Warner Bros. pulled no punches with Green Lantern. You have to give them credit for that, at least. But some punches are really just too weird to be thrown in the first place, especially when they’re aimed with such little care. That’s not to say it’s unacceptable for filmmakers to stretch what viewers are comfortable with. Just know that if you’re going to push boundaries, you’d better have the know-how and skill to back it up. Otherwise you end up with an ugly mess of a stepchild, and WB really should have known better.
Green Lantern has been touted for months as the next Star Wars sci-fi/fantasy cinematic venture. And as crowded with aliens, mystical powers and special effects as Green Lantern is, one can really see the parallels. But even if the talent at work here was able to achieve anything close to the thoroughly enjoyable highpoints of Avatar, it’s still a massive stretch to compare it to a cultural and technical touchstone like Star Wars. So. What Green Lantern should have been: For the unaware, the Green Lantern universe is huge. The first five minutes of the movie takes great pains to press that fact on viewers, and for good reason. Most sci-fi mythologies are composed of multiple fragments of part of the cosmic realm, but Green Lantern flips its brightly-adorned bird to lesser attempts and claims to encompass the whole goshdang entirety of interstellar existence. Immortal Ancients divided the entire universe into different quadrants, and assigned a Green Lantern to each individual one. Also, the movie begins with the line “Billions of years ago.” Director Martin Campbell and crew are given a lot to squander, in both dollars and narrative potential. They do a passable job of presenting the immense backstory, although an intro on the scale of The Fellowship of the Ring is sorely missed. Rather, we get a montage of outer space imagery, since we didn’t know what it looked like before entering the theater, and a monologue that gets the facts across. Not bad, not good. Then the villain is revealed. Parallax, demon of fear, who just needs to suck the souls out of three hapless galactic peacekeepers in order to break out of his prison. A fairly suspenseful sequence, but dangerously pedestrian.
The story begins. Somewhere out there, Parallax is devouring the universe one planet at a time. But forget about him. For most of the film, we’re thoroughly grounded on earth, obviously because in a post-Dark Knight world, movies are supposed to be character-based rather than special effects-based. And definitely not because Martin Campbell couldn’t put a sizable special effects budget to consistent use. It’s hard to focus on the crisis faced by the universe when the origin story fails to keep in mind the stakes, and in Green Lantern’s case, the stakes are far too high to support both the birth of a hero and a convincing villain. As I said before, as Parallax is out devouring the universe, we’re stuck on earth watching Hal, a Captain Kirk-esque punk ripped straight from the recent Star Trek, deal with daddy issues and run home crying at the slightest resistance to his new-found hero status. It’s utterly unconvincing to watch a villain, at whose name the Ancients themselves shudder, get defeated single-handedly by a brand-new hero. Wiser hero-creation stories have let their do-gooders cut their teeth on slightly more manageable super villains. Green Lantern does a terrible job managing its considerable scope.
But the problems go beyond that. Let’s talk aesthetics, something which, if Star Wars and Avatar have anything to say about it, are the centerpiece of sci-fi fantasy success stories. Avatar pushed technology leaps and bounds beyond what it was before, and proceeded to boast such artistic flair that it was admirable both on a technological and sensory level. The aliens are beautiful, the machinery is lovingly detailed and the worlds are painstakingly realized. In Star Wars, we saw aliens, robots and planets that were just bizarre enough to be entertaining while still being familiar enough to be engaging. It’s weird and experimental, but George Lucas knew just which creatures to fully realize from a character development standpoint, and he knew just how to make us fall in love with them. Granted, some are just ugly, but as stated earlier, he knew which ones to make endearing, and which ones were supposed to just gross us out a little bit. The only rule Green Lantern follows is making everything bizarre. But nothing is aesthetically pleasing, nothing is lovingly characterized, and we don’t want to spend any more time with these aliens or on these worlds than we have to. That’s because the one extraterrestrial planet visited in this mind-blowingly massive universe is Oa, which is just… weird, and pretty dead looking. Also boring, when not viewed from the one panoramic shot which is supposed to fill us with wonder and awe from the first look. Every alien in this movie, with the exception of some briefly-glimpsed Green Lanterns and the hulking Kilowog, is downright disturbing. Like the child-molester moustache, prune-foreheaded, dried-fish-faced, runny-turd sort of disturbing. Not appealing. Arguably more unpleasant than District 9, and Green Lantern is supposed to actually be enjoyable, not to mention family-friendly. Perhaps this can all be attributed to the Dark Knight effect, where everything is supposed to be darker and more menacing. But please, this is a sci-fi fantasy, not a crime drama.
But that’s just art design. From a raw special effects standpoint, what the movie does do it does well. Aliens are well realized, with convincing facial animations and life-like movements. Parallax is huge and detailed. And the opening dogfight is actually well-paced and satisfactorily fast and explosive. The technicians are undeniably capable and deserve full credit for designing state-of-the-art synthetic imagery. Unfortunately, most of their hard work is squandered on uncreative set pieces and laughable action sequences. For example, Hal Jordan’s first opportunity to put his Green Lantern powers to work involves an exploding beer tap that sends a helicopter spinning slightly out of control, giant green toy cars, and a spiraling Hot Wheels track constructed from a manifestation of cosmic will-power. It’s a total joke. And it’s not played off as one. Everybody gasps at the revealed superhero’s incredible power to make cheesy toys out of… green stuff. Given the ability to construct literally any-frickin-thing out of green energy, the creative talent at work decides the most impressive choice is a two-story toy car track. Can I please stop writing now? Much like Fantastic Four, Green Lantern features one of the most anti-climactic final boss fights in movie history. Using a green missile, green flak cannon, and a pair of green jet planes, Hal Jordan defeats the direst threat the universe has ever faced single-handedly, because, quite simply, “Bigger things burn faster.” And to top it off, his once-alienated Green Lantern buddies conveniently show up to say howdy-doo and hey, you’re an alright guy after all. Seriously. Parallax hasn’t even finished burning to death when they just show up. No explanation for why they didn’t step in to help, or how they knew what was going down.
Inexplicable is a pretty solid adjective for the entirety of the plot. Why does Sinestro, the chief commander of the Green Lantern Corps., suddenly become convinced that the good guys must turn to the Dark Side (in this movie’s terms, the “Yellow Power of Fear”) in order to combat a foe that, did I mention, rookie Hal Jordan could defeat single-handedly? Sure, Sinestro seems to have a slightly questionable side, but it’s nothing that even suggests he may have truly sinister leanings. Even if he did, it wouldn’t justify the sudden imperative to “fight fear with fear,” something that leads to obvious Sith-like corruption. And why does Hal Jordan, a cocky, self-assured Kirk-type, suddenly panic and pack his bags when defeated in a training match by the most capable and experienced galactic peacekeeper in existence (the above-mentioned, molestache sporting Sinestro)?? Sure, he’s flawed, but he doesn’t exhibit the character type that leads to self-doubt and insecurity. One question is answered, however. While at first it would be hard to swallow that Hal Jordan and his hard-working co-fighter pilot Carol Ferris could fall in love when their pre-superhero relationship has absolutely noromantic undertones, Hal’s best friend asks “Hey, doesn’t the superhero get the girl?” Cue love story. Hal flies over to Juliet’s balcony, and the two rapidly proceed to pursue their happily-ever-after. Even the plot threads that make some shred of sense are clumsily and hastily executed with nowhere near enough justification to construct a convincing, or even entertaining, story.
I would say that the only thing admirable about Green Lantern is its special effects, but the fact is that if you spend enough money on technology, you get good technology. And Warner Bros. definitely spent enough money on Green Lantern. This sci-fi debacle seems more like a desperate attempt to show stockholders that WB is working hard to replace the soon-to-be-concluded Harry Potter franchise than a love note to a venerable comic book series with die-hard fans.