True story: The first time I saw a trailer for the new Green Lantern movie (2011, directed by Martin Campbell), a little girl a couple of rows behind me said to her parents: "That's not right! Green Lantern is black!" All hail the power of television, because the John Stewart iteration from Justice League is the version of the character that has had the most mass-media exposure, in spite of DC Comics' best efforts. John Stewart supposedly makes an appearance in the movie, but I didn't spot him. Perhaps as a kind of sop for going back to a whitebread Green Lantern, the movie makes room for Amanda Waller, head of DC's version of S.H.I.E.L.D., but it doesn't solve what may be a fundamental miscalculation on the part of the filmmakers if their intent is to build a franchise on a familiar character, because the Hal Jordan iteration of Green Lantern hasn't been the dominant one to the world at large for more than a decade.
I realize that I'm speaking in code. I apologize to any non-comics geeks out there. But then, this is the kind of movie that's really tailored for an audience of comics nostalgists with deep knowledge of the material. If a general audience can penetrate its mysteries, well, bully for them.
The story here finds irresponsible test pilot Hal Jordan being recruited into the Green Lantern Corps, an organization of interstellar police, just as the Corps faces its greatest challenge. After an encounter with the entity, Parallax, the lantern, Abin Sur, crashes on Earth. Abin Sur has been mortally wounded and he instructs his ring to find a replacement. Green Lanterns get their power from their will, and must be without fear. The ring brings Hal Jordan to Abin Sur, who tells him the bare minimum of what he needs to know. Soon, the ring also bears Jordan to Oa, the planet of the Guardians where the Green Lantern Corps are headquartered. The birdlike alien, Tomar-Re trains him in the use of his ring, which creates anything he can imagine out of the green energy of willpower. Back on Earth, the body of Abin Sur is examined by the government and Dr. Hector Hammond, who becomes infected with the remnants of the Yellow force that killed the Lantern. He becomes a proxy for Parallax. Meanwhile, Jordan is not making a good impression and eventually returns to Earth in the face of a duty he doesn't think he can handle. Unfortunately for Jordan, he's the only thing standing between Parallax and the destruction of the Earth...
As superheroe movies go, Green Lantern has an unusually large scope. It's the superhero movie as space opera and as such, it concerns itself with eye-drugging special effects. This is a nice change of pace even though this is yet another would-be franchise flick which tangles itself up with a need to give its hero an origin story, but it's an awkwardness of the form, I guess. For what it's worth the movie LOOKS great. I'm also impressed that the movie is able to depict the Green Lantern Corps itself without veering into ridiculousness, but maybe a little ridiculousness would have helped things. There's too much angst in this film and not enough genuine fun. It also indulges in naked franchise building, which may prove embarrassing if the movie tanks. I'd forgive all of this if I actually liked the central character. But I don't. This is a combination of casting and depiction: Hal Jordan is a douchebaggy dude-bro, played by an actor in Ryan Reynolds who has specialized in these kinds of characters. I dunno, maybe Reynolds is a victim of genetics and has been given a face that's incapable of anything other than a self-satisfied smirk or a pouty frowny face. This is sometimes the case with really good-looking actors.
The interesting characters in the movie are the peripheral characters. You could build entire universes around, say, Kilowog, the hulking alien Lantern charged with training Jordan in combat, or around Sinestro, the character the movie sets up as Jordan's arch nemesis for future movies. Or even Carol Ferris, who is a successful woman in her own right in a sphere dominated by men. The movie reduces her to the role of hero's girlfriend, unfortunately. Blake Lively is pretty good as Ferris, actually. Amanda Waller is the most suggestive character in the movie, given that she seems to have the backing of several shadowy organizations, though some of her screen presence stems from Angela Bassett, who has, by far, the most star-presence of any actor in the movie no matter how the filmmakers downplay it. Unfortunately for the movie, the arch villain of the piece, Parallax is underwhelming.
Parallax, it should be noted is a singular failure of imagination. He's another world-devouring entity that's depicted as an amorphous cloud a la Galactus in the second Fantastic Four movie (this time with an actual face, but still...). He's a straw man, too, designed to highlight the exceptionalism of Hal Jordan. Parallax's proxy, Hector Hammond, is a lot more interesting, and when the movie is using him as a villain, it's at it's best. Arch villains should be reflections of the hero in one way or another, and Hammond fills that role as disappointed reflection of Hal Jordan. The movie makes a point of making all this about Fear vs. Willpower rather than good versus evil, but it's not fooling anyone. It's a Manichean division here, with both good and evil as abstract concepts rather than as concrete actions in the real world.
On the whole, this is a middling superhero movie and it IS professionally well-made (if you get my drift). I'm trying hard not to impose any ideas of how I think it should be made. I grew up as a fangirl at heart, but I'm trying to check that fannish sense of entitlement. But that little girl who complained about Green Lantern being white still echoes in my head, because it's emblematic of a movie that's more intent on asserting an image and a trademark--about exploiting an intellectual property--than it is with engaging the audience with an actual story and actual characters.