I saw two movies this weekend. One was a smart, funny, science fiction story with likeable characters, believable (though incredible) situations, and entertaining drama. The other one was Green Lantern.
For those of you who don’t know the story of Green Lantern, here it is: An ancient race once gathered together to…blah blah blah…skip ahead a few thousand years, and now Ryan Reynolds has a green ring that allows him to create roller coasters out of thin air.
Let me clarify that last part: An actor with charisma and charm of Ryan Reynolds is put in the situation of being responsible for the most powerful weapon in the galaxy. Sounds like a great movie, right? He could spend most of the movie learning how to control this incredibly powerful device. He’d make some mistakes at the beginning, we’d see a lot of reaction shots from people being freaked out by the fact that there’s a GREEN MAN WHO CAN FLY AND SHOOT FIRE FROM HIS FINGER, he could learn some valuable yet subtle lessons about heroism, and then he beats the bad guy, who could turn out to be an ALIEN! WOW! In the last scene, we could see that not only do we have this great and AWESOME new hero that we love, but there’s a big reveal that there’s actually 2300 more of him and THEY LIVE IN OUTER SPACE! Holy Crap! I can’t wait for the sequel!!!
Sounds like a great premise right?
It is. It’s so good, they made a comic out of it. It’s called Green Lantern. Unfortunately, that’s not the story that Warner and director Martin Campbell chose to make here. The story they chose to make involves a smarmy spoiled dick doing his very best to not be surprised by any of the incredible things he’s seen, which include a cheesy alien planet that made Thor’s Asgard look like Brooklyn, and a hideous alien fear monster that can grunt semi-intelligent English. No, not Blake Lively.
There is so much wrong with this movie that I’m not really sure where to begin. Actually, I do.
I’m not saying it’s easy to write superhero movies. It’s not. But there is almost nothing in this script that is redeemable, from either a plot, or a dialogue sense, and I really don’t know how this movie got made. The first mistake that the movie makes, and then repeats throughout, is that it forgets one of the cardinal rules of storytelling in a visual medium: You can show a character doing something, or feeling something. Or you can have the character tell us about what he’s doing or how he’s feeling. But when you have him do both at the same time it’s redundant. And insulting to your audience. Green Lantern is guilty of this on numerous occasions, and so we have Hal tell us he’s feeling bad about his father, and then we see images of his father. And then we have Blake Lively tell us that she’s sad, and then we see big crocodile tears of poison dripping down her cheeks. This movie is many things, but subtle ain’t one of them.
Another thing missing from the script is any real sense of wonder from its characters at the crazy stuff that’s going on. None of our characters seem especially surprised that these aliens are have expressed interest in them, and treat them with about the same level of interest as you would a moldy fridge. Remembering to write characters as being constantly amazed at cosmic events is something that’s easy to forget to write about in superhero comic books, as those kinds of things happen in comics all the time. But in superhero movies, especially in origin movies, keeping that sense of wonder is key to convincing the audience that they are seeing something amazing. Marvel’s recent Thor is a perfect example. There isn’t a second in that film where Natalie Portman’s character stops being absolutely flummoxed at the crazy stuff that’s happening around her. As the “everyman” , She’s our portal into the movie, and we share her surprise at every step. In GL, Ryan Reynolds is our “everyman”, but he travels to other planets, shoots laser beams from his hands, and encounters mutant telekinetics with about the same level of interest as you show when you go into a Wal-Mart you’ve never been in before.
The other problem is that by the time we see Reynolds in space, we’ve already beaten him there. Far too much of the exposition of the film takes place in the first 10 minutes of the film, before our hero even shows up. And so we learn everything about the movie way before our hero does, including what his ring is, where it comes from, and who the villain of the story is. We should have learned the secrets of the film at the same time our hero did. If the real story here is that a human discovers a truly powerful space weapon, we shouldn’t see the space weapon be used numerous times before he even stumbles across it.
The biggest issue I have with the script however, is its scope. I like ambition in filmmaking, but DC and Warner seemed to be SO convinced that they had money on their hands with Green Lantern that they seemed bound and determined to cram the plot and exposition of three movies, into one movie. Imagine if George Lucas had told us that Darth Vader was Luke’s father the first time Luke and Han stole aboard the Death Star. Or if Frodo and Gollum had battled for control of the One Ring in Mordor immediately after the Hobbits left the Shire? In storytelling, the journey is just as important (if not more so) as the destination. But GL is so crammed with “This is how we got here and this is where we’re going” that’s neither necessary or engaging, that we lose interest almost immediately.
I’m not going to spend much time on this, as these poor saps didn’t have much to work with. Reynolds was passable as the hero. But while he’s a fine actor, he wasn’t nearly good enough to break free from the clunky script. I suppose that a stronger lead could have done something with this, but I doubt it. Peter Saarsgard’s Hector Hammond and Mark Strong’s Sinestro threaten to steal the show with some pretty decent performances, but again, the source material lets them down. But it’s not until we see Blake Lively hit the screen that we know what true pain is. While the other members of the cast struggle to break free from the lacklustre script, Lively seems to embrace it, and recites each clumsy line in a stilted…..emotionless….. monotone…..voice, that makes one wonder if she knew she was in a movie at all, or if she thought that she was reading off letters from a chart in an eye exam. Note to Warners: When casting your next major motion picture, maybe try auditioning real actors.
Bad movies get made all the time, so this shouldn’t be that big a deal. But it is, in that DC and Warner had a lot riding on this film. In fact, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the future of DC as a successful, independent IP unit in the Warner family depended on the success or failure of Green Lantern. This was DC’s first movie where all of their ducks (marketing, comic book tie ins, toys, scripts, etc) were firmly influenced by the DC office, and this was their first opportunity to show that they could make stars out of lesser-known characters, the way that Marvel Studios has done with Iron Man or Thor. But instead they proved what we already knew; that they are incapable of making entertaining non-Nolan superhero movies. Which means your chances of seeing a Justice League or Flash movie, just got a lot smaller.