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Green Lantern

Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan, Clancy Brown

(Warner Bros.; US theatrical: 17 Jun 2011 (General release); UK theatrical: 14 Jun 2011 (General release); 2011)

Carol (Blake Lively) is a jet pilot at the start of Green Lantern. Apparently she’s a pretty good one, called on to vie with super-new remote-controlled fighters built by her dad’s aircraft company. Carol understands the value of the government contract to build a lot of these YF-32s, but she’s also competitive and proud. And so she’s mad when her fellow flyer, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) shows up late to the test. You know he’s had a late night with a forgettable girl he’s just left in his bed in order to race over to the airfield. Carol knows something else, that the new planes are formidable. “There’s nothing you can do that they can’t do better, faster, and without disappointing women everywhere.”


Okay, so Carol has a chip on her shoulder, having spent a night or two in Hal’s bed. But she’s a game wingman and trusting despite all she knows, which means she’s surprised when, during the test, Hal uses her as bait in order to beat the machines. In the next scene, Carol’s no longer wearing a flight suit, but instead, has gone comic-booky corporate: high heels and pencil skirt. “What’s with the ridiculous suit?” Hal harrumphs, urging her not to give up piloting. Carol argues that her options are more complex, not only one or the other, “the way a child sees the world.”


But Carol is wrong. In fact, she’s living in exactly that world. And so, instead of piloting planes, she’ll be playing the girl’s part from this moment forward: she’ll be wearing the “ridiculous suit,” advising the hero, and waiting to be rescued.


Carol’s is only one of many parts that go wrong in Green Lantern. A film at once too expository and too nonsensical, it begins with a lengthy prologue spoken over CGI-ed planets and stars, to describe a perennial battle between will and fear. The proponents of will glow green and belong to a special corps called the Green Lanterns. They number 3600, each assigned to look after a sector of the universe, and wear green rings that have “chosen” them to keep “peace, order, and justice.” All this is exactly as tedious as it sounds, a too-tidy moral order that sets will against fear, which is, by the way, colored yellow.


It also very conveniently corresponds with Hal’s psyche. During his piloting test, he runs into his own issue with fear, rendered in the form of a frankly horrific flashback. As little Hal (Gattlin Griffith) watches his pilot father (Jon Tenney) explode in a fiery ball, the adult Hal loses control of his own plane. Hmmm, wonder what issue he’ll resolve once he’s chosen by a green ring and will be called on to save earth from the fear-monger monster Parallax (voiced by Clancy Brown). That’s not to say the film pretends to sort out any broader issues, say, the contest between will and fear that had such real-world effects following 9/11. Rather, Green Lantern lays out a series of other, equally familiar will-vs.-fear scenarios, most having to do with kids and their dads (again, a common way of configuring thepos-9/11 debates).


If Hal is hung up on memories of his dad (a point underlined by one of his disappointed brothers, who appears for just 20 seconds in order to complain: “Do you want to be like him so much that you want to die!?”), Carol has her own issues: her corporate mucky-muck father (Jay O. Sanders) is in bed with a senator (Tim Robbins) so they might build lots of weapons and make lots of money (and yes, again, the post-9/11 U.S. wars and economy are referents). It happens that the senator has an underachieving biologist son, Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), whom he tries to prop up with an assignment, namely, analyzing an alien corpse after it’s crash-landed on earth. This leads to poor, fearful hector’s infection with more fear, courtesy of Parallax, and so, well, you know what color he turns.


The route to the inevitable showdown between forces is long and windy and deeply uninteresting. Multiple minor figures come and go, each dealing with his or her own will-fear imbalance. Perhaps the most poorly used is a government-employed scientist, Amanda Wallace (Angela Bassett), who leads Hector to the alien corpse and tries to explain to him how the world works, namely, that people with money keep secrets and tough toasties for anyone else, say, scientists who see themselves as “seekers of truth” but really only do what they’re told so they can have access to expensive facilities.


Wallace’s version is not unlike Carol’s, complex and sad and frustrated (and she has her reasons, rendered in a flashback that’s as trite as it is cheaply made). That they must repeatedly explain such things to the men around them is certainly not news. But it ensures that compared to Green Lantern‘s many other problems—including cheesy CGI, simplistic hero, and decidedly un-awesome aliens—its treatment of its girls, ranging from a naked sex toy to a pilot to a research scientist, is most exasperating and yes, childlike.

Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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