It’s a near-miss, and as always, Tony Lazlo tries to figure out what coulda been.
SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Warner Bros’ earnest attempt to bring one of DC Comics’ oldest – and recently, most popular – heroes to the big screen, Green Lantern, is missing several ingredients.
Before I name these missing ingredients, let’s talk about what the movie is not missing. It’s not missing humor, invention, handsome cinematography and (in most cases) some good acting. I said it was earnest, and it is – even going so far as to allude to Richard Donner’s 1978 classic Superman in several key scenes. I can’t blame them for wanting to invoke the granddaddy of all DC Comics movies, but recalling the original Superman isn’t the filmmakers’ greatest error.
They made a few. I’m going to try and identify all of them. Here we go:
They miscast the lead, and they mis-wrote the lead
Ryan Reynolds has received a lot of praise from other critics for his performance as ace pilot Hal Jordan, and it’s well deserved – but there’s a problem. Just because Reynolds does his best to play the role he was given doesn’t mean he was the right guy in the first place.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. He’s fine in the role, and what’s more: He played the part the way he, Ryan Reynolds, should have played it. Here’s what I mean: I submit that actors should, when appropriate, infuse some of their own personality and sensibilities into a role. Robert Downey Jr. did it in the two Iron Man movies, and Reynolds does it in Green Lantern. Reynolds’ Hal is much, much funnier and goofier than the Hal of the comics (I submit), and that’s a good thing, because it meant that Reynolds was bringing his best skills and best self to the role.
But he still wasn’t the right guy. For my money, the closest approximation to Hal Jordan that we’ve ever seen onscreen was hidden in Joe Dante’s 1987 sci-fi gem Innerspace, or as I like to call it, The Fantastic Voyage of Walter Mitty. (I don’t actually call it that, but what the hey.) Dennis Quaid plays a roustabout Air Force pilot with a drinking problem. Subtract the drinking problem, and you’re left with Hal Jordan:
Watching this scene again, I can’t help but think that Meg Ryan would’ve made a great Carol Ferris. I’ll talk about Blake Lively in a moment, but let me explain what I mean by the writers mis-writing Hal: They took him out of the military. I got the impression that the Hal Jordan of the movie had been discharged from the Air Force and was working as a freelance test pilot.
I think that was a mistake. Hal’s dual commitment to both the U.S. Air Force and the Green Lantern Corps makes for one of the character’s richest internal conflicts, and it touches on the little bit of cop drama that DC Comics maestro Geoff Johns brought to the character starting with his epic run on the title in 2004. On a more calculating note, I’m surprised they took him out of uniform, given the appeal that a military superhero would presumably have in middle America. Maybe the filmmakers thought it would make it easier to sell Hal as a screw-up if he wasn’t in the Air Force? Heck – Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun follows a similar hotshot-to-hero trajectory, and he’s in the Navy from start to finish.
You might ask: Who would I have cast instead of Reynolds? Beats me. Maybe an unknown, but in any event – someone who could credibly pass as a member of the military. Nathan Fillion seems like a popular choice, but as I’ve already endorsed him to play Indiana Jones, I’ll refrain from submitting him for this part.
Moving on …
They miscast the female lead
I don’t mean to suggest that Carol Ferris is one of the great comic-book creations. To tell you the truth, I’ve read scores of Green Lantern titles, and I couldn’t describe the character’s personality to you the way I could, say, Lois Lane’s.
But regardless of how poorly realized Carol is, I just don’t get Blake Lively – even though she had one or two good scenes. And that brings me to my next missing ingredient:
They needed a truly great score
Incredibly, Green Lantern lacks any kind of musical identity. It feints in the direction of a grand, sweeping sci-fi score during the opening titles, and then abandons those themes for most of the movie. The rest of the score includes jazz, some rock ‘n’ roll and other modern touches that work for their individual scenes, but the lack of musical focus saps the movie of a unifying spirit. I’ll talk more about spirit later on, but I want to suggest a style of music that I believe would have worked for Green Lantern: Post-rock.
I’m not a music expert, but according to the always reliable Wikipedia, post-rock encompasses a subgenre of contemporary music in which traditionally rock instruments (guitars, synthesizers, etc.) are used in a more orchestral way. One prominent post-rock band is Explosions in the Sky, whose music graces the underrated NBC sports drama Friday Night Lights.
And here’s a surprise: Some post-rock actually made it into in Green Lantern. Here’s a non-surprise: I liked the scenes that included it.
Here’s the thing: Unless you can get John Williams (or Howard Shore or James Horner or Alan Silvestri or whoever) to craft one of their iconic, unforgettable scores for you, I think you’re better off subverting expectations and opting for a musical philosophy that complements your material in an unexpected way. A few of the smaller character scenes in Green Lantern feature lilting guitar chords in the spirit of Explosions in the Sky, and it made me imagine what the movie would’ve been like if the entire damn score was in that style.
I think it would’ve been great. But more on that later. Moving on, I respectfully submit …
They needed a script that made a little bit more sense
Hoo, boy. I don’t want to come down too hard on the creative team. They packed a shitload of goodies into this movie, from the Guardians to Kilowog to the other lanterns to the whole Geoff Johns “emotional spectrum” mumbo-jumbo. (Remember all that crap in the movie about how willpower is green and fear is yellow? And how fear is also a yellow monster named Parallax? For the uninitiated, Johns’ run on the comic has included the reimagining – “retconning,” in geek parlance – of the green and yellow power rings’ energy source. It’s great fun in the comics, but I could feel the audience tune out when the movie dove into that stuff.)
Anyway, the comics’ rich mythology was the least of the script’s problems. The script was clogged with scenes where the characters sat around explaining what was going on (or what had just happened); as well as murky motivations (Hector Hammond had a crush on Carol Ferris? Oh. OK.); and useless scenes (Hal returns to Oa to ask permission to defend Earth … alone. Huh? Would the Guardians have sent Green Lanterns to stop him if he hadn’t asked permission? Does not compute).
It’s a shame the script was so muddled, given the incredible thought and invention that went into the realization of the Green Lanterns themselves. It’s funny – after the initial negative buzz that the costume received when it first appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, it turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of the movie, as was the depiction of the homeworld of Oa and the lantern tech in general. The constructs look great, too.
But still this movie lacked a unifying spirit, and I think an example of such a spirit lies in the past. With respect, I submit that …
They needed the heart and soul of The Last Starfighter
I do this a lot on CC2K. When I try to figure out what went wrong with some movies, I refer back to other movies where things went right. I’ve argued that the video-game adaptation Super Mario Bros would’ve benefited from an injection of Princess Bride-style irreverence, Crom help me.
And in the case of Green Lantern, I can’t help but think back to the modest 1984 sci-fi tale of a kid who gets tapped to join an intergalactic band of warriors. The filmmakers responsible for The Last Starfighter were probably working with a tenth of the resources that Martin Campbell and the Green Lantern team had, and yet The Last Starfighter sings in a way that Green Lantern just doesn’t. (There’s also never a bad reason to watch the incomparable Robert Preston at work.)
Remember when I said that The Last Starfighter had a tenth of the resources Green Lantern had? Well, here’s one of the cheesily-designed and presented scenes from The Last Starfighter, but because the storytelling’s so much more sound, the stakes clearer, the acting one step more committed – it somehow works better, I submit.
To close, I propose this thought experiment. I’ve embedded two YouTube videos below. I want you to watch the one on the left (the opening to Contact) but mute the sound. Instead, play the video on the right.
Got it? Mute the lefthand video and watch it while listening to the music in the righthand video. Start them at the same time and watch the first 90 seconds or so.
Still with me?
Now try to imagine if Green Lantern had been more like that. Tell me you don’t get chills. Yes, I know it’s just a comic book, and a silly one at that, but there’s no reason why this movie couldn’t have given me chills. I wish it had.
Author: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
Robert J. Peterson is a writer and web developer living in Los Angeles. A Tennessee native, he graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He’s written for newspapers and websites all over the country, including the Marin Independent Journal, the Telluride Daily Planet, CC2KOnline.com, Offscreen, and Geekscape.net. He co-hosts the podcasts Make It So and Hiram’s Lodge. He’s appeared as a pop-culture guru on the web talk shows Comics on Comics, The Fanbase Press Week In Review, Collider Heroes, ScreenJunkies TV Fights, and Fandom Planet. He’s the founder of California Coldblood Books.