Although I first started reading Green Lantern comics in 2005 when Hal Jordan made his return, I've been catching up on GL history recently by reading the Showcase Presents phonebook that includes Hal's first 20 comics. The early stories successfully blend the superhero genre with 60's-style science fiction into a unique and fun amalgamation. At first, the comics were based on Earth, with Green Lantern fighting normal criminal shmoes by himself. But the writers quickly (and correctly) realized Green Lantern's sci-fi coolness potential, and the comic became more about Hal teaming up with other alien Green Lanterns on intergalactic, cross-dimensional, and futuristic adventures.
Let's keep this in mind: the key to a cool Green Lantern story is for it to be a fun space adventure with Hal teaming up with alien Green Lanterns. The more time spent in space (or another dimension, whatever) with cool alien Lanterns, the cooler the story. Hal fighting an Earth-bound menace is a waste of the character's potential. You usually find him in more sci-fi situations like defending people from the future from a race of giant gila monsters, or helping Tomar Re save his world from invading super-monsters.
As for this movie, you likely know much of the story already. It opens with alien Green Lantern Abin Sur fighting an intergalactic evil power, Parallax. Sur gets the worst of the fight, and manages to escape on his space ship to crash-land on Earth. Sur is dying so he requests the weapon of the Green Lantern, the power ring, to choose one who is "without fear" as a replacement. It chooses human Hal Jordan: the best test pilot in these here parts, who is also in trouble with his superiors over his brash behavior. After that drama, as well as his initial training with fellow Lanterns Kilowog and Sinestro on the homeworld of Oa, Hal has doubts about his ability to cut it in the Corps. But with Hector Hammond's dangerously evolving psychic abilities and Parallax closing in on Earth, Hal has to make a decision quickly if he wants to save his planet.
Green Lantern is a dichotomy of a movie: on Earth, the movie is a somewhat standard superhero flick, but when we leave Earth we're treated to exciting outer space adventures.
On Earth, Green Lantern is on the same level as most other superhero movies as it suffers many of the same cliches and problems of the genre: Hal is yet another self-doubting superhero, Hector Hammond is yet another villain with personal ties to the hero, and there's little that is visually exciting or fun. You've likely seen this stuff countless times before, from Spiderman to Batman Begins to Thor. Despite this, I wouldn't say that the Earth scenes are awful. Hal is a likable hero, with moments of self-parodying comic relief that are more effective and not as eye-roll inducing as in Thor. And there are a few moderately cool eye-candy-driven action sequences on Earth as Hal fights Hector Hammond. All this would have put the movie on the same level as most other superhero movies... if it didn't have its fun space element.
As in the comics, it's in space where Green Lantern really flies. Everything that happens off-Earth is visually incredible. The opening montage, along with Abin Sur's fight and flight, brings a tear to this fan's eye, as does Hal's sweet uniform. But the most fun is in visiting Oa and meeting its stunning alien Lanterns. Avatar and the Star Wars prequels could learn a lot about creature design by watching this movie. We get precious few scenes showing the alien Lanterns in action, which is a shame, but I understand that this movie needs to introduce the audience to Hal Jordan. I was pleased to discover that Sinestro's character development appropriately positions him in his role for the supposed sequel, though.
Ultimately, the juxtaposition between the exciting outer space adventure with the generic Earth-bound conflict is the movie's main flaw. When the fun we have with Green Lantern in outer space is interrupted by the same old superhero stuff on Earth, it just reminds me how dull most superhero movies actually are, especially compared with their comic book counterparts.
Hector Hammond is somewhat superfluous and I resent him being in the movie because he's an element that draws the movie back to Earth when I really want to stay in space. He wouldn't have been a bad villain in another movie, but what is really important in Green Lantern is Parallax.
Sure, Parallax is just another evil Earth-destroying space cloud, similar to what you've seen in The Day the Earth Stood Still and Rise of the Silver Surfer. But Parallax is way cooler than either of his predecessors. The boiling and churning skeletal souls that comprise Parallax's cloud is a really cool effect. Also, the fact that Parallax actually has a face that interacts with Hal helps to make him more of a character than an amorphous blob. But he still had too much of a space cloud design; I would have preferred a kaiju-like monster design instead.
OverallGreen Lantern is one of the few comic book movies that's able to capture some of the abstract absurdity of the comic book medium into a live action movie... albeit a strangely bisected movie. While on Earth, the movie barely keeps itself from sinking in its generic superhero cliches with a likable hero and a few cool action sequences. It's when Green Lantern zooms off into the cosmos that the movie is distinctively fun and visually incredible. I can't wait check out Oa on Blu-ray.
Although I'm excited at how much fun I had with this movie, I'm very disappointed with the reception it has been getting. Honestly, I just don't know what critics and audiences want in a comic book movie. Maybe they don't read comics and don't like the concepts. Maybe people are so vested in the Marvel universe that they can't see out of it. Maybe space-driven science fiction that's not Star Wars or Star Trek is no longer a viable genre at the box office. Whatever is happening here, it just proves that I'm out of it in terms of current cinematic trends.