Before I begin, let me begin by saying that I’m more than a bit biased.
You see, I read DC Comics, enough so that I’m relatively well-versed on the lore of all of the major characters, including Hal Jordan. Who’s Hal Jordan? Why, he’s Earth’s preeminent Green Lantern and the subject of “Green Lantern,” DC’s latest blockbuster effort, which opened last Friday to critical panning and a thus-far tepid box office response (or at least tepid for what DC was hoping. $52 million is less than what “X Men: First Class” and “Thor” pulled in on opening weekend this year). I’m pretty well versed in the Green Lantern mythos, and I’ve even read “Green Lantern: Secret Origin,” the comic book from which the movie version begs, borrows and steals.
I guess what I’m saying is that A) I wanted the movie to do well, and B) that beyond the uninitiated kids who will go out and buy the toys and beg their parents for the comic books, I’m the kind of person the movie was shooting for.
Well, call me a sucker, but I loved it.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that it’s astounding cinema or that every line is pitch perfect or that every single plot point is developed just so, because that would be false. But it was good, inventive fun, and I don’t quite understand the bad rap it’s been getting.
The film begins by introducing the audience to the formidable Green Lantern Corp, the universe’s ultimate group of intergalactic peacekeepers. The spacefaring do-gooders have kept up their deeds of daring do for eons with the help of green power rings, fancy little devices that can conjure up anything you can imagine, provided you are equipped with an iron will. The rings also serve as decoders, flight suits, and artificial atmospheres, among other things.
That explanation is probably one of the reasons why Green Lantern has failed to achieve resonance with a lot of people. I can’t think of a single person who I’ve explained the idea to that hasn’t thought it sounded stupid.
Well, that’s because it does sound stupid. I thought it sounded stupid when I first heard of it. You just have to read it – or in this case see it – to understand that it’s actually kind of a neat concept, and even then that’s not enough for some.
Back to the setup. One of the Corp’s most respected members gets into a big brawl with Parallax, essentially the living embodiment of fear (fear being the Green Lanterns’ key weakness). He manages to escape, but not before taking a mortal wound. He travels to Earth, where he dumps his ring and his responsibilities on the human Hal, a devil-may-care fighter pilot who prides himself on being fearless.
I’ll leave the rest to the viewer. The film does a pretty good job of explaining itself, and it does so in a way that seems fun rather than talky.
Or at least that’s what I thought.
Again, I don’t really get the negative vibes people are giving to the movie. It’s a complex and quite frankly slightly ridiculous mythology, but so is “Thor,” and that didn’t stop the Tomatometer from giving everyone’s favorite Norse god a nifty 77 percent (as an aside, I found “Thor” to be passingly entertaining at best and mediocre at worst, but that’s for another day). There are scenes of villainous scene chewing, and foreign concepts are quickly introduced, accepted and thrown around, but hey, it’s a comic book movie.
Maybe that’s part of the problem.
The year 2008 was a watershed for comic book movies, as it spawned the two most influential – and in one case, absolutely the best – comic book movies ever made: “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man.” The two films were so different, and yet each was a very successful way of bringing a character from the funny pages to the screen. The problem is that now Hollywood and moviegoers think that those two ways are the only ways to do it.
In “The Dark Knight,” you got a very serious, grounded, and (I know, I know) dark look at what a superhero would look like in “the real world.” Most comic book films have followed this path to a varying degree since “Knight” came out, including the latest X Men films.
In “Iron Man,” on the other hand, you had a wink and a nod, almost an ironic treatment of the genre that tried, very hard and very successfully, to be above all the nerdy talk about continuity and purity and just be cool, while simultaneously recognizing that maybe comics themselves are a little silly. Among the practitioners of this method are “Kick A–” and, of course, “Iron Man 2.”
The point is that both of these methods of making a comic book movie, while certainly valid ways of doing it, leave out another option: making a comic book movie that actually, lovingly, embraces its roots.
It sounds so simple. After all, comics have been around for decades and have a rich storytelling history. But the paradox of the modern comic book movie is that while they’re raking in more money than they ever have, comic books themselves are looked down on in many circles as a juvenile pastime accessible only by ultra-geeks and manchildren. That’s not true, really, but that’s the perception.
“Green Lantern” is filmmaking via that third option. It loves that it has this strange, otherworldly origin, and it plays it up for all it’s worth. Nowhere is there any kind of attempt to make Hal’s ring constructs look gritty or down-to-earth, and nowhere is there any kind of nudging reference to how silly this all is (well, there is one comment about Hal’s mask, but I’ll let that slide because it’s hilarious). At one point, Hal makes his ring project two fighter jets that pull him about in some sort of stellar harness, and it’s just there, without any kind of self-consciousness. There’s just this sense of joy to all of the proceedings, this sense that the only thing the filmmakers were thinking was “This is so cool!” and apparently one of the only people agreeing with them was me.
It does help that I’ve read the comics, and I know that Green Lantern readers have responded much more positively to the movie that much of the rest of the public. I can honestly say that “Green Lantern” is one of the most true-to-the-source adaptations I’ve seen of one kind of a medium to another, and it’s exhilarating to watch the things you’ve seen on a comic book page come to life, exactly (or almost so) as you know they are supposed to be.
But I think the appeal can go beyond that. As the film was being prepared, DC higher-ups were touting it as a “Star Wars”-style epic, and while that is definitely something of an overreach, I understand the core concept of what they were trying to say. This is a tale that is heavy on mythology but also pretty accessible, with a pretty solid story of good vs. evil woven in among the flashy special effects and character beats. Ryan Reynolds was a solid choice for Hal, more so than I thought he would be, and he helps ground the movie (in a positive sense, that is) when things start getting a little extraterrestrial.
But above all, it’s just fun. It’s a sound and light show, with some decent jokes and a foundation that can spawn an overarching story, if DC greenlights the obviously expected sequel (an action DC may or may not take, now that the reactions are in). As I said, it’s not a perfect story, but if you drop your pretensions and let yourself go, you might just get swept away.
If you missed the opening, go see it this weekend. To paraphrase the tagline of another famous DC superhero, “You’ll believe a man can fly… and create glowing green constructs via a mystical power ring and the strength of his own will.”
It sounded catchier in my head.