How Bad Is…Green Lantern (2011)?
Before he was the merc with a mouth, Ryan Reynolds was the space cop with a lousy green CG costume. How bad was it really?
With a hilarious new trailer out for Deadpool 2, Ryan Reynolds is perhaps the most recognizable super hero on the market. It wasn’t always this way. A flubbed attempt at the Deadpool character a decade ago was followed up by one of the most ridiculed super fiascos of the current spandex craze: Green Lantern. DC comics was riding high on Christopher Nolan’s seminal Batman flick, The Dark Knight, and Marvel was printing money with the Avengers. The disappointment that was Zack Snyder’s version of Superman was yet to be filmed, so the time seemed right for one of DC’s lesser heroes to get some love. Like most things from Warner Brothers and DC comics, the result was less than stellar.
Green Lantern (2011).
Hal Jordan is a hot-shot pilot with a fearless persona. He’s thrust into a cosmic drama when he finds a dying alien who bestows upon him a green ring of power. That alien was a member of the Green Lantern Corp, a group of galactic peacekeepers who use the rings to manifest their willpower into anything they can imagine. This alien deputizes Hal and urges him to warn the rest of the Lanterns that an ancient enemy, wielding the yellow power of fear, has returned and is hellbent on destroying Earth and the entire Green Lantern Corp.
What Went Wrong?
Delusions of Grandeur.
The biggest problem with the DCEU in general, and Green Lantern in particular, is that they rush their properties. They’re so eager to get to the franchise stage that they don’t slow down to make a good first movie. If Tim Burton had tried to wedge in sequel bait and massive amounts of mythology in his first Batman movie, we probably wouldn’t be talking about comic book movies all the damn time. They wouldn’t exist.
Green Lantern wants to cover 80 years of comic book lore and set up a sequel, all in one two-hour movie. As little as I know about Green Lantern, I know that Parallax is pretty much his ultimate modern villain. Putting him into the first movie as the final boss is like making your first ever Superman movie against Doomsday. There’s no time to get situated since they’re doing a genesis/maturation/biggest rival story all in one movie!
I’m not a fan of the Green Lantern for several reasons. First, he’s no goddamn fun. People complain that Superman is a glorified boy scout, but Hal Jordan is a glorified traffic cop. He’s self-serious and rigid, completely wasting the talents of the ever sarcastic Ryan Reynolds. I don’t know why you would even select him to play such a joyless character. Go get some chisel-jawed piece of plywood like Henry Cavill…oh, wait…never mind.
Second, his powers are amazing but Hal Jordan uses them like a moron. Anything he can imagine pops into being…so he makes green swords and big dumb green mallets and green fucking machine-guns. Dummy, those things already exist and are usable by us normals! Think of something fucking amazing! If I was dueling a dirtbag like Sinestro and anything I imagined would appear, you know what? That asshole better be holding the block button because I’m going to imagine every cockamamie projectile from Mortal Kombat, EVER, and they’re all coming his way. Simultaneously.
Giant Sloppy Space Monster/CGI Tomfoolery.
Green Lantern tries to gracefully climb the uncanny valley of computer animation only to trip on a green banana peel and slide face first the whole way down. The aliens of the Green Lantern Corp look pretty decent…mostly because they look stolen from Guillermo Del Toro‘s Hellboy movies. Hal Jordan is a hot mess with a CG domino mask. Seriously. You made a 200 million dollar movie and couldn’t just buy one at the Halloween Shoppe? They cost a dollar, and they come in any color. Instead we get a shifting blur of animation on Reynold’s face that is almost as distracting as Superman’s disappearing/reappearing mustache.
All that would be forgivable if it was necessary in order to make the big CGI sequences spectacular. His costume HAS to be CG because he gets into a fight with an amazing badass boss, right? Well, if by amazing you mean silly and by badass you mean “boss who looks like a cross between a giant octopus and a pile of dog poop.” That’s not hyperbole. He’s a giant writhing mass of yellow and brown ribbons of crud that occasionally has a face. A fake Ryan Reynolds fighting a seething pile of turds is not a great look.
What Went Right?
While I have problems with the CG visuals and Hal Jordan’s prosaic powers, I have to say that director Martin Campbell knows how to make a solid action sequence. Not surprising since he was the guy behind Casino Royale and The Mask of Zorro, two splendid action flicks. The training sequences where Hal learns his powers by being on the receiving end of an ass whupping is fun, and his duel with the appropriately sinister Sinestro boasts an exciting bit of sword play. Despite the final boss looking like a giant sloppy pile of space poop, a couple aspects of the final fight DON’T suck.
Two interesting (wasted) villains.
Parallax is doubly disappointing because he didn’t need to be the big bad. There are two perfectly fine but under-utilized villains already in the picture. Hector Hammond is a rival to Hal Jordan for the affection of the damsel, and he gets infected by Parallax’ power. He’s calculating and manipulative, and haunted by feelings of inadequacy. While Hal gets a new set of cheekbones and abs from his green powers, Hammond gets a good dose of body horror from his yellow powers. He’s everything Hal/Reynold’s is not. That’s a fantastic foil for your new hero to face. Go with that!
Next up you have Sinestro. He’s an arrogant prig who leads the Lanterns, hates humans, and is willing to do anything to win. When he sees Hal upstaging him, he makes a deal with the devil to get more power. Congrats, DC, there’s the villain for your second film. Cap it all off with actually showing Parallax (you know, as something other than space poop) in your third movie and you got a goddamned trilogy.
Actually Sets up the Lantern Mythology Competently.
I think DC really should have taken a go-slow approach with Green Lantern. People may know him from the Justice League, but he’s not a house-hold name. Tell a simple story about a guy who gets a cool alien ring that embodies courage who has to fight a guy who gets a shitty magic ring that embodies fear. Leave the other stuff for a sequel. That being said, I feel like a know a ton more about the whole universe of the Lanterns now. The travels from Earth to space and back again never feel very distracting, and they don’t feel like solely exposition dumps. They introduce the general flavor of the Lanterns, the Guardians who created them, and the emotional spectrum that powers all of the different factions pretty well. I guess that will come in handy when the reboot this turkey and I don’t have to do any research.
How Bad is It?
Watching this movie in the theater in 2011 and then again in 2018, I’m kind of surprised by how watchable it is for 8/10ths of the run time. I was honestly digging it, despite the goofy CG, the first time I saw it. It’s only when the story throws away a compelling and underused bad guy in Hammond in favor of listless action sequences involving a GIANT SPACE POOP MONSTER that I tuned out. If this movie had come out in 2001 instead of 2011, it would have been one of the better comic book flicks out there. As it is, the genre has evolved and this stab at the Green Lantern wasn’t able to keep up. Maybe if he had just imagined something fast, mundane, and utterly fucking stupid…like say strapping himself to fighter jets to get around in space where there’s no air for the engines to fire…