In 2014, the 2nd of February was dubbed “Green Lantern Day” because, by the American calendar, the date read as “2814”, the sector of space assigned to Earth in DC Comics. While the significance of this date has passed as the years have changed, it seems like a great excuse to celebrate DC Comics’ green-garbed intergalactic police corps but, sadly, the date clashes with another important anniversary so, this year, I’m switching it to today, the 2nd of August, instead since this would have been 2/8/14 back then as well.
Released: 14 October 2011
Originally Released: 17 June 2011
Director: Martin Campbell
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $200 million
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Mark Strong, Peter Sarsgaard, and Clancy Brown
When test pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds) is bequeathed a powerful ring that can make his thoughts reality, he becomes a member of the Green Lantern Corps, a vast organisation of intergalactic lawmen. However, Hal’s will is tested when Parallax (Brown), a malevolent entity and the embodiment of fear, is awakened and threatens the safety of not just Earth but the entire universe!
The Green Lantern character first appeared in All-American Publications’ (a precursor of DC Comics) All-American Comics #16 in July 1940. Then, the pseudonym was the alter-ego of Alan Scott but, in 1959, DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz enlisted writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane to reinvent the character as Hal Jordan and, in the process, create countless other Green Lanterns in the establishment of an intergalactic police force. Production of a live-action adaptation of the character can be traced back to 1997 and, at one point, Jack Black was set to start in what sounds like would have been an absolutely dreadful action/comedy take on the character.
With the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) impressing at the box office with its first phase of movies, Warner Bros. made significant strides towards a Green Lantern film with a script heavily influenced by the seminal “Secret Origin” (Johns, et al, 2008) story arc, and director Martin Campbell and star Ryan Reynolds locked in to bring to life the daunting, effects-heavy superhero sci-fi. Unfortunately, Green Lantern proved to be a critical and commercial failure; the movie made just under $220 million at the box office and reviews were scathing, scuppering Warner’s hopes for a sequel and delaying the start of their own cinematic universe. As much as I am a fan of Reynolds, I can’t say that I was too impressed with how much he has bad-mouthed this film (which really isn’t as bad as people think) in the years since its release, especially after he was well into honouring the legacy and influence of the role during production.
When we’re first introduced to Hal in the modern day, he’s a far cry from the straight-laced, serious space cop of the comic books; perhaps thanks to having Reynolds in the role, Hal is a womanising, snarky, and arrogant test pilot who drives a muscle car, frequently shows up late to work, and generally shirks responsibility at every opportunity. The only time he takes any situation serious is when he’s sat in a cockpit, where he’s all business and undeniably the best test pilot on the Ferris payroll but his attitude leaves a lot to be desired. It’s interesting that the filmmakers chose to make these changes and portray Hal as a far more immature and flawed character; it works for his overall story arc as he has to grow into his role as a superhero and learn the usual, cliché lessons about responsibility and duty and gives Hal a snarky edge that makes for the film’s more comedic moments but it’s difficult to believe that this version of Hall will ever grow into the Corps’ most revered soldier.
Hal’s attitude stems, largely, from the trauma of experiencing the death of his father, Martin (Jon Tenney), who died during a test flight right before Hal’s eyes when Hal was just a kid. Having witnessed the most distressing and harrowing event possible, Hal has grown up entirely fearless; he never worries about his safety, takes unnecessary risks, doesn’t let anything or anyone get to him, and doesn’t believe in a no-win situation. This, naturally, doesn’t sit well with his friends, family, co-workers, or superiors, who all believe that Hal has a death wish and is being unreasonably irresponsible with his life. Despite this, he has a close relationship with his nephew, Jason (Dylan James), and there are clearly unresolved issues between him and childhood friend, co-pilot, and boss Carol Ferris (Lively).
Hal believes that Carol has lost her way somewhat since she has, largely, traded the cockpit for a desk, though Carol asserts that she’s simply grown up and accepted her responsibilities. She cares for Hal and is clearly still attracted to him but despairs of his lackadaisical and cavalier attitude; she just wants him to grow up a bit and to be responsible for once in his life rather than coasting along on his admittedly impressive abilities. In a refreshing change of pace, she immediately sees through his rudimentary disguise as Green Lantern (even comment on the ridiculousness of such an ineffective mask) and accepts and supports his newfound superhero life. Indeed, she urges him that the power and responsibility of the ring isn’t something that he can just walk away from and encourages him to actually try and live up to his potential for a change. Far more than just an achingly gorgeous face, Carol actually helps Hal out when Parallax comes to Earth and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, making her more than a match for his trademark snark.
However, while Hal describes himself as a “screw up” and even his friend, Thomas Kalmaku (Taika Waititi) believes him to be an asshole, he doesn’t hesitate to pull Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) from his crashed spacecraft, does everything he can to keep him alive, and is genuinely distraught when Abin dies in his arms (he even takes the time to bury Abin’s body after he dies). Confused and overwhelmed at the alien and the strange ring now in his possession, Hal is equally blown away when the ring transports him to Oa and garbs him in the uniform of the Green Lantern Corps; however, Hal adjusts to these alien sights and concepts with an awe-struck bewilderment and struggles to come to grips with his ring’s capabilities and the focusing of his willpower.
On Oa, Hal is greeted by Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush), who introduces him to the planet and briefs him on the basics of the Green Lantern Corps. Hal’s training is very much a crash course and, honestly, should have taken up a greater deal of the film’s focus and screen time as Hal is put through a tough and uncompromising boot camp at the hands of Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan). Almost immediately, before Hal even has a chance to master the basics of ring-slinging, Thaal Sinestro (Strong) interrupts to put Hal through his paces; a being of immense pride and a much-respected member of the Corps, Sinestro was Abin’s friend and former protégé and regards Hal as a disappointment to his mentor’s legacy. Sinestro’s opinion is only fuelled by the fact that Hal is (somehow…) the first ever human being to become a Green Lantern but, truthfully, his focus and mentality comes more from his overwhelming militant mindset. Sinestro believes, to his very core, in the power and authority of the Guardians and the Corps and devotes himself entirely to their cause, rallying his fellow Green Lanterns in a unified, if futile, effort to oppose Parallax and maintain the sanctity of their intergalactic police force.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Hal also faces significant threats at home in the form of his childhood friend Doctor Hector Hammond (Sarsgaard); sadly, Hector isn’t that threatening or impressive as a villain and is more like a quirky, disassociated, unhinged child in a man’s body. Hector resents Hal’s cocky attitude, rugged good looks, and relationship with Carol, harbours unrequited feelings of his own for Carol, and is constantly trying to please his father, Robert (Tim Robbins), a United States senator who Hector feels is constantly disappointed and embarrassed by him. Hector believes his genius and ability are finally being acknowledged when he is hand-picked by Doctor Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett) to perform the autopsy on Abin’s body and is enraged when he finds out that his father arranged it; having been possessed by exposure to Parallax’s yellow fear energy, Hammond slowly develops mental abilities and degenerates into a hideous, hunchback like creature, his inner bitterness and ugliness reflected in his warped and transformed exterior. However, given the larger threat of Parallax and the fact that we briefly see how big and limitless the universe is, Hector isn’t much of a threat and is easily bested by Hal with the simplest of deceptions.
Not that Parallax himself fairs much better; rather than the giant, intergalactic space bug and the embodiment of fear, Parallax is, instead, a fallen Guardian as the filmmakers merged elements of Parallax and the dark Guardian Krona (which, to be fair, I feel does work in the context of the film and simplifies the story somewhat). Sadly, because the Guardians look so damn goofy, Parallax doesn’t look all that intimidating and just appears to be a big, angry-looking, cartoony head and that’s when we can actually see him since, for the most part, he takes the form of an ethereal, destructive cloud and, if there’s anything experience has told us, it’s that clouds are never scary or intimidating.
The extended version of the film only adds about ten minutes to the film’s run time but the majority of this is used to further develop Hal’s childhood and his relationship with his friends and family. Indeed, the extended version includes an entirely new opening sequence that shows more of Hal, Carol, and Hector’s childhood and the bond between Hal and his father, and his nephew. It’s not much extra footage but it does help to flesh Hal’s character out a little bit more and to build up an understanding of why he is the way he is.
Of course, one of the major problems with Green Lantern is the quality of the special effects; given the concept is quite unique and necessitates a great deal of work to render not just the Green Lantern’s constructs but also the various worlds and aliens that make up the Green Lantern Corps, and the universe, a great deal of special effects are necessary for a film such as this. Unfortunately, many of the film’s CGI just doesn’t work and is flawed; Parallax and the Guardians, especially, look pretty terrible, to say nothing of Kilowog, Tomar-Re, and, yes, the Green Lantern suits themselves. Personally, I think the idea to render them full in CGI was a really good idea (…on paper) given their otherworldly make up and the fact that they’re generated from the ring and the problem isn’t so much that the suits don’t look good (though they, like a lot of the CGI, do appear disturbingly cartoony) it’s that Hal’s mask looks so damn goofy.
This is a shame because Green Lantern does a pretty decent job at adapting the concept and bringing to life such an abstract and near-limitless superhero. As I mentioned, the idea of the suit works really well and Oa, especially, looks pretty good; however, while I like that it’s teeming with life and various alien races, it’s very…busy and kind of looks like a mess of conflicting colours and dodgy CGI. Such shots are contrasted by how good the film’s more practical effects are; the scene where Hal and Carol out-pace automated aircraft is an exhilarating sequence and the make-up effects used to bring Sinestro and Abin Sur to life are top-notch (hell, even Hector looks suitably horrific when he mutates into little more than a hunchbacked man-monster). It’s almost as if the filmmakers should have veered more towards practical effects, maybe even employing the use of traditional puppets and animatronics for the Guardians and Kilowog, and use the CGI sparingly rather than rendering 90% of the film in a mess of computer effects.
A central theme of the film is Hal’s inability to live up to the expectations placed upon him and to accept responsibility. On Earth, this makes him a highly skilled but unreliable test pilot; when on Oa, it leads to him walking away from the Green Lantern Corps after what feels like maybe an hour, tops, of training. He takes Sinestro’s criticisms regarding him (and the human race) to heart and uses his condemnation as the perfect excuse to reject the destiny placed upon him by Abin Sur; however, for some reason, he is allowed to retain possession of the ring and, reluctantly, becomes a superhero back on Earth. This is directly paralleled with Hector’s own arc as he struggles to live up to his father’s expectations and gives in to the hate, fear, and power of Parallax’s influence; fuelled by his negative emotions, he forces Hal into acting with the ring’s power and, thus, into a heroic role that he, eventually, willingly assumes in order to defend the Earth from Parallax.
Parallax, while an unimposing and disappointing villain compared to both his comic book counterpart and other villains of superhero films, is certainly built up to be an intimidating threat. His ability to induce fear and then suck the life out of his victims is certainly unique and his power only grows as he absorbs the lifeforce of others. While the Green Lanterns are notoriously supposed to be entirely without fear, it’s clear that the Guardians fear Parallax’s power; indeed, they are reluctant to send their corps against Parallax out of fear for their lives and they only divulge Parallax’s true origins to Sinestro after he pleads with them for the knowledge to oppose his power. While Sinestro comes to believe that the only way to defeat Parallax is with fear itself (forging a yellow ring in the process), he eventually saves Hal after his battle and defeat of the creature in the finale and, despite having witnessed that the green light of willpower is powerful enough to overcome even the embodiment of fear, decides to switch to a yellow power ring in, perhaps, one of the most tantalising mid-credits scenes in all of cinema.
Green Lantern is a perfectly fine and action-packed science-fiction spectacle; it’s full of humour and big special effects and has a really strong cast, with Mark Strong, especially, standing out as a perfect choice for Hal’s mentor and rival, Sinestro. I think the main problem with Green Lantern, though, is that it isn’t really sure what it wants to be; it’s not a sci-fi epic as a disappointing amount of the film is set on Earth, and the time spent on Earth is nowhere near as interesting as the potential of space and the Green Lantern Corps. When I saw Green Lantern, it was a month or so after seeing Thor (Branagh, 2011), a film that did a much better job of balancing its cosmic, otherworldly elements in a grounded and relatable way and I think that’s the problem with Green Lantern: it’s too confused about its disparate elements and I can’t help but feel a more elaborate approach in the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014) and Serenity (Whedon, 2005) would be a far more fitting direction if we ever see the Green Lantern Corps in live-action again. Personally, though, it’s not as bad as people make it out to be and there’s plenty here that’s worth keeping around (Mark Strong, for one) and it really wouldn’t have taken much to fold this film into the existing DC Extended Universe at one point but, ultimately, it’s just a shame that we never got a sequel to improve upon the film’s high (and low) points and that the film failed to properly live up to the potential of the concept.
What did you think to Green Lantern? Were you a fan of the movie when it first released or did you warm to it over time? What did you think to Reynolds in the title role and who would you prefer to see take up the mantle at some point? Were you a fan of the film’s overuse of CGI? What did you think to the animated suit and depiction of Parallax? Would you have liked to see where a sequel would have taken the story or do you think a full reboot is the way to go? Which Green Lantern character, villain, or story is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating this pseudo-Green Lantern day today? Whatever you think about Green Lantern, and the Green Lantern comics books, feel free to leave a comment below.