So I enjoyed GREEN LANTERN! Honest!
If you had asked me if I had wanted to see a movie about Green Lantern, I would have been neutral, but if you had asked me if I wanted to see a movie about a giant space octopus made of fear and smoldering owl fewmets busting loose from green chains, I would have said hell yes! GREEN LANTERN is probably the most comic-book comic book movie since SPIDER-MAN . All the imagery and spirit come straight from the yellowing pages of some old comic by John Broome and Gil Kane — a boldly colored, nuance-challenged world of wonder and battle in the stars.
Perhaps its this one-dimensional world and some clunky filmmaking choices–which I’ll get to in a moment — combined with the overbearing WB marketing campaign which have helped fuel the revulsion among critics. While it isn’t a good movie, it isn’t as horrible as you may have heard, and if you can reduce your mental state to that of an 11-year-old boy, you should have no problem enjoying the spectacle.
But…there are problems. The material is inherently simplistic. GREEN LANTERN is a movie about big foreheads — Sinestro, Hector Hammond, Tim Robbins. It’s also a movie where the heroes are naive enough to think that a guy named Sinestro is an ally. And the dramatic problems with the hero, Hal Jordan, which I mentioned the other day, aren’t solved in the many hands screenplay. Nothing really challenges Hal. We’re told he’s a loser — but a loser who lives in a fantastic loft apartment overlooking Coast City, beds hot chicks at will, has a great job, is loved by his family and manages to defeat expensive government robot planes with his daring and skill. He is just the kind of loser we would all like to be.
Similarly, his character arc is a wisp of plot at best — some doubts about whether joining the space cops is going to eat into his quality time chilling in that swanky apartment lead him to briefly quit the force, but as soon as the world is threatened by a space octopus he’s back on his beat.
As someone suggested in the comments thread of my last Green Lantern post, perhaps SHOWING Hal struggling with his willpower might have been a better way to tell the story, or at least struggling with fear, or maybe some balance of the two. Ryan Reynolds is a likable guy, one look at him and you know he’s the hero. He seems to lead a charmed life in the movie, succeeding at everything he sets him mind to…a pretty boring narrative for a movie, but a great Mary Sue type character for a storyteller, perhaps.
The bigger problem, and probably what put so many people off the film, is how it simultaneously revels in its comics origins while fretting about them. It’s common knowledge that DC Entertainment’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns was the driving force behind this movie — both as the modern writer who made the character DC’s best seller, the champion of its potential and guardian of its integrity. For whatever reason, GREEN LANTERN is intent on selling its considerable mythology as a sacred text that must be presented in all its nerd glory. But it is also so worried that no one will get this mythology that it shoves it down your throat with the tone-deaf insistence of the guy from the Onion.
WHY did this movie have to open with that whole voice over explaining Oa, and the Guardians, and Parallax, and lost sectors and blah blah blah? Wouldn’t it have been better storytelling to learn about this and experience it as the hero does? Learning about these cosmic wonders through Hal’s eyes would automatically have humanized and dramatized the exposition. Instead the whole movie tells and tell and tells. It’s bad writing, period.
What it DOES show, though, is pretty cool. After viewing THOR, I complained about the pedestrian art direction — Marvel makes its movies efficiently and with an eye to the budget (something Warner Brothers was not familiar with in the making of GREEN LANTERN) — the result is an increasingly cookie cutter, plastic look.
The same cannot be said of GREEN LANTERN, which presents startling comic book imagery torn straight from the work of Gil Kane, Mart Nodell, Joe Staton and all the other great Green Lantern artists. Oa looks old and majestic, the Guardians on their towering pedestals are eerie and other-worldly. The gathered Green Lantern Corps is a milling crowd of creatures never before seen. Parallax looks GREAT, and the space scenes are beautifully animated. A world of imagination shines from the screen, and that’s what I enjoyed about this movie.
Back on Earth, GREEN LANTERN occupies the kind of glossy, lush Technicolor world that only a movie can present. It wants badly to be the first SUPERMAN movie — the first time Green Lantern flies off, the score even quotes the Superman theme — with the same kind of brisk, efficient world. It’s the flat script and hero that just don’t live up to their predecessor.
GREEN LANTERN is a harmless, well-meaning boys own adventure. For a giant, corporate potential tentpole whose every move must have been approved by committee, it has a surprisingly good heart. It’s a movie by nerds for nerds…and this time the non-nerd corp has spoken and given a big thumbs down.
PS: did anyone but me thank that Taika Waititi as Hal’s Pal Tom was supposed to look like Moss from The IT Crowd?
PPS: We’ll talk more about what GREEN LANTERN means for WB and DC in our next exciting post.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.