Green Lantern (2011)

Rating:

USA. 2011.

Crew

Director – Martin Campbell, Screenplay – Greg Berlanti, Michael Goldenberg, Michael Green & Marc Guggenheim, Story – Greg Berlanti, Michael Green & Marc Guggenheim, Based on the DC Comic-Book Created by John Broome, Bill Finger, Gil Kane & Martin Nodell, Producers – Greg Berlanti & Donald De Line, Photography – Dion Beebe, Music – James Newton Howard, Visual Effects Supervisors – Karen Goulekas, Kent Houston & Dennis Jones, Visual Effects – Buf, Digiscope, Hydraulx, MPC, Peerless Camera Company, Pixel Liberation Front, Pixel Playground, Pixomondo, Rising Sun Pictures & Sony Pictures Imageworks, Special Effects Supervisor – Clay Pinney, Production Design – Grant Major. Production Company – Warner Brothers/DC Entertainment/De Line Pictures

Cast

Ryan Reynolds (Hal Jordan/Green Lantern), Blake Lively (Carol Ferris), Peter Sarsgaard (Hector Hammond), Mark Strong (Sinestro), Temuera Morrison (Abin Sur), Tim Robbins (Senator Hammond), Angela Bassett (Dr Amanda Waller), Geoffrey Rush (Voice of Tomar-Re), Michael Clarke Duncan (Voice of Kilowog), Taika Waititi (Thomas Kalmaku), Jay O. Sanders (Carl Ferris), Jon Tenney (Martin Jordan), Dylan James (Jason Jordan), Clancy Brown (Voice of Parallax)


Plot

The Guardians of Oa, a race almost as old as the universe, have established The Green Lantern Corps to police the galaxy. In each sector, a selected individual is chosen for their bravery and given a ring that harnesses a green energy that physically manifests the wearer’s will. On the planet Ryut, several Green Lanterns succeed in awakening Parallax, a former Guardian who has been transformed into an entity of yellow energy that feeds on fear. The Green Lantern Abin Sur is mortally wounded by Parallax and crashes on Earth in his spacepod. Dying, he gets the ring to find a suitable successor. Cocksure test pilot Hal Jordan is then whisked away by a ball of energy and bequeathed the Green Lantern ring before Abin Sur dies. As Hal starts to learn the power of the ring, it transports him to Oa. There he is placed in a training regimen to learn the use of its powers. Eventually, Hal decides he does not have the fearlessness needed for the role and returns to Earth. Meanwhile, xenobiologist Hector Hammond has been taken by the government to conduct an autopsy on Abin Sur’s corpse but becomes infected by a shard of Parallax energy that causes him to mutate. As Parallax heads towards Earth, intending to devour it before going onto Oa, an unprepared Hal is the only one able to stand up against it.


Green Lantern is one of the key superheroes in the DC Comics pantheon. The original Green Lantern appeared in All-American Comics in a run that lasted from 1940 until 1949. There Green Lantern was engineer Alan Scott who wore a green, yellow and orange mask and outfit with a high-collared cape. This Green Lantern differs substantially from the Green Lantern we know today. While all the other Green Lanterns take place in a science-fictional milieu, his powers are magical – his ring was powered by a lantern made of material found in a meteorite and he had a vulnerability to wood. A decade later, Green Lantern was overhauled by DC Comics and a new character created in test pilot Hal Jordan. The Hal Jordan Green Lantern first appeared in Showcase #22 in 1959, before gaining his own titled comic-book in 1960, and would become the most famous incarnation of Green Lantern. All the distinctive elements of the Green Lantern mythos – the black-and-green masked uniform, the Guardians of Oa, the Green Lantern Corps, Abin Sur, Coast City – were created here. (Later variations of DC canon turned Alan Scott into the Earth II/Justice Society equivalent of Green Lantern). In 1994, DC retired Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, having him go insane after the destruction of Coast City and becoming possessed by Parallax, before he was killed. There were other subsequent Green Lanterns such as the African-American John Stewart, who had been a back-up Green Lantern during several of Hal’s hiatuses during the 1970s and 80s, before Kyle Rayner became the new inheritor of the ring. Hal Jordan did however return to the role in a 2005 reboot by DC.

Green Lantern had made occasional appearances in the media, in episodes of animated tv shows such as The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure (1967) and Super Friends (1973-86). He also made a disastrous live-action appearance in the tv pilot Justice League of America (1997) where he was played by Matthew Settle, although this was oddly written as the Guy Gardner characterisation of Green Lantern, Abin Sur’s backup choice who became an unstable character in subsequent comic-book appearances. Green Lantern did appear as a regular on Bruce Timm’s animated Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-5) tv series, although there Timm and co went with the John Stewart incarnation as opposed to Hal Jordan in order to add racial diversity to the team line-up. The Green Lantern origin story also appeared in the Bruce Timm produced film Justice League: The New Frontier (2008) but that was the Hal Jordan version and the era of the story’s telling was backdated to the late 1950s when Hal Jordan originally appeared. Timm and co then made the animated film Green Lantern: First Flight (2009), which also retold the Hal Jordan Green Lantern origin story but set this version contemporary. (This does lead to the oddity of three different versions of Green Lantern in the Bruce Timm universe, all of which contradict the other in essential details). Timm and co have also released a further animated film Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (2011), detailing various stories of the Green Lantern Corps, as well as the tv series Green Lantern: The Animated Series (2011-3), while the Hal Jordan Green Lantern makes appearances in several other DC Universe Animated Original films Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010), Justice League: Doom (2012), Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013), Justice League: War (2014), Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015), Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015), Justice League vs Teen Titans (2016) and Justice League Dark (2017). The Alan Scott version of Green Lantern also made an appearance in the Absolute Justice episode of tv’s Smallville (2001-11), while Green Lantern even turns up in The Lego Movie (2014).

Superheroes have become big on movie screens in the 2000s/10s, following the huge success enjoyed by Marvel Comics with efforts such as Blade (1998), X-Men (2000), Spider-Man (2002), Daredevil (2003), Hulk (2003), The Punisher (2004), Elektra (2005), Fantastic Four (2005), Ghost Rider (2007), Iron Man (2008), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Thor (2011), The Avengers (2012) and sequels to most of these, which show no sign of slowing down in any kind of box-office popularity. Surprisingly, Marvel’s rival DC Comics have been slow to catch up with this, even though DC is owned by Warner Brothers where one would think that this would make for a natural screen partnership. Certainly, Christopher Nolan brought the Batman franchise back to strength with Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), while Bryan Singer revived Superman for the fine Superman Returns (2006), even though the film was poorly regarded by the public, and subsequent to this there was Man of Steel (2013). However, this seems paltry in comparison to the cinematic popularity that Marvel has enjoyed. Anywhere else one would have to look to the tv series Arrow (2012– ), Gotham (2014– ), The Flash (2014– ), Supergirl (2015– ) and Krypton (2018– ) and half-hearted film efforts such as Constantine (2005) and Jonah Hex (2010), or those that rest outside the canonical DC universe to Watchmen (2009). There have been a number of DC projects mooted throughout the last decade, including film versions of The Flash, Shazam, Justice League and Wonder Woman, but all of these continue to exist in development hell. Indeed, DC’s greatest successes during this decade have been on the small screen with the tv series Smallville and the continuing success enjoyed by the various Batman, Superman and Justice League animated tv series and films from producer Bruce W. Timm. Green Lantern is one project that has been constantly announced during this period – at one point, there was the disastrous idea of a comedy version starring Jack Black. There was even a very cool-looking fan-produced Green Lantern trailer starring Nathan Fillion that circulated on the web a few years ago

Green Lantern comes from Martin Campbell, a New Zealand-born director who directed episodes of various British television shows such as Minder (1979-94) and The Professionals (1977-83), before having a hit with Reilly, Ace of Spies (1983) and the original Edge of Darkness (1985), two of the finest mini-series produced for British tv in the 1980s. The latter became Martin Campbell’s Hollywood calling card and he went onto Hollywood with the legal thrillers Criminal Law (1988) and Defenseless (1991) and genre works that included the amusing alternate world fantasy Cast a Deadly Spell (tv movie, 1991) and the future prison film No Escape (1994). Campbell then had big hits with his revivals of the James Bond film series in GoldenEye (1995) and of Zorro in The Mask of Zorro (1998). In between other big-budget action-oriented efforts such as the mountaineering film Vertical Limit (2000) and The Legend of Zorro (2005), Campbell made the popular Daniel Craig-starring James Bond film Casino Royale (2006) and an ill-conceived theatrical remake of Edge of Darkness (2010).

I had some misgivings about Martin Campbell taking on Green Lantern. His oeuvre does not exactly light up in a way that gives you the impression he was a comic-book fan ever since he could read – the sort of feeling you get from directors such as Bryan Singer and Zack Snyder. On the plus side, Campbell certainly did a fine job in rebooting the James Bond franchise twice with GoldenEye and Casino Royale. Maybe you could with a stretch call his two Zorro films prototypic superhero films – certainly, they are non-superpowered masked hero films in the same sense that Batman and The Lone Ranger are. (The one thing that Martin Campbell does bring with him is a surprising number of Kiwi talents, including Grant Major and Ngila Dixon, the production and costume designer who gained major attention in their work for Peter Jackson, as well as Temuera Morrison, the Maori actor who came to fame in Once Were Warriors (1994) and as Boba Fett in the Star Wars prequels, unrecognisable under a mass of makeup as the dying Abin Sur, as well as Taika Waititi, director of Eagle vs Shark (2007), Boy (2010), What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017), as Hal Jordan’s Inuit mechanic Thomas ‘Pieface’ Kalamaku).

Green Lantern suffered from some bad advance press when the CGI-generated Green Lantern costume was greeted with ridicule by fans when the first trailer went out, while the film itself has received extremely bad reviews from the mainstream press. To counter these, I enjoyed Green Lantern. It feels the film I have been waiting to see since I was five years old. All the details fall into place with immense excitement. There is the ring, the lantern and the Green Lantern Oath faithfully repeated word for word. The costume is there as it should be – although there is a good deal of focus on the idea of an energy suit that moulds itself to the physical features of the wearer’s body that I don’t remember being there in the comic-books. Non-human characters such as Abin Sur, Tomar-Re, Kilowog and Sinestro are given a physical life that makes them look as though they have stepped directly off the comic-book page. The Guardians of Oa have been changed slightly, retaining their diminutive blue-skinned appearance but with the addition of transparent skull casings and being seated on very high thrones wearing long crimson robes that give the impression they have legs about fifty feet long. (One suspects this was added in order to take the Guardians away from their comic-book appearance that would have made them come out resembling copies of Yoda).

Hector Hammond, a regular super-villain from the comic-books, has his origin story substantially changed to fit into the backstory regarding Parallax – in the comics, he is a petty criminal who is mutated after encountering a meteorite, which causes his brain to become giant-sized and genius-level. Abin Sur’s story has changed through several DC retcons (at one point, his ship was the one that crashed at Roswell) – what we have here comes the closest to the graphic novel Green Lantern: Secret Origin (2008). The story of the Parallax entity is taken fairly closely from the mini-series Green Lantern: Rebirth (2004-5), although added to this has been the explanation that Parallax was a former Guardian (and missing is the revelations of how Parallax later possess and causes Hal Jordan to go crazy). The one surprise is the character of Sinestro, the principal nemesis of Green Lantern in the comic-books. One kept waiting to see him go over to the dark side but instead he remains on the side of the Green Lanterns Corps throughout the entire film – although if one waits until the credits run, there is an epilogue where he puts the yellow ring on and transforms into the familiar villainous Yellow Lantern character that we know (as set-up for a presumed sequel).

As comic-book adaptations go, Green Lantern holds up as one of the better – you only need to make comparison to how badly one other green masked hero was handled a few months earlier with The Green Hornet (2011) or think about the idea of the Jack Black-starring version to see the way it could have gone. The film takes occasional liberties with comic-book canon mostly in order to thread its story together but in all other regards everything holds together with surprising faithfulness. Before I started watching, I wondered exactly how well a film with bird creatures and a pink-skinned villain with a satanic crewcut and a pencil-thin moustache would work in live-action, not to mention a film with a character constantly manifesting objects out of green energy. You have to essentially buy the film on it and the comic-book’s terms in order for it to work.

The enjoyment of films like this is always when they get to the superheroic action scenes. The film holds a good deal of fun watching the various manifestations of the ring – the instant costume changes, the creation of giant fists and the like, characters casually gliding around on ring power. In this respect, Martin Campbell and the legion of visual effects companies do a superb job of integrating the live-action, CGI and animation into a seamless whole in the service of a single comic-book vision. The most fun parts come during Hal’s training scenes with Tomar-Re and Kilowog where the combat sequences are filled with blinding, lightning-fast materialisation of objects from out of the ring. This is the essence of what the comic-book was all about. You wish there had been more of this in the film.

The mundane scenes work less well. You feel as though the scripters hurried through the character establishing scenes in order to get to the superheroic action as quickly as possible. Ryan Reynolds – in his third appearance in a comic-book adaptation after Blade Trinity (2004) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) (and frequently touted to appear in a Deadpool spinoff movie) – makes for an okay Hal Jordan. The decision has been made to write the character as a cocky hotshot who is full of himself. This has been tailored to suit Ryan Reynolds’ flippant persona, although the character arc about him accepting responsibility comes entirely by the numbers. Blake Lively was an unknown until appearing in tv’s Gossip Girl (2007-11) and becoming a celebutante sensation of five minutes fame. Her role here is vapid – no more than that of The Love Interest. The scriptwriters try to give her and Hal Jordan a cocky sparring relationship – the overly familiar sort where audiences know if only the two characters would stop trading insults or getting annoyed, they would be all over each other. At its best, their scenes suggest a cockily modernised version of the Superman/Lois Lane romance in Superman (1978). However, too little time is spent on this and none of it emerges out of cliche-ridden writing.

The other great disappointment is that almost all of the film consists of an origin story for Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps. Once Hal gets past denying the responsibility and comes into his powers, most of the film is over. What Martin Campbell then fails to do is give us much showing the superhero in action. There is a lame scene where Ryan Reynolds enters a black tie function and saves a runaway helicopter by manifesting a green energy racing car underneath it but surprisingly little else where we see him in action. Nothing much emerges out of the battle with Parallax – a wholly routine world-threatening menace that turns up, smashes a few buildings and kills a few people but never does any widespread damage. (For some reason, when Parallax starts invading earth, I could not help but be reminded of Howard the Duck (1986) and the climactic appearance of the Dark Overlord). Green Lantern gets to defeat Hector Hammond without much effort, battles Parallax for a few minutes and saves the universe – the animated Green Lantern: First Flight did a very similar epic battle with far more excitement than this.

Though Green Lantern was poorly regarded by most audiences and especially comic-book fans, it was not a box-office failure. There have been consistent rumours ever since of Warner Brothers recasting the role and launching a sequel, which is tentatively titled Green Lantern Corps (2020).

(Nominee for Best Special Effects, Best Makeup Effects and Best Production Design at this site’s Best of 2011 Awards).



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