I have to say that the last year, in addition to the tumultuous personal and academic events that have transpired in my life, has always felt to me like there was a light at the end of the tunnel. A green one, to be exact.
My senior year of high school, I became a full-on, card carrying (ring bearing?) Green Lantern fan. At a time when you could easily see that fear mongering and collective trepidation was ruling every facet of life, from local and national news reports, to the nation’s Capital, all the way down to the halls of my school, Hal Jordan and his Corps came to me at the perfect time with the perfect message that, while not extraordinarily complex, was something that I needed to hear:
You can feel fear, but you can, and should, overcome it.
That message, shepherded by fan-favorite writer Geoff Johns, simply hadn’t occurred to my 18-year old brain before. It in fact helped me to see the world in a totally different way at a key moment when I was developing what my ideology would look like, and how I would approach solving problems and applying my skills in school and in life. Modern Green Lantern comics, among other things like parental lessons, helped me realize that fear isn’t something to control you, but is potentially something you have to oftentimes disregard in order to reach your goals.
At the time that I started getting into these stories full-on, a high budget feature film featuring these characters was something that seemed like a very remote possibility. Back in ’06, Warner Bros. wasn’t significantly developing any DC Comics properties except for their two big guns in Superman and Batman, and it seemed like the type of far-reaching, universal requirements of a Green Lantern film made it an unfeasible movie to make. So, several years later, I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that WB was finally making a movie of this property that looked like it would be a pretty high profile piece.
After a pretty crazy year, screenings of the film finally started to occur, and when I saw the collective critical reaction, my heart sank. A Rotten Tomatoes score in the twenties? This didn’t seem right, as all of the elements were there: great casting, a writing team that came from comics, overseen by Geoff Johns (the writer of the comics that made me, and an entirely new generation, Green Lantern fans), and a director that had successfully kick started an ailing but beloved cinematic franchise (Martin Campbell on Casino Royale). I didn’t want to believe many of the things that I’d read, with claims coming off of the reviews like “unimaginative,” “too expository,” and “stereotypical.” At my main place of employment, in a comic book store, people that had seen the film before me had almost universally praised it. Not strongly, but it was still praised. After a split of reactions like this, I just had to finally see the thing myself.
I sat in the theater on Friday evening in a pretty somber mood. A movie I had been looking forward to for years would finally be seen, but I was definitely dampened by the professional reviews that had come out for it. At this point, the RT score was around 23% and if this movie was on par with movies in the super hero genre I dislike, namely ones like the Fantastic Four series, or X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and if it was worse than X-Men: The Last Stand and Spider-Man 3, then this was going to be a rough couple of hours.
After the credits rolled, though, I was confident in my new belief that not all, but many of the critics had come off in a way that they really shouldn’t: jaded, Hollywood-minded elitists that would only be impressed with Hal Jordan if he spoke French and/or died at the end of a tortured journey. Green Lantern was better than The Last Stand, and I’d argue, certainly a hell of a lot better than Spider-Man 3, Wolverine and the Fantastic Four films. It definitely wasn’t everything that I’d hoped it would be, but this film is really not deserving of the sheer venom that many critics seem to have for it.
Let me say this for the film: it was too short. Given the kind of world and universe that this movie should be setting up, 105 minutes is far too short to show Hal Jordan’s journey from reckless test pilot to intergalactic law enforcer. For the slamming the film has gotten from critics saying that it was too heavy on exposition, I’d argue that it was both necessary and insufficient at the same time. Necessary because there’s a lot of components that would be rewarding to the audience that would make the experience more fun, and insufficient because there were aspects of the mythology that they should have explored but didn’t, particularly as it relates to the training process of new recruits into the Corps. The process as shown in the modern comics is funny, interesting and educational, and I feel would be easily digestible for a general audience.
Unfortunately, one of the things I was looking most forward to wasn’t nearly as much of a focus as I would have preferred, namely the relationship between Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps’ greatest destined enemy, Sinestro. In the comics, the components that make the Hal Jordan/Sinestro rivalry so great and interesting are twofold: the first is Sinestro’s high stature in the Green Lantern Corps, which the film did get across exceedingly well. It’s hard for an audience not to get the impression of Sinestro’s “living legend” status in the ranks of the Green Lanterns when he addresses the entire Corps, and each member appears to be enthralled and hanging on his every word. The second necessary component in the Hal/Sinestro relationship is the in-depth history between the two, which this film did very little to lay the foundation for.
While at this point it doesn’t seem very likely, if a sequel is made that explores Sinestro’s famed fall from grace (hinted at in the final moment of the film after a batch of credits), then there will be very little to base the Hal/Sinestro rivalry upon. In the comics, Sinestro is very much Hal’s mentor, teaching him the ins and outs of his responsibilities along with some particular tricks to wielding the power of will. Their bond becomes very strong, which makes Sinestro’s fall that much more tragic. If explored in another installment with only this film’s foundation for their relationship, it will have neither the weight nor the resonance of the more celebrated recent stories detailing what their dynamic is like as friends, which serves their dynamic greatly as foes.
I was also disappointed that one of my absolutely favorite characters in the entire Green Lantern mythos had a part that was relegated to little more than a cameo: that of Kilowog, the Green Lantern Corps’ drill sergeant. He didn’t have nearly enough of a role in training Hal, and just didn’t have much to do. That, as far as I’m concerned, is a mistake. Tomar Re was very well represented, and the casting of Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan as Tomar and Kilowog’s respective voices was spot-on for this fan. It’d be nice if both had more substantial roles.
However, the things that the film did right are pretty plentiful. Abin Sur’s part in the beginning, while not long enough, was still pretty awesome to see. He’s obviously a great Green Lantern, singlehandedly imprisoning Parallax and having enough faith in Hal’s selection when nobody else would later. Temuera Morrison’s casting as Sur was spot-on, bringing the perception of experience and gravitas with him. It was easy to believe that he was legendary.
The best part of this film was easily Ryan Reynolds’ turn as Hal Jordan. Bringing the appropriate humanity and comical lack of understanding to his new larger-than-life place in the cosmos, Reynolds embraces Hal Jordan’s humanity and willpower in some of the best casting ever in a super hero adaptation. He’s no Christopher Reeve, but I’d say he is on-par with Christian Bale as Batman and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. So, why is he getting bashed by some? Basically, it’s an outright refusal by some to understand but a portion of where this character came from.
I’m of the belief that was perfectly encapsulated by science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison, who said that we have more of a right to our informed opinion than anything else. Like the inept critic who said back in 2008 that Two-Face flipping his coin in The Dark Knight was a rip-off of Anton Chigurh’s same tendency in No Country for Old Men (when Two-Face had in-fact been doing it since his early appearances in 1942), the critics have refused to understand that the showcased wisecracking quick-wit isn’t just a staple of Ryan Reynolds. It’s a longstanding staple of the character he plays here.
Because the critics are so easy to dismiss Reynolds for injecting “too much of himself” into Hal Jordan, it shows a refusal to at least inform themselves of the basic tenets of Reynolds’ take on a character that’s been around since 1959. This, more often than not, is a double standard of critics more willing to do so for prose literary adaptations than they are for comics adaptations. Because of this, the entire genre of super hero cinema critically suffers from these peoples’ dismissal of comics (and super hero stories) as viable storytelling mediums.
If anything, I’m displeased that Hal Jordan’s arc lacked the proper anchor in the death of his father Martin. One of the best parts of the current comics is Hal’s belief that he lost his ability to feel fear when his father died, because “once you’ve seen your greatest fear brought to life, it’s easy not to be afraid of anything else.” I was hoping that there would be more weight given to Hal’s turmoil because of his father’s death, and that’s definitely a shortcoming of the story.
Mark Strong as Sinestro is nothing short of magnetic. With the appropriate mix of intrigue, intelligence, and formidability that makes Sinestro such a thrilling character. Again, it would be nice to see more of the Hal/Sinestro relationship develop, and indeed nice to see more of Sinestro period, but for the moments that he is on screen, Strong owns it here.
Peter Sarsgaard as Dr. Hector Hammond isn’t getting much of the credit I feel he’s earned here. Hammond is supposed to be downright unsettling. A creepy stalker obsessed with getting close to Carol Ferris, even vicariously through Hal’s experiences if he has to. Even though very little dialogue that gave this impression, it’s all in Sarsgaard’s actions: keeping newspaper clippings of Carol, sniffing her hair when she’s not looking, and visibly relishing in the memories he’s able to absorb from others. I think a colossal mistake was made in regards to Hammond’s fate in this film, but that doesn’t say anything about the performance here. Hammond is well represented and Sarsgaard is the reason for it.
Blake Lively as Carol Ferris was better than I expected. With the delivery she gave in the first trailer, I was kind of expecting a train wreck in the final film. Thankfully, I was relatively pleased with what she brought to the part. Truth be told I was a little put off by the fact that she played such a large part in Hal’s “battle plan” against the film’s villain, but Lively’s performance is not to fault. She made the most out of what could’ve been an extremely stereotypical role, as Carol’s part in the script lacks the importance of her childhood relationship with Hal and what makes them the perpetual “close but no cigar” relationship in the DC Comics Universe.
Green Lantern is not a perfect film, and not even a perfect comic book film. It does, though, make a lot of effort that the movies it’s getting lumped with didn’t make. It explains the rules of the world, gives pretty decent service to the characters as fans know them and as general audiences can easily digest them, and promises a lot for future installments. One of my main issues is that it just moves too damned fast, and I’d like to see what this film’s cutting room floor looks like. With each passing day, it looks as if a Green Lantern II may not come to pass, which would be a horrible mistake and a potentially loaded unanswered question in the pantheon of comics films. With the heights that the stories of the modern comics continually soar to month in and month out, I am sad that the film didn’t capture the things that make this character and his world so highly enthralling and endlessly interesting.
It does however capture what this world can be, and has given us but the slightest taste of the kind of adventures we can follow Hal Jordan on as he looks for danger throughout Sector 2814 and beyond. The message of Green Lantern in both comics and in the film is about overcoming fear. I’ll take it a step further: buck the trend that the critics are setting here. Overcome trepidation. See Green Lantern and decide for yourself, because chances are you’ll like it more than these critics have made you think you will. This film isn’t quite the “brightest day,” but is definitely not the “blackest night.” Regardless of that, this fan’s recommendation stands: don’t let this film “escape your sight.”