Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Green Lantern

directed by Martin Campbell


The first Green Lantern comics came out in the 1940s. Although this movie is set in modern times it retains a lot of elements that suggest its Golden Age origins.

Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is an irresponsible pilot who is trying very hard to follow in the footsteps of his brave late father. In an effort to prove a point Hal manages to crash his plane in the middle of a demonstration of new technology. His poor judgement nearly cost him his life, and it looks certain to lose his company its contract, which will lead to lay-offs.

However far worse things are approaching, in the form of a world-consuming alien threat. Parallax (voiced by Clancy Brown) is a monstrous alien powered by the yellow energy of fear, and he's escaped his imprisonment. Earth is next on his hit list of worlds to snuff out. But first the badly-injured Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) crash lands on Earth to fulfil his final wish. He sends out his ring to search for his successor.

When the ring chooses Hal the pilot believes it's made a mistake. He doesn't feel up to the job of protecting our region of space. He's not the only one who feels like he's a bad choice of Lantern. Then a xenobiologist, Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), is infected by a yellow substance when he examines Abin Sur's body. Hector is another man who lives in the shadow of a more successful father, in his case a senator. Hector has doubts about his self-worth, but voices in his head turn his fears into acute terror. Hector's appearance changes and he goes on a bit of a rampage, whilst the giant alien head is coming to swallow the world imminently. Green Lanterns are meant to be fearless, so what chance does Hal Jordan stand against an entity that has already defeated several of the galaxy's bravest Lantern warriors?

The point of the story is almost insultingly simplistic: fear is bad, courage good. The green power of will faces up to the yellow force of fear in a metaphor so transparent you'd have to sleep through the film to miss it. Apart from his flying skills and his family history Hal is an ordinary guy, so it's not clear why the ring chooses him out of all the people on the planet. But it's both a plot hole and one of the film's strengths that he's such a normal individual. Hal is flawed enough to be likeable and credible, and at the same time he's representative of the whole human race rather than just the heedlessly brave.

The immortal guardians on the planet of Oa look particularly old-fashioned with their outsized Mekon-style heads and serious expressions. The special effects are flashy and bright, but there's something about the aesthetic that's stuck in the forties. And the look isn't the only dated aspect. Although Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) is a pilot and a strong female character, her part in the story is primarily to be rescued and to have her heart won. Whatever reasons there are for her and Hal to be apart in the first place aren't particularly convincing. But Hal has to prove himself before she'll show an interest because in this universe beautiful women are trophies to be awarded to the most deserving male. This is another movie that fails the Bechtel test (two female characters must talk to each other about something other than a man to pass this test). Put that beside all the oversimplified propaganda about courage that effectively glorifies recklessness and it makes for a movie that promotes the kind of dated values that aren't worth perpetuating.

The dialogue is somewhat funny, the story is well-paced and it builds up to a stirring climax. But it's also a predictable, simple-minded tale, all shine and no substance.

20th June 2011

Film Details

Year: 2011

Categories: Films

  Science fiction

Classification: 12

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Review © Ros Jackson