“Green Lantern” is not a particularly good movie, and it doesn’t look as if there is going to be much debate on that point. It’s been pretty uniformly regarded as second-rate superhero fare, the lazy and lousy product of too many writers and not enough inspiration. I don’t entirely disagree, either: it’s far from exciting or unique when compared to other recent superhero flicks, and there are some moments that fall embarrassingly flat. I doubt it’ll cross over to ¬audiences beyond those comic book fans already enamored of Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) and his magic green suit, and it’s going to be regarded almost universally as a failure. Perhaps problematically, however, it isn’t.
How does one define the success of a film? “Green Lantern” will probably not do very well at the box office, and it has certainly failed to become a hit with critics. But, as Roger Ebert says, “this is a comic book movie.” While he mostly points that out conceivably as a way to inform us that he wouldn’t like the film no matter what, I think it’s the right angle from which to talk about “Green Lantern.” It’s successful at being a superhero movie, which not only means it will entertain plenty of people this weekend, but gives us a good opportunity to figure out where the genre is going from there.
Over at the NPR pop culture blog MonkeySee, Glen Weldon put together a “Superhero-Movie Bingo Card.” It’s pretty hilarious, including stuff like “Acclaimed American actor chewing scenery” and “Homoeroticism!” It’s also totally accurate. Arguably since “X-Men” in 2000 and “Spiderman” in 2002, we’ve been living in an age of new-fangled big budget comic-book blockbusters. And we can now play bingo with all of them, including the five this summer. They’ve coalesced into a genre so well-defined by various tropes and clichés that it’s probably now possible to make a superhero movie even without a superhero.
“Green Lantern” is the mediocre incarnation that proves the group. Hollywood can now spend millions of dollars, hire four screenwriters, and tell them to write a superhero movie. What you get is this weekend’s intergalactic feature that most of us will forget by the end of the summer, if not the end of next week. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s also not particularly special; and in a world where superheroes are as ubiquitous as cowboys and hardboiled detectives once were, a guy with a fancy green ring and a magic suit just isn’t enough.
The film has arguably between nine and eleven of Weldon’s bingo squares checked off. Peter Sarsgaard chews scenery while Geoffrey Rush (Australian, not British, but it’s to the same accented effect) looks mortified. At least I assume he looks mortified; it’s hard to tell given that he’s only doing the voice-over for a tall and strange fish-person. Daddy issues galore, training montage, etc. “Green Lantern” has no shortage of comic-book movie tropes, and for the most part it effectively incorporates them into the story. It’s when the film tries to be individual that everything gets a bit weak.
It’s almost distressing how easily director Martin Campbell and the writing team bungle the creative and unique potential that was built into the original “Green Lantern” comics. The guy has the power to create anything at all with his mind, and while there’s a somewhat awesome scene about halfway through involving a helicopter, by the end of the film Hal Jordan is just using giant imaginary green firearms and tossing around green rays of light. The supporting cast are mostly uninteresting and generic, especially Sinestro, Kilowog and Tomar-Re, who really need to be compelling characters if this franchise plans on going anywhere.
Even Reynolds’ charisma falls flat, and he’s given very little to work with. It’s a shame, really, because he’s a good casting choice for a superhero. It’s just hard to carry an entire underwhelmingly-written picture, even with a well-developed comic/bad boy persona and even better-developed abs. Sarsgaard is wonderfully creepy, but the horrendously conceived characters played by Angela Bassett and Tim Robbins do little to help him find much more than insanity. Blake Lively, finally, is unfortunate. I wonder if she’d be able to pull off a more compelling performance without such terribly conceived dialogue or that embarrassing ponytail, but I wouldn’t put money on it.
So where does that leave us? If the “Green Lantern” fails, only successful at following all of the superhero movie clichés and necessities, does that hurt the genre? Not at all. There’s some talk of comic-book fatigue, but I’m not so sure. There were many, many bad Westerns made back in the day, but they kept filming those for years. And while I acknowledge there were also many more Westerns to begin with, do we not think that if studios could make superhero movies for less cash they’d be putting out even more? We’re all going to need a stack of those bingo cards in the coming years, as Warner Bros. tries to use DC to remain competitive in a world of Marvel and “The Avengers.” “Green Lantern” is neither the end of the genre nor even the end of “Green Lantern,” and I don’t think it’s necessarily something to get upset about. The movie could even be a fun experience – if you like comic book movies.
“Green Lantern” is now playing everywhere.
Recommended if you like: “Spiderman 2”; “Daredevil”; the “Green Lantern” comics