I often believe that my best work is generally what comes about when something won’t leave my brain even when I don’t particularly want to write it. This is the case today. I have struggled over my feelings on 2011’s Green Lantern since I saw the movie. I am not going to state that Green Lantern is a bad movie. I actually know exactly why I had a negative response to the movie. The negative response is actually borne out of a faithful rendition of what the current problem. I will repeat this. The Green Lantern movie directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, The Mask of Zorro) and starring Ryan Reynolds is an absolutely faithful (perhaps the most faithful) retelling of a current comic book to movie. This is perhaps the most faithful that I have seen in my life time.
The special effects were certainly there. There was a believable realization of Green Lanterns as well as the world of Oa. Reynolds basically did a happy go lucky impersonation of Neo in the movie. Most of the acting consisted of “Oh man, this is so cool.” I did not have a problem really with Hal Jordan being a redux of Tom Cruise’s Maverick character in Top Gun. If I make fun of Blake Lively’s performance, I would be doing no more or less to make fun of it than every other “Hot girl who never read a comic book in her life suddenly gets a part in a film and has to pretend she has a clue what is going on” role. Blake Lively had no more of an idea who Carol Ferris was than I have of Gossip Girl. At some point, I was almost grateful that she did not even try and act savvy about her role. There have actually been worse lines in comic book movies than “I know, right?”
No, my problem is not with the film makers or the film. I have a long standing rule of taking a comic book film or any other adaptation as its own entertainment and judging the entertainment as such. If I had seen this movie the year after I saw Batman (1989) and been 15, I would have absolutely been blown away by the special effects as well as all of the cameo characters. As a movie, I appreciate the job that those involved with the film did. My problem is not with the storyline that is in the movie. There is a fine distinction here. My problem is with the storyline that the movie is based on. In essence, my issue is with the Green Lantern comic book going all the way back to the Death of Superman storyline back in 1993. In my opinion, the storyline was completely ruined before they decided to make a movie based upon it.
For those that do not know, I will give a little bit of history. In the early 1980’s, DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths straight up murdered my favorite comic book character. This would be the silver age Flash Barry Allen. I wrote an angry letter to DC comics as an 8 year old and it was never published. Flash was replaced by Kid Flash Wally West. I stopped buying the book and no one cared. In the early 1990’s, you had a major reorganization of the DC super heroes. Batman had his back broken in the Knightfall and Knight’s End storyline. Batman was replaced by a character named Jean Paul Valley and later by Dick Grayson before taking up the mantle of Batman again. Superman was killed by Doomsday and replaced by four different Supermen. Superman came back and there was a few different reduxes of the storyline throughout the 1990’s.
Amazingly, the greatest controversy came over Green Lantern. During the Reign of the Supermen storyline, Hal Jordan’s protected city was leveled. Jordan went insane and killed off the Green Lantern corps. Eventually, the ring fell to Kyle Rayner and Jordan was recast as a villain named Parallax. Fans went absolutely insane. They simply could not handle Hal Jordan not being Green Lantern. I was one of those fans. The reaction from DC was initially that the changes were made and the changes were staying made. DC even went so far as showing Jordan reshaping the entire universe to cast him as a villain and still fans demanded that he have the ring back. DC’s next step was to take a positively Nixonian approach. Nixon decided towards the end of the Vietnam war that he was not seeing an anti-war protest. Nixon thought he was seeing an anti-draft protest. Nixon eliminated the draft and still found anti-war protesters.
DC decided that the decision to make Hal Jordan a former Green Lantern was not bad. They decided that making Hal Jordan a villain was the wrong way to go. So, DC attempted to correct the error and give Jordan a noble hero’s death. Literally, they put Hal Jordan in the middle of the sun to re-ignite day and allow Hal’s sacrifice to restore life to the whole freakin’ universe. Fans still did not accept Hal Jordan not being Green Lantern. They brought Hal back as a powerfully elemental ghost being called the Spectre. Still, Hal separated from the ring was too much for comics fans to take. The entire Green Lantern corps came back. Hal was restored as Green Lantern. There was practically a rainbow of ring colors established. They gave out white, black, purple, red, and yellow rings. Parallax was revealed to not be really Hal Jordan at all. Parallax was now an ancient evil entity that overtook the body of Hal Jordan. Hal was not really responsible. Hal was possessed the whole time. The Green Lantern mythology grew and became so convoluted that to understand the trailer for the Cartoon Network Green Lantern animated series, I had to spend three hours online research the villain, mythology, and rings involved in a thirty second spot.
Let me state something right here. I was a classical civilizations major at the University of Mississippi. I studied Greek, Latin, and Egyptian. I did not just crawl onto the mythology bandwagon. I took a course in college called History of the Church in the Middle Ages for fun and had nearly a 100 average in it. I studied everything I could about the current Green Lantern corps and story line. I doubt I could make a C on a text of it all right now. So I watch the movie…. And Parallax is a universal force that overtakes a host. The movie is completely based on the current over wrought mythology of the Green Lantern. By the time you get even a cursory explanation out, you have Jordan’s future enemy Sinestro rescuing him from falling into the Sun.
So, the movie is being completely faithful to a storyline that in my opinion has been going in the wrong direction for nearly twenty years now. When they make a movie that is close to a source material that I believe has gotten progressively worse, it is a rather interesting way to make a movie with a bad storyline. In my opinion (and Lord knows this is just my opinion), comic books very rarely do space faring adventures right. For the most part, the moment that comic books get out of the Earth’s atmosphere, I get lost. I love space faring science fiction. I am a huge fan of many books and movies set in space. Space conflicts in comic books though often become a mess though. This is not limited to DC. I have trouble making it through any discussion of the Kree / Skrull war in Marvel as well. The politics of Apokolips in DC are similarly baffling. I had a subscription to the Silver Surfer but honestly cringed every time Surfer went to a different planet. I honestly liked the story better when the Surfer was condemned to stay on a planet he did not understand. One of my few reservations about the new The Avengers movie is that the film seems to center around an alien invasion. On that… I will digress.
I do not have a perfect idea of a Green Lantern movie in my head. I can tell you some elements that I would have liked to see in one that would have made the movie better to me. By no means would this have made the movie better to anyone else. However, I have a forum so I will give my thoughts. First of all, I would have cast Thomas Gibson as Hal Jordan / Green Lantern. To me, Gibson just a Hal Jordan quality. Marvel proved that a period piece is workable in movies like X-Men: First Class and Captain America: First Avenger. I would have set the movie during the Korean War. The alien Abin Sur did not need a back story other than he was the last Green Lantern handing off the ring. Jordan was actually not particularly in favor of leaving Earth in the original series. I think that going from being given a ring to intergalactic threat was a bit much. I would not have been afraid to make Jordan the boorish essentially un-likeable character that he is. You can introduce any number of homegrown threats for Jordan to learn to deal with. Ideally, you could make a powerful topical movie about the dangers of North Korea by having Hal resolving a nuclear threat from the North Koreans in the 1950’s. I think a powerful ending would have been the introduction of an Oan Guardian in the last scene.
I am not actually going to give a grade on a review of 2011’s Green Lantern. I honestly feel unqualified to do it in any way objectively. Like I said, I felt like the filmmakers did a wonderful job with what they were given. What they were given is a really old debate with me.