Judging by initial box office, ‘Green Lantern’ hasn’t been the ‘Iron Man’ style crossover hit that Warners, who see the DC superheroes as a possible replacement for the ‘Harry Potter’ films, wanted.
That’s not really surprising – in spite of a lot of marketing, most of the posters etc seemed to focus on ‘here’s Ryan Reynolds, and he’s all shiny and green’, rather than effectively pitching the ’space cop’ concept or what kind of movie this is.
Of course, it would help if Warners actually knew what kind of movie they were making as they made it, and while there’s much that’s good about ‘Green Lantern’, there’s a lot that’s confused or tonally shaky.
For the most part, ‘Green Lantern’ is a breezy family-friendly SF superhero flick about a nice but unreliable guy (Ryan Reynolds, a bit too charming to be Hal Jordan but that’s far from a bad thing) who gets a magic space ring, joins the magic space police and finds his sense of personal responsibility while averting a big cosmic space threat.
There’s nothing mind-blowing or deep about any of this, but it’s pleasingly comic-booky in execution, and director Martin Campbell brings the punchy sense of fun he applied to ‘GoldenEye’ for most of the movie.
The film feels cohesive and coherent, with Campbell keeping the action scenes comprehensible and giving the film a very solid look. As opposed to the urban setting of most superhero films there’s a warm, coastal feel to the Earth scenes – appropriate enough for the fictional Coast City – which set them apart from the vivid colour schemes of the cosmic stuff.
The whole concept of the Green Lantern Corps, the alien members and their kit is well executed, with a great sense of the Lantern energy as something akin to writhing, crackling electricity, rather than just cosmic playdoh to be moulded into light constructs.
It’s all good fun, until the odd bit of sadistic violence or slightly-too-scary horror or random mild swearing pops up to disrupt the generally lightweight proceedings. While there may be some pandering to an older male audience over the film’s natural constituency of under 12s going on here, it also feels like an importing of the worst tendencies of recent DC Comics, where unironic clean-cut silver age heroics are bafflingly combined with jarringly adult elements to appease an aging fanboy readership.
Aside from the problem of tone, the film has inherited some other stupid stuff from the comics. The death of Hal Jordan’s father is presented here as it was in the recent ‘Secret Origin’ arc, and as with its execution on the page you’d have to have a very hard heart not to laugh at this clunky and cynical attempt at giving Hal a ‘defining tragedy’. In fact, for all the relevance it has to the plot it might just as well be referred to as his defining tragedy throughout, leaving it to the audience to decide whether Hal is upset about a death in the family, a personal error of judgment, or that bottle of milk he left out of the fridge for too long on a hot day.
(In fact, the film is rife with daddy issues, to the point where it’s uncertain whether any of the human characters even had a mother. I know the target audience for this kind of film is young men, but there are only two significant female speaking characters in the entire film.)
Then there’s Parallax, the film’s big threat. Thankfully we don’t get the whole emotional spectrum cobblers, just green (willpower, with no-one ever saying ‘wait, I thought green was envy?’) and yellow, the colour of fear. This is actually quite well done in the film, as is Parallax’s new origin story, although the visual is a bit daft and the name Parallax doesn’t make any sense for a fear-based villain, mainly because it was inherited from a time-travelling villain in one of the ugliest retcons in comic book history (click the ‘Green Lantern’ tag below and read Jim’s ‘Rebirth’ reviews for more on this horror show).
It never really matters why Parallax is called Parallax, but it’s a shame the filmmakers didn’t come up with a better name rather than just stick with the comic book one because it was in the comics. There’s a feeling with this, and other decisions, that someone at Warners/DC thought that the current ‘Green Lantern’ comics were basically ‘getting it right’ and that the formula could be transferred wholesale to the big screen, where it would receive a similarly warm reception, regardless that the Saturday night cinema crowd and dedicated comics readers are very different audiences.
What DC Entertainment should take away from the lukewarm reception to ‘Green Lantern’, and apply to their planned sequel, is that they should have taken the concept back to basics, rather than jumping straight to all the baggage created by years of revisions and retcons.
The current comic book incarnation is fine-tuned towards the sensibilities of an aging nerd readership, but a big budget movie needs to cut to the core appeal when introducing a concept – and at heart ‘Green Lantern’ is a children’s story about a man with a magic ring.
It’s to the kids and family audience that this franchise should initially look, and Warners can churn out their bleak ‘Blackest Night’ adaptation in a decades time when current kids have grown up with Hal and pals.
Or, to put it in terms Warners will understand, you can’t skip straight to a sprawling ‘Deathly Hallows’ without building up from ‘Philosopher’s Stone’.
As it stands, it’s good that there’s plans for a sequel to ‘Green Lantern’, because what it does well it does very well, and in places it’s one of the most ‘pure’ superhero movies around. It’s just a shame that it’s tripped up by so many little errors of tone.