GREEN LANTERN is such a terrible movie for a good chunk of its running time that when it rallies late to become the GREEN LANTERN movie it should've been from the beginning, the fan who is well versed in the character's mythology may be inclined to give it a pass and delay judgment until the next installment. It could've been worse. This is far from ideal, but it is standard operating procedure for the "Issue #1s" of superhero movies anymore: waste the audience's time with uninspired origin wheel-spinning, then leave 'em amenable to a sequel. THOR pulled this trick last May, and few seemed to care. As long as the contours of the narrative are recognizable (i.e. nothing has been drastically altered from whatever constitutes canon), everything is everything.
This is the state of the modern superhero film: expectations have plummeted to the point where studios figure they don't need to knock themselves out "getting it right" in the scripting phase. Most of the energy seems to be expended on figuring out which take on the character will play best for a general audience; from there, it's Hero's Journey 101, which for some reason typically requires the input of multiple screenwriters. On GREEN LANTERN, it's the vision of renowned comic book writer Geoff Johns being homogenized by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg (who is the only of the four to not receive a "story by" credit). Together, they've done their damndest to make the character and his evil-smashing "constructs" accessible to people who only vaguely remember him from the Hanna-Barbera SUPER FRIENDS cartoon*.
That's one of the major problems in developing a big-screen GREEN LANTERN: while the expansive universe of the Green Lantern corps is rich with storytelling possibilities, the studio must first establish an earthbound iteration - which means making a human superhero whose power is derived from an antiquated source of illumination look cool. And so the committee of filmmakers have written test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) as TOP GUN's Maverick; he's a brash, bratty rule-breaker who gets away with it all because he's handsomer and flat-out better than the rest. Though his quips are run-of-the-mill TV (unsurprising since the screenwriters, save for Goldenberg, have made a career churning out attitude-over-wit pap for the small screen), Reynolds, who's carried creakier material in the past, holds the screen like a movie star should. His Hal is cocksure, not smarmy; at heart, he's a noble guy who's just waiting for the proper call to adventure, at which point he'll become the hero he was always meant to be.
But Reynolds's charm isn't enough to offset a number of baffling storytelling flaws in the early going. Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) is set up as a tragic bad guy, a brilliant, discovery-obsessed scientist who's nursed a longtime crush on Blake Lively's Carol Ferris (a perfectly fine Blake Lively). Sarsgaard gets across the unloved sadness of the character (he's also never earned the approval of his powerful Senator father, played by the distractingly-too-close-in-age Tim Robbins), but he's already on the road to huge-headed villainy before the writers clue us in to his past with Ferris and Jordan - which renders ineffective the subsequent cross-cutting of Hal and Hector contending with their puzzling (and painful) new powers. This is especially frustrating because the film's first really good scene is the big showdown between the two transformed men; that it works at all is a testament to Reynolds and Sarsgaard committed performances.
Unfortunately, the intergalactic stuff is bungled, too. As was the case with THOR's Asgard, Oa looks like a video game environment; while Grant Major's production design is spot-on, the actors never feel like they're inhabiting a far-off world (also, Reynolds's CG mask never feels like it's a part of his face). Hal's interactions with Tomar-Re and Kilowog are believable enough, but their combat-training bond sessions are rushed; when the characters turn up at a crucial moment later in the movie, there's nothing being paid off (actually, their obligatory, late-to-the-party assistance makes it appear as if they sat back like a bunch of lazy assholes and let Hal take on Parallax by himself). And while Mark Strong conveys the conflicted nature of Sinestro, his turn during the end credits is curiously unmotivated (and, therefore, the worst kind of fan service). There's an actual event that would've easily explained this, but it was cut from the film (most likely because it fouled up the pacing).
GREEN LANTERN's screenplay was already shaky enough, but WB did itself no favors when it hired practical-action specialist Martin Campbell to direct. Campbell is one of the most capable big-movie hired hands out there, but he's never done a green-screen heavy fantasy like this. As a result, GREEN LANTERN feels soundstage-bound; save for the climactic brawl with Parallax, it's cramped and artificial when it needs to soar. It's not that Campbell can't do giddy, gallivanting adventure (his THE MASK OF ZORRO is a terrific modern-day serial); it's just obvious that he'd rather be on location. (In a perfect world, he would've inherited the Aubrey-Maturin series from Peter Weir.)
Bad as the film gets (and it threatens to collapse in an unintentionally hilarious heap during the "Science Building" scene), it springs to life when Parallax descends on Earth. The moment a seemingly defeated Hal digs deep to deliver the Green Lantern oath is more triumphant and inspiring than anything in THOR - which isn't saying much, but, then again, these movies aren't exactly trying that hard. It would be nice to see WB let Johns write the first draft of GREEN LANTERN 2 before bringing in the hacks; they'd also do well to hire a filmmaker with a lighter, more fanciful touch. As with THOR, the elements are in place for a satisfying superhero movie. More love, less calculation. That ought to do it.
P.S. I saw this in 2D because I get nothing from the 3D experience. For those eager to spend more for pop-up-book cinema, I'm told the 3D is much better than THOR's.