I saw Green Lantern a while back, and I’ve been struggling since then to figure out how to write about it. I liked the movie, quite a bit. I grant some of its flaws, but for the life of me, I can’t justify the enormous piling-on of the critics who have ripped the film and given it an awful reputation. That, plus what I understand to be lackluster box office, seems to cast doubt on any hopes that Green Lantern might be the start of a franchise. Maybe DVD sales will help, but in this era of slackening DVD sales – well, I’d be surprised if the next time we see Green Lantern on the big screen will likely be a reboot that happens later rather than sooner.
Green Lantern just isn’t a bad film. It simply isn’t. Not one of its flaws is sufficient to sink it as an enjoyable experience, and I think that a lot of the harping on those flaws is downright unfair. One common complaint – too much CG! — has really become, in my view, a crutch complaint that everybody levels against everything nowadays in the movies.
But the thing is…Green Lantern is a frustrating film, because I’ve rarely seen a movie that makes so clear the ways it could have been a truly outstanding film in its genre. On the one hand, it’s a fun movie. On the other, it’s a maddening one.
I came to Green Lantern fairly virginal as far as the character goes. I knew very little about him aside from the bare bones of his origin: a hotshot pilot named Hal Jordan comes across a crashed alien spaceship, whose purple-skinned pilot hands him his green ring and the green lantern that powers the ring. In this way, Jordan becomes a Green Lantern – a member of an intergalactic police force, who uses his ring’s power to fight evil. I did read some recent comics — mostly stuff by Geoff Johns — as preparation for the movie. Some of it, I liked. Some of it (lookin’ at you, Blackest Night), I thought was just over-the-top, histrionic nonsense. But anyway….
Green Lantern casts Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, and it’s a fine performance. The character isn’t really anything we haven’t seen a lot of times before; he’s the talented but uncommitted screw-up who is given power far exceeding his apparent level of maturity and who must learn to see within himself whatever the “ring” saw. Yes, that’s a tried-and-true formula, but that’s because when done well, it really works. In Green Lantern, it does work, but not as well as it should. Why?
Well, for one thing, the film keeps taking its focus off Hal Jordan for other things. There’s a lengthy intro that tells us a lot of stuff about who the Green Lanterns are and what they do and why they do it. It’s kind of interesting, but…it’s too early for it. There’s a reason why, in Star Wars, we’re more than a half hour into the movie before the words “Jedi Knight” are ever uttered. The movie has to set up its enormous cosmic threat, a beastie called Parallax. Now, I liked the way Parallax was depicted, but I kept thinking throughout the movie that we really needed a tighter focus on Hal Jordan the whole way through.
And there’s the other problem: Parallax isn’t the only villainous force in play here; there’s a whole other villain too. A scientist is somehow infected with the “Yellow” power of fear, and becomes the initial threat that Jordan must face before Parallax finally comes to call on Earth. And here is part of my general problem with superhero movies these days: they’re all origins, all the time.
I don’t mind origin stories for superheroes; in fact, we need them, so we know who they are and why they can do the things they do and why they do them in the first place. Problems arise when, in addition to a superhero’s origin story, we also have to endure a long origin story for the villain, too. That happens here. It happens in the Spiderman movies. It’s going to happen again in the new Spiderman movie, the one that’s a reboot that will apparently treat us all to seeing Peter Parker bitten by the damn spider again.
The best superhero movies I’ve seen — Superman, the Christopher Nolan Batman films, Iron Man – don’t really bother with the origins of the villains, because they don’t really need to. We can spend time delving into Superman’s origin properly because we’re not also having to learn all about how Lex Luthor became, well, Lex Luthor. Ditto The Dark Knight — we know who Batman is, and all we need know about the Joker is that he’s a lunatic. Now, the first two Spiderman movies were still well-made, but in each case, we still had to watch long origin stories for the supervillains. And in Spiderman 3, there were two of them.
I was looking forward to Green Lantern because of the hero’s space opera nature, but it turns out that Green Lantern might have really been something special if it had omitted much of the space opera and left that for the potential sequel. I did groove on all the space stuff, but I can’t help thinking that what the movie really needed to do was tighten the focus on Hal Jordan, give him more heroic things to do, and have him square off against not quite so cosmic a villain.
:: If the Lanterns can fly through space by themselves, why does Abin Sur have a spaceship at all?
:: Why can Parallax slap aside a dozen Lanterns in one scene, and then get taken to the mat by Hal Jordan?
:: The final fight is over too soon, anyway. Jordan should have been battered and bloody well before he got to his “In brightest day….” recitation. (Which was a great moment, by the way.)
:: I loved the fact that a little mask isn’t enough to conceal Jordan’s identity from those who know him. I also loved how he tried using the Christian Bale Batman-raspy voice.
:: Some folks have complained that Sinestro’s taking of the yellow ring, during the credits, isn’t set up in the movie. See, coming at this from a non-GL fan perspective, I thought that Sinestro’s presence in the movie did nothing but set this up. It’s the only reason he’s in the movie at all. So the film is actually giving us three origin stories!
:: I loved the look of the film. It’s not nearly as ‘green’ as the commercials and posters suggest. I also didn’t find the CGI poorly done at all. But then, these kinds of complaints seem to me to usually spring from people who have an overly strong attachment to Harryhausen stop-motion stuff.
:: Having heard the score now in context of the film…it’s still a bad film score.
So there it is. I hope there’s another movie, but I’m not optimistic. But I liked this one.