Wednesday, June 22, 2011

5 Ways They Could Have Made "Green Lantern" Not Suck

There is no way on Earth Green Lantern should get worse reviews than Mr. Popper's Penguins. How in the name of Ganthet did that happen? And yet, this is the case. And having seen Green Lantern this weekend, I can say, that the reviews were mostly spot on. Ryan Reynolds was far and away the best thing of the film; his Hal Jordan was cocky, funny and spot on, tonally. The direction and effects were solid, as well, with a couple minor oddities. The place where it mainly fell apart was the story. So, I've got a bit of a dissection of the mistakes that were made, along with some suggestions as to how they could have avoided the narrative pitfalls they eagerly leapt into.

1 - How is Green Lantern Different - This is actually a good question for anyone writing a story. How is my antagonist different from others? They totally screwed that up here. Green Lantern is the story of a guy who becomes an intergalactic space cop. Taking the super hero concept and transplanting it in to outer space takes it into a fresh new world. The film makers seemed unsure of taking the story to space, spending an absolute minimum amount of time on Oa, but those moments are by far the most interesting parts of the film. A space-set super hero story is something we have never seen before, and the freshness of that would have made the origin story less familiar than what was presented. The alien supporting cast, such as Tomar Re and Kilowog, are reduced to the barest sketches of characters, with only Sinestro being explored fully. Instead, we got a ton of time on Earth, with Hal Jordan struggling with taking on the role of a space cop. Which leads us to our next problem:

2 - Hal Jordan is not Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker - There's a whole bunch of time spent with Hal brooding over his father's death, and the fact that a GL is supposed to be fearless,and yet Hal has all this fear inside him. You know what's great about Hal? He is a cocky guy who loves his life, loves flying jets and banging chicks. He has no fear. THAT'S WHY THE RING CHOSE HIM.
I know we want depth in our characters these days, but why not stick to what makes him unique and make hubris his great flaw? Hal is a "go your own way" type of guy thrust into a corps of soldiers that rely on one another. There's your arc. Or you could explore the fact that he's the first human among a bunch of aliens. Culture shock. Or do both. Either would be more interesting than the arc we've seen a hundred times; Will our hero man up and take on the role of the hero, despite his inner pain? Iron Man proved that characters can have some depth without seeming like their constantly on the edge of suicide. I didn't want to see a demoralized Hal Jordan find the hero within, I wanted to see him get a kick out of finding a magic ring. And for most of the movie, having a magic ring didn't seem all that fun.

3 - Give Us One Good Movie Before Worrying About the Franchise - Marvel is skirting the edge of this problem, and Green Lantern dove right in to it. Look, I don't mind planning for more films. But not every movie needs to feel like Chapter One of Seven. I had waited my whole life to see a GL film, and I would have preferred to see the film makers really throw themselves into making the best damn GL film they could, and not worry so much about leaving more for the sequel.

4 - Don't Forget the Heart - Iron Man was such a surprise to audiences because of its kicky little heart, embodied by RDJ's offbeat and immensely charming take on Tony Stark, and on the tone of goofy gee-whizzery Jon Favreau brought to the role. The Nolan Batman films clearly had a vision and a passion behind them that comes through. Even Superman Returns had a sense that Bryan Singer was truly excited and interested in the story he was telling. But Green Lantern felt like what it was; a naked attempt to create a franchise, lacking in heart or vision. If there is going to be a sequel, a vital component is to make sure the story and the director has plenty of heart. Take the battle to Oa, or at least outer space, and if the story is going to be about Sinestro's fall from grace, then really crack that story. Pick someone who finds that story fascinating; who's burning to tell it, and then let them tell it in their way, with a minimum of studio notes.

5 - For The Love God, Give Him A Practical Costume - The mask looked dumb, and the rule they gave for its necessity was followed halphazardly. There were pletny of times his mask was there when it didn't need to be. The suit looked, well, just wrong. I almost can't explain why. It seemed slight, and didn't communicate any sense of power to me. I get what they were going for, but it looked too flimsy and skin tight. Oddly, on the characters that were almsot entirely CG, it looked fine. But on Reynolds, I never once bought it as an actual piece of clothing, it was always an effect.

Maybe we'll get a good Green Lantern film in the future, although its sluggish box office is no guarantee that we will see a second installment. It also may mean a murky future for DC Comics films that don't feature Superman or Batman; Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman (?). Will a flopping Green Lantern wreck all their chances? Hope not, but Warner's needs to stop seeing these things as cash cows and treat them with the care they need to become the hits they deserve to be.

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