Let’s get right down to it with the superhero essentials checklist. Cool powers? Check. Interesting villain? Check. Interesting girlfriend? Half a check. Aliens? Check. Fancy gala party? I’m not sure why that appears to be a crucial part of every superhero movie, but it’s here. Working through some angsty parental issues? Check. Special effects and action sequences? Maybe three-quarters of a check. Does the superhero outfit avoid looking silly? Half a check. Is the 3D worth it? No check.
Another month, another superhero, this time DC (home of Batman and Superman), not Marvel (home of the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Thor). Hal Jordan (a very buff Ryan Reynolds) is an irresponsible but irresistible rogue and a test pilot for a company that makes planes for the military. He has an on- and off relationship with the test pilot/executive daughter of the head of the company, Carol Ferris (“Gossip Girl’s” Blake Lively). When four members of the intergalactic force for peace and justice — think outer space Seal Team 6 — are killed by a creature who looks like a spider made of smoke, their special green lantern rings seek out the successors. For the first time, a human is invited to join the Green Lanterns. The alien dies, telling Hal only that he has to use the ring and lantern and say the oath. Hal tries the only oaths he can think of — pledge of allegiance, He-Man — before the ring and lantern lights up and he gets it right: “In brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s might, Beware my power… Green Lantern’s light!“
It is fun as long as you don’t think too hard. There’s so much nattering about Will versus Fear that it could have been written by Ayn Rand and directed by Leni Riefenstahl. (Carol would be right at home with Dominique and Dagny.) The Lanterns’ power includes calling into being anything they can imagine, which undercuts any peril and dramatic tension in the big confrontations. It makes the struggle internal, one of strategic imagination and determination, not the best idea for a big special effects film. The bad guys include a nerdy scientist whose exposure to the evil smoke-spider turns him into a misshapen, anger- and jealousy-driven madman, and the smoke-spider, whose surprising connection to the Lanterns makes him even more dangerous. But it seems unfocused, overly fussy and most likely re-cut following a poor reaction to an earlier version — characters like Hal’s nephew and best friend are introduced and then disappear and Angela Bassett barely appears as a scientist. Mark Strong is a skeptical alien with a ridiculous mustache and even more ridiculous dialog, and the elders look like first-draft Yodas. And everybody has father issues. What, no one has a father who’s present and supportive? Aren’t there any mothers left? Reynolds does fine as Hal but Lively never lives up to her name, swanning around in elegant sheaths and high heels but without any of the wit or energy of Gwenyth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts. The credit sequence ends with a sneak peek at the villain for the next episode. Let’s hope they have the will to call up something a little more fearless next time.