Green Lantern:

How Not to Write a Comic Book Movie Supervillain

Green Lantern has gotten a bad rap. Critics like to point out that if a DC movie doesn’t have Batman or Superman, it doesn’t work. Some blame Ryan Reynolds as being miscast. Some say Martin Campbell (director of Casino Royale) didn’t understand the universe, or that a space cop was too high concept.

I blame Hector Hammond.

Heroes are only as good as the villains they fight, and Hector wasn’t a good villain.

I had read only a few Green Lantern comics before the film was released and none of them had Hammond; so I went in knowing nothing of the character. While I understand that Parallax was the Big Bad, a gaseous cloud with a face doesn’t make for an identifiable villain; that role fell to Hammond. It is nice that his character is connected to Hal, but it takes almost an hour before he does anything bad, which is trying to kill his own father in a helicopter.

Films, especially ones with such a high concept as Green Lantern, need to have one origin story. This one had two: Hal’s and Hector’s. We didn’t need that. We needed to focus on Hal, and the villain needed to be bad right from the get go. He needs to be infected and doing evil in the first 30 minutes. We needed a glimpse of what Hal would be going up against later in the movie.

Villain introductions are something that are done in almost every action movie. Take the classic Die Hard. We don’t spend time learning how and why Hans Gruber is a terrorist; he just is. He is suave, and even funny, but from the onset we know he is the bad guy. He’s taking hostages and killing CEOs. What does Hector do? He mopes, he looks sad, he slinks around. He does nothing. We get background information about him: he loves Carol, he is friends and rival with Hal, he has a strained relationship with his father. All those things are good and add dimension, but he poses no threat. He offers no clue to what he is capable of as a supervillain.

Nolan’s The Dark Knight establishes the Joker supremely in the first sequence of the movie. During the bank heist we learn he is manipulative (by making the other robbers kill each other), he is amoral (by shooting the last man standing), he is smart (by orchestrating the whole heist), and psychotically whimsical (by using the gas grenade instead of blowing the bank manager’s head off). All of this is relayed through action. It immediately establishes who the Joker is and what he can do.

Another fault with Hammond is that, as the secondary antagonist, he and Parallax never meet until the end of the movie. I believe that Parallax could have made the telepathic link with Hammond much sooner and used it to force him to act against Hal sooner in the movie. Maybe he could have traced Abin Sur’s ship to Earth and sent a part of himself to Earth while he went after the Guardians at Oa. There is much more he could have done, and should have done. Frankly, since the yellow substance that infected Hammond was a part of Parallax, he should have detected it much sooner.

All this time building up and waiting for the bad guy makes Hal have nothing to do. He has nothing to test his powers against, has nothing to help him overcome his fear; which the main theme of the movie. He saves Senator Hammond, then loses him when Hector burns him at the lab. I understand that Hal has other things going: learning about the Corps, “ringslinging” (as Kilowog puts it), and his strained relationship with Carol. As an audience, we need to learn about this world along with the main character, but Hal needs to be doing things as well. Being a hero means stopping the bad guys, even if you don’t know what you are doing. Heroes react to what the villains are doing. Because Hammond didn’t act, Hal had nothing to react to.

This can be a valuable lesson to filmmakers. I admit, the majority of comic book films have good villains. The films are also origin stories, and we need, for the most part, to see how the bad guy came about. But audiences are rooting for the good guy, the main character. They will watch a two hour origin story for the hero, but not for the villain. The Big Bad needs to be set up as soon as possible, then needs to start his diabolical scheme ASAP. This is why multi-villain movies are tricky. Unless the bad guys are directly related or correlated in some fashion, it becomes a mess trying to fit two or three origin stories along with the hero’s main story. Batman Begins manages to avoid this trap. It has all sorts of villains: crime boss Falconi, the Scarecrow, and Ra’s al Ghul (both versions) of him. But each villain works together, helping each other. They are not a supervillain team, but they each have a necessary role to play in the story. They are given their allotted character development and are worked seamlessly into the plot. Ghul supplies the drug, the Scarecrow turns it into a weapon, and he uses Falconi’s resources and manpower to distribute it. Filmmakers shouldn’t throw in multiple villains just to use a all-known villain or make the fanboys geek out. They need to fit a specific part in the overall story. If the main goal can be accomplished by one villain, why throw in two or three, if they aren’t necessary?

I think the filmmakers of GL should have used Sinestro as the main antagonist, as they hinted at during the closing credits. By focusing on a single villain, they could have given his backstory as they did Parrallax’s: brief flashbacks and voice-overs. Sinestro could have had a falling out with Abin Sur, and later after Sur died, taken his revenge on Hal since he had Sur’s ring. There are a lot of ways it could have gone but at least the villain would be doing something, and you would know from the start he was bad.

I like Green Lantern. I think Ryan Reynolds was good in it. And visually, it is beautiful. But I almost fall asleep every time Hammond is on the screen. He is not a villain. He is a man waiting to be a villain.

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1 Comment

  1. I tend to agree with you about the movie. It wasn’t really what anyone wanted, but the reaction to it makes you think people had never seen a really bad superhero movie before. Green Lantern was mediocre. It did a few things right, but was flawed in several ways.

    I hadn’t thought about Hammond being the problem. Perhaps you’re right. But if I were reworking it, I think I would’ve kept Hammond as the villain (I liked the actor), and dumped all the outer space stuff. Focus on the bumbling attempts of this test pilot to figure out how to work this strange, magical ring, building up to a final confrontation with Hammond.

    Most people really don’t know anything about Green Lantern anyway. So give us this slower moving, earth-bound introduction with no Guardians, no Oa, no Parallax, no Sinestro–just a weird-looking dying alien. And build a good story around it.

    That way, part two can whisk us off to Oa and really blow our minds with all the backstory and training and stuff. But that’s probably just my taste. What I do think is clear is that in reality it was a 2 1/2 star movie whose reputation got killed from high expectations.

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