Warner Brothers, which owns DC Comics, has a problem. They own 75 years' worth of DC Comics characters, but only Superman and Batman have proved capable of headlining multimillion-dollar franchises in the past decade, while arch-rival Marvel Comics has figured out how to monetize the lesser-known-likes of Iron Man and Thor. Their solution to this, along with the inevitable demise of the Harry Potter franchise, is Green Lantern, an action figure-friendly fusion of Spider-Man and Star Wars that isn't as dire as some early reviews have claimed, but suffers from a few too many cooks stirring the (pea-green) soup.
Admittedly, Green Lantern is a bit of a heady brew anyway. The premise seems simple enough if you're already inoculated to science fiction and superhero comics, but might be more than non-fan audiences can follow. Simple version is that hotshot test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is recruited to become part of a legion of interstellar cops from across the universe, who use green rings powered by lantern "batteries" that allow them to fly, shoot lasers and shape objects out of green energy. Then you throw in multiple alien Lanterns, a massive Oz the Great and Powerful look-alike called Parallax, Peter Sarsgaard as a nerdy Earth scientist who's infected by Parallax and various daddy issues, and it's easy to get lost.
The flick often feels like a series of obligatory set pieces: Here's Hal in bed with a one-night stand! Here he is flashing back to his dad's death! Here he is bonding with his adorable nephew! These scenes feel culled from various drafts of the script. Sarsgaard's character Hector Hammond is given some sort of long-time relationship to Hal that's never fleshed out, along with a crush on Blake Lively's Carol Ferris, who despite being a decade younger than either man, is supposed to have grown up with them. Both Hector and Mark Strong's Sinestro (awkwardly set up as antagonist for the sequel) come off as more sympathetic than Reynolds' Hal, an indecisive mope who crashes jet planes, puts people out of work and nearly gets Earth destroyed because he has issues with admitting fear. Poor baby.
There's fun to be had in Green Lantern: Director Martin Campbell has plenty of fun CGI to work with, and the characters have a self-aware attitude about being in a superhero situation (the scene where Hal attempts to appear to Carol in his GL uniform has an amusing payoff). But there's rarely a sense of excitement, discovery or menace in what happens to Hal, which is what you need in a superhero film, that gradual transition from the mundane to the fantastic. Green Lantern tries to start with the fantastic from the first frame, and often comes off as a theme part ride rather than a character piece.
It's not a turkey, but it's also not the Marvel-rivaling franchise for which Warner Bros. might have hoped. Might we suggest Booster Gold next time?