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[UPDATE: Upgraded from black spot to one star on the basis of the bad guy and the big finish.]

Four! Four screenwriters! There are four credited screenwriters on the new Green Lantern movie. Four writers tasked with making up an interesting story about a guy who gets handed a ring that can make stuff out of green energy, a ring that is charged up with green energy goodness by a green…wait for it…lantern. Oh, I get it: because lanterns shine a light, and remember your Sunday school, kiddies - “Everyone who does evil hates the light.”

No, wait – never mind. The light-shining thing doesn’t come into play here, because the opposite of green lantern light isn’t darkness, it’s yellow light. Green, you see, is the color of will, and yellow is the color of fear. Okay, fine. But what gets me is that the lantern doesn’t come into play, either. Let me set the scene:

Irresponsible, selfish hotshot jet pilot Hal Jordan (played here by the splendid physique and punky good looks of Ryan Reynolds) has been chosen by one of the green lantern power rings to defend his particular corner of the universe. The ring whisks him away to Planet Green Lantern, where he gets a crash course in Green Lanterning from the fishy alien Tomar-Re, voiced by Geoffrey Rush. Tomar-Re informs Jordan that the immortal Guardians have harnessed the power of will – the will of every living thing in the universe - and that this is what powers the lanterns. And the lanterns, in turn, power the ring.

Later, when Jordan attempts to model his new, skin-tight energy costume for his best friend in a scene that is not at all gay, nothing happens. Oops! Turns out the ring is out of juice, and needs to be recharged by touching the lantern.

All the elements are now in place for Foreshadowing 101: at some crucial point, the ring will run out of energy, and Jordan will need to touch the ring to the lantern in order to recharge it. But for some reason, the lantern will be just out of reach, and we will have a scene of great dramatic tension – how will our hero get to his power source?

Also: because the lantern – and therefore the ring, and therefore Green Lantern/Hal Jordan – is powered by the collective will of every living thing in the universe, there will at some point come a moment when Green Lantern’s individual power is not enough, and he will need the people he is defending to rally their wills in support of his own. The people will power our hero, and together, they will save the day. Our formerly selfish protagonist will learn a thing or two about working together – a direct rebuke of his opening performance, in which he deliberately sacrifices his wingman during a simulated dogfight. It’s not genius, but it’s solid, and hey, it’s not like they had five screenwriters.

But no. Turns out we never see the lantern again. Nor do we ever hear another word about the power of the collective will. Four screenwriters, and not one of them could be bothered to make something out of the object that gives the movie its title.

Picking out the rest of their gaffes is like picking birdshot out of a murdered sparrow – there’s so little meat remaining, you start to wonder why you’re bothering. But here are a few: when Jordan is thrown into his rough-and-tumble training session, his big lug of a trainer bellows, “You want to be a Lantern? You gotta commit to the Corps!” Well, yeah, except Jordan never said he wanted to be a Lantern. He basically got chosen and abducted. Later, the trainer says, “I’m gonna keep hitting you until your will is strong enough!” Because beating someone to a pulp is the traditional way to strengthen someone’s will.

And those are just setups for the biggie: Sinestro, a Lantern bigwig who resents Jordan’s frail humanity, gives a great big lecture about will and fear, how will is the opposite of fear, how fear compromises will and so limits a Lantern’s power. Poor Jordan gets spooked and tries to quit, until his girlfriend reminds him that he can overcome his fear through courage. Hooray! Except, isn’t courage the name we give to the act of the will that overcomes fear? Our great leap forward lands us right where we started. Unless the real lesson for today is that it’s different when you hear it from a pretty lady.

And that’s just a setup for the other biggie. When your power comes from will, and will is the opposite of fear, and there’s a big bad thing that feeds on fear coming to wipe you off the face of the universe, what do you do? According to Sinestro, the answer is clear. You have no choice: forge a yellow ring! Fight fear with fear! Makes perfect sense, say the wise Guardians of the universe. Oh, did we mention that the big bad thing used to be a Guardian himself, until he tried to master the power of fear and became the evil he wished to destroy? Sigh.

Enough. Let’s leave the writing to molder, and pass over the acting entirely. The effects, man, the effects. What of the effects? Not terrible, but day-glo and garish, I’m afraid. Clunky and tacky. The lantern should have been a masterpiece of updated steampunkery – it’s a lantern. Instead, we get this:


The ring isn’t much better – Green Lantern Class of ’11:


And for a guy who can make literally anything he can imagine into reality, our hero spends a lot of time imagining conventional hardware:


This guy is a completely superfluous foil:


But the big bad thing? Pretty big and bad:


And they managed to wow me at the finish - no small feat in these dread latter days of the endless final confrontation. So there’s that.

Final note: James Newton Howard's score was incoherent. I could tell he really wanted me to feel something, but I was was often unsure as to exactly what that something was.

Final prediction: Green Lantern will remain most notable for containing the biggest WTF sequel tease in cinematic history.

One star

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