantern pal Sinestro (Mark Strong), to fight Parallax, who has merged with weaselly mad scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) to help bring about the world's destruction.

There's a lot going on there, and to this mess of overplotting and exposition director Martin Campbell feels obligated to shoehorn in a slew of other superhero movie cliché s: a useless nerdy sidekick, a love triangle, a crooked senator (Tim Robbins). None of it works.

The problems begin with the concept and follow through to the shoddy execution. Though occasionally providing a clever sight gag or a cool stunt, the Green Lantern's powers-- the ability to create anything he can imagine out of green willpower energy-- do not translate well to film. Creating a giant green fist to punch multiple bad guys looks kinda dicey, while creating a giant green chain gun that fires green energy bullets is dork machismo incarnate, to say nothing of how downright absurd it looks when Jordan creates a green-energy race car to catch a falling helicopter, then has it race over an elevated green energy track to safety. A lot of this might work better if the movie was far more fanciful, but the need to add apocalyptic overtones and fit it into the PG-13 superhero movie format entirely undercuts that.

Reynolds is a charismatic guy better suited to comedy than drama, but he's not without range (check out Buried). Still, despite his chiseled physique, he's an unconvincing superguy, though not nearly so miscast as the woefully wooden and very much ironically named Blake Lively.

Lively's perfunctory character is a perfect example of everything Green Lantern does wrong. As a love interest, she's perfectly perfunctory, but Campbell and his cadre of writers not only feel obligated to include her, they must make her childhood sweethearts with Hal as well as the object of affection for the villainous Hammond, because apparently none of this stuff would be exciting if everyone didn't have an elaborate, shared backstory. Lively's character is really just a damsel to be threatened and a prize to be won, but, ever conscious of pretending to appeal to the female demographic, the filmmakers assert her not only as an unlikely businesswoman but also a wildly improbable test pilot herself, because, you know, girl power! They want to say they have a strong female character without actually bothering to write one.

Only Sarsgaard seems to have any fun here, wonderfully loathsome as the ineffectually nefarious Hammond. Everything else is lost in a morass of obligatory plot points and mediocre computer effects, which often dominate the screen for minutes on end. Like Thor, Green Lantern is halfway set in a fantastic world entirely created by pixels and programs, and also as with Thor, the frequent shifts between the fantasy world and Earth are dissonant and off-putting, reminding viewers of how fake one is and how drearily the other is presented.