As the movie industry is forcing us all to realize more and more, translating comic books to film is a tricky beast. It didn’t quite seem like such a chore in 1978 when Superman hit theaters, but it now seems pretty obvious that this was because, let’s face it, Superman is easy. Everyone knows Superman.
We didn’t make too much of a jump with Batman either. Even among those least interested in knowing anything remotely related to comics could tell you the general backstory, and the overall lay of the land of any film we were likely to see. It’s more or less the same deal with Spider-Man.
Putting together a film on any of these three is to start with half your work done for you. But, over the last decade, comics have swarmed to theaters, and most of these have a much different game to play. Whether it’s Iron Man, Daredevil, Punisher, or The X-Men, the comic book efforts that leave the comfort and safety of the big three have a lot more work to do, and the results have run from the horrible, to the fairly brilliant. But, what they all have in common is that they – A) have to figure out how to play the story, and B) don’t have the benefit of what I’m going to call “cultural armor.”
The easiest way to explain what I mean by cultural armor (though I think it is pretty self-explanatory) is simply by way of the fact that when people went to see the first Superman film, if they didn’t like it, what they were not going to say about not liking it is that the story and/or character were stupid. Nor did they roll their eyes, and mutter something about weird comic book geeks. (Well, some people might have, but some people will say anything.)
Playing around with how the story is going to be presented for film, and getting past the initial eye roll are things that other comic films have to plan, whether it’s Daredevil, or The X-Men, and we’ve seen that isn’t always easy. These are problems that Green Lantern has in spades, despite the certain Geek Chic popularity it currently has in its arsenal.
Even though Green Lantern was a Golden Age comic, first appearing in 1940, and reinvented into a form we recognize today during the Silver Age, he has flown largely under the radar. He didn’t even make it into the Superfriends until the last part of the second season of The All-New Superfriends, and even then he was often referred to as “that guy standing next to Apache Chief,”… like anyone knows who Apache Chief is.
Worse, Green Lantern is a really weird story, even by comic book standards, filled with all sorts of aliens, and a superpower that is made to look rather goofy whenever we’ve seen him before (and when he see him now actually). Armed with the ability to create absolutely anything his imagination can dream up, he is generally seen to fight off bad guys by making a giant, green fist appear, or to catch people from falling by… catching them in a giant hand. This can make for a difficult sell to audiences, who can imagine… well, hopefully more interesting things.
I bother with all of this introduction, because, despite what you may hear, there isn’t that much wrong with it. What’s wrong with it might well be enough to mostly ruin the potential, but as quickfire comic films go, it’s average at worst. It feels about as rushed and slapped together as a movie can feel, and the ending is an oddly anti-climatic “well, that was easy” affair, but I’m not sure it completely destroys what is, after all, a comic book movie.
It’s the kind of film which renders any plot summary both too short, and too long, but it basically revolves around cocky fighter pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), who finds himself chosen by the semi-sentient Green Lantern ring to take the place of a dying member of the Green Lantern Corps. The Green Lanterns are the guardians of the universe, empowered by their rings (and lanterns) with the harnessed energy of will, and each is entrusted with protecting a certain quadrant of the cosmos. There are 2600 of them, and they are now facing their greatest threat, Parallax, a being that can destroy entire planets, and Earth is unfortunately in its path.
Hal, irresponsible goof that he is, doesn’t think he has what it takes, especially considering that Green Lanterns are expected to have no fear. Fear, naturally, being the opposite of will (and the enemy of action… and the mind-killer, depending on who you ask). Bouncing between Earth and the Green Lantern home world of Oa, the movie takes us largely through the plot development we expect, as Parallax gains power, becomes more of a threat to the Lanterns, and Hal finds himself filled with much inner turmoil. None of this is particularly helped by the fact that Hal is trying to win over Carol Ferris (an out of her element Blake Lively), and the idea that he wants to quit, yet again, and this time on the coolest thing ever, isn’t going over so well.
It’s not really a new game we’re playing here, it’s just wearing a green suit made from mental energy.
It’s a movie playing with several competing efforts vying for attention, and it does ultimately become rather bogged down, and oddly light on action. I blame that on the fact that three of the four credited writers are the trio of Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, and Marc Guggenheim, whose credits look very similar, and largely include – Brothers & Sisters, Everwood, Eli Stone, and No Ordinary Family – all really fabulous suggestions for one’s obvious ability to pull off a superhero film.
Still, the final result is a pretty fun film that unfortunately requires an audience willing to let Green Lantern happen at them, because the franchise is not only without much cultural armor, it takes off what it does have. It is, in some ways, almost an effort at going back to the original Superman film, by abandoning the intensity and uber-seriousness of the recent Batman films, and other, similar efforts, and instead opting for a point of view that says, “Look. It’s a comic book movie. It’s kind of goofy.”
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Trailer and clips below