Green Lantern is a superhero movie that is very much for comic-book geeks. The title character comes to the screen with more mythological baggage than most: the Guardians of the Universe, a super-ancient race of philosopher-kings who live on the planet Oa; the Green Lantern Corps, with their power rings that run on the green energy of will-power; the dangerous contrary yellow energy of fear. Rather than try to minimize its comic-book silliness, Green Lantern embraces it, from the mostly straight-faced storytelling to the computer-augmented hyper-reality of the production design, which looks more comic-booky than any superhero movie I can think of, including this spring's Thor.
If only the filmmakers had put as much creative energy into the character of Hal Jordan as they did into his lovingly rendered CGI-enhanced suit, which pulses and glows as it hugs every bulge and swell on Ryan Reynolds' impressively sculpted torso. Impressed with the popular success of Iron Man, they've turned their hero into the big-screen Tony Stark's screw-up kid brother, an irresponsible, wisecracking, self-destructive womanizer with absent-daddy issues who flies military planes instead of running a military contracting firm.
Counting Thor, that's three recent comic-book bad-boy heroes who need to grow up and learn responsibility. Of the three, only Iron Man's flawed hero is persuasively humbled, hits rock bottom, is forced to face the consequences of his irresponsible ways and fundamentally reexamine his priorities. When Hal encounters a dying alien warrior who entrusts him with an awesome power ring, he does ask some uncomfortable questions about himself. As with Thor, though, there's no moment of truth like Tony's experience in that terrorist camp—or like Peter Parker holding his dying uncle, for instance. When Hal suddenly starts acting like a noble superhero, it doesn't feel earned.
Complicating matters is the element of destiny or fate. Unlike Tony Stark, a manifestly flawed man whose power came from necessity and invention, Hal was chosen for great power by the ring itself, which (we're told) never makes mistakes. Thus, Hal must already have the makings of a hero—but why? It's a question that baffles him, his friends, the Green Lantern Corps, the audience, and perhaps the filmmakers, who offer a few unconvincing stabs at an answer. "Maybe on their planet 'responsible' means 'a—hole,'" muses Hal's friend Tom Kalmaku (Taika Waititi). Real friends tell you the truth.
There are some redemptive flashes. I like the way Hal's first response on seeing the dying alien, after a moment of shock, is to leap into action to try to save him, with no thought of risk—and how, genuinely distraught when the alien dies, Hal buries him, telling Tom that he couldn't leave him lying there. In the comics Hal is originally chosen for his fearlessness, but the movie goes beyond this, invoking the idea of courage as acting in spite of fear rather than as its absence. (In Christian tradition, burying the dead is one of the seven corporal works of mercy, while courage is one of the four cardinal virtues.)