When you’ve spent as much time as I have watching TV/films and wikipedia-ing stuff, you have a third sense about upcoming movies. Sight. You see the ads and you can tell whether they will suck or not. Admittedly as soon as I saw they were making a Green Lantern movie I cringed a little. Is Hollywood really this desperate, I asked myself.
The Green Lantern has always been better accustomed to being a support character, behind major DC Comics characters like Superman and Batman. Despite what comic book fans would have you believe, GL is not meant to be the star of a major motion picture. And then the trailer and ads started popping up and I knew this movie was in trouble.
Two things from the trailers, which I found no less insulting in the movie, were Air Force pilot, Hal Jordan’s (Ryan Reynolds) Green Lantern costume and the gold-fish dude (voiced by Geoffrey Rush). There is something visually unappealing about the GL suit and I don’t mean the color design as much as the model of it. It looks like they sucked all the fat out of Ryan Reynolds’ body, so that he is just this small hyper-muscular guy. He looks puny, not heroic. And then the “mask.” Did they buy that from a party supply store? Honestly, I kept thinking of Goofy.
And the goldfish Green Lantern. I am not prejudiced against goldfish now, I have a pond full of them, but he actually admits to looking like one. That’s kind of the movie makers way of saying, “Yeah we know this looks weird, but he’s in even though his character serves only an expository purpose.” Because that’s all his character does. The goldfish character informs Hal Jordan of everything he needs to know when he becomes the Green Lantern. That scene definitely keeps the tension heightened.
So now that I’ve gotten some of my more ostensible gripes out of the way, its time to dig deeper into the failure of this film.
If this movie was trying to be a parody of the superhero genre, they made a good attempt. The alien characters looked silly, there were plenty of pointless scenes, the dialogue faltered, and the climax was arguably deus ex machina. There’s even a line where Hal Jordan’s friend says, “You’re a superhero.”
Sadly, I’m pretty sure they were trying to make a movie that could compete with the likes of Iron-Man, Batman, Spider-man, and the X-men. Might want to pull that reboot trump card out early guys.
Aside from the overall bad design, the story just sucked. It was less convoluted than say, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, but made less sense.
The movie begins in kind of the worst way possible, a voice-over to get viewers up to speed on what the Green Lantern Corp is and what it does. Something about Guardians of the Universe using their green rings and starting the Green Lantern Corps to protect the universe no less. And there is a great evil named Parallax, who was only their best warrior, Abin Sur, could defeat.
Why do I say this is a bad way to open a film? For one, it’s just pure exposition. And secondly, it really takes away from the experience of the viewer learning about the Green Lantern Corp as Hal Jordan learns. But it is defensible, as plenty of good sci-fi films used this intro style—Star Wars, Transformers, Thor.
The actual story opens with three nondescript aliens exploring and accidentally freeing Parallax from his prison just a few meters underneath the surface of a planet. Keep in mind, this guy is the greatest threat in the universe and the Green Lanterns barely defeated him. Yet they chose to imprison him just below a planet’s surface, with no guards. And the prison, a sort of crystal chamber, is so well-constructed, the mere presence of three alien explorers triggers Parallax to break free.
Now let me skip ahead. On the GL planet, Oa, there are literally thousands of Green Lantern soldiers. We see them every time Hal Jordan comes to visit. They just stand there, cheer, and flash green lights. Why weren’t some of them posted to guard Parallax’s chamber or ensure no aliens accidentally found Parallax’s chamber? And the leaders of Green Lanterns are the ultra-wise Guardians of the Universe. So wise they do nothing the entire movie except build a Yellow Ring (running off the same power as Parallax, fear), which is not used until the post-credits scene when Sinestro puts it on.
I’m just saying, maybe a cooler intro would’ve been some space alien seeks out Parallax’s power or wants to free him. Then there could’ve been a nice little battle scene. Or even better, Sinestro secretly released Parallax, so that there would be a reason to create the Yellow Ring—uh oh I think I just spoiled the shocker truth to be revealed in Green Lantern 2.
That’s another thing. The character Sinestro shows no signs of evil throughout the movie. When the Green Lanterns hear about Parallax, Sinestro suggests he lead a group of Lanterns to fight Parallax. They are defeated, so then Sinestro says they should make a ring made of Yellow/Fear, to combat Parallax, who lives off Yellow/Fear (normal green rings are powered by Will, the will of all living things in the universe). While Hal Jordan is busy fighting Parallax on Earth, the Green Lanterns make the Yellow Ring. After the climax, when Parallax is already defeated and the threat is gone, Sinestro tries on the ring anyways. He seemed like a good guy to me, so he must have been corrupted by the promise of power I guess.
Much of the movie feels like it struggles to find the GL a place in the world of superhero movies. Because Will powers the good rings and Fear powers Parallax, there is a thematic conflict within Hal Jordan. His father died in an aircraft malfunction (which we see through, I’m sorry to say, humorously “cinematographed” flash-backs—it felt like one of those Scary Movie flashbacks).
Early on, Hal Jordan cannot compete with the other Green Lanterns, because he is too afraid. He has to conquer his fear to really become a hero. If not, the villain, who feeds off others’ fear, will destroy him. Hmm, sounds kind of like another DC Comics superhero. One that had a pretty good reboot back in 2005, which dealt with fear and overcoming it.
So the movie doesn’t quite find its niche in this sense. Maybe it can be clever and admit to being stuck in the superhero genre. It attempts this when Hal Jordan’s friend, who mysteriously vanishes from the script half way through, barges into his apartment, saying he knows he’s the Green Lantern. Hal Jordan concedes and shows him his costume. The friend says something like “You’re a superhero. Don’t the superheroes always get the lady?”
Next thing you know, the GL flies down to the balcony of his old friend, fellow-pilot, and love-interest Carol Ferris. But the movie pulls another clever twist, because Hal Jordan never quite hits it off with her. At least I don’t think so. There was some scene where he talks with her at the end, but it was so boring, I kind of glazed over it. I’m pretty sure they don’t hook up though. That’s what my friend said.
By now I should probably explain how Hal Jordan actually becomes the Green Lantern. The back story is that no human has ever been a Green Lantern, cause we’re too dumb and think we’re the center of the universe. True. So when Abin Sur, bloodied and dying from an attack by Parallax, lands on an Earth beach, his ring seeks out a successor. Hal Jordan is at his nephew’s birthday party and suddenly a green bubble teleports him to Abin Sur, where he gets the ring. So Hal Jordan actually plays no part in earning the ring. Later he learns he was chosen because he has the ability to overcome fear.
Let’s compare with other superheroes.
Motivation: his parents’ death and an obsession for justice
What he must do: Find himself, mature, develop his combat skills, and devise a plan to bring back Gotham
Motivation: a near-death experience awakens him to the fact that his company is doing more harm than good. He wants to be responsible
What he must do: Build a suit first to save himself, then build a much better suit, deal with scrutiny from Stark Industry’s Board of Directors, and start acting as a peacekeeper
Motivation: after his father banishes him to Earth, Thor realizes he was an arrogant jerk for most of his life. He realizes that humans are actually worthy beings. He wants to atone for his stupidity and protect them.
What he must do: He must humble himself. This includes not only menial tasks like cooking breakfast for his human friends, but also sacrificing himself before he can gain back all his powers.
There is a clear answer for the GL. He quits. He is given the ring, but when he begins training on the Green Lantern planet, he decides it is too hard to control his fear. So he flies back to Earth to sulk. He doesn’t master his fear. Later into the movie, he does do a few heroic deeds. One of these includes stopping the freakish telepath, Dr. Hammond, back at Cadmus Labs, where he is about to kill his own father.
The strange part was that the Green Lantern somehow knew this was going on, even though he was sitting down a good ten miles away. It wasn’t clear how he knew to show up at Cadmus Labs and stop Dr. Hammond.
We do see Hal Jordan’s true character later on at least. As Parallax makes his way to Earth, Hal Jordan visits the Green Lantern planet to convince them to help him defend his planet. The Guardians tell him they must be wise, so they aren’t going to risk sending their Green Lantern police to defend Earth. He talks about them being afraid to admit they are afraid. With this, he flies back to Earth. This was a fairly pointless scene, except that Hal Jordan is able to resolve his fear of being afraid. Apparently, this was the fear limiting his powers.
Well not quite. When he battles Parallax on Earth, he does okay. Eventually Parallax gets the upper hand though and has him against a rock, so to speak. He can sense Hal Jordan’s fear and knows that he is about to lose. Then Hal Jordan chants the Green Lantern song and suddenly becomes strong enough to break free. Something inside him snaps and he conquers his fear in just three seconds. Now that’s character development.
Imagine being trapped in a haunted house and as the ghosts surround you, you stop shaking in your boots and simply decide you aren’t going to be afraid. See instead of doing things slowly, like Batman who spent years mastering his fear, the Green Lantern can flip a switch inside his head and go from fearful to fearless. That is why I consider this moment to be an almost deus ex machina situation. It’s as though out of nowhere, the Green Lantern develops the willpower to beat Parallax.
So then, predictably, Hal Jordan uses the same technique he used at the beginning of the film to defeat two computer-programmed fighter jets. He flies up high and waits for his opponents to lose their bearings. In this case, he flies towards the sun. Parallax follows him, but Hal Jordan evades and Parallax gets pulled into the sun. You’d think the universe’s greatest villain would be a little smarter. But Hal Jordan is also sucked in by the sun’s gravity. Fortunately the Green Lanterns show up and rescue him. I’ll bet Hal Jordan wondered why they didn’t show up five minutes earlier. As the Green Lanterns might say after seeing what has become of them on the big screen…In brightest day, in blackest night, no Green Lantern sequel shall ever cross my sight!