NOTE: I’ve decided to write two reviews for the Green Lantern movie: one where I try to shed my fanboyishness, and another where I embrace it. I did this because I realized writing as a fanboy necessitates spoilers, and some folks might not appreciate that.
Green Lantern is the type of superhero movie that makes comic fans wish they’d been part of the writing process, because the film tends to take a big, steaming dump on the source material. While the basic premises of the character are intact, first-time readers jumping to the comics after seeing the movie are going to be good and confused.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t one of the purposes of making comic book movies to draw in a new readership, and to ease the transition by familiarizing the audience with the source material? Because if that’s the case, Green Lantern fails miserably. Sure, the audience learns that Hal Jordan is a brash, cocky test pilot who one day discovers a dead alien, who in turn bestows a ring that allows its wearer to manifest anything he can imagine into a construct made of green energy. We learn that the green energy is fueled by willpower, and is often foiled by the yellow energy of fear. We are also introduced to the concept of the Green Lantern Corps, which is basically a universal police force under the service of little blue men that call themselves the Guardians. Most of what you need to know about Green Lantern, the character is there.
What’s missing, however, is what you need to know about Green Lantern, the comic book. The movie does little to help you catch up on what’s going on with the comics. Certain elements were changed around so much that movie facts come in direct conflict with comic facts, to an irreconcilable degree.
The biggest culprit of this is Parallax. In the comics, it’s one of seven primal entities that represent the emotional spectrum of life. These ancient beings are immensely powerful, so much so that God’s very own angel of vengeance fears them. Parallax is the embodiment of fear, and takes the shape of a giant insect-like beast. The Guardians of the Universe, worried that its power may wreak havoc on the cosmos, jailed it within the Central Power Battery of the Green Lantern Corps. This led to one of the Green Lanterns’ greatest weakness, the Yellow Impurity, which rendered their rings powerless against yellow objects. Parallax is eventually freed and kicks all sorts of ass, at one point possessing Hal and wiping out all of existence in one of DC’s reboots.
Comics Parallax: It will eat your face.
In the movie, Parallax is a former Guardian (Krona?) who attempted to harness the yellow power of fear because the other Guardians thought, “You know what? This green willpower shit might not be enough.” The Guardian eventually becomes possessed by the yellow power and becomes Parallax, a massive head-on-a-squid made entirely out of space-turds. Abin Sur, the greatest of the Green Lanterns, manages to take Parallax down by himself and imprison him in Ryut (which in the comics is a dead planet fucked up by one of the Guardians’ earliest mistakes, but this fact wasn’t apparent in the flick). Parallax breaks free, stirs all sorts of trouble, and then gets taken down once again by ONE Green Lantern. For a primal force of the universe, it’s horrible at one-on-one combat.
Movie Parallax: It’s Galactus all over again.
Now, I’m okay with some movies changing characters up a bit, but Parallax figures prominently in recent Green Lantern story arcs. The massive change is definitely going to confuse movie viewers who decide to check the comics out. That regrettably means people are going to wonder where the space-turd is.
The character of Abin Sur himself is butchered. The movie declares him “the Greatest of the Green Lanterns”, when in the comics that title belonged to Sinestro. In the comics, Abin Sur dies because of the fear he experienced after hearing a prophecy of the universe’s darkest days. In the movie, he’s killed by a butt-hurt Parallax looking for revenge.
Again, Sinestro’s former positioning as the greatest Lantern and the manner of Abin Sur’s death are key to current storylines. Sinestro eventually becomes a villain, yet maintains some of his principles as a former Green Lantern. The character has enormous depth simply because he was once the right hand of the guardians. The death of Abin Sur, on the other hand, fueled one of the biggest company-wide crossovers in DC history, Blackest Night. The DC universe still continues to feel the repercussions of the event.
Outside of the film-comic inconsistencies, I have mixed emotions about the film. The strange energy-venation of Hal Jordan’s costume, for example, only worked from a distance. It looked spectacular while he was flying around, but awkward during close-ups. The choice to make the costumes almost completely computer-generated was also questionable, since it made Hal look like he was wearing glow-in-the-dark body paint in scenes that showed him from the shoulders-up.
The Guardians, on the other hand, looked downright wrong, from the ridiculously long gowns to the cartoonish quality of their facial animations. One big design boo-boo was the decision to turn their white hair into weird-ass gelatinous blobs of energy. While it works in concept, it doesn’t logically work with the most prominent Guardian, Ganthet. See, the Guardians are somewhat difficult to tell apart, and modern conventions have given Ganthet a ponytail to help readers identify him from the other little blue people. The designers decided to keep this aspect of the character, even if they didn’t name him in the film, as a nod to the fans. This, however, begs the question: HOW DO YOU TIE ENERGY INTO A PONYTAIL?
Oa was a far cry from the comic version, too. It looked barren and bleak, not like the majestic city fittingly made for the universe’s police force. Instead, it seems like the Green Lanterns were squatting on a planet nobody wanted. I understand that this was an attempt to make it look more alien, but then again, how many cities on Earth look like this?
The actors are decent enough, even if I think Ryan Reynolds wasn’t the best choice to play Hal (although he did an okay job). All the roles suffer, however, from a shoddy script. The writers tried to cram too much into the film, and then dumb it down by leaving little for the audience to think about. There is so much explaining going on in the film that it wears down the momentum.
The film also has two villains which, as history has shown, almost never works. See, when you have multiple villains in the first film of a franchise, you’re basically telling at least three origin stories. This leaves little time for the audience to fall in love with the other characters. You’re too busy learning about the history of Parallax, watching Hector Hammond turn into a psychic monster, and Hal learning the ropes of being a Green Lantern. At the same time, we’re watching Sinestro shift slowly from being a stalwart of the Corps to becoming its greatest nemesis. It’s too much in too short a time frame. The Dark Knight was able to pull it off because the Joker’s character is a force of random chaos; a detailed origin story for him wasn’t that necessary.
The Green Lantern movie could’ve done a lot more by being more faithful to the source material and cutting down on the story elements. The writers, for example, decided to give Hal some daddy issues because they needed his character to grow in the film. They could’ve just stuck with his main problem – he’s just too cocky – and played it off from there. No need for extraneous plane crash flashbacks. If overcoming fear was the main theme, you could have him get a “shit just got real” moment that instills fear in him, which he eventually gets over through willpower. You could even play off of the understated fact that the ring has a limited supply of energy – Hal underestimates the situation, his ring dies on him, and we get treated to a whole lot of tension.
The movie would’ve also been better by doing away with Hector Hammond. Although he really is one of the better characters in the film, the story would’ve moved along just fine without him. He ends up being a glorified henchman/wrench in the machinery, which deals Peter Saarsgard’s admirable performance a bad hand. He deserves his own Green Lantern movie, one in which he can command the screen in a movie revolving around his menace.
Better yet, they should’ve skipped both Hammond and Parallax and made it all about Hal’s rise to prominence juxtaposed with Sinestro’s fall from grace. Sinestro, after all, still believes in bringing order to the universe; he just thinks willpower alone cannot suffice. Can you imagine the drama that unfolds when a fearless young protege unravels his mentor’s authoritarian rule? This storyline has the potential to create a Xavier/Magneto-like dynamic which, as we see, drives the X-Men flicks.
The final verdict? It’s an okay popcorn flick. If you’re interested in the Green Lantern mythos, however, I’d recommend you skip the film and start directly with the comics. The writing is infinitely better in the books. There’s far too much going on in the movie to make it an effective launch pad.
Also, Hal beats Parallax with a giant cartoon fist. What.