Watching Green Lantern in 3D is like watching a glowstick through sunglasses, the already unimpressive neon goop dimmed to a murky hum of sickly light. Its dulled visual scheme matches the narrative, a story about a man chosen for the highest honor in the universe that has all the excitement of finding out one has been selected to be a Nielsen family. In fairness, this movie is not as bad as the increasingly increasingly garish X-Men: First Class, which is aging in my short-term memory like milk left out in a hot sun. Green Lantern at least lacks the pomposity and waste of recent blockbusters, but it makes up for this "shortcoming" with a stupefying lack of creativity, in a film about a hero whose power is his imagination.
The first sign of the dearth of ideas is the hero himself. The Hal Jordan of the comics, a conservative, stoic pilot without fear, is replaced with a smarmy jackass played with much-practiced knowing by Ryan Reynolds. Jordan here is nothing more than Tom Cruise's character from Top Gun, to the point that, after he becomes the titular hero and inevitably saves the day, I expected Hal to buzz the giant lantern core on the planet Oa, making the gruff drill sergeant Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan, because of course he is) spill his galactic coffee all over himself in surprise and rage. But, if wishes were horses...
Green, as we are told, is the color of willpower. But it is also the color of envy, and one doesn't need 3D glasses to see DC's intent to rip off Marvel's approach to their film franchises leap off the screen. I admit to being no expert on Hal Jordan, but even a cursory look into the character reveals an overhaul to slip into Marvel's winning formula. Hal's turn to asshattery aligns him with the wisecracking Tony Stark, while his constant hand-wringing over responsibility ties him to the self-doubting Peter Parker. The decision to make the fear parasite Parallax into a giant space cloud recalls the similarly baffling treatment of Galactus. And like Thor, it introduces an expansive, intergalactic sandbox, only to spend all its time in a banal conceptualization of Earth.
The only thing Green Lantern has to distinguish itself is its loud color palette, all bright greens and yellows with splashes of magenta and fuchsia for Sinestro and Abin Sur. But of course the 3D shaves off the candy coating for the sake of a handful of scenes with any artificial depth. Martin Campbell, a more than competent action director responsible for two of the finest and most exciting Bond movies, Goldeneye and Casino Royale, cannot find the same thrill in the lava-lamp CGI of Green Lantern's hokey powers (really? A Hot Wheels track to stop an out-of control helicopter?) and the all-too-brief forays into space where the film might have worked.
Relegated mostly to Earth, Campbell has to tread through a perfunctory romance with no-nonsense/well-maybe-some-nonsense pilot/businesswoman Carol (Blake Lively) and hysterically tacked-on daddy issues for the hero and undercooked villain Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard). I had to struggle not to laugh aloud at a particularly inappropriate time at the end of Hal's early flashbacks, a predictable and clumsily handled bit of tragedy to weigh upon Hal's shoulders as an attempt to explain away his incessant waffling.
The only true pleasures Green Lantern has to offer are the things it isn't: it isn't overlong like so many bloated franchise starters of late, coming in a good 20 minutes under two hours if you leave when the credits start (and who the hell will want to stay?). It is not self-serious, unlike, say, the "Born This Way" moralism of X-Men. But nothing that actually makes its way into the frame is of much use. The film tries to Marvelize Hal Jordan, but in the end he simply leaps from fool to fearless warrior without progression. But then, origin stories these days always fail to adequately build their franchises, and if Green Lantern is going to skip anything involving character growth and plot development, at least it truncates the running length to send us on our way sooner.
I'm almost impressed that a film this dull can avoid feeling longer than it is. But for the love of God, when is someone going to make one of these epic films with even a hint of wonder? They're superheroes, for the love of Pete; awe is what they do best. But there isn't a single moment of Green Lantern that attempts to capture the overwhelming feeling of being thrust into something unfathomably vast, and I remain ever-unsettled by Hollywood's ability to rob the universe of its grandeur. DC heroes typically lack the psychological depth of their Marvel counterparts, but an insightful film could have been made about Hal's stubbornness and two-dimensional commitment to duty. In trying to ape Marvel, Campbell and the DC team overseeing him have ironically only simplified this character further.