Eons ago, in a distant universe, alien lifeforms known as the Guardians of the Universe, discovered and harnessed the green power of will. The Guardians forged emerald rings of power, and sent one of each to all 3,600 sectors of the universe. The rings searched for worthy beings to wear them and become protectors of their sectors, and become Green Lanterns. The most formidable warrior of the Green Lanterns, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), defeated and imprisoned Parallax, a horrible being powered by the yellow power of fear. 6 months later three aliens, unaffiliated with the Green Lantern Corps, crash land on a planet in the Lost Sector. The three crash through the planet's surface and find Parallax encased in Green Amber. Parallax awakens and quickly consumes the energy of the three, leaving nothing more than a pile of lifeless bones. He breaks free from his bonds and escapes into space.
Brash and cocky Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), awaken to find a beautiful girl in his bed. He glances at the clock, it's almost 7:30; he's late. He frantically dresses himself, excuses himself from the girl and jumps into his muscle car. Hal simultaneously drives and lazily wraps a birthday present sitting in his lap. After nearly causing a few wrecks, Hal arrives at the Ferris Aerospace proving ground, where he works as a test pilot. He briefly argues with former girlfriend, test-pilot and now boss Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) who is disappointed with his lack of professionalism. The two take to the skies, where they face a pair of prototype UAVs. The artificial intelligence of the UAVs are impossible to beat, and Carol is swiftly shot down in the simulation. Hal, unwilling to lose, flies his aircraft 50,000 feet straight up, with both UAV's in hot pursuit. The three craft stall out. Hal manages to beat both UAV's before his F-35 goes into a deadspin. Hal looks at a Polaroid of his father (Jon Tenney) mounted at the front of his cockpit, and is swept up in a harsh memory. Hal, 12, watches as his Dad climbs into the cockpit of another experimental aircraft. Before taking off, he passes Hal his prized flight jacket for safe-keeping. The father's jet explodes on takeoff, killing him. Hal comes to, and realizes that there's nothing to do to save his plane. He ejects, and watches the plane explode below. Back at the office, everybody is enraged at Hal; the government is pulling out of the contract, and most of the Ferris' employees will be losing their jobs.
Abin Sur, piloting a spacecraft, receives a transmission from Thall Sinestro (Mark Strong) who delivers bad news: Parallax has escaped and killed many, defeating the purpose of Abin's current mission. The transmission cuts out just as Parallax overtakes the ship, and mortally injures Abin. Abin Sur escapes via an escape pod, and as a final transmission tells that he will find the nearest inhabitable planet to begin the selection process. Abin crash-lands on a beach, and speaks to his ring, telling it to find a worthy recipient. Suddenly a green orb expands from the ring and shoots into the distance.
Hal arrives at the birthday party for his nephew, carrying the haphazardly wrapped birthday present. Hal's brothers are shocked at Hal's cavalier attitude, after hearing of his plane crash, and fear that Hal is only going to die the same way their father did. Hal ignores their advice and heads up to the birthday boy's room. He gives the kid a model airplane that he received from his father. Hal heads outside and is suddenly struck by the glowing green orb. He is encapsulated by it and is flown a hundred miles away, where he finds Abin Sur's wrecked ship, and the injured, but still-alive pilot, inside. He tells Hal to take the ring and the lantern-shaped battery concealed within the ship; to place the ring inside the lantern and say the oath. Abin Sur dies. In a state of shock, Hal calls his best friend, and Ferris engineer, Thomas, (Taika Waititi) to pick him up. Thomas arrives in his Jeep, and is shocked to see a UFO sitting on the beach. Hal has buried Abin Sur and wants to get out of there. A pair of black helicopters appear on the horizon. Hal and Thomas hurriedly escape with the ring and lantern.
Hal arrives at his apartment and examines the ring and battery. His doorbell rings, it's Carol, and she wants to discuss the day's events. Hal, wanting to keep the lantern secret, insists that they go to a bar to talk. At the bar, the two rekindle a bit of their former chemistry, until Carol asks Hal why he stalled out during the flight test. Hal abruptly ends the date and heads out to his car, where three now-former Ferris employees attack him. Hal, now injured, goes to punch one of them, but instead takes out all three with a giant, glowing green fist. He is once again overtaken by the glowing green orb and is propelled up and out of the earth's atmosphere. Entering space, Hal arrives at a wormhole, and everything goes white.
Hal awakens in a massive, reflective room, dressed head to toe in a pulsating green suit. Surprised by his new found threads, Hal poses in front of a mirror, unaware that another green-clad being is standing the room. He turns and sees Tomar-Re (voice by Geoffrey Rush); a fish-like alien who is pleased to see that Hal's translator is working properly. He welcomes Hal to Oa, the planetary base of the Green Lantern Corps. He gives Hal a tour of Oa and teaches him the principles of constructs (creating objects out of pure thought). He meets Kilowog, (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan) his combat-trainer and Sinestro. Kilowog dreams up a number of scenarios, including a small sun, whose gravitational pull almost pulls Hal in. Kilowog explains that "the larger you are, the faster you burn up." After having a bleak conversation with Sinestro, Hal feels unfit for this power, and returns to Earth.
Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a balding, unremarkable scientist eats his dinner while playing chess on his computer. A newspaper clipping featuring Carol Ferris sits on his desk. He is interrupted by a pair of black-suited men, who have been ordered to retrieve him. Hector is blindfolded in the government SUV and whisked away to a secret government installation, where he meets Dr. Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett). She shows him the retrieved remains of Abin Sur and tells him that he was summoned because of his extensive background in xenobiology. Hector performs an autopsy on Abin Sur's body, and probes the deep injury caused by Parallax. A glowing yellow mass in Abin Sur's chest attacks Hector's finger, infecting him. That night Hector tosses and turns in bed. He hears strange voices. The next day he teaches a class at the University on Xenobiology. Most students barely pay attention, while the visibly ill Hector trips over the coursework. A single student thinks of Hector insultingly. Hector hears the thoughts, and telekinetically tosses the kid across the room. He heads home and is soon visited by his father, Senator Robert Hammond (Tim Robbins). It is revealed that the Senator negotiated to let Hector perform the alien autopsy. He feigns enthusiasm for his son, but secretly thinks negative thoughts about him. Hector reads his thoughts and leaves.
Hal arrives home, and is about to take the ring off when he see's his father's flight jacket and is reminded of his sense of duty. He keeps the ring on. That evening Ferris Aerospace is having a company party, celebrating the acquisition of the government contract. At the party Hal is surprised that his antics from earlier didn't cost them the contract. Carol remarks that Hal exposed a flaw in the UAV prototypes, which they've fixed; pleasing the government. Carol's father, Carl (Jay O. Sanders) starts the party by announcing Carol as his successor as Ferris' CEO. In the audience Hal and Hector look on. The two have a brief exchange, wherein both confess feelings for Carol. Senator Hammond takes the stage and praises both Carol and Hal, for being doers and not thinkers. This enrages Hector (a textbook thinker). The Senator boards his helicopter, which hovers briefly over the crowd. Hector telekinetically sabotages a beer-tap, sending it into the helicopter's tail rotor. The helicopter spins out of control and nearly kills dozens. Hal appears, clad in his green suit and mask. He constructs a green hot-wheels car and ramp, and leads the helicopter to safety. A large chunk of construction comes raining down onto Carol. Hal casts a protective green dome over her, saving her. He lifts the unconscious Carol into the air, passes her to her father, and takes off.
On Oa, Sinestro learns that Parallax is growing. He and dozens of other Green Lanterns track down Parallax to a distant planet being consumed by the monstrous being. The Lanterns attempt to trap Parallax but find that he is too powerful to be stopped. Many Lanterns die and the survivors return to Oa. Sinestro visits the Guardians and tells them that Parallax's next destination is Oa. The Guardians tell him that Parallax was once a Guardian as well. The original Guardians, upon their inception, chose to harness the green energy of will over the yellow power of fear. One of the Guardians betrayed the others and absorbed yellow energy, becoming Parallax, and will continue growing in strength and size as long as there is life to consume in the universe.
Hal awakens to find Thomas knocking on his door. Thomas insists that Hal show him the suit and mask. Hal places his ring in the lantern and dons his green energy suit. Thomas jokes that since he is now the superhero, he needs the girl. Hal visits Carol in her office, and despite attempts to conceal his voice and identity, Carol recognizes him. The two fly off, and discuss Hal's new-found powers. Unbeknownst to them both, Hector surveils them from his car. Hal returns Carol to her office, while Hector returns home. At home, Hector's brain grows grotesquely, contorting his skull into a disgusting mass. The next day Hector awakens to find Waller in his apartment. She tells him that they've discovered a second, yellow, alien life form inside of Abin Sur's body, and that Hector is infected with it. Hector touches Waller and telepathically absorbs all of her memories.
They all visit the lab, where Hector finds his father horrified by his appearance. He insists that together they can make Hector healthy again. Hector responds that he loves the way he is, and forcibly grabs the Senator's arms and face, before being sedated. Hector awakens on a surgical table, surrounded by his father, Waller, and various doctors. As they are about to cut into him, he telekinetically frees himself, and sends the Senator and Dr. Waller flying into the air. Hal arrives, frees Waller but watches as Hector burns his father alive, killing him. Hal and Hector fight one-on-one and the fight ends with both laying on the ground side-by-side. Hector touches Hal and absorbs his memories, where he learns of his love for Carol. Hal manages to break free from Hector's bonds and touches him back. Flashes of Parallax fill his mind, and Hal learns that Hector has been taken over by him. In the distance Parallax is aware of Hal and speaks to him, and tells him that he is now coming to earth. Defeated, Hector escapes.
The following day Hal sits in his apartment with Thomas and Carol. Hal fears that he isn't powerful enough to beat Parallax. Carol instills confidence in Hal, saying that the ring chose him for a reason. While he may not be fearless, he has the courage to overcome fear.
On Oa, Sinestro suggests to the Guardians that they only way they can beat Parallax is to use yellow energy and operate by way of fear. The Guardians forge a yellow ring, and Sinestro is about to wear it when Hal arrives, telling them of Earth's impending doom. He pleads for assistance, but is given none, as the Guardians and green lanterns have no way to beat Parallax. Hal insists that they not be run by fear, and takes off.
On Earth Hal is summoned to the Ferris' aircraft hangar. Inside he discovers Hector, now grotesquely deformed and confined to a wheelchair. Floating twenty feet in the air is Carol; a syringe of the Parallax serum hovers centimeters over her throat. Hal offers Hector the ring in exchange for Carol's life. Hector greedily accept the offer, and dons the ring. He spins around, aims the ring at a wall, and blows it up. Happily, Hector aims the ring at Hal, citing that he's changed his mind and will be killing them both. He fires, but the shot bounces off of Hal and rebounds onto Hector. Hal explains that you can't choose to wear the ring, but that the ring chooses you. Out of Hector's trance Carol plummets to the ground, and is caught by Hal. The syringe shatters. Parallax arrives, and proceeds to destroy the hangar. Hector cowers as Parallax hovers above. Parallax punishes Hector for his inability to kill Hal, and sucks the life out of him, leaving him as nothing more than a lifeless corpse. Hal runs to Hector's remains, to reclaim the ring but is overtaken by Parallax, who begins to suck the life out of Hal. Carol hurriedly makes her way to an armory console and fires numerous rockets at Parallax, breaking it's trance. Hal reclaims the ring, dons the suit, rescues Carol, and the two flee as Parallax destroys the hangar.
At the city center Parallax is destroying all in its path and consuming fleeing pedestrians. Hal arrives and battles Parallax using a variety of constructs. Parallax overtakes Hal who barely has enough strength to create a containment dome over his head. Hal repeats the Green Lantern oath, and pushes Parallax back. Hal constructs a jet engine which he attaches himself to, and flies up into, and through Parallax, into space. Hal remembers his training with Kilowog and flies directly for the Sun, while he dodges missiles and shots from Parallax. Hal recalls that larger things burn faster. He hovers in front of the sun, with Parallax in hot pursuit. Hal constructs a pair of fighter jets, attached to him by a pair of tow cables. Parallax is soon sucked in by the Sun's gravitational pull, while Hal hovers a few hundred feet away. Parallax attempts to kill Hal numerous times, but it soon sucked into the Sun completely, where it is destroyed. Hal loses consciousness and drifts toward the sun, but is swiftly saved by a bundle of green ropes tossed his way. Sinestro, Kilowog, and Tomar-Re have arrived, and save Hal. On Oa, Sinestro praises the bravery of Hal along with the rest of the Green Lantern corps.
Hal returns to the Earth, where he converses with Carol. He tells her that his new job will require him to travel pretty often, but that he'll still be around. The two kiss, and Hal takes off into the upper atmosphere, and then space.
NOTE: In an end-credit scene: Sinestro turns the yellow ring of fear in his fingers. He pries his green ring off and replaces it with the yellow ring. His suit becomes yellow, along with his eyes, and the symbol of fear appears over his chest.
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