4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

In Blackest Day, in Brightest Night — Green Lantern

The first version of the Green Lantern was created in 1940 by Martin Nodell. Alan Scott, a railroad engineer, came into possession of a magic lantern. He crafted a ring from the lantern and fought crime using its power.

In 1959, Julius Schwartz created a new Green Lantern with similar powers but a different backstory: Hal Jordan was a test pilot, who was bequeathed a power ring and lantern by an alien named Abin Sur in order to protect the Earth. He was later revealed to be part of a large corps of Green Lanterns who protect the universe from various and sundry threats.

After several attempts to make a Green Lantern film, DC finally got one into theatres in 2011 starring Ryan Reynolds.

Like most superhero comics, the Scott Lantern was popular in the 1940s, but his popularity waned after World War II, and his title was cancelled in 1949. Ten years later, the Jordan Lantern was created rather than just using the original (as DC had done with their “big three” of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman), possibly because Schwartz wanted a story with a more science fiction bent than the fantasy-tinged background of the Scott Lantern.

While Scott was a founding member of the Justice Society of America, Jordan was similarly a founding member of the Justice League of America. In much the same way that Iron Man became a mainstay of Marvel—never an A-lister, but always a regular presence—Green Lantern was the same for DC.

The expansive Green Lantern Corps also allowed for lots of other Green Lanterns beyond Jordan, including five other humans who have possessed the ring at various times: John Stewart, a former Marine; Guy Gardner, a former football player and coach; Kyle Rayner, an artist; Simon Baz, a former criminal; and Jessica Cruz, a survivalist. There’s also lots of alien GLs who have become popular over the years, including Kilowog, Arisia, Tomar-Re, G’nort, and, my personal favorite, Mogo (who is an entire planet, first introduced in the classic story by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize”).

Several attempts were made to do a Green Lantern film, with folks ranging from David Goyer to Quentin Tarantino to Kevin Smith approached. Corey Reynolds also pitched a John Stewart GL film (that would star Reynolds himself) and Robert Smigel wrote an action-comedy with Jack Black in the title role, but neither got past the script stage.

Instead, they gave the film to Greg Berlanti, later to become the mastermind behind DC’s current crop of successful live-action TV shows (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Black Lightning, Legends of Tomorrow). Berlanti wrote the script with Michael Green and Marc Guggenheim, but then had to back out of directing, and it was given to Martin Campbell.

Ryan Reynolds—having already played Hannibal King in Blade Trinity and Wade Wilson in X-Men Origins: Wolverine—took on the title role, with Blake Lively as his girlfriend Carol Ferris. (Reynolds and Lively started dating while filming and are still married.) The rest of the impressive cast includes Mark Strong as Sinestro (set up to be the bad guy in the not-so-inevitable sequel), Angela Bassett as Amanda Waller (the second of four people to play Waller in live action so far, preceded by the great Pam Grier on Smallville, followed by the mediocre Cynthia Addai-Robinson on Arrow and the magnificent Viola Davis in Suicide Squad), Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond, Temuera Morrison as Abin Sur, Jon Tenney as Jordan’s father, Jay O. Sanders as Ferris’s father, Taika Waititi as Tom, and Tim Robbins as Senator Hammond, plus voice work provided by Michael Clarke Duncan (Kilowog), Clancy Brown (Parallax), Geoffrey Rush (Tomar-Re), and Warren Burton and Salome Jens (the Guardians).

Michael Goldenberg did a final script polish, and the film was released in 2011. DC was hoping that they could succeed with GL the way Marvel succeeded with Iron Man, casting a charismatic actor as one of their B-listers, hoping his charm and verve would lead the way to great things. At that, they were a bit less than successful…

 

“In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight…”

Green Lantern
Written by Greg Berlanti & Michael Green & Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg
Directed by Martin Campbell
Produced by Donald De Line and Greg Berlanti
Original release date: June 15, 2011

We open with a voiceover explaining the history of the Guardians, ancient beings who maintain order in the universe. They harnessed the green power of will into a giant generator on their constructed planet of Oa. That generator powers 3600 lanterns, which are issued to beings all over the universe who act as the Green Lantern for their sector, wearing rings powered by those lanterns.

One Guardian attempted to harness yellow power of fear, but instead was consumed by it. Called Parallax, the being was then trapped by one of the most heroic Green Lanterns, Abin Sur. However, Parallax feeds on fear, and the fright of a group of aliens who crash land on the world Sur trapped it on is enough to enable Parallax to free itself.

It consumes two inhabited worlds, also killing many Green Lanterns. Sur was on his way with a ship to evacuate the second world, but fellow Lantern Sinestro informs him that he’s too late. Parallax then attacks Sur’s ship, mortally wounding him. Sur barely gets away in an escape pod and heads toward the nearest inhabited planet: Earth.

On that planet, we meet Hal Jordan, a test pilot for Ferris Aircraft. He’s late for his latest gig, where he and the owner’s daughter, Carol Ferris (Jordan’s mostly off-again girlfriend) are going up against two robot craft, the Sabres. Ferris Aircraft wants a contract from the Air Force to sell them the Sabres, and Ferris and Jordan take F-35s out to try to mess with them.

The Sabres perform well, but then Jordan, after using Ferris as a decoy, climbs past the 50,000-foot window for the test. That high, both the Sabres and the F-35 stall out, but as they fall back to Earth, Jordan is able to fire on them. However, he’s unable to start the plane back up as he’s having flashbacks to childhood when his father, also a test pilot, died during a test run when the plane exploded. Eventually, he ejects and is safe.

The Ferrises are pissed because he took out the Sabres—which Jordan thought was the idea—and now the Air Force doesn’t want the contract. Ferris Aircraft is going to have to lay off a lot of people, which is a problem, as they’re the main business in Coast City. They start by firing Jordan, who insists on quitting instead, though Ferris won’t let her father fire Jordan nor Jordan quit because she wants him under investigation.

Jordan goes to a birthday party for his nephew, who is hiding in his room because he was afraid that his favorite uncle was gonna die. Jordan reassures him, and they have the party.

When Jordan leaves, he’s grabbed by a green ball of energy and brought to where Sur crashed his escape pod. As he dies, he tells Jordan that the ring picked him to succeed him as a Green Lantern, and Sur gives Jordan both the lantern and the ring. Jordan calls his friend Tom to pick him up, and he tries to figure out how to make the ring work. Eventually, he touches the ring to the lantern and the Green Lantern oath suddenly core-dumps into his head and he speaks it while charging up the ring.

Ferris then comes by, interrupting his ring-testing, to make sure he’s okay. They go out for drinks and talk for a while. When he leaves, some townies beat him up for getting them laid off—but then he fights back with the ring’s power and knocks them all out. The ring then envelopes him in green energy and flies him into outer space and thence to Oa. There he meets three other Green Lanterns: Tomar-Re, who tells him all about the Green Lantern Corps; Kilowog, who trains him in how to fight, including instruction on the gravitational power of a sun; and Sinestro, who belittles him and deems him an unworthy successor to Sur. Jordan decides that Sinestro’s right, and goes back to Earth, feeling defeated.

Government agents come in the night for a xenobiologist named Hector Hammond—whose father is a senator—and bring him to a secret lab where he’s asked by Amanda Waller to do an autopsy on Sur. Hammond is fascinated, and also while exploring Sur’s fatal wounds, is infused with a bit of yellow fear energy. This brings him to the attention of Parallax, and they form a mental link. The yellow energy changes Hammond slowly, mutating him and giving him mental powers.

Ferris has managed to convince the Air Force to take the contract (by, among other things, promising to increase the altitude range of the Sabres), and the company throws a party. Senator Hammond is among the attendees, but Hector can now hear his father’s disappointment in his son in his thoughts, so he sabotages the senator’s helicopter with his newfound telekinesis. However, Jordan changes into Green Lantern and saves everyone’s lives by using the ring’s energy to make various ramps and things.

Tom comes to Jordan’s apartment and demands to know what he’s figured out, and Jordan shows off his new Green Lantern powers. Then he flies to check on Ferris, who instantly recognizes him as Jordan despite the (very flimsy) mask. He then tells her all about what has happened to him, and she is disappointed that he has given up on himself to be in the Corps.

Hector allows himself to be taken to the government facility, only this time he’s the one to be studied. However, once inside he attacks, hurting Waller and killing his father. Jordan tries to stop him, but only succeeds in driving him off.

After getting a pep talk from Ferris and Tom, Jordan flies to Oa to ask the Guardians for help. However, at Sinestro’s urging, the Guardians have a plan to create a yellow ring and fight fire with fire, as it were. Jordan thinks that’s a bad idea, and begs the Guardians to help him fight Parallax when he comes to Earth. The Guardians refuse, as Parallax is en route to Oa next, and they must make a stand there. Jordan leaves, determined to show them that he can defeat them with will power and he can overcome his own fear.

When he returns to Earth, he finds out that Hammond has kidnapped Ferris. Hammond has, in fact, had the hots for Ferris since they were all kids growing up in Coast City together. Jordan tricks Hammond by giving him the ring, thinking it’ll give him more power—but Jordan still controls it. They fight, but then Parallax shows up, disappointed in Hammond. Parallax consumes Hammond, then turns his sights on Jordan. Ferris assists Jordan by using the Sabre missiles on Parallax, and eventually Jordan is able to lure Parallax into space—though not after it kills a lot of people in Coast City.

Eventually, Jordan pulls an Icarus and lures Parallax too close to the sun, and the being is drawn in by the star’s gravity well and burned to a crisp. Jordan almost suffers a similar fate, but Sinestro, Tomar-Re, and Kilowog show up in time to rescue him.

The Green Lantern Corps accepts Jordan among their ranks. Jordan tells Ferris that his new job will have him travelling a lot. (It’s a job? Do they pay him? How do Lanterns feed and clothe themselves, anyhow?) He says he’ll be off looking for trouble, and Ferris allows as how he’s good at that.

On Oa, Sinestro decides to try the yellow ring on for size…

 

“…let those who worship evil’s might beware my power, Green Lantern’s light”

This movie comes in for a lot of crap, to the point that Ryan Reynolds filmed a scene of himself as a time-travelling Deadpool shooting actor Ryan Reynolds in the head while reading the script for Green Lantern to avoid having this film get made.

And yes, it’s a bad movie, but it’s not actually that bad, and it has one scene in it that makes the whole movie worthwhile in my eyes.

It’s the scene where Jordan is surprised when Ferris recognizes him in costume still being Hal Jordan, and Ferris makes the single greatest speech in the entire seventy-year history of superhero movies:

“I’ve known you my whole life! I’ve seen you naked! You don’t think I would recognize you because I can’t see your cheekbones?”

Thus Green Lantern finally addresses the problem that every single live-action superhero production has had since Kirk Alyn first tried and failed to convince us that a pair of glasses would be enough of a disguise for Clark Kent in 1948. Most superhero disguises are adequate for hiding the person’s identity from the general public. But almost all superhero disguises would never for one second fool anyone who’d met both the superhero and the secret identity. It’s impossible to credit that someone who knew Barry Allen wouldn’t realize he was the Flash under that mask that still leaves his eyes, jaw, nose, and mouth exposed—especially since he has the same voice. Every once in a while you get a Christopher Reeve who is able to make it work with body language and voice work, but mostly you get the same person, and there’s just no way to believe that anyone would be fooled who met both.

And finally in Green Lantern we get exactly the right reaction from Ferris, the one we kept seeing characters not have and look incredibly stupid and unobservant for seven decades.

It’s only a pity the rest of the movie is kinda dumb.

There are actually two movies here, which is part of the problem. There’s the nifty science fiction film about a collection of space cops who have to defend the universe from a cosmic threat. And then there’s the spectacularly uninteresting story about a dick who has to overcome his fear and tendency to walk away from things when they get difficult in order to save the Earth from that same cosmic threat.

The problem is that the two parts don’t even feel like they take place in the same space-time continuum as each other. A lot of this is because the outer-space stuff is completely CGI-drenched, and is pristine and shiny, as opposed to the more textural scenes in Coast City (mostly filmed in New Orleans). They also don’t feel like they have anything to do with each other.

In addition, the Corps stuff is horribly rushed. It feels like Jordan’s only on Oa for half a day, and somehow he is trained in how to fight by Kilowog in that short a time. The whole thing is just way too rushed: “You’re a Green Lantern. Here’s what we do. Here’s how to fight. Also, you’re a failure and a dick. Okay, bye!”

Also, what’s the point of introducing 3599 other Green Lanterns if you’re not going to use them for anything but exposition? They should’ve joined Jordan at the end to fight Parallax. (Apparently that was the case in one draft of the script, but they wanted Jordan to be the hero all by himself. In that case, why even bother having the whole Corps? Just have Jordan interact with the Guardians for the exposition needs and leave it at that.)

It’s especially frustrating because Temuera Morrison, Mark Strong, Geoffrey Rush, and Michael Clarke Duncan do superlative work as the other four Lanterns we meet. The bits we get of them are considerably more compelling than Jordan’s mix of Daddy issues and relationship issues that are bog-standard and predictable and incredibly uninteresting.

In the end, Jordan drops Parallax in the sun, leaving one to wonder why Abin Sur didn’t do that the first time. I mean, there are suns all over the place. It’s kind of the universe’s light source. Real easy to find one.

The Hal Jordan of the comics is a bit of a square, a straight-arrow hero who’s straight out of the 1950s archetype of the noble fighter pilot. While I get that that particular characterization would probably need updating, this goes a little too far in the other direction, playing him as a standard early-21st-century dudebro who’s only tolerable to watch because Ryan Reynolds is a terrifically fun actor. But there’s no depth to the performance. Yes, Jordan has a journey to go on, from asshole to hero, but it doesn’t feel natural, it feels like it’s there because the screenwriters wanted to give Jordan a journey to go on.

It doesn’t help that Peter Sarsgaard is a spectacularly uninteresting villain. Clancy Brown does the best he can to make Parallax menacing, and the CGI cloud is actually moderately effective, but we don’t get enough of them, instead we get Hammond and his boring Daddy issues. (I love how Ferris, Jordan, and Hammond all have relationships of some sort with their fathers, yet no mention is ever made of any of their mothers. We don’t see them, they’re not mentioned, nothing. Just a bunch of single daddies, I guess?) Angela Bassett manages to make Amanda Waller boring, which is—something? I dunno, Waller is one of the best creations in the DC universe, and until Viola Davis came along, she was only really done right when adapted in animation (CCH Pounder was letter-perfect as her voice). And Tim Robbins is just as boring as the walking cliché of Senator Hammond.

Most of Jordan’s ring constructs are eccentric at best, impractical at worst. He keeps Rube Goldberging things and it may look cool, but it doesn’t to anything to make you believe that the ring picked the right guy. In fact, the whole theme of the movie is that the ring saw something in Jordan we didn’t, but I never saw it at any point. All we saw was him be slightly less scared and remember something Kilowog told him earlier in the film about suns.

And the tag in the credits makes no sense. Sinestro puts on the yellow ring because that’s what he does in the comics, but the movie itself has set Sinestro up as a hero. His heel-turn in the credits has no setup, no context, nothing. It’s just a cynical “hey, here’s what the sequel will be about” bit. All they had to do was have Sinestro be grumpy about Jordan being the hero in the end, have him sulk in the background while the Guardians and Tomar-Re and Kilowog sang his praises, and then it would’ve worked. As it stands, though, it’s completely out of left field. (Dr. Strange will do a much better job of this with Mordo.)

The movie has its moments, some wonderful lines, and Reynolds and Lively are both a lot of fun, as is Taika Waititi as Jordan’s best friend. The movie isn’t really a chore to get through, it blows by pretty quickly, and it has Ferris’s beautiful cheekbones comment.

But it should’ve been so much more, and it just stumbled over everything.

 

Next week, we dive back into the X-films, starting with another 2011 release, X-Men: First Class.

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Wintercon in Jamaica, Queens, New York this weekend at the Bard’s Tower table along with fellow author David Mack. We’ll be selling and signing our books, so come on over and say hi if you’re in the Big Apple this weekend!

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