Green Lantern (2011)

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Tim Robbins, Jay O. Sanders, Taika Waititi, Angela Bassett, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan, Clancy Brown

Directed by Martin Campbell

Expectations: None, except that I expect to have some fun with it.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

As I like to do at the beginning of reviews, I’ll just cut to the big question looming in your mind: Yes, I enjoyed Green Lantern. Feel free to move along if that’s what you came to find out, but if you’d like to know why, there’s plenty of that to follow. I don’t think Green Lantern is a particularly good movie, but I think it tells a hard tale well, what with all the wild, intergalactic struggles of the Green Lantern corp and everything. I read a lot of comics in my youth, but I never read a Green Lantern tale, and outside of his appearance in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Back, I don’t know that I’ve ever been exposed to him in any real way. DC has always been a major blind spot for me, and this puts me in a very interesting place to see Green Lantern. Instead of approaching the film as a seasoned vet, I’m actually coming at this one as a standard mainstream moviegoer, and within the opening minutes I was already completely lost… but that’s OK.

During these opening minutes there were a lot of crazy, intergalactic visuals and narration explaining who and what the Green Lantern corp was. As soon as they started dropping alien names I was lost because they held no weight to me, but the sheer draw of the sci-fi visuals captured me completely in a child-like way. Then three aliens fell down a hole and found an even crazier looking alien who opened his mouth in a wide scream and gold tentacles came out of his mouth. I was sold. When I decided to watch Green Lantern, it wasn’t because I thought it would be good, it was because I thought it would provide me with a lot of B-Movie thrills. And this yell was exactly that. If this moment had come even five minutes later, it might have been too late and I’d have given up hope, but it came at just the right time.

Don’t ask me to recite the plot back to you, though, as not a lot of it made total sense to me and I wasn’t paying close attention at all. The gist is that the screaming alien is growing to an incredible size over the course of the film and is threatening Earth. I don’t remember them saying that it was ever threatening Earth, but they must have because it ended up there. In any case, while that’s going on a Green Lantern dies and his ring chooses Ryan Reynolds to be his successor. Cue the hour-long origin. There’s also a scientist that contracts an alien virus that causes his head to expand and somehow he knows both Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively’s characters, but again, I missed why. But again, it doesn’t matter.

No one will argue that Green Lantern features a thrilling, well-told storyline, but I do contend that it contains more than enough to satisfy a simple superhero film craving. This is exactly the type of movie I’d have loved at like nine years old, and because the tone here wasn’t all that serious, I was somehow able to tap back into that part of my brain and just enjoy it for what it is. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s always fun when it does. I think a big reason this film had such a negative backlash was because after Nolan’s Batman films, most people expect and demand realism in their superhero movies. I don’t know that Green Lantern really lends himself to that, but not only does this film not care about presenting realistic situations, it’s so over the top that it’s clearly meant to be whimsical and very evocative of actual comic books. So even though I’ve never really read Green Lantern, I can appreciate the route they took with this one, and I respect the filmmakers for delivering a superhero movie aimed at the ones that probably care the most about them: kids.

That being said, the amount of computer FX in this movie is staggering. Just about everything has the dripping filth of CG slickness to it, sometimes even the light streaming through the windows! It’s pretty ridiculous, but even though everything always looks like FX, and they never really jive perfectly with the backgrounds, they still managed to achieve what they set out to achieve. For instance, all the wild Green Lantern construct stuff was great. It moves at the speed of thought as Hal Jordan must come up with a witty defense for whatever is hurtling his way in a split-second. I especially enjoyed when he made an elaborate catapult to throw a fireball back at Parallax, but any one of the constructs are worthy of being singled out. Sure, they don’t look real, but they’re not supposed to. This is a comic book movie that in its best moments, legitimately feels like reading a comic. It doesn’t quite have the visual style down, but I could almost feel the pages turning beneath my fingers as the climactic — and awesome — final battle played out.

The only problem is that because this is yet another superhero origin movie, a good portion of the film is some of the most clichéd and boring personal drama you’ll ever see in a mainstream film. The romantic sub-plot is horrible and feels incredibly forced, and every single character outside of a couple of Lanterns feel shallow and almost completely uninteresting. During one early romance scene, I was more interested in the Blitz ’99 arcade cabinet in the background than any of the painfully obvious dialogue. Despite all of this, I still liked the movie. I know, it’s crazy, but I think that speaks to the power of capturing that comic book feeling that’s generally stripped away during the movie adaptation process. Marvel’s films are definitely better, but I would argue that DC is doing much more daring and risky things with their franchises.

I also disliked that they eventually took the plot down one of my most hated story devices: the “we’ve never had a human in our ranks, but he’s able to easily ascend to the upper echelon simply because of his humanity” thing. It’s not as bad here as it is in something like Avatar, where a white man becomes a native and before you know it he’s the greatest native there ever was… because he’s white and is inherently more capable. Such bullshit, and I really wish they hadn’t done it here, but I stifled my rage and enjoyed the ending of the movie regardless. I suppose it’s natural for humans to write stories where humans are worth something in the universe, and my real issue is when it’s used as subliminal racism (which it’s not here).

Is Green Lantern exceedingly well made? No, but I’d watch a sequel in a heartbeat. And I also learned a few things about myself due to the unforeseen coincidence that the Green Lantern Corps is powered by “will.” Things like: “Green is the power of will” and “Will is stronger than fear.” If this is anything to go by, I should thoroughly enjoy reading Green Lantern books as well. Any suggestions?

10 comments to Green Lantern (2011)

  • Good review Will. This film didn’t do as much with it’s premise as it should have done, but it still had a nice amount of fun that was deserved. A bit bummed out that Reynolds didn’t do a better job with Hal Jordan as I almost thought this could have been the role that got him out of type-cast hell.

    • Hahaha, well I had no expectation for Ryan Reynolds to do anything other than be Ryan Reynolds, which he did a fair job of. I doubt if he minds “type cast hell” too much; I’m sure the pay is great.

  • Sounds like I might want to give this one a go someday. It’s gotten a lot of bad press, and I wasn’t expecting anything good from it.

    Like you I never had much interest in Green Lantern, but I am a bit more familiar with him by proximity to other DC stuff that I do read. The Sinestro Corps War was pretty fun if your library has that lying around.

    • Yeah, it’s definitely worth a watch as it’s got a lot of fun in it. There’s never been a comic movie like this, and I think that’s where the major part of the backlash lies. Just have fun with it, and don’t take any of the interpersonal drama seriously and it should deliver.

      Cool! My library does indeed have that run, along with quite a few others, so I’ll check it out when I’m done with No Man’s Land. It should also be noted that Sinestro looks fucking perfect in this movie.

  • Your line about GL being swamped by negativity because it wasn’t like Nolanbat is spot on, in my opinion as well. People wanted their heroes from DC gritty, instead of campy. We’ve had campy, haven’t we Mr Schumacher, and look where that got us.

    • I’m glad you agree with me. I also find it interesting that this film is from Martin Campbell, the director of Casino Royale. His modern, update of Bond is similar in ways to Nolan’s update of Batman, but here he goes full on comic book with Green Lantern. I don’t know that a realistic take could really work with this character, so I’m glad they went the way they did.

      • Perhaps DC’s comic pantheon just isn’t up for the comic book style that Marvel’s managed to give us….. I’m not sure, but marbvel get it right every time out, while DC and Warners can’t buy a successful franchise outside of Nolanbat. Here’s hoping that in Man Of Steel, Superman at least punches the shit out of something……

        • I think DC stuff could result in great movies too, but as I was always an ardent Marvel fan, I’m also unsure completely. I want to say that DC was always less rooted in reality, where Marvel’s heroes always existed in our cities and were a bit more tied to reality. That being said, I always really enjoyed Marvel’s celestial stuff and I’m so through the roof that they’re actually bringing it to the big screen. And doing so perfectly so far. I hope they can keep the momentum up during the second wave of films, which will include a number of properties outside the mainstream’s general knowledge. I guess those will hinge specifically on the trailer and how well the previous films lead into them.

          I have no expectations for the new Superman, although I am excited to see it for some reason. I hope it’s good, as I enjoyed the Christopher Reeve films when I was a kid.

  • As someone who read Green Lantern comics for years before this movie came out, I found it to be fun, but flawed. I’m not as down on it as a lot of people though; I think you’re right about people looking for the dark-and-gritty in superheroes nowadays, and that just wouldn’t have worked for Green Lantern. Still, it could have used some serious tightening up to make it coherent, and I don’t like the change in personality for Hal. In the comics, what made Hal a legend among the GLs wasn’t his “humanity”, but the fact that he was almost pathologically fearless, to the point where even the other Lanterns sometimes call him on his recklessness. The whole “I’m supposed to be fearless, and I’m just not that guy” bit, while a good angle for some heroes, is a complete 180 from what Hal is supposed to be (though it would have worked perfectly for Kyle Rayner, another Earth GL; I think they tried to have it both ways and were left with a bit of a mess of a character.)

    • Nice to hear from a fan of Green Lantern comics. It’s definitely flawed, but I found it to be much more enjoyable than others would’ve had me believe. I agree that the fear/fearless stuff was a bit muddled here, and it’s interesting to know that the original character was so different. I don’t know the difference between the Lanterns, so I didn’t notice anything specific, but it did feel like it could’ve been done a bit less painfully. I hope they move ahead with a sequel, though, I really enjoyed this.

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