Green Lantern became of instant interest to me when it was announced in 2009. Before then, I didn’t know much about the character, but I started asking around once news about the movie broke. Upon learning that Green Lantern was not only a space cop, but one of many space cops patrolling the universe as part of the Green Lantern Corps, I took to the character and his world immediately. It was a fusion of two things I loved – superheroes and science-fiction. I had no idea that something this cool existed. I borrowed the acclaimed trade paperback Green Lantern: Rebirth from a friend and my newfound love for Green Lantern was cemented. The film adaptation quickly became one of my most-anticipated films. My anticipation grew even more when every bit of news that came out about the film was positive. Ryan Reynolds signed-on to play the film’s titular character, a role he was born to play; Blake Lively, for my money, the sexiest woman in the world, joined the cast to play Carol Ferris, Hal’s love interest; Peter Sarsgaard, one of my five favorite actors, was cast as Hector Hammond, the film’s villain; and Martin Campbell, the man behind two of the best James Bond installments, came aboard to direct. Things were looking good.
Though the film’s first trailer was exceedingly weak (it looked like a ‘90s superhero film, the kind Joel Schumacher would be proud of), the footage released at WonderCon and following trailers restored my faith in the film.
When I finally saw the film I realized how misplaced that faith was. To put it bluntly: Green Lantern does just about everything poorly and is exactly the film that that first trailer said it was.
I’ll start off with one of the few things the film does well, and that’s provide context for why Hector Hammond becomes the film’s villain.
Seen as a disappointment by his father, U.S. senator Robert Hammond (Tim Robbins, channeling his inner Bill Clinton), not respected by his students at the local college he teaches at, and always second to Hal Jordan for the affections of Carol Ferris (the three of them apparently know each other, though the film never really explains how), Hector is fed up with being looked down upon by others. This is why his contact with residual energy from Parallax that’s within one of Abin Sur’s wounds proves to be so fortuitous. The energy imbues Hector with powerful telekinetic abilities, and he uses those abilities against all those people whom he believes have wronged him.
(Parallax, it should be noted, is the film’s other villain, a cloud-like entity that’s fear incarnate. Abin Sur is the most respected member of the Green Lantern Corps and is attacked by Parallax early in the film. Abin Sur is badly wounded and barely makes it to Earth in his escape pod, where he instructs his Green Lantern ring to seek out a new owner that ends up being Hal Jordan.)
Now, Hector Hammond is not a well-written character; far from it. He’s never much more than a cliché, moustache-twirling villain (though Sarsgaard does chew the scenery nicely). However, what’s nice is that he at least has reasons for being the villain.
No such reasons are given for why Hal Jordan becomes the film’s hero – aside from the fact that Abin Sur’s ring says he has to be. This leads to Hal becoming one of the most passive lead characters imaginable. After getting discouraged by his sparring performance with fellow Green Lanterns Kilowog and Sinestro on Oa (homeworld of the Green Lantern Corps) a dejected Hal goes back to Earth and his friends have to spend the rest of the film trying to convince him that he is worthy of being a Green Lantern; Hal just sulks.
This is the first, second, and last problem with Green Lantern. The characters are so thinly-written, their motivations almost non-existent. That a comic book film imbues its lead character with a strong motivation to become the hero that that character ultimately becomes is directly tied to the success or failure of such films. It’s why Spider-Man succeeds, because Peter Parker chooses to become Spider-Man in the wake of Uncle Ben’s death (a scene that almost makes me cry every time I watch it). It’s why Iron Man succeeds, because Tony Stark chooses to become Iron Man in the wake of seeing the destruction that his rampant arms dealing has wrought upon the world.
Again: Hal Jordan chooses to become a Green Lantern because a ring says he has to. That’s really the extent of his motivation. It’s the kind of choice that makes you wonder if this film was conceived with so much as a shred of human emotion.
What’s worse is when the film does attempt to supply the characters with motivations. These ham-fisted attempts manage to make the film even worse. For instance, when Hal finally stops sulking and decides to become a Green Lantern, it’s because he realizes why the ring chose him – and it’s not because he’s a fearless individual, it’s because he is cognizant of the fact that he experiences fear, and because of that it cannot be used against him. However, there isn’t a scene where Hal comes to this realization. He simply leaves Earth, arrives on Oa, and tells everyone. It is a jarring, hollow moment that shines a spotlight on just how bereft Hal was of motivation to begin with.
I won’t even talk about the performances in the film; I don’t think the script enables anyone to do good work.
In addition to nailing Hector’s motivations, the film does get the look of the CG Green Lantern costumes right. Much was made about the fact that Ryan Reynolds would not being wearing a physical costume in this movie, but instead a spandex performance capture suit, with his Green Lantern costume being added in in post-production. It proved to be a good choice. Reynolds’ costume appears as green musculature, with green light pulsing underneath it. There’s an interesting, organic quality to it. In comparison to what other comic book films have done with the costumes of their heroes, the treatment of Reynolds’ costume in Green Lantern feels fresh and original.
I had hoped the portrayal of Hal’s powers would be fresh and original, too. After all, seeing a character that can translate anything his mind can think of into reality (via the Green Lantern ring) is pretty unique, especially when compared to the powers that other superheroes in recent films have had. Sadly, the wide majority of Hal’s ring constructs in the film are uninspired. Furthermore, they don’t even look good in 3D – which was the main reason I saw Green Lantern in 3D, because if anything were to look cool in 3D, surely it would be big, green ring constructs, right? Not so. Green Lantern is another nail in the coffin of 3D, a medium that once shined so brightly in James Cameron’s Avatar, but now dims with each successive film like Green Lantern that mishandles it.
Honestly, Green Lantern is a slap in the face to the entire comic book film genre. Its cynicism disgusts me on a subatomic level. It invites the image of Hollywood executives sitting around a table, so smugly confident that audiences will flock to whatever comic book films they produce, that in making Green Lantern they don’t even put forth the effort to make a good film. They simply take a cursory glance at every comic book film that ever made money, scribble down some notes about what made those films successful, and then hastily hand those notes off to the writers. This film feels like the product of such a system. It feels like little more than a naked cash grab, one that preys upon audiences’ familiarity with (and affinity for) comic book films.
I wanted to love Green Lantern. In the end, all it left me was seeing red.