Reviews

'Green Lantern': Wherein Comic Book Mythos Meets Complete Cultural Insouciance

Maybe all you need to know about this movie is that, in the heart of a deep recession, the Lantern uses a giant green fist to beat up some guys who just lost their jobs.


Green Lantern

Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively
Distributor: Warner
Rated: PG-13
Release date: 2011-10-14

Abin Sur, Sinestro, Parallax, Sector 2814. Comic book fans would seem to have reason to rejoice over the last summer’s iteration of the Emerald Warrior making its way to Blu-Ray.

Certainly no one can say that this is a film that ignores its source material. Comic writer Geoff Johns, whose version of Green Lantern has become the modern canonical version, rightly spends a lot of time talking about this in the Maximum Movie version of the film available on this disc. Johns should know and it’s hard not to agree with him. Packing in bits and pieces of Lantern lore going back to the '40s would seem to be a comic geeks dream.

And yet, this is not really a comic geek’s movie. Indeed, its mostly an obnoxious frat boy of a movie that seems to have made the decision to limit its appeal to that rarest of creatures: actual, real world frat boys (or rather, tweens who will grow up to become them) that also happen to be deeply invested in the history of one of comics most iconic characters.

It also wants to give you lots and lots of explosions, something to allow Transformers fans a day off from mooning over Optimus Prime, or whatever. Its also a love story, a CGI-driven video game promo and, in general, a mess of a movie with an excellent character at its heart. It even has an oOKplot, or at least it would if you read it as a treatment and don’t have to listen to the adolescent dialogue.

Comic book movies depend on exposition. Their characters have sequential histories spanning 50 to 80 years with back stories, reimaginings and relaunches galore. This is certainly true of Green Lantern whose history reaches back to the golden age of comics.

The filmmakers knew this and, I think, sought to please the fans with a healthy devotion to the comic’s mythology. But they even messed that up. Green Lantern failed in part, not by ignoring the mythology of the character, but rather by endlessly repeating it. This made for a great trailer. It also makes for a bad movie.

This is far from the film’s only problem. Critics and audiences could not warm up to this film and the extended Blu-Ray transfer wont pull in any new fans. Honestly, CGI films that depend on CGI often look garish and plastic in the unforgiving gaze of high definition and Green Lantern is no exception. The first five minutes do in fact look like a video game…from about 2002.

The extended cut is an improvement over the theatrical release in giving the film more heart and allowing the actors to act. Most of the extra footage goes into an extended opening sequence that lets us learn a bit more about Hal Jordan’s childhood and how the death of his test-pilot father plays into his crisis of confidence that is at the heart of the film.

The extended cut does not redeem the film, however. There are all sorts of reasons that general audiences couldn’t care less about this movie and won't care about the blu-ray release. I actually give credit to the filmmakers for making Parallax the villain but most moviegoers needs something more in their antagonists. The bad guy doesn’t have to be Iago, or even the Joker, but probably has to be more than a noxious gas that feeds off the color yellow.

Its also likely than many audiences found the Hal Jordan who appears in the film as intensely unlikable. He’s just really “that guy”, a bit of a bully, too handsome for his own good, and exhibits a generalized misogyny and lack of empathy (as does the movie itself… one of the first female characters we meet is literally nothing more than a smooth shoulder and wisp of blonde hair, one of Hal’s conquests).

Here’s the moment I knew this was a movie going from average to bad to reprehensible. This is a film, released in the heart of a deep recession and runaway unemployment percentages. In it, the hero first uses his powers (he makes a giant green fist, instantly recognizable to fans) to beat up some guys who have angrily attacked him because his antics have caused them to lose their jobs. Maybe that’s all you need to know about this movie. Its comic book mythos meets complete cultural insouciance.

There are some great extras here and watching them is the only thing that saves this release. Geoff John’s commentary appears in Maximum Movie Mode, a feature many readers will be familiar with from the Watchmen Blu-ray. Johns actually appears in a small screen insert throughout the movie, doing interviews, walking around on the set and talking Lantern lore. Johns is much more frequently on screen than Snyder was in the Watchmen release and that’s a good thing. You can see Johns do his commentary without having to watch the movie.

As a side note, one of his interviews is with Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds describes his portrayal of Green Lantern as tapping into a “male archetype” that we don’t see that much anymore. Really? Because his portrayal mostly made me think of George W. Bush in a flight suit, so much so that I expected Lantern to assert “Mission Accomplished” when the dust cleared. Maybe Reynolds meant “since 2003”.

Comic fans looking for more featurette goodness will focus most of their love, rightly, on the much too short “Universe According to Green Lantern”. We also get to read a digital version of Geoff John’s excellent Justice League relaunch (but most of us already did that). That’s about it as the deleted scenes add nothing much and are mostly unfinished CGI stuff, anyway.

Other extras include, bizarrely, a code to download a free Sinestro corps yellow suit for Batman to wear in the new console game Batman: Arkham City. Why would you want to put Batman in a Sinestro corps uniform? I have no idea. This seems like what it is: a purely mercenary cross-promotional scheme that has no respect for the very characters it markets.

The Blu-ray also comes with a DVD to burn and another code to make Green Lantern available on your mobile device. I seriously doubt that this is a movie anyone is going to want to take with them on the go.

This is a film designed for a not very mature 13-year-old boy, particularly one inculcated with suburban values of personal success and quasi-military conceptions of masculinity and courage. It's as loud and brash as its hero and as dumb as the Ryan Reynolds portrayal of fan favorite Hal Jordan.

In other words, Green Lantern is everything people who hate comic book movies hate about comic book movies.

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