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It’s hit & myth with ‘Green Lantern’

‘TRON’ WITH ALIENS | Ryan Reynolds is ripped as the Green Lantern — who cares if he can act?

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

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2.5 out of 5 stars
GREEN LANTERN
Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong.
Rated PG-13. 115 mins.
Now playing in wide release.

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They are debates familiar to most comic book fanboys: Who would win a foot race — Superman or the Flash? Who’s smarter: Batman or Brainiac? Can Mr. Freeze make a beam so cold … well, you get it. It’s pointless fantasy-stuff — a script for The Big Bang Theory played out in real life dozens of times a day.

Add to that this conundrum: Is the human will stronger than the sense of fear? That’s the ultimate premise of Green Lantern, the latest DC Comics hero to nab his own film franchise. And if you don’t know the answer right now, well, you’ve never read a comic book. Or seen a summer movie.

Hal Jordan, the Earthling who became part of the Green Lantern Corps of protectors of the cosmos, was always one of my favorite superheroes. By day he was a test pilot — a test pilot! — but by night he could fly without an airplane or a cape, and got to wear a cool-ass ring and tights. Magic jewelry and camping equipment: It tapped into every gay pre-teen male’s competing desires to be butch and fabulous.

There’s a lot of mysticism and mythology in this cosmically scaled fantasy, and director Martin Campbell has settled on a phantasmagoric style more Bosch and Giger than Jack Kirby. Many of the scenes, especially those on the planet Oa, have the pearly, soft focus of ‘70s porn. It makes for a unique look, especially as populated by thousands of alien species (humans are the poor green trash of the Corps), but it also makes you constantly aware that you are watching a CGI movie. Avatar made you believe in a different world; Lantern makes you believe only in the rampant use of green screen. It’s TRON with aliens.

Which is not to say it’s terrible. In fact, I tried, at various times before, during and after the movie, to want to love it or to hate it; I could do neither.

The script, co-written by Brothers & Sisters creator Greg Berlanti, isn’t humorless, but lacks the razor wit and comic pacing of Iron Man. (The best line comes when Hal’s girlfriend, played by Blake Lively, notes that the mask does not hide his identity very well: “I’ve known you my whole life, you think I wouldn’t recognize you because you covered your cheekbones?”)

Ryan Reynolds has always been so pretty, that not being much of an actor has been inconsequential. It’s not that he can’t act, it’s that no one cares much about seeing him try. With his chiseled face and ripped, lean body, he’s nice to look at. But his puppy dog eyes and a toned-down bad-boy attitude make him somehow more appealing here.

At least Reynolds registers some personality; I practically had to consult my notes to recall that Lively was even in it. One of the weaknesses of the plot is that there are so many extraneous characters: Hal’s best friend; his fellow Lanterns; the seems-to-be-the-villain-at-first senator (Tim Robbins); the turns-out-to-be-not-much-of-a-villain nebbish (Peter Sarsgaard, who’s so weird he’s good); and the CGI villain, a Lantern run amok called Parallax. It’s a classic case of franchitis: The filmmakers are so concerned with trying to create a franchise series, they forget to make the movie in front of them.

Well, maybe not forget, but they could do a better job of letting the story play out in more epic fashion. (Berlanti writes for TV, and the script has a tendency to tie up issues in the space between where commercial breaks would go.) Stay to till after the end credits to fully appreciate where Green Lantern 2 will start.

Or don’t. It hardly matters.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens