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GREEN LANTERN (2011) (***)

This is a movie for fans of Green Lantern… for better or worse. It's loaded with Green Lantern Corps mythos. It's loaded with the many characters of the world. To clarify I'm not the greatly Green Lantern fan, but my knowledge of the world has been informed by the DC Direct animated films GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT and GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS. In context, my suspension of disbelief seems to be higher than many who have been trashing the film, because I knew what to expect and knew how it could have gone far worse.

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This is a movie for fans of Green Lantern… for better or worse. It's loaded with Green Lantern Corps mythos. It's loaded with the many characters of the world. To clarify I'm not the greatly Green Lantern fan, but my knowledge of the world has been informed by the DC Direct animated films GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT and GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS. In context, my suspension of disbelief seems to be higher than many who have been trashing the film, because I knew what to expect and knew how it could have gone far worse.

In this origin story, we learn that the immortal guardians of the universe have sectioned off the universe and assigned a protector of each sector. These protectors make up the Green Lantern Corps, which wield green rings that channel the power of will. Now an ancient evil named Parallax (Clancy Brown, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION), who is powered by the yellow energy of fear, has been set free. The Green Lantern Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison, STAR WARS prequels) once defeated the creature, but it has only gotten stronger and mortally wounds the legendary warrior. Abin Sur heads to the closest planet, Earth, to let his ring choose a worthy successor. That turns out to be cocky test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Renyolds, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE).

Jordan seems a surprising choice as a defender of the galaxy. His longtime friend and fellow test pilot Carol Ferris (Blake Lively, THE TOWN) wishes he were more responsible, both professionally and personally. She's always had a thing for him, but he's too scared to commit. Maybe it's because he's haunted by the death of his famed test pilot father when he was a child. When Jordan goes to Green Lantern training, the veteran Lantern Sinestro (Mark Strong, SHERLOCK HOLMES) smells the fear on the human and doubts that he is worthy of his friend's ring.

Meanwhile, the government finds the body of the dead Abin Sur. Dr. Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett, WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?) calls in the geeky paranormal scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard, GARDEN STATE) to examine the corpse. He's elated with the privilege, but loses much of that enthusiasm when he learns that his father, Senator Hammond (Tim Robbins, MYSTIC RIVER), pulled strings to get his son on the project. I guess Hector and Hal share more than an attraction to Carol, but also daddy issues too.

Those are just some of the characters the film injects. We also have fish-like Green Lantern Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) and giant bull-like Green Lantern Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan, GREEN MILE). The script also gives us Hal's best friend Thomas Kalmaku (Taika Waititi, SHARK VS EAGLE) and a whole host of siblings and a nephew. One of the problems is that many of the scenes with these characters could have easily been cut and no one would have noticed, especially the birthday party scene.

In trying to convey the mythos of the Green Lantern world, the film talks about it a lot. The theme of will vs. fear is nice to have, but its done is such a heavy-handed way that it comes off childish. It's another film that tells instead of shows. Of all the film's problems, this is its biggest offense. But I will always give a film, trying to have a unique theme, points over one that doesn't have one at all.

Despite its problems I enjoyed it for what it got right in context to the Green Lantern world. It seems that the film's biggest critics don't like the rings' power to create anything that the wearer can imagine. For them Hal conjuring a racetrack to save a crashing helicopter is moronic. For me, it suited the character very well. Jordan is new to using the ring and it's easier to will into existence things he knows well. It shows attention to the character in his journey into learning how to use his ring. And is it any less moronic than the Force? I mean in the comic Jordan conjures giant flyswatters to smack bug-like villains. This film never went that hokey.

Others have attacked the light-hearted elements of the film too. For me I found a nice balance between the superheroics and Jordan's jokey personality. Reynolds is a great choice to create that balance. He makes Jordan a smartass who knows he's good at flying planes, but doubts he has what it takes to be a superhero. But he sure loves the magic suit.

The film is at its best when paralleling the arches of Hal and Hector. Both struggle with their fears. For Hal, in typical heroic fashion, rises above his fears. (Too bad he has to talk about those fears endlessly.) Hector's story is subtler. Sarsgaard makes Hector an angry outsider who lets his resentments fester into hate. He is a perfect human embodiment of Parallax. Because of its intergalactic guardian similarities, it reminds me of Jedi Yoda when he said, "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

Origins stories can be tough and GREEN LANTERN falls into some of the traps, like overlong training sequences and endless exposition about the greater world. But as an emotional origin story, the film does a decent job. Why I say decent is only that its obvious about it like it's afraid that the littlest kids in the audience won't get it otherwise. The film definitely targets them more than a DC Comics adaptation like THE DARK KNIGHT. What the film attempts to do is capture the entire Green Lantern world, which ranges from the silly to the serious. You have to buy the powers of the rings or the whole thing falls apart. As much as the film beats the audience with the mythos, the film has a compelling story of a maverick (in the TOP GUN sense) that has to finally take responsibility for his actions. The problems of our past might lead us down a wrong path, but an adult has the power to steer back toward the right path. This comes out if you can look past a ring that creates a giant green energy fist. Hey, they didn't include the chipmunk members of the Green Lantern Corps. Now that would be silly.

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Rick DeMott
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