Blackest Night, by Matt Warren
I wasn’t a huge comics reader growing up, but I had my titles—The Flash, Daredevil, Spider-Man 2099. But Green Lantern was my favorite. I’m not exactly sure what attracted me to the character. Maybe it was his unusual origin story and the elaborate mythology surrounding it: the Guardians, Oa, and the Green Lantern Corps, etc. It was fun to see so what kinds of bizarre-looking aliens would pop up in different variations of the same black-green Green Lantern Corps uniform, one of the coolest looking superhero costumes in all comics. So even though the first wave of reviews had been gleefully apocalyptic, I still went into Martin Campbell’s big screen Green Lantern adaptation thinking that, as a fan of the character, I might find it enjoyable. Then, about thirty minutes in, something that had never even occurred to me during my childhood suddenly came into focus: Green Lantern sucks.
No, this isn’t the worst movie ever made. It’s just an extremely lame entry in an increasingly lame genre. For over a decade now, Hollywood has been more than happy to supply superhero movies in order to satiate the public’s apparently insatiable desire to watch dumbshits in Lycra jumpsuits punch each other in the dick. Some of these movies are good (The Dark Knight, Iron Man); some are bad (Superman Returns, Daredevil); and some are either good or bad, depending on what you think they were trying to do (Watchmen, Kick-Ass.) But the dirty little secret that neither Hollywood nor the Geek Community wants to admit is that, in the entire 100+ year history of comic books, there have only ever been, like, eight good superheroes. And Green Lantern isn’t one of them. There’s too much silly space-opera theatricality, his powers are too ill-defined, and the comics have a complete lack of memorable villains or supporting characters. Sorry, twelve-year-old me. I don’t wanna burst your bubble, but there’s a lot of crazy shit you’re gonna have to deal with in the next few years and it’s time to stop fucking around. Also, call the police and warn them about 9/11.
But it’s not impossible to make a good movie out of second-tier material. Before Jon Faverau and Robert Downey Jr. no one’s favorite superhero was Iron Man, except for maybe Ozzy Osbourne. But Campbell (or probably more accurately, Warner Bros.) doesn’t improve on the original comics lackluster elements so much as emphasize their mediocrity. And it doesn’t help that the entire first third of the film is an orgy of turgid exposition—artless dialogue, laborious voice-over, cheeseball flashbacks. Everything except a harried a college professor in a tweet jacket jabbing at flow chart with a pointer going, “So look, here’s the deal…” Through it all, we get a none-too-clear rundown on both the intergalactic Boy Scout troupe known as the Green Lantern Corps. and our protagonist, freshman earthlantern Hal Jordan, played by erstwhile Van Wilder and noted abs-haver Ryan Reynolds.
It’s giving me a fucking nosebleed trying to think how I’m going to summarize the plot of this movie coherently and efficiently, but here we go: ancient race of immortal beings; protectors of the galaxy; green space cops; unleashed evil; threatened universe; injured Lantern; spaceship crash; power ring; cocky test pilot; superpowers; mad scientist; damsel in distress; telepathic powers; alien planet; the GLC; training camp; self-doubt; evil encroaching upon earth. Will Hal Jordan overcome his fear, save the world, win the girl, and gain the respect his GLC co-workers? Spoiler alert: he does.
Unfortunately for Green Lantern, at this point, in 2011, the origin story has been done to death. Moments that should fill the audience with wonderment and a sense of discovery are instead interminable Soviet death marches between action scenes. My friend and I have derisively labeled the part in any origin story where our hero first learns to harness his powers as the I can fly… I can FLY! moment, and Green Lantern is nothing but I can fly… I can FLY! moments. There’s nothing here that isn’t recycled from other, better movies: the discovery of powers; the flying, the training montages; the flirty, faux-witty banter between Reynolds and implausibly attractive aeronautics colleague Blake Lively; the geeky best friend; the stupid one-liners; Jordan’s Top Gun aviator cockiness; the portentous dialogue. Let’s stop there. Holy shit, the portentous dialogue in this movie. Grave danger this and unimaginable power that. Fuck you, Sinestro. You look like a gay pink Errol Flynn, but in a bad way.
But there’s some good stuff here, too. I hate CGI like Garfield hates Mondays, but the SFX here were excellent, coming as close to registering with actual, tactile weight and density as any summer blockbuster in memory. Some of the fight scenes are pretty cool, with the Green Lantern using his power ring to conjure up any sort of tool he needs, from machine guns to a life-sized go-kart track. Peter Sarsgaard’s arc as the cretinous villain Hector Hammond could be its own David Cronenberg movie. Blake Lively is fun to look at. And to the film’s credit, it doesn’t pretend that Hal Jordan’s identity is any way hidden by his shitty little mask. I mean seriously, what was the GLC thinking? Morons.
If you like special effects, the color green, and don’t particularly value your time or money, this movie has your name written all over it. You will enjoy it in brightest day, and in darkest night. You will enjoy it on a plane, you will enjoy it on a train. On a boat, or in a moat. Goodnight moon. Everybody poops.
While I agree that the movie is pretty awful, I have to respectfully disagree about Green Lantern as a superhero. In fact, I disagree that there are only a handful of “good” superheroes. There are ones that are more resilient than others, and maybe Green Lantern is one that doesn’t fit with the times as well (although I personally think it does.) But there are plenty of good superheroes. The Green Lanterns, in particular, have a built-in mythology that lends itself to a lot of great storytelling opportunities. I think those opportunities were actively ignored, across the board, for this movie.
Clearly your mind is made up about this character, and that’s fair. All of this is simply to say: As a fan of comic books in general (Batman is my favorite), and a fan of Green Lantern, what I hate most about this Green Lantern movie is not how disjointed the story is, or how tired and lame and predictable Ryan Reynolds is. Or even how early-aughts-video-game the CGI is. What I hate most is how many people this movie has convinced that Green Lantern sucks.
For the record, as big a fan as I am of superheroes, I agree that they need to cool it on the movies. That’s always been the problem, they just crank them out instead of trying to make them consistently good.