I’ve wanted to watch a live-action Green Lantern movie ever since I was ten years old, so to say that I was excited for this film is a gross understatement. When Ryan Reynolds was cast as Green Lantern over the rumors of Justin Timberlake and Bradley Cooper, I was ecstatic. While a local radio station stated that Reynolds broke onto the scene with Van Wilder, he will always be one third of Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place to me (or is that a fourth if we include the pizza place?).
The CGI during the previews sent chills down my spine and represented so much more than a pretty movie. It was a symbol of how far movies had come that it could create an alien world with such diverse creatures. It should have been a symbol of what comic-book movies have achieved in terms of technological advancements, but also a different kind of super-hero story.
Because, make no mistake, Green Lantern is a different kind of hero.
Instead, it was a mess of a film filled with poor choices, a strange ideology, and an underwhelming experience.
Before we begin picking apart how this particular experience was disappointing, lets look at the biggest problem facing a comic-book-to-movie translation which isn’t how true it is to the source material (but I suppose it connects, albeit somewhat tacitly), but there is an immediate disconnect between the two mediums. Essentially:
- Movies require character arcs. Characters have to learn something and grow as an individual.
- Comic books thrive upon characters representing an ideal. An ideology. They represent more than just a costume, but rather, a driving force to aspire to be.
- While comic-book characters go through changes, their core essence remains unchanged from story to story because they have always been this idea. This ideal. This characteristic. Sure, in origin stories, there may be some transformation into this ideal, but the emphasis is always upon the strengths of the hero rather than a dramatic tension generated by their transformation into a hero.
Hal Jordan isn’t a character who has hang ups that keep him from being a hero. Fearless, cocky, and always self-assured, Jordan was born a hero, yet the film still insists upon portraying him as unconfident and dare I say whiney in places. While this is done to fulfill the requisite character arc that super-hero movies seem to require, the film missed out on an opportunity to do something different within this formula.
Unlike Batman who had to learn how to channel his rage and pain into constructive heroism, or Spider-man who learned responsibility the hard way, Green Lantern is a born hero… otherwise the ring never would have chosen him. Therefore, Hal’s internal conflict should have never been about whether or not he can get over his emotional hang-ups in order to become a hero. Instead, it could have been far more powerful if he used his super-hero identity to escape his normal life.
There is a lot of story potential for a character who is a screw-up in his civilian life, but is utterly dedicated and perfect in his heroic life. Hal Jordan can’t keep a job, or he lets his recklessness ruin his career as a test pilot, and he can’t connect emotionally with people, but when he puts on his ring, he is the epitome of perfection. This is ground that hasn’t really been tread before, and it was a lost opportunity in this film.
It seems that character growth can only occur in relation to the character and the costume rather than true personal growth. Unlike their comic-book counterparts (except for Spider-Man, I suppose) who are usually confident in their heroics, movie super-heroes always seem to have to question who they are and their mission. They have to doubt their every move and believe they aren’t worthy so the audience will empathize with their pathetic qualities.
“He’s a hero, but he is afraid just like me!” studios seem to want us to say.
But in comics, we’re supposed to be inspired by a hero’s courage and their unquestioning bravery. We are to look to heroes as shining examples of what we should strive to become.
So, the Hal Jordan that is presented in the film is one who:
- is incredibly good-looking
- has a very loving family so he isn’t emotionally distraught, but his father’s death still understandably haunts him
- has an incredibly cool and exciting job as a test pilot
- gets a lot of girls.
By all accounts, his civilian life is just as good as his super-hero life. Compare him to Batman who was emotionally shattered by the death of his parents or Spider-man who feels deep regret over his uncle’s death or Superman who feels responsible for all life on Earth, and Hal Jordan has got it easy. Most heroes escape their civilian life and immerse themselves as a hero in a compelling fight against evil that features the subtext of emotional therapy through fighing crime.
Hal seems to be the Green Lantern for no other reason other than that he was chosen which would be fine if he were to act heroic, or compassionate, but instead, he struggles with fear and acts as if he has some deeply rooted elements of heroism that we never really understand. It is somehow connected to his father, but even that doesn’t make any sense. His dad was fearless, but he wasn’t a hero other than a hero in the eyes of his son. Maybe that would be enough if the film emphasized this aspect, but it doesn’t.
Everything goes right for Hal Jordan. He has no flaws save for the ones he constructs for himself (sort of interesting to think about in relation to his power set of constructing light through his will power, but again, that’s not an idea that is present in the film, but rather one I am making up to try and salvage this film). So, without any flaws nor any real emotional depth, I came to one conclusion by the end of this film:
This movie made me hate Hal Jordan.
Maybe it isn’t all Hal’s fault. After all, a hero is only as good as his villain and the central villain of the film is Hector Hammond. Yes, Parallax is in this film as well, but its function is no more than a monstrous CGI-thing for Green Lantern to hit. Yeah, its the embodiment of fear and Hal had to beat it so that he could both literally and figuratively overcome fear to be a hero, but this just means that Parallax is an objective, not a character. Of course, it was never really a character in the comics, and the only interesting aspect of Parallax was its bug design which was replaced in the film with a creature that resembled Cloudactus from Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. (Side-note: wasn’t it a little too easy for Hal to kill Para-Cloudactus? I mean, that thing killed numerous veteran Lanterns during Sinestro’s assault, and Hal took it down single-handedly with nothing more than training that Kilowog gave him.)
Hector is the real villain of this film because he represents everything that Hal isn’t. Where Hal’s introductory scene shows him waking up late for work after sleeping with a beautiful and nameless woman, the first scene with Hector shows him alone, playing chess on the computer, and eating sauerkraut with hot sauce.
How is he not evil? He plays chess, he’s lonely, and he eats German relish!!!
Furthermore, Hammond looks like a villain. He has a molestache, he’s wormy, and he has a receding hairline. Nevermind that he rejects his father’s attempts to throw around his political weight so that Hector can examine an alien. Nevermind that he is really just a timid scientist – in fact, this might be another reason why he is evil because he is in love with Carol Ferris, but she is out of his league, so because he is ugly and she is pretty and he loves her but she has no feelings for him, then he must be evil. Character traits be damned; Hector Hammond looks evil and he is weird, so by movie logic, that means he is evil.
The point is further emphasized by Hammond’s monstrous appearance. The film seems to operate under the definition that ugly must equal evil and the uglier Hammond is, the more evil he is.
The comparisons between Hal’s “heroic” qualities and Hector’s “evil” characteristics are numerous. Hal has a happy family, but Hector’s father thinks him to be a constant disappointment. Hal is a brave test pilot, and Hector is a boring teacher. Hal is a risk-taker while Hector prefers the merits of hardwork.
All of this suggests that Hal Jordan’s background makes him a hero while Hector Hammond’s background makes him a villain… which is absurd.
It could be easy to dismiss these ideas as mere coincidences, but without an example of Hector’s overt villainy, then we must assume that he is not villainous, but rather a victim. Yet the film does nothing to emphasize Hector as a victim. Rather, he is a creep, and always will be a creep, so that makes him evil.
Hal’s interactions with Hector seem to further the senseless demonization of the character. During the party scene, Hector’s father compliments Hal Jordan and praises him for being a man of action. In Hal’s defense, he stands up for Hector by saying something about how people who think are just as important or something that sounds equally as stupid – but it’s the thought that counts. He’s trying to stand up for Hector in a passive-aggressive sort of way, but it ultimately serves to make himself seem important.
It is important to note that this is the only interaction Hal has with Hector where the two have dialogue with one another outside of combat. We are to understand that the two have known each other for some time, but the depth of the connection is never really explained, but it isn’t probably too terribly deep, based upon their battles against one another.
When Green Lantern and Hector Hammond fight for the first time, its clear that they know each other, yet rather than try and reason with Hector (who doesn’t seem too terribly unreasonable nor unjustified in destroying the lab that was keeping him hostage), Hal Jordan decides to go right into beating the crap out of him. While it is understandable to subdue a threat like Hector, it makes no sense to simply leave him behind in the lab after the fight. Rather than take him to prison, or more logically to stay with him and ensure that he is okay, Hal Jordan just flies away and leaves the unconscious Hector Hammond behind.
Upon their next confrontation, Hammond sits on a motorized wheelchair and Hal agrees to take off his ring to give it to Hector. He says something along the lines of “this is what you want” or “you want to be like me” or something like that, and while he specifically means “you want to have power,” (but during his interaction with his father, Hammond had already shown that he didn’t want power he didn’t earn, so this makes no sense), but the subtext is “you want to be normal, like me.” And while Hector Hammond might have been a little weird (and deformed at this point in the film), there was never really a moment where he hated what he had become nor any real suggestion that he would want to be Hal Jordan with the exception of prying into Hal’s mind to see him with Carol which is one of the few redeeming moments in the film.
Ultimately, Hector Hammond really isn’t that bad of a guy. Maybe a little weird, and most definitely a victim of circumstance, but not evil by any means. Rather than emphasize the tragedy of his character, however, the film portrays him as a villain and given all of the qualities that the film seems to connect with villainy, Hammond as a character is an offensive mess.
Here is the quiet, unassuming nerd and he is a villain which is basically saying that the audience watching the film is like Hector Hammond. By demonizing Hammond, the film effectively demonizes the fanbase. Here is a character that we all can relate to, and because of all of the things that make him up – qualities and characteristics that comic-book fans have – he is evil and therefore, comic fans are evil as well.
Every great super-hero has his or her opposite that represents everything the hero is not. Where Batman is a dark and brooding hero, the Joker is a colorful, insane villain. Superman is the ultimate force of good in the universe who uses his powers to protect the innocent, and Lex Luthor is the ultimate force of evil who uses his wealth and influence to exploit others. Green Lantern is without fear and questions authority, while Sinestro spreads fear as he exerts complete control over his people.
While the film tried to build from the premise that every hero has his opposite with the dicotomy between Hal Jordan and Hector Hammond, the reflection cast upon Hal made him seem arrogant and cruel while Hammond was tragic, yet the film continued to insist that Hammond was a villain. Instead of building this artificial relationship that highlighted the worst qualities of Jordan and the best of Hammond, the film could have easily been about the differences between Sinestro and Hal Jordan.
Of course, there are a few things to consider before going into what the film could have been:
- Budgetary constraints – While Oa was beautiful, and the fight scenes were well done, it is pretty clear that the film had to be set on Earth because to set the film entirely in space would be too expensive. Therefore, a film set on Sinestro’s planet of Korugar, or too many other alien locations was out.
- Building camaraderie – Hal Jordan and Sinestro have such an interesting dynamic in the comics that is based upon the fact that they were once teacher and student, but also brothers in arms. Their different ideologies for how to protect their respective sectors creates a conflict between the two that no other rivalry has. They respect one another, but they also hate each other. There has to be complexity in their relationship.
- Sinestro’s eventual turn - A film that outright features Sinestro as a villain in the beginning wouldn’t make for powerful dramatic conflict. Rumor has it that the long term plan has always been for viewers to connect to Sinestro and for his switch to evil to be shocking and powerful. Given how little Sinestro was actually in this film, if a sequel ever comes out, the eventual turn won’t have the emotional impact they were going for.
While Green Lantern established Sinestro as a great warrior and began a small connection between him and Hal Jordan, I found myself wanting more interactions between the characters. I wanted them to conflict with one another beyond obvious “rookie/veteran” conflicts. Alas, the film never rose above the obvious in this regard.
Had Sinestro come to Earth to train Hal Jordan for the fight against Parallax, the film could fit within the budgetary constraints, built their relationship which would enhance the sense of shock by his eventual turn in a later film. Perhaps Parallax could have sent some minions to Earth so that we could have gotten some more action out of the film, but as it stands, the action present looks little more than a Universal Studios ride where pipes burst and flames shoot out. Seriously, go to Universal Studios and ride Jaws and tell me that the action with Hector Hammond was any different.
Sinestro is not only Hal Jordan’s rival / friend / nemesis, but also the lynchpin for the entire franchise. His betrayal to the Corps should be powerful and amazing, and while the next film might highlight this transformation, this film should have established his character more so that the transformation would have been all the more powerful.
I could probably go on for another thousand words about the little things I hated about this film (Blake Lively, anyone?), but really, the rest of my issues with the movie seem inconsequential when compared to how the film: missed its chance to differentiate itself from other super-hero films, had an illogical choice for a villain, and missed an opportunity to build a franchise with a strong overarching story.
Despite all of my complaining, seeing Oa in all of its glory, ring constructs that were detailed and went beyond just beams of light, and hearing Ryan Reynolds say the Green Lantern oath gave me chills. It gave me hope for the future of the franchise.