Green Lantern may be the most “comic booky” comic book movie ever made, at least within the contemporary cinematic canon, which makes it one of the greatest comic books movie of all time. It is also the most unjustly maligned superhero movie since Ang Lee’s artistic action epic Hulk (2003), based on the baffling backlash from critics (I’m not a true critic, more of an impresario, and I express my opinions in this column very subjectively, take it or leave it). This movie contains not only every single element I desire from a comic book adaptation, but also everything I expect from a movie based on this specific DC character. Ignore the nutty negative chorus, which I’m chalking up to collective superhero movie fatigue (something I am not afflicted with—keep ‘em comin’, especially if they’re all this much fun). If you don’t like Green Lantern, you either don’t like comic books, or you don’t like movies. Or you really just don’t dig comic books movies. Or maybe you just dislike Green Lantern himself. For my money, Green Lantern is every bit as good, on every level, as the superior superhero flicks (and critical darlings) Thor and Iron Man, and even more entertaining than this year’s X-Men reboot. It’s certainly light years ahead of this year’s other emerald entry, The Green Hornet, which was a total catastrophe (except for the car, its true star), but then that was much more of a Seth Rogen vehicle than an authentic, reverent superhero flick. Green Lantern, which shows nothing but respect for its inspiration, is the exact opposite of that massive misfire. I went in a marginal fan of this second tier DC character. I walked out a big fan. That alone is a mark of success.
Let’s go down the checklist required for any successful superhero flick:
The main characters are credibly cast—bingo, big check there. I was not familiar with actor Ryan Reynolds (whose very name sounds like a superhero alias!) before this, but I’ve become an instant admirer. First of all, he just looks like Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, particularly Neil Adam’s version, which I consider to be definitive. Just as significantly, Reynolds achieved just the right balance of humor and solemnity, conveying the “gee whiz, I’m a superhero now!” boyish enthusiasm we all would in his situation (well, I would), but also projecting the internal conflict that is the very foundation of the film: Will vs. Fear. This dynamic runs throughout the busy but brisk narrative, from the thankfully brief introductory origin story (which for once doesn’t bog down and dominate the whole movie), to Hal’s background as a hotshot jet pilot with daddy issues, to his sudden transformation into a guardian of his sector of the universe, to his epic battle with the villains (particularly Peter Sarsgarrd as the mutated Dr. Hector Hammond), to his romance with his tough, gorgeous girlfriend (Blake Lively as Carol Ferris). No matter how crazy things got from my perspective in the audience, the onscreen action remained consistently credible within the context it had created, and this is largely due to the skills of the performers.
It looks and feels like an actual comic book, particularly the source material in question - again, big check. Via seemingly simple but stylish lighting, engaging camerawork, and especially breathless pacing (it is expertly edited, without any lag time whatsoever, despite the wealth of information it needs to effectively but efficiently impart), Green Lantern is the cinematic equivalent of reading a comic book. That’s all I ask from these things, and director Martin Campbell, who also gave us 2006’s Casino Royale, one of the best Bonds ever, totally nailed it. The colorful space sequences are spectacular, and the planet sort of reminded me of the 1955 sci-fi classic This Island Earth (as did the early jet pilot sequences.) All of the (mostly) CGI created, intergalactic Green Lantern Corps look exactly like their comic book equivalents, especially Sinestro (Mark Strong in a standout performance.) The movie’s biggest menace is the monstrous Parallax, the stuff nightmares are made of, offering a suitably epic threat and challenge worthy of Green Lantern’s awesome powers. It all has a vaguely retro vibe, but that’s because it remains visually and tonally true to the character’s seven-decade history.
It isn’t bogged down with pseudo-psychological/quasi-scientific mumbo-jumbo, keeps its realism relative to the material—check. Again, Campbell doesn’t try to make this outlandish saga recognizable within the mundane context of our “real” world, a common, mainstream-pandering mistake too often made by creatively conservative filmmakers (or the creatively constrictive studios), undermining the sense of awe and wonder which is so crucial to a successful translation from page to screen. Also, while Hal Jordan does have his inner demons, they don’t supercede the actual action. His family and flight histories are perfectly integrated into the standard science fiction precepts, all wonderfully constructed and realized. Much like Thor, a fellow second banana hero who is likewise basically an alien being, circumstantially drafted as Earth’s savior, the Green Lantern storyline switches nimbly back and forth between the extraterrestrial realms and our familiar, earthbound environs. This also makes Green Lantern a spiritual brother of fellow DC icon Superman, but Green Lantern gets all his powers with the ring. However, it’s his own strength of character and determination that give the ring its power, which not only makes the character more interesting and vulnerable, but also inspires some really, really cool special effects. Green Lantern may be the most artful superhero of time, since his “weapons” of defense are devised via his own talents for creative visualization. That is simply an incredible gift, and this movie illustrates its potential without any exploitative excess. It’s all beautifully balanced.
Also stay for the now obligatory post-credits sequence teasing a sequel. I really, really hope everyone just ignores the critics panning this flick, because they’re just plain wrong. I strongly want to see Green Lantern 2: Blackest Night, with this cast, by this director. My Fear is it’ll bomb so this can’t happen and the franchise is D.O.A., but my Will is the word-of-mouth truth of its quality will determine its ultimate reputation and fiscal fate. It’s the public vs. the pundits. Let’s see who wins…
Will "the Thrill" Viharo is a freelance writer, host of the film series “Forbidden Thrills” at Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge, and creator of the long running cult movie cabaret “Thrillville.” He lives in Alameda, CA with his wife Monica “Tiki Goddess” Cortes and their two cats. His pulp novels “A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge,” “Lavender Blonde,” “Chumpy Walnut,” “Down a Dark Alley," and the "Vic Valentine, Private Eye" series are now available at http://www.thrillville.net/fiction/index.html