If anyone was wondering how far Hollywood would dig into the comic-book racks for new ideas to build summer blockbusters around, “Green Lantern” should provide the answer. It’s a superhero movie about a cocky test pilot named Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) who finds on a dying alien a glowing green ring that gives him the power to turn his thoughts into physical reality.
The catch is that everything he imagines has to be bright, pulsing green. Also, he has a weakness for the color yellow.
It sounds plenty weird, and from time to time it is: The film’s brief action sequences feature an assortment of mentally projected supersized fists as well as turret guns, life-size Hot Wheels tracks, and spring-loaded platforms designed to launch big rigs sky high. Each and every one of these imagined oddities arrives in a lovely, glowing shade of emerald.
But for a film with such a strange concept, the story and execution are awfully generic. Despite a zany concept and occasional flashes of visual ingenuity, “Green Lantern” is a by-the-numbers origin story that lacks the will to do more than offer a green-tinted rehash of superhero movies past.
Since the appearance of the first Green Lantern in 1940, DC Comics has built up an impressive but mostly incoherent mess of soap-opera-esque backstory around multiple iterations of the character. Anyone hoping to grasp the finer points of the hero’s convoluted history should be prepared to invest roughly the same amount of time and mental energy they might in earning a graduate degree.
The movie attempts to solve this problem in the most banal way possible, with an opening narration designed to give newcomers a basic overview of the Lantern mythology. At any given time, there are 3,200 Green Lanterns, each assigned to guard a designated sector of the galaxy. Each Lantern has a ring powered by the pea-colored energy that flows from the will of every living creature.
The green energy that Lanterns harness also has an opposite: yellow energy created by fear. Sure enough, it doesn’t take long before Parallax, a sort of gaseous space troll that often appears to have been constructed out of molten dreadlocks, appears to challenge the reign of the Lanterns, infecting a host — the angry Dr. Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) — with fear-fueled yellow energy along the way.
Meanwhile, Hal Jordan is running through the greatest hits of superhero movies past: He discovers his powers, enjoys experimenting at first, then undergoes training to refine his abilities. Yet he worries that his lifelong irresponsibility makes him a poor fit for the powers he’s been granted. Ultimately, with the encouragement of a pretty young girl, fellow test pilot Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), he finds within himself the will and the way to become a true hero.
The performers make do with the bland material, but only Mr. Sarsgaard manages to stand out. Director Martin Campbell, who successfully rebooted the James Bond franchise twice with both “Goldeneye” and “Casino Royale,” can’t seem to rise above the script’s limitations either.
For a movie about the power to create anything with one’s mind, “Green Lantern” is depressingly unimaginative — a big-budget blah of a film that appears to be driven less by superpowered will than by old-fashioned formula and fear.