Green Lantern, dir. Martin Campbell (2011)
Full disclosure: the Green Lantern is my favorite comic book hero.
So I’m giving Green Lantern the benefit of the doubt, the benefit of the heart, because it’s a rare film that refuses to cross the line into cheap gags and cynicism and this film refuses to do either. Most people who’ve seen it dismiss it as hokey, and just plain bad, but there seems to be a depth that Green Lantern aims for and, well, misses.
From what I’ve heard people find Green Lantern childish and, I’ll say it again, hokey, because of the Green Lantern’s power. It’s a ring that feeds off its wearer’s strength of will. The villain, Parallax, has power that feeds off of fear. The central question in the film is if willpower will overcome fear. It’s a beautiful conflict that, unfortunately, never receives its full due.
I’m not a comic book guy – I don’t collect them, don’t really read them – though I did grow up with their mythologies as most who grew up at the end of the 20th Century inevitably did. Now, of course, they’ve exploded into a new direction with the comic book film adaptations. Most of these adaptations attempt to cover far too much content in one hundred and fifty minutes. What inevitably occurs is a narrative breakdown where character becomes sacrificed for CGI and plot. The core of the comic falls off that high cliff into fog like so many super-villains in the past. As Green Lantern‘s progresses, once Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) receives the ring and is introduced to the Green Lantern Corps, the film suffers from a complete narrative breakdown where we more or less are given episodes of Hal, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively, who basically plays the Serena van der Woodsen of the DC Universe), and the nebbish doctor-come-villain Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard, who, unfortunately, is forced to scream high-pitched squeals of pain in 90% of his scenes). The only continuity throughout Green Lantern stems from Parallax, a villain that grows stronger and threatens to destroy Oa, the CGI orgy that’s the Green Lantern Corps’ home planet, and later Earth. A lot has to be squeezed into one film and what inevitably happens is that almost all of it – the story, the performances, the action – gets shortchanged.
The most successful comic book adaptations seem to feature superheroes who are not completely dependent upon their power, i.e. Batman and Iron Man. These films seem to have less trouble examining the heros as characters; they’re less superheroes and more flawed individuals. The association of superpower and humanity is what makes the films interesting. The exemplary films - Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and Iron Man – play back and forth with this association flawlessly. But the problem with those particular heroes is that they’re not true superheroes: both Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark crafted their power and are, at base, regular guys. Superman ain’t human. The X-Men can’t wake up one day and decide to hang it all up. Spider Man shoots a web whether he likes it or not.
What about Green Lantern? He’s human. His ability is what I’ve always admired: all he has to do is be brave. Unfortunately, action sequences are what earn tickets, and director Martin Campbell spends much of his energy playing with 3D (very well) instead of giving us real meat when it comes to emotion.With the insufficient attention, Campbell treads into campiness trying to rush earnestness. We modern moviegoers are a cynical bunch and will laugh at anything with a speck of unearned enthusiasm. Hal does overcome his fear and becomes a Green Lantern but by the end we’re still unclear what exactly that means for Hal Jordan.