Green Lantern shines new light on DC universe movies

Reviewed by C.J. Bunce

Any fan of DC Comics and hero Green Lantern can’t dismiss Green Lantern as just another superhero movie.  It sticks to established canon more than any other comic book-based movie yet made, either from DC or Marvel.  But in doing so I am not sure how the general audiences will react to both the ends the film goes to to explain the backstory, and the fact that the movie is entirely Hal Jordan’s origin story and nothing else.

With any effort to transform a long-standing character or franchise to the silver screen, the result can arrive at any place on the pendulum swing.  At one extreme the movie can adhere to established character canon and please loyal followers of the character.  At the opposite end of the spectrum we’ve seen countless movies that drop all canon and appeal to whatever Hollywood thinks is going to cause the masses to buy a second ticket.  As an example, I saw the 2009 Star Trek film as a 40/60 split on the canon vs mass appeal scale–the creators broke a bit with established canon yet followed it in some ways to create a parallel universe, but really focused more on special effects and action and less on story to appeal to the general audience.  With Green Lantern, the creators came up with a surprising film that is closer to a 80/20 canon-to-appeal ratio split.  As a DC Comics and Green Lantern fan, you have to love that approach.   But I think that may leave some mainstream moviegoers wondering what all the Green Lantern Corps thing was about.  That said, these are probably the same moviegoers that love Ryan Reynolds playing the superhero.  So the result is there is something for everyone here.

With all that I liked I will start with what didn’t appeal to me:  Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan.  If this were a story about Green Lantern Kyle Rayner I would have bought it totally.  But here’s the Hal Jordan I know:  He’s the stereotypical square-jawed, authoritarian hero, that is never impetuous, never a rebel, and always responsible.  That’s the Hal I know from the Justice League growing up.  Basically, his classic relationship with Green Arrow mimicked Superman’s with Batman.  In fact, in the JLA you could often substitute a conversation between Superman and Batman with that of Green Lantern and Green Arrow.  Brash and rogue-ish?  That’s Batman or Green Arrow, not Hal.  Hal’s a bit aloof.  Not a guy you’d cast Ryan Reynolds to play.  In my book, that guy is Kyle Rayner, a later Green Lantern.  But I realize Hal has changed over the years.  But I thought this Lantern too much Reynolds, not enough traditional Hal.  They almost had me thinking this would be another story like with Maverick (the movie), where Mel Gibson’s Maverick at the end of the movie was revealed to be the original James Garner’s Maverick’s son.  No such luck.  But if you look at the photos of Hal’s dad in this movie, played by The Closer‘s Jon Tenney, Tenney would have been a perfect Hal.  Here’s Tenney and the comic book Hal:


And here is Reynolds and comic book Lantern Kyle Rayner–a closer match:


What I liked above all else is the supporting character casting and acting.  What prompted me the most to see the movie in the theater vs. waiting for the video rental was the previews involving Mark Strong (from Sherlock Holmes) as the red-faced, pointy eared Lantern, Sinestro.  Strong is a solid villain in all his roles, although he’s not a villain here.  He truly made the comic book Sinestro come to life:


The costumes, all CGI, looked great although Reynolds almost seemed too tight fitting at times–how does that happen?

The Green Lantern Corps–those 3,600 protectors of the universe, couldn’t have been better, the first time in any movie I can recall a diverse alien league with only one human–showing a better scope of what such an expansive, inhabited galaxy could look like.  Geoffrey Rush’s (unbilled) voicing of Hal teacher Lantern Tomar-Re was a great touch as was Temuera Morrison (Star Wars prequel’s Jango Fett), who brought gravity to the role of Lantern Abin Sur.  And I didn’t mind Hal’s love interest/boss Blake Lively as Carol Ferris (although some of their scenes together were a bit unnecessarily long) as the story was right out of the comic book, but there was no explanation or need for her affected European accent (which seemed to come and go).  Tim Robbins was as good as ever as a corrupt senator.

And along with Sinestro and the Corps, the creators nailed the Guardians of the Universe, and not just with their appearance.  I always hated these guys, all their authoritative, know-everything-without-any-explanation really annoyed me in the comics and they succeeded here with that same annoying heir of superiority.  Again, they were lifted straight from the comic pages:


How often in comic book movies does a character really seem to pop out of the comic book drawings?  I can think of Johnny Storm’s Human Torch in the first Fantastic Four as one and Hellboy in the Hellboy films.

I also appreciated the doses of humor throughout the story.  And ignoring my desire for someone else to play the role, Reynolds was entertaining and believable, from his reaction to a key discovery early in the film to his growth into the Lantern role toward the end.  He couldn’t have delivered the Lantern oath better: “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight…”

As to story, the stakes were raised here compared to other films–the shear scope of the danger was bigger and so was the increased death toll for a comic-related film.  As to plot, the world building was  nicely done especially with the detailed story that needed told in a short period of time.  The story actually closely mirrored the plot of The Last Starfighter.  It worked here, although I found myself predicting what would happen at each step.  Since The Last Starfighter was a great film it didn’t take anything away from this effort telling a complete story.   I’ll give Green Lantern a solid 4 stars on a 5-star scale.

So what’s next?  A Justice League story would be nice to see, especially with Marvel working on their Avengers movie.  DC has spent too much screentime with Superman and Batman.  It’s time to open up the DC universe.

PS.  As seems to be a staple of recent comic book movies, stick around after the initial credits for a hint at a sequel.

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