How do I write about Green Lantern without damning it with faint praise?
I went and saw it for Father's Day with my daughter Monkey Girl, and we both enjoyed it. Did we love it? No.
It's not a great film, but reading comments online, from regular folks and professional reviewers, there seems to be a good bit of gleeful dog-piling going on.
To put it in context, I loved Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which was savaged by critics and ignored by audiences with an indifferent shrug. My all-time favorite movie is The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which is Terry Gilliam's biggest career bomb. So yeah, I'm probably not a control sample. But I still don't like Green Lantern anywhere near as much as those.
I'll tell you what I like it better than, though. It's better than both Fantastic Four movies, Daredevil,, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Superman Returns, and Watchmen.
Had Green Lantern come out just five years ago, before The Dark Knight raised the stakes and Marvel turned into a cinema factory in overdrive, it would've found the market much more welcoming.
Green Lantern is a conflicted movie. It tries to set itself apart from other comic book adaptations, but constantly references them. There's a brief Superman-themed birthday party for Hal Jordan's nephew, and for Hal's public coming-out as GL, he saves a helicopter from crashing, just like in the original Richard Donner Superman: The Movie. The big bad is Parallax, a yellow smoke monster that is so evocative of the ill-conceived Galactus revamp from the second Fantastic Four film that the only way viewers don't flash back to that earlier film is if they hadn't seen it.
The movie is paradoxically bloated and too short.
Throughout the film, scenes feel truncated and rushed. Motivations and relationships aren't fleshed out. Entire sequences feel missing, as if they'd been left on the cutting room floor for time constraints. By the same token, a significant amount of what appears on screen comes across as pointless, time fillers to get the movie from the point where Hal gains the ring to the big finale when he saves the world.
Tim Robbins is miscast as Hector Hammond's smarmy, too-young Senator father, giving the bulbous-brained Hammond generic daddy issues straight from central casting. But the real problem isn't Robbins, it's that his character is even in the script. He's Max Schreck from Batman Returns, a pointless character sucking away screen time from the characters the audience actually wants to see.
As it is, Hammond is a whiny prick with no plausible motivation who never comes across as a viable threat to Green Lantern despite impressive powers. His unrequited love for Carol Ferris is there only because that's the standard cliche in these kinds of movies.
Angela Bassett is miscast as Amanda Waller (should've been Queen Latifah) but it doesn't matter because the character doesn't have anything to do. In just five minutes I've thought up a couple of alternate character arcs for those two that tightens things up and makes them more relevant to the story. But hey, when you have script-by-committee going, can you expect anything less?
I also was put off by the elevation of Geoff John's more recent Green Lantern contributions from the comics becoming elevated to canon status in the film. The whole "emotional spectrum lanterns" idea is silly and takes contorted logic to justify. (hint: "Willpower" isn't an emotion.)
But mainly, it takes a simple science fictional concept lifted from the Lensmen series and tries to flesh it out with needlessly complicated "midichlorian" explanations. But that's a personal gripe I'm sure nobody in the general theater-going audience will pick up on, much less care about.
The biggest sin of Green Lantern is that it ignores the age-old writer's adage to "show, don't tell" and instead tells. Over and over again, it tells. The intrusive voice-over reminds me of an over-enthusiastic comics fanboy explaining everything about the movie to someone who didn't like it, then telling them how they're wrong. Ugh.
So, what then was good about the film? Quite a bit. Ryan Reynolds really gives it his all in the role of Hal Jordan and has you rooting for him despite some serious asshole behavior and a cringe-worthy "Hero's Journey" checklist he has to run through. It's clear he takes the role seriously as an actor, and commits to it fully. So help me, when he recites the Oath during the climactic battle against Parallax, I got goosebumps. That is Green Lantern.
Once the fight leaves Earth, the imagination deserts the filmmakers. Who else wanted to see emerald green TIE fighters attack Parallax in the asteroid field?
But I've leveled the same criticism against the comics, so it's a wash there. The important thing is that by the end of the film, Hal Jordan was true to the comic book character.
Blake Lively has taken much flack for her portrayal of Carol Ferris. I've never seen Lively in anything prior to this, and don't know anything about her other than she looks better as a brunette than a blonde. I found absolutely nothing wrong with her performance. Yes, for someone constantly angry at Hal there was more restraint than fire, but that may be as much the director's fault as Lively's. It was a generic, under-written "super-hero's girlfriend" role, but she gave it her all and made several moments her own. Her discovery of Hal's secret identity is a particular stand out.
Kilowog and Tomar-Re are very, very charismatic when onscreen. Unfortunately, that's all too brief. Mark Strong is given nothing to do as Sinestro except posture and preen. When Sinestro "turns evil" at the end of the credits, it's utterly pointless and unwarranted, a ham-fisted tease for a sequel that will (in all likelihood) never get made if the anemic box office returns are any indication.
That's a shame, because there's a lot of groundwork laid here for a tremendous Green Lantern movie featuring the Corps and truly epic storytelling.
"Don't do it, Hal!"
In the theater, Monkey Girl and I ended up sitting in front of a father and his son, who may have been about 7 years old. The father was a little younger than me, but I couldn't help but notice the audience was filled with men in my general demographic, guys who watched Super-Friends
growing up and read the four-color adventures of Hal, Guy Gardner, Kilowog, Katma Tui, Arisia, Mogo and (saints preserve us!) G'Nort back in their younger days.
This was our movie, and kids these day knew Green Lantern as John Stewart, if that. Yet listening to this little boy was just as entertaining as the movie, if not moreso.
He believed. He shouted "Don't do it, Hal!" when Hector Hammond threatened to kill Carol if Green Lantern didn't surrender, "Watch out!" when Parallax threatened to crush Hal under the full weight of his tangible fear. There were no dodgy special effects for this boy, no plot holes, no miscast nitpicks.
No, for two hours he was immersed in a universe of wonder, where an incredible array of aliens protect the 3,600 sectors of the universe as the Green Lantern Corps.
Afterward, Monkey Girl and I discussed the boy's reactions as we did the movie itself. He made us smile, and ultimately, enjoy the film just a little bit more.
For more of RevolutionSF's Green Lantern saturation coverage, see this exploratory essay,
this review and this tar and feathering.