Green Lantern

Green Lantern (2011)


I recently interviewed an attorney who talked about the seven-second rule: When meeting someone, we really only have seven seconds to make the right impression.

With that in mind, here is the opening narration for the new $200 million superhero film “Green Lantern”:

Billions of years ago, a group of immortals harnessed the most powerful force in existence: the emerald energy of willpower. These immortals, the guardians of the universe, built a world from where they could watch over all of existence: the planet Oa. A ring powered by the energy of will was sent to every sector of the universe to select or recruit. In order to be chosen by the ring, one had to be without fear. Together these recruits formed the intergalactic peacekeepers known as the Green Lantern Corps...

Let’s break that down, shall we?

  • Billions of years ago...: During “Thor,” a transitional cue (“Where did he come from?”) led to the caption: “A thousand years ago,” and I burst out laughing. Now it’s billions of years ago? Apparently a billion wasn’t enough and a trillion seemed too much...
  • ... a group of immortals harnessed the most powerful force in existence: the emerald energy of willpower: That sounds vaguely Third Reich-y. Or at least G. Gordon Liddy-y.
  • These immortals, the guardians of the universe, built a world from where they could watch over all of existence: the planet Oa. Why would immortal universe guardians need to create a world? Didn’t they have their own? Or did they need something more, I don’t know, in the center of existence to better watch over all of existence? And how did they come up with the name “Oa”? Noah without the nuh? Shoah without the shuh? A compromise between O and A?
  • A ring powered by the energy of will was sent to every sector of the universe to select or recruit. Does this mean sentient beings in every sector of the universe have fingers? Or can one use another part of the anatomy? Man, a porno version of this movie is just dying to be made.
  • In order to be chosen by the ring, one had to be without fear. Psychotics welcome.

And there went Warner Bros.’s seven seconds.

This is the summer of second- and third-tier superheroes: Thor, prequel X-Men, Rainn Wilson. Now this. I could never understand anyone’s excitement over the Green Lantern. Even when I was a kid, he was a marginal figure in my DC Universe: not as cool as the Green Arrow, who was essentially a ripoff of Robin Hood, nor even the Green Hornet, who at least had a cool hat, car, sidekick. Green Lantern had a cool oath (“In brightest day, in blackest night ...”), but I could never wrap my mind around his powers. They were both marginal, because they weren’t his (they were the ring’s), and all-encompassing, since the ring could create anything to defeat the bad guys. Unfortunately, the Green Lantern, creatively challenged, usually imagined giant green versions of the following: a hammer, a saw, a broom. He patrolled the universe but his mind couldn’t get out of his local hardware store.

So what do you do this character? This is what screenwriters Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg, director Martin Campbell, and all the good folks at Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment, did: They doubled-down on dumb.

I mean, as bad as this opening narrative is, it’s worse. Because it’s full of lies.

It turns out one doesn’t have to be without fear to be chosen by the ring. And there is a force more powerful than will: fear itself.

In fact, long ago, one guardian decided to experiment with fear and all of its wonderful yellowness (our color metaphoriticians were right!) and got consumed by it. In the process he created the intergalactic cloud monster Parallax. Which a member of the Green Lantern Corps, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), defeated and imprisoned on a faraway planet. Which was eventually explored by alien space travelers, who woke up Parallax. And Parallax consumed their fear and made its way out into the universe again, intent on revenge. Before we know it, Abin Sur is dead and Parallax has consumed worlds.

And what are the guardians of the universe doing during this time? Just hanging.

OK, so what do the Green Lantern Corps do to stop Parallax?

They hold a rally on Oa presided over by the purple, moustached, fussbudgety Green Lantern, Sinestro (Mark Strong), who speaks of willpower, after which all the Green Lanterns cheer and shoot their green beams into space and then shoot off into space themselves to take down Parallax. Yay! But they’re quickly defeated. Awww. And doubt fills Sinestro’s eyes. Booo. What happened to his willpower? That dissipated pretty quickly. And how does he survive Parallax? Did he retreat? Did he...?

Right. Back to our Green Lantern: Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds).

When Abin Sur was defeated by Parallax, you see, he managed to escape to the nearest planet, Earth, and, dying, he tells his ring to find someone worthy. The ring chooses Hal Jordan, who sleeps around, is late and irresponsible, and has daddy issues and possibly a death wish. His father was a test pilot but young Hal saw him blow up before his eyes. Now he’s a test pilot. We first see him going up against some high-tech, pilotless planes, and, after abandoning his wingman, former f-buddy Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), he takes the planes where he and they can’t survive, more than 50,000 feet straight up. Sure enough, they short-circuit and drop. So does he. But he shoots them down. He wins. Unfortunately, as he’s trying to regain control of his plane, he keeps flashing back to Daddy Dearest (“You’re not scared, are ya, Dad?” “Let’s just say it’s my job not to be.”), and is forced to bail out.

Watching this, I assumed that Daddy flashbacks would play out during the climactic battle with Parallax. Nope. He never has another one.

I also assumed he was a test pilot with the U.S. Air Force. Nope again. That’s private industry, Ferris Industries, and young, hot Carol, hotshot testpilot, is about to become its new CEO, taking over from her Daddy Dearest. Seems there’s nothing that a twentysomething girl can’t do.

Meanwhile, there’s a third Daddy Dearest, U.S. Sen. Hammond (Tim Robbins), who shows up all artificial smiles and handshakes at the test run. Later, we see a balding nerdlinger, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), who is pulled from his late-night meal and online chess match by some FBI types, who take him to a lab, where, damn, there’s a purple alien just waiting to be dissected! “Why choose me?” he asks Dr. Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett), the ranking physician. Days later, the other shoe drops. Right. Dad. U.S. Senator. Forgot.

Question: Do Senate subcommittees really have that much pull? The most momentous scientific moment of a millennia and they’ll let just anyone muck around with it? During the dissection, of course, a bit of yellow gets on Hector and slowly turns him into a mini Parallax, with yellow eyes and a big throbbing head.

Meanwhile, Hal Jordan, now Green Lantern, travels to Oa for what amounts to basic training. He’s told, “Your will turns thought into reality.” He’s told, “The ring creates only what you can imagine.” Leaving one to wonder: So why doesn’t the ring choose someone with imagination?

GL is doing OK with his drill instructor, Kilowog (voice of Michael Clark Duncan), who, despite all the possibilities in the universe, talks and acts exactly like a PG-13 version of a Marine drill instructor, when Sinestro arrives. He says he will tolerate no weak links. He says Abin Sur was a great warrior and Hal Jordan insults his memory by wearing his ring. “You reek of fear, Hal Jordan,” he says. Then he leaves. Hal Jordan is a puddle by now. He returns to his apartment on Earth, takes off the ring, looks forlornly at his dad’s flight jacket. He couldn’t live up to his father’s memory. Now he has to live up to someone else’s?

Meanwhile, Hector grows more powerful and deformed; then he kills his father and moons after Carol Ferris.

Meanwhile the movie tries to glom off better DC products by revisiting the balcony scene from “Superman: The Movie,” and cadging a few soundtrack notes from same.

Meanwhile, during one GL/Hector battle, Parallax, in space, has its eyes opened (yes, it has a face), and veers toward Earth for the climactic battle with the drummed-out Green Lantern, who, in the interim, has figured out his strength is in admitting his fear, not pretending he doesn’t have any, and who finally defeats Parallax with a move similar to the move at the beginning: He flies close to the sun and Parallax is pulled in by its gravitation. GL would be, too, but there’s Sinestro and the other members of the Corps, finally, who create green bands to pull him to safety. For all the talk of the unity of the Corps, then, for all the bund rallies on Oa, it’s back to one dude who admits weakness, shows perseverance, and comes up with a daring maneuver. Our movies, like the ring’s creations, are limited only by our imaginations, which appear to be limited.

Let’s break this down for a second. The movie tells us that the Green Lantern Corps is made up of warriors without fear. Hal Jordan, a fairly fearless test pilot, is chosen to be a Green Lantern but is condemned for having too much fear. But somehow owning up to his fear makes him stronger and he defeats the fear-eating monster, which the fearless Green Lanterns couldn’t defeat, by acting fearless.

A bit of a mixed message.

Worse, the movie gives us the billion-year-old Green Lantern Corps, the entire basis of the Green Lantern character, only to show us that it’s ... wrong. All that BS on Oa. Oa itself. Those worthless “guardians.” Not just boring. Wrong.

“Green Lantern” isn’t exactly evil, but you should still let it escape your sight.

—June 18, 2011

© 2011 Erik Lundegaard