In Defense Of - Green Lantern
It makes you wonder…what did Geoff Johns think of it in the end? That is, what was his actual opinion, not the company line he has to tow as a member of DC's management.
I remember reading an article before Green Lantern came out where it said that this movie had the potential to be “the Star Wars of the DC Universe”. And it all looked so good on paper, mostly, the concept art showing otherworldly vistas, strange and unique aliens that while evoking their comic counterparts, were not slaves to them, the monstrous final form of Parallax, the Guardians, and more. Martin Campbell was directing, the guy who kick-started Bond not once but twice, each film with radically different tones. So we’re off to a good start, right?
Let’s look a little deeper, starting with the writers: Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Green. Of the three, Berlanti looked like the weakest link prior to 2011, the movie’s release year. Guggenheim had worked on Law & Order for TV and had also done a fair amount of comics work. Green had worked on genre shows such as NBC’s Heroes and Smallville. These three are credited with the screen story and screenplay…with Michael Goldenberg joining in on the screenplay. More than likely, the original trio worked on most of it, while Goldenberg was brought in to finish it up or polish it. In other words…he had it last. Goldenberg’s resume, well, the only thing I can speak to was his adaptation of Carl Sagan’s Contact, but he also did a Harry Potter film (Order of the Phoenix…I might have seen that one…not sure, they all blend together for me). Now, we couldn’t know this at the time, but Berlanti, Guggenheim and Green would team up again a year later to bring Green Arrow to TV screens to much success. That said, I wonder how much of the blame can really be assigned to them, so again, perhaps the crammed nature of the film can be laid at the feet at the guy who last had the screenplay.
There I go using the word ‘blame’…and I’m supposed to be defending the movie! Well, first thing’s first. I’m going to steer into the skid. What doesn’t work? Let’s start out with the first thing that anyone will notice: Ryan Reynolds. Hey, I like the guy, he’s charming…but I don’t think he’s Hal Jordan (he'd totally work as the Flash though!). I see what the casting director was going for…I really do…because there are images from the Silver Age Green Lantern stories where, wow, Hal really looks like Ryan Reynolds. (Fun Fact, Silver Age Hal Jordan was actually modelled after Paul Newman.) But a conflux of things just made him a bad choice. See, Iron Man had come out just prior…and Robert Downey Jr.’s turn as a hero that was such a jerk…and yet you loved him anyway…well, it’s Hollywood, if something comes out and is successful, you mimic the hell out of it. And yes, Hal is supposed to be confident, willful and cocksure. He’s supposed to have that quip and charm and swagger. But he’s not an asshole. Ultimately, you have to like him…and whether it was how the part was written or if Reynolds was trying to take a page from Downey or what…his Hal just doesn’t work. You only really start to pull for him toward the end of the film…and that’s a long time to ask an audience to wait for someone to grow on them, they just don’t have the attention span for that, nor do you really have time for it in a two hour movie. You gotta want to root for this guy for within the first 5 minutes he’s on screen or you can forget about it. To borrow and paraphrase, “That’s the way Chris Reeve did it, that’s the way Marvel’s done it…and it’s worked out pretty well so far.” Actors that spring into my mind that could’ve done this right off the bat include Nathan Fillion (who has since voiced Hal Jordan not once but twice!) and Bradley Cooper.
Counter-point: And that’s a shame too…since so much of the rest of the cast DOES work. Having never seen her in anything before, I initially had worries about Blake Lively…but I was impressed. I thought she did well, and, yeah, I thought she was pretty hot too (and looks better as a brunette than a blonde I must say, still, I’m predisposed to darker hair, so your mileage my vary). Taika Waititi was fantastic as Tom Kalmaku…such a shame his screen-time was so short. Temuera Morrison as Abin Sur, Geoffrey Rush as Tomar Re and the late Michael Clarke Duncan as Kilowog…all very well done. Yes, I know that some of the reviews blasted the opening exposition, but honestly, how can you complain about Geoffrey Rush’s voice setting up the story? Duncan was probably as close as to a real-life Kilowog as one could possibly imagine. Clancy Brown as the voice of Parallax…hell, if you’ve heard any of his voice work, most notably the DCAU’s Lex Luthor…fine choice, ‘nuff said. And, dear god, you will NEVER find an actor more fit to play Sinestro than Mark Strong.
You’ll notice I left out Hector Hammond. I wish the movie had too. And that’s not to be critical of Peter Sarsgaard, but the character feels superfluous. He’s an afterthought…not a threat. That’s a shame, because Hammond is a classic GL villain and he IS a threat. But Hector does illustrate the other main problem with the movie; there’s A LOT of stuff smooshed in here. I mean, there’s WAAAAAAY too much crammed in here for one movie. The film asks you to accept the following, in order, in the span of two hours: a group of galactic peace keepers employed by immortal blue midgets, a soul-sucking fear monster, a weapon of great power and responsibility left to someone who, up to this point, has been shown to be an asshole with childhood daddy issues, said asshole gets all of 5 minutes (10 tops) of training before he gets his ass kicked by a friend of his predecessor then runs home, oh, by the way scientist gets infected with part of aforementioned fear monster turning him into a telepath/telekinetic, scientist (who also has daddy issues) uses his powers to get back at his dad only to be stopped by asshole’s Standard Superhero First Public Appearance ™, looming threat of fear monster, scientist and asshole show down, asshole appeals to midgets he ran out on for help, they say no, asshole goes home and beats fear monster anyway…and finally realizes he should stop being an asshole. That…that’s a lot! Break that up and let it have room to breathe and hell, you’ve got at least two movies!
Movie 1. Heck, leave at least the first 15 minutes of the movie alone. The setup was fine. Exposition as to who the Lanterns are, Parallax was a threat beaten by Abin Sur, whoops…he gets set free, everything that leads to Abin Sur crashing to earth. While this establishes the looming threat of Parallax, it will also play into Hector Hammond…that is, if we keep him. And my comments really only pertain to the cosmic stuff. The establishment of Hal Jordan? We’re gonna want to rewrite that, well, that is if you don’t go with the extended cut’s opening. I did like how we see what Hal’s childhood trauma is and how it plays into his fear and his eventual ability to overcome it. Classic hero arc stuff there. But our intro to adult Hal “Asshole” Jordan leaves much to be desired and could stand a rewrite. The arc of this first movie though should have really focused on Hal’s training to be a GL, learning of the larger universe out there and the wonder of it only to be called home to face the menace of Hammond, as mutated by the sample of Parallax within Abin Sur’s corpse.
Movie 2. The defeat of Hammond draws Parallax’s attention to a world in Sector 2814 rife with fear…possibly enough to grant him enough power to finally overcome the Guardians. You see where this is going…the fight with Parallax. You make it grand…you make it at least 2-3 battle set pieces. This is a planet devouring enemy here…the fight against it deserves to take a good amount of time, certainly more than what was afforded it in the GL movie as we got it. But this is where you also introduce the concept of Sinestro wanting to turn the strength of the enemy on itself and forging of the Yellow Ring. Thus, this movie would end as the GL movie we did end up getting did, Sinestro putting on the Yellow Ring. This, naturally leads up to the third movie being Hal vs Sinestro.
I know I’m kinda tearing this apart, but here’s my argument, the vision. This movie was ambitious with a sweeping vision and even though it tried to do too much with too little time, other movies have done far, far worse. While it missed the mark when it came to casting the hero, so many of the others worked and worked fantastically. The effects, I felt, were solid. The only weak spot was the CG costumes as they were just too busy…and all that activity did was to draw your attention to the fact that they weren’t real. There’s nothing wrong with CG costumes, heck, the Iron Man films and Man of Steel have put them to effective if not great use. The trick is, well, the same as everything else, keep it simple, stupid. The aforementioned examples worked because they dealt with armor, it was plates that moved. GL tried to do too much…suits that actually showed muscle fibers. Ugh. No. That’s too much. Think about it, the constructs, Tomar and Kilowog, the Guardians and especially Parallax all turned out pretty well. The only other time I can think of a world-devouring menace was addressed in live action (thus, sadly, this excludes Unicron) was Galactus in the second Fantastic Four movie…and that was just as a shapeless cloud that pretty much disappointed everyone. Here, Parallax has shape and form, inhabited by the souls of those he’s devoured and topped with the distorted, giant head of the Guardian he’d corrupted in the first place (and I do have to admit, I’m still not thrilled they chose Krona for that role). Parallax looks like a real and dangerous threat, an entity of fear that certainly practices what he preaches. He makes Fox and Marvel’s attempt to bring life to Galactus look like a galactic fart in comparison.
The problem with the movie is also its saving grace…there’s just so many ideas, so many visually interesting ideas worthy of more time but were unfortunately crammed into one 2 hour film. This movie deserved a second chance to course correct. Hell, even Ghost Rider got a sequel…and it was significantly shittier. I would compare this argument to passing someplace you have always wanted to go repeatedly in a car. You catch a glimpse of it over and over and you always want to stop but can’t. You think of what it must be like there, how cool it would be and part of you wonders if it could possibly live up to what you’re constructing in your mind. That’s Green Lantern. It shows you things you’d love to see more of or investigate further, then yanks you away to show you something else and never goes back…leaving you only to imagine what could’ve been. While that sounds negative, the glimpses you get are worth it and are more than enough to fire up the imagination.