?Green Lantern? ? Review for SciFind by Matt Dillon
Where did it all go wrong for DC? Whilst Marvel have ushered in the great modern age of the superhero movie with the likes of X-Men, Spider-Man and the recent solo outings for the Avengers cast – admittedly having stolen the perfect super-movie formula from Richard Donner’s Superman in the first place – DC’s one and only victory of recent years has been Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, and even that was a gamble. Watchmen split fans, and that was based on a comic book which invented new heroes to get around DC’s preciousness; the Wonder Woman pilot was declared a failure because fans couldn’t get over her costume; and the less said about Superman Returns the better. And yet it could be argued that they have a far richer back-catalogue of source material than their rivals, employing such powerful archetypes that it’s almost impossible to get them wrong.
Almost, however, isn’t completely, and this brings us sharply to the question of Green Lantern. One of DC’s most enduring characters, writing for Green Lantern – regardless of who is wearing the ring – is hampered only by the power of imagination.? His powers come from a ring which, through a process that owes more to science fantasy than the science fiction proffered by the comic book in recent years, makes the wearer’s will manifest, as long as they don’t mind their will being all green and glowing. Warner Brothers had already had a successful stab at the character (albeit a different incarnation) as part of the main lineup in their Justice League animated series – a series which, incidentally, also made a decent go of almost every mainstream DCU character, and plenty of the second-stringers to boot – so it seemed that the Lantern would be the perfect choice to pave the way for a new generation of DC movies that, presumably, would culminate in an ensemble flick based on the Justice League itself. Fate, as it turns out, had something else in mind.
It’s not as if the film completely misfires. The first thirty minutes or so of Green Lantern seem to follow that tried and tested super-movie formula: we meet our protagonist, his love interest, his best friend and his family in short order. The protagonist gets super powers; the protagonist discovers that he has a greater purpose, and then…? Well, we all know what’s supposed to happen next. We should get a montage of super-moments, as our hero begins fighting crime and injustice, swiftly followed by the movie’s villain revealing himself. The hero will then come up against the villain swathed in overconfidence, suffer an humiliating defeat, lose all confidence, get inspired by his mentor/father figure then fly off to save his love interest (or mentor) who, in the meantime, has found themselves kidnapped by the villain. Cue an explosive final showdown, in which the hero gets whipped to within an inch of his life before snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat with one final courageous move, and an epilogue showing the hero now fully embracing his destiny and flying off into the sunset (usually straight at the camera).
Come on, that’s how superhero movies go. That’s the way they always go. It’s soft, warm and comforting, like an old blanket, and it ensures that the audience leave the cinema on a high. We want a hero with vulnerabilities, we want a sexy love interest, and we want a supremely arch villain. We want a climax that leaves us punching the air in celebration. We want a stirring score, complete with an iconic fanfare. We want Richard Donner’s Superman, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. We want goosebumps. And if Green Lantern had managed even two thirds of these criteria you might be reading a more favourable review, but it fails to tick so many boxes that what we are left with is what The Black Dog Podcast’s Lee Medcalf describes as “a collection of trailer moments” – a series of scenes strung together which, in the context of themselves, work very well, but with none of the connective tissue required to knit them together into a coherent movie.
Strike one: the film cannot decide whether it wants to tell a story on a local (Earth-based) scale or a wider-reaching galactic scale. The film’s first act ends with Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) being spirited away to Oa, the planetary headquarters of the Green Lantern Corps – galactic police on the side of justice, all of whom bear a ring exactly like Hal’s. He meets a high degree of resistance, as (in yet another tired SF cliche) humans are considered “too young” and too headstrong to be worthy of joining the Corps, and is trained by a sneering instructor and then… quits. The next thirty minutes or so leave him sulking on Earth, pouting out of a series of windows like a dumped Bella Swan, whilst his fellow Lanterns (don’t bother learning their names, they have no impact on the plot) use painfully brief scenes to discover the movie’s big bad – a giant planet-eating squid standing in for comic book villain Parallax. Does this threat immediately head for earth? No. Instead, a slap-headed John Waters lookalike gets magically infected with some Parallax DNA, contracts Elephantitis, gets a little bit telepathic and throws a strop. Cue the one and only rescue scene of the movie, in which Hal saves a helicopter that’s hovering about three feet off the ground, a really uninspiring showdown, and Hal flying off to succeed where hundreds of other, more experienced Lanterns have failed. He does eventually come into contact with ?Squilactus? aka Parallax, after returning to Earth yet again, but by this time you’ve really lost interest.
Strike two: the film can’t decide whether they want to use Mark Strong’s Sinestro as a villain or a hero (he’s fulfilled both roles in comic series, albeit mainly the former) and so present him as a fairly good guy, only to give what I’m sure they were hoping would be a fan-pleasing moment twenty seconds into the end credits. If you’ve followed the comic franchise you can probably guess what this moment is, but since this incarnation of the character has been given absolutely no reason to turn against the Green Lantern Corps – he’s consumed with saving the Corps from Parallax and that, of course, has been done – it is simply one more disconnected moment, adding absolutely nothing to the film. Certainly it is sequel bait, but the film spends no time setting it up and therefore wastes it. Sinestro’s gradual fall could have made (and should have made) a fantastic plot device for this first outing. Mark Strong is exactly the arch villain that the movie is lacking, and having him on screen in such a half-hearted manner only serves to highlight what a crime that is.
Strike three: it’s in 3D. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but cinema does NOT need 3D. Since this ridiculous gimmick re-reared its ugly head a few years ago, only one movie seems to have actually had a decent use for it, and that was Tron Legacy, which used the 3D effect as subtle marker for scenes set inside the computerised world of The Grid. In the case of Green Lantern, however, it just about manages to add some depth to the space scenes, and otherwise might as well not even be there.
To give it its due, Green Lantern does contain a handful of decent crowd-pleasing moments, but they really can’t polish up the mess underneath. If the film’s horrendous pacing issues were absent it might make a decent Sunday afternoon movie for kids, but the drawn-out soul-searching and moping is far more likely to leave them bored, and the hideous plot-mangling will irritate existing fans whilst leaving newcomers completely cold. Sorry, DC, but Marvel is still the undisputed king of the comic book movie. Better luck next time.