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The Green Lantern Movie, Geoff Johns, and Me: An Exploratory Essay
© Mark Finn
June 29, 2011

The Geek Nation has spoken. Rotten Tomatoes is right now judging it at a mere 26%. Our own Rick Klaw eviscerated the film. The box office wasn’t kind to it, either, but then again, it had a lot to overcome at a reported $300 million budget.

And yet, when you ask people -- make that normal people, not geeks -- who saw the movie, they tend to say they really liked it. At my small town movie theater, I can tell you that while it wasn’t a full house, sold-out blockbuster, the people who did show up for the film all seemed to really enjoy it.

So, where’s the disconnect?

Is the Geek Nation too close to the issue to be really objective? Are the uncultured masses simply dazzled by crap, no matter how bad, if it’s big enough and loud enough?

Or is there something else going on entirely? I’ve got two angles to explore this movie from; as a fan, and as a professional writer who also happens to know a lot about comic books, Green Lantern, and movies. Let’s start with the easy pitch.

For literally ten years now, I’ve heard rumors about this movie getting made, and every time it got brought up, I winced. Not just because for a while it was attached to Jack Black, but because, frankly, I felt the concept was unfilmable.

I’m not saying it couldn’t be made; rather, I’m saying that it would be a hard sell on the American public, most of whom don’t know much about super heroes beyond Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Captain America, and the Incredible Hulk.

If you don’t believe me, go ask your mom who Green Lantern is. Well, scratch that, it’s not a fair test. If you ask her today, she’ll say, “That cute Ryan Reynolds!” Back when it mattered, back in the 1980s, when I was reading and defending comics to every girl I dated, I came to a startling and sobering realization: chicks don’t get Green Lantern.

I’m not talking about Nerd-Grrls. I’m not talking about Olivia Munn. I’m not even talking about your girlfriend, who is totally into anime and let’s you call her Selina when you’re being, um, intimate. I’m talking about the rest of the planet.

Let me tell you how the conversation went between me and my girlfriends, circa 1985 to 1999. The details varied, but the result was always the same:

Her: So, what’s the deal with this Green Lantern?
Me: Oh, he’s so cool. He’s like this galactic cop who has a power ring that can manifest green energy into anything he imagines -- (stops because she looks bored). Anyway, he’s cool.
Her: So, where’s the lantern? (indicating the cover of the comic, a reprint of the Neal Adams/Denny O’Neill classic issues).
Me: It’s the symbol on his chest.
Her: The “lantern” is a symbol?
Me: (sensing her concern) Well, yeah, I mean, he doesn’t carry it around with him.
Her: That’s stupid. Why would be called the Green Lantern, then? I mean, where’s the lantern?
Me: Well, see, the ring --
Her: And why green? That’s such an Ugh color. Couldn’t he be the Red Ring or something?
Me: No, see, you just don’t get it. The Lantern is actually a power battery that fuels the power ring on his finger. It’s a symbol…(trails off, realizing all at once that I won’t get laid tonight).
Her: Well, I think it’s stupid. (puts comic book down) You really like this stuff?
Me:Um . . .
Yeah, that’s how it went. And I am not alone. This conversation was like the many times I’ve had to defend Boba Fett to an uncomprehending girlfriend, but I digress.

Unless you’re steeped in geekdom, Green Lantern is a hard sell. And I knew that. And so I worried my ass off, every time they said they were developing it as a film. And especially when Jack Black’s name was attached.

Flash forward to 2010. I’ve just watched the first teaser trailer, with Ryan Reynolds in the inexplicably veiny GL costume, and caught flashes of the Green Lantern Corps, Tomar-Re, and even Kilowog.

Then I heard the villain is none other than Parallax. Parallax? What? Parallax is the thing responsible for the single worst Green Lantern story in the history of comics. It's the villain Geoff Johns, Green Lantern comics writer and movie co-producer, tried to ret-con into something meaningful. Why didn't he instead do what he’s done with so many other creators' ideas and simply pretend that it never happened?

This first movie should have been all about Hal Jordan, Abin Sur, and the betrayal of Sinestro. Why are we looking at the entire GL corps? In the first movie, no less. In all the comics, except for maybe the most recent re-re-re-relaunch Johns performed, Hal initially flies blind with the power ring. The Corps doesn’t get into it until later.

If I Made the Green Lantern Movie

Prior to seeing the trailers, I had this idea of how the film would go. Hotshot pilot Hal Jordan crashes his experimental jet after nearly hitting a green object zooming by him. He makes his way to out of the crash site to find wounded Abin Sur. He says the ring brought him to Jordan, because of his courage and conviction. He hands over the ring, and the lantern, which doesn’t look at all organic, and says, "You are now the Green Lantern of Sector 2814."

The ring leaps onto Hal’s finger and rockets him away, with the lantern, just seconds before Sinestro, in a Green Lantern costume, shows up. He searches Abin Sur’s body, and finding nothing, incinerates it in green flame. The smoke rises up and wisks away, presumably back to Oa, but we don’t know that.

Sinestro tracks down Jordan, and tells him a few things about being a GL, that Abin Sur was his partner, and how to use the ring. It’s all a pretext to get Jordan to ask the ring where the location of the yellow ring and battery is. Of course, this ruse works, and the battery and the ring tell him the history of the yellow energy.

But it’s too late! Sinestro has the new setup, and it’s up to Hal to stop him from subjugating Earth!

The movie ends with the defeat of Sinestro, and the appearance of a blue man, who says Hal is needed on Oa. Without asking, Hal is pulled off planet, with the captured Sinestro. The perfect set-up for the sequel, which would introduce the GL Corps, an even bigger threat, and more. And a natural progression from one concept to another.

But I Didn’t Make the Green Lantern Movie

That’s SO not what we got. Each scene looked like a scene out of a movie called Green Lantern, but there was nothing to connect them together. Characters and sub-plots are introduced, but never acted on.

The entire movie is a series of Chekov’s Guns, all set up on the mantle piece, but that never end up being fired.

So, Hal, Carol, and Hector all grew up together. Really? To what end? Hal freaked out and thought about his father, and that's why he choked. Not because he was so cocky that he overcompensated? Hal has a family, including a nephew?

You can look at each scene, and for what each one of them is, they are competent to well-done. But none connect, inter-relate, and ultimately move the story forward.

The sole exception is the Oa sequence. Hal is dumped on an alien planet, told a few things, beaten silly, and weirdly enough, he wants to quit after that. The Corps doesn’t show back up until the strictly unnecessary Deus Ex Machina ending that seemed tacked on when I was watching it.

This whole 20 minute sequence, full green-screen a la the Star Wars prequels, was probably a big part of the 300 million dollar budget.

What did it do for the plot that Abin Sur or the lantern’s instruction manual program could not do, in a fraction of the time, at a fraction of the cost? It was porn for nerds, nothing more. GNDN: Goes nowhere, does nothing.

What kind of villain is the tentacular Parallax? He started out as a Guardian? So, how’d he go from big head, little body, to amorphous, writhing cloud of yellow? How exactly does that transmogrification take place? More to the point: Why would Sinestro advocate for a yellow ring to be made?

What good would a yellow ring do, anyway? Could you suck Parallax up into it? Does it put you on equal footing with the bad guy? It’s never really said.

Nor, for that matter, is Sinestro’s inevitable transformation during the credits hinted at, set up, or even explained.

I cry Bullshit on all of it. It doesn’t hang together. It just doesn’t. Most of the movie goers who saw it and liked it were just happy to see Green Lantern making .50 caliber anti-tank gun emplacements like in the comics.

But it wasn’t so confusing to them, since so much of the movie’s concepts were, out of necessity, explained to them outright.

I choose to lay all of this at Geoff John’s feet. And I don’t care if my name ends up on his black book at DC comics; it’s not like he’s going to hire me anytime soon. But I digress again.

Johns had good intentions, but he also knew this would be a tough sell to the general public. Therefore, he was going to shoehorn every single thing in that he could, on the off-chance that this would tank and another GL movie wouldn’t get made.

That’s why there’s this eye-candy Oa sequence in the middle of the movie that does zip-diddley for moving the plot along, but gives us (and Johns) a chance to see Tomar-Re (one of my favorite GL characters) and Kilowog (another fan favorite GL character) interact with Jordan.

Take that sequence out, and have Sinestro training Jordan on Earth instead, and you’ve just cut $50 million dollars out of this overpriced film.

There was enough in the film to satisfy the regular audience for the movie. There was some decent action, and the ring-effects were as cool as Ryan’s suit wasn’t. I just wish the big tentacular monster from space could have been saved for the sequel, when it would really be a test.

I don’t know what, other than Sinestro the villain, Johns has in mind for the sequel, but after fighting Parallax-Cthulhu, it will be a real let-down.

I wish Johns had been a consultant on the film, rather than a producer. I would rather he have used his vast DC comics knowledge to better inform the movie, instead of dictating the film’s story with all of this ret-con new era stuff.

When you deal with a character like the Green Lantern, simpler is better. The more classic, the better. And, honestly, if you couldn’t get Nathan Fillian, get an unknown. Reynolds was all wrong for the part, though he really tried. But, it’s that casting that brought the girls into the theater.

And it’s the voice-overs at the beginning, to explain the core concepts to everyone, which kept the movie from being indecipherable. It’s probably the only thing that saved it.

Despite the reviews, and despite the lackluster box office returns, Warner Bros. has, forgive me, greenlit a sequel. I have little doubt Johns is trying to convince them to start on a Flash movie next, since (a) Johns is relaunching the Flash comic, and (b) he’s one more step closer to a Justice League movie, just like Marvel’s Avengers movie plan.

I ask for Geoff to pick one, here and now: guide DC, a company that seriously needs some course correction, or concentrate on movies and think about the broader audience, and not just what he’s working on. Do service to the material, and quit thinking of these characters as his personal action figures. Their stories are already written in the history of the character. Let them tell it, and quit trying to force his stuff on these properties.

As for the movie: I didn’t hate it as much as Rick Klaw did (see the tar and feathering link at the bottom of this page), but I really wanted to like it more. I’ll admit freely I’m too close to the material to be objective, but that’s not an excuse. After the sheer number of successful translations from comics to silver screen, Green Lantern should have been a no-brainer. Instead, it looks like it was done by someone with no brain.

For more of RevolutionSF's Green Lantern saturation coverage, see this review, and this review and this tar and feathering.

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