There are movies willed to life by the passion of their creators, and there are movies like Green Lantern, which are willed to life strictly by market forces. Superhero movies are popular right now, no one had tackled Green Lantern yet, and voilà, here’s an adaptation that only the mouse-clicking digital artisans behind the effects shots seemed to give a shit about. Beyond the undigested lump of information about the origins and purpose of the Green Lantern Corps and a new rogue force threatening the universe, the early scenes are a marvel of CGI landscaping, presenting deep space as a shimmering Technicolor arena that pops like the pages of a particularly arresting comic book. Then the film comes down to Earth, repurposes Top Gun as a superhero story, and goes through the motions with a kid-friendly arbitrariness not seen since the last Fantastic Four movie.
Returning to the Van Wilder unctuousness that he lately had successfully dialed back, Ryan Reynolds plays Hal Jordan, a hotshot fighter pilot who rides into the danger zone at every opportunity. He also ignores the rules of engagement, has more raw talent than anyone has ever seen, is haunted by his pilot father’s tragic legacy, falls for his superior (Blake Lively) on the tarmac, and would likely serenade ladies with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” if Anthony Edwards were his wingman. Hal’s raw talent (and ripped abs) are not lost on the galactic forces behind the Green Lantern Corps, a brotherhood of warriors that maintain peace in the universe. As a new enemy called Parallax threatens the balance, Hal comes into possession of a ring that gives him the power to fight back with the force of his will and imagination.
Green Lantern tries to make a case of human exceptionalism: Out of the thousand-plus species comprising the Green Lantern Corps, only Hal, the newcomer, has the humanity that can save the universe. But a message like that is hard to believe in a film so utterly lacking in conviction, it needs a 25-year-old Tom Cruise vehicle just to keep its spine straight. Peter Sarsgaard seems to be enjoying himself as a nerdy shut-in turned evil scientist, but Green Lantern otherwise goes through the motions, even when it has the chance to deploy any digital weapon its hero can imagine. In staging an interstellar battle of will vs. fear, all it can offer is a shrug.