Intergalactic threats clutter Hal in ‘Lantern’

June 27, 2011
Ryan Reynolds is Green Lantern. SOURCE WARNER BROS. PICTURES

Familiarity breeds contempt. Perhaps that is the rationale behind the critical drubbing "The Green Lantern" has received upon release. Since 2000, there have been 36 films based on comic books (about six more were created exclusively for the screen). And "Lantern" is the fourth of five to be released this year alone (Hell, it's not even the first "Green" superhero in 2011. That distinction goes to January's god-awful "Green Hornet.").

Comics are an easy template for filmmakers, as they already have a tale, a storyboard and a built-in audience. They have the potential for great summer diversions ("Iron Man") or even overall excellence ("The Dark Knight"). But, as the saying goes in one particular comic-to-film translation, "With great power comes great responsibility." The missteps have been too numerous to count ("Catwoman," "Ghost Rider" and "Jonah Hex" immediately rush to mind), and the core audience can be particularly unforgiving, so filmmakers should approach the genre with caution.

And with all the faults that one may find in "Lantern," being careless with the rules of this type of film is certainly not one of them. It heeds the movie genre formula with methodical precision.

Take a flawed lead, present him with newfound powers and overwhelming odds, watch him stumble out of the gate, but sprint to the finish line. Oh, and empty the film's pockets on climactic explosions and blinding CGI-rendered flashes.

That is exactly what "Lantern" does to a serviceable degree, never once coloring outside the lines. Ryan Reynolds plays Hal Jordan, an overconfident pilot who stumbles on a ring possessing otherworldly powers and is handed the chance to save his planet. There have been rumblings within the comic community that Jordan was far from the swollen-headed hero portrayed here, but square-jawed stiffs don't rake in the bucks at the box office anymore; just ask Superman.

Intergalactic threats clutter Hal's path to greatness, but it's nothing a few green-hued, computer-generated weapons cannot salvage, leaving him plenty of time to get the girl (here, played by Blank, err, I mean Blake Lively). His main nemesis is researcher Hector Hammond (played by the always-interesting-but-not-here Peter Sarsgaard), who mutates into a comic version of John "Elephant Man" Merrick.

Reynolds does what you hire the former Van Wilder to do: show up, make a few quips, fill out the spandex better than an action figure, then quickly disappear from memory.

"Lantern" does not reinvent, reinvigorate or subvert the genre. It just does its job like a modestly skilled day laborer. That is the closest one can come to complimenting "Lantern." It's not offensive to the senses, nor is it an example of exemplary filmmaking. It's the cinematic equivalent of duct tape - it will hold the genre in place, but by no means fix anything about it.