Green Lantern: A fan struggles with disappointment

Posted on 16 June 2011 by ShepRamsey

Green Lantern was one of the movies I was most looking forward to this summer, as I consider myself something of a fan. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m struggling with how exactly I should attack this review.

My experience watching the movie was informed by a three different perspectives, and I’m unsure as to which of the voices inside my head I should be listening. I feel like the last one balances the first two out, but since they all ultimately feel the same way, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to give each of them a voice and write’s very first schizophrenic movie review. Enjoy!

The Shep who loves Green Lantern:

This section contains minor spoilers.

The new movie adaptation of Green Lantern is a classic case of knowing the words but not the music. I had a feeling that director Martin Campbell was not a good choice for this material and I was right. The spirit of the comics and all that makes them so unique and enjoyable, weird and whacky, and thematically interesting are gone, and what we’re left with makes me feel kind of embarrassed to be such an avid Green Lantern fan. It’s like giving someone a tour of your house on the one day that the dog shit in the living room. It doesn’t always stink like this, I swear!

A few completely wrong details (both big and small) aside, the movie is technically one of the more faithful superhero adaptations I’ve seen, in terms of loading up on familiar characters and accurately establishing the look and the basic mythology. However, it’s fair to say that Green Lantern doesn’t lend itself to the whims of those “open to interpretation” as well as something like, say, Batman. So, more or less, it’s all here.

But something is missing. There’s a reason that I love reading Green Lantern comics and that reason didn’t make it into this movie.

I’m not going to quibble about the fact that the ring selection process is different (and less cool). I’m not going to cry about how characters that I thought were supposed to be in the movie, like John Stewart, Alan Scott, and the sentient planet Mogo, were nowhere to be found. I’m not even going to piss and moan that—unless they’ve got something else up their sleeve in the future (which could be cool)—Parallax’s backstory is completely false.

Whatever. Really, it’s small stuff and it doesn’t bother me. The basic idea is there. What does bother me is how little it all would have mattered even if those details had been there. You see, the presence of Oa and the Corps and any non-Hal Jordan characters in this movie is surprisingly and disappointingly minor. It’s all pretty Earth-centric, and characters like Tomar-Re and Kilowog both have about one and a half scenes each, while Sinestro is not properly developed at all. When he brandishes what will (in the inevitable sequel) be a Sinestro Corps ring, it feels unearned.

It’s true that the production design is pretty impressive, and Oa and the Guardians and all the creatures look great. But if you’ve seen the trailer as many times as Warner Bros. hopes you have, then you’ve seen pretty much all there is to see. The rest of the movie spends all its time on Earth, hitting all the marks to make sure Hal is likable, relatable, and heroic. If you understand my meaning, then let me put it this way: the finished product of Green Lantern is a lot more like the first trailer than it is the second. And that’s a bummer.

I love Green Lantern comics—especially the current run by Geoff Johns (who is credited as co-producer on this film; I wish he’d written it)—because they’re so different from traditional superhero comics. It’s more like grand-scale operatic science fiction, and Hal Jordan is our guide. Instead, the movie tries so hard to fit into a recognizable superhero mold that it’s afraid to show us what sets Green Lantern apart from all the others. This is what happens when the idea to make a movie starts with someone saying “Superhero movie are big right now—let’s do Green Lantern!” instead of “I’ve got a great idea for a Green Lantern movie.” At the end of the day, it’s pretty stock.

The Shep who loves movies:

Green Lantern is the third superhero movie of the 2011 summer movie season and it’s big and pretty and something of a mess. It has a lot it wants to do but it struggles with the “how” and the “why.”

Director Martin Campbell seems a little out of his element and a lot uninspired, and he fails to create and populate a unique environment, despite having a wealth of source material that should pretty easily set him down the right path.  Campbell seems to have had no discernible interest in making this movie–both he and the writing team were all just guns for hire, and the whole endeavor winds up as an experience devoid of passion or excitement, made to sell toys, video games, and Reese Pieces.

I was frequently reminded of the opening scene of Frank Darabont’s underrated The Majestic, where Jim Carrey, playing a Blacklist-era Hollywood screenwriter, sits in a room full of movie studio execs who are trying to conjure up all the tricks to making their movie the most agreeable portrait of red, white, and blue Americana they can think of. Green Lantern seems to be put together from a lot of those types of decisions, working from a checklist designed to please both fanboys and general audiences alike. As a result, nobody goes home happy.

“Give the hero a dog,” one of the execs says in The Majestic. Well, they gave Hal Jordan a dog. Several, actually. Not literally, of course, but between the young nephew who shows up and disappears for the rest of the movie, the superfluous and annoying comic-relief friend, and the obligatory love interest, Carol Ferris, he’s got enough loyal companions to start a healthy Facebook account. And to think they didn’t use that as a viral marketing opportunity.

Amid all this, the more interesting intergalactic scruples take a backseat. Not that it isn’t important for Hal to overcome his fears and get his life in order, but Campbell chooses to juggle these balls instead of making them work together and complement one another, and they all sort of fall to the ground.

Now, I don’t want to say that this movie has Spider-Man 3 syndrome—because, my God, nothing’s that bad (so bad)—but between Oa and the Guardians, Sinestro, Parallax, Hector Hammond, and all of Hal’s Earth relationships, the movie is so busy and stretched so thin, that it’s impossible to get your money’s worth out of any one particular plot thread.

And if you’re in it for the action, you’ll probably still be leaving disappointed, as there’s surprisingly not much of it, and it’s rarely very inventive or exciting. The most fun is had when Hal trains with Kilowog and Sinestro, but the overall effect of most of the key action sequences is pretty cheap and shoddy; especially disconcerting when you consider how much the whole production must have cost.

There might have been a way to make the script work (although it’s not without its own myriad of problems), but Campbell did not find it. Lazily, he just sort of lets the movie make itself, and there’s nothing much about it that’s terribly memorable. He has no vision for the movie, save for the dollar signs in his eyes, and it’s all just plain and simple hack-work. At the end of the day, it’s pretty stock.

The Shep who saw X-Men: First Class the day before:

Green Lantern is a dull, voiceless, and sometimes boring movie and I say that with much, much regret and disappointment. When we got out of the theater and my wife asked what I thought about it, I half-heartedly replied, “It was fine.” And that’s true. It was fine. It wasn’t incompetent or obnoxious, the performances were acceptable–Ryan Reynolds was a perfectly serviceable Hal Jordan. It was fine. And I love Green Lantern; I love the characters and mythology, I love the sci-fi landscape and the whacky mechanics of the power rings. If you make me a Green Lantern movie, some part of me will inevitably enjoy it. That’s just how it goes. It was…fine.

But it wasn’t what I hoped it would be nor what it could have and should have been. It was the product of a group of people coming together to make a super-safe kinda bland superhero movie to make a few bucks. The only person who seemed like they were trying to go the extra mile and do something really interesting was Peter Sarsgaard, whose take on Hector Hammond belongs in a better movie.

I came into this movie with a strange, conflicting bias. The day before I saw Green Lantern, I saw Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class. That was a film which, for me, exhibited the stylistic confidence and originality of vision not seen by any comic book movie since The Dark Knight. It set a bar. Like Green Lantern, it had many characters and ideas, but it knew how to create its own world where all these elements would thrive to their full potential.

I’m a DC guy, and my personal ties to the X-Men are minimal. I saw all the previous films (and liked most of them) and watched the cartoon when I was a kid, but I’ve only ever read some of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men series. I think I might have gotten a Cyclops mask for Christmas one year.

I’m biased towards Green Lantern and I can tell you that X-Men: First Class is a far better film. It showed me what I want out of not just a comic book movie, but any movie. Originality. Excitement. Tension. Emotion. Why couldn’t my guy have gotten that treatment?

Green Lantern follows the paint-by-numbers instructions, shines a light in your face, makes a few things go boom, and sends you home. It’s a Green Lantern movie, to be sure; but it wasn’t the one I wanted. And by most non-fans’ standards, it certainly won’t add up to a good movie, and you’ll never catch me defending it as one. At the end of the day, it was just really stock.

Oh, and fuck 3-D. If I wanted to get a headache and look at a dim picture, I could just stare into the sun for ten minutes before the movie started. One more fucking reason to hate James Cameron.

—the Shep who hates 3-D


3 Comments For This Post

  1. Marc Says:

    You were warned about this ticking timebomb. I used to believe that regardless of everything going on around him Ryan Reynolds could save any film. The Proposal disabused me of that notion.

  2. Umakar Says:

    Nice review :)

  3. Umakar Says:


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