Fixing Comic Book Movies Part One: Green Lantern

There have been some pretty good comic book movies, but no perfect ones. In this series I’m putting superhero movies under the microscope and seeing what went wrong, what went right and what could have gone better.

Green Lantern

Overview

I haven’t seen this movie and probably never will. Also: I don’t think I’ve ever read a single Green Lantern comic book and really mostly know the character from cartoons where he’s part of a team, namely Superfriends and the Justice League.

So how dare I criticize this movie, if I am so ignorant of the character and the movie, asks some random nerd whose lonely googling has led him here.  I think my ignorance qualifies me more than anything else. I’m kind of a nerd and I used to read comic books when I was a kid and I actually watched a shameful amount of the Justice League cartoon as an adult. And yet even though I’m in the outer circle of the target audience, I still had no interest in seeing the Green Lantern movie.

What Went Right?

Evidently nothing. The movie was a notorious flop with audiences and critics alike. I think the only successful thing that came out of it was when it was the subject of a particularly funny episode of the “How did this get Made” podcast.

What Went Wrong

Sheesh. Where to begin? Oh, I know where.

Casting

Ryan Reynolds sucks. He’s a smarmy frat dude liked by no one. Putting him at the center of your movie is like putting a warm keg of Keystone light in the middle of your party; it’s an incentive for people to stay away.

Also, I’ve only seen Blake Lively in one movie, that Ben Affleck Boston armed robbery deal. She’s in it for about a total of five minutes, which was enough time to make me suspect she’s the worst actress in the world.

So basically scrap everybody in the movie except for Angela Bassett. Why keep her? Because her character was supposed to be the Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury-style connective role for a new slate of characters based on DC comics. I am so confident in my vision of an improved Green Lantern movie that I am sure it would launch a whole series of DC movies.

Plot and Source Material

It’s puzzling that they made a movie of Green Lantern at all. He’s not that popular of a character, and for good reason. Basically everything about him is dumb. His use of a ring is dumb. His monochrome superpowers are dumb, particularly his weakness to the color yellow. Tying his power to fear is dumb. His convoluted back-story as a member of a team of space cops is dumb.

In the context of a comic book, all of this stuff seems fine. There are superheroes on every street corner, all with strange powers and ill-conceived histories. And you’re probably hearing all this stuff for the first time when you’re about 10 years old and have yet to develop the critical acumen necessary to spot how dumb all this shit is. Then you accept it for a couple of years and either grow out of it or get real deep into it.

And judging from reviews and the HDTGM podcast, the movie doesn’t do anything to pare down the confusing aspects of the plot or elevate the immature aspects of the story.

The Hero Problem

Even when not portrayed by Ryan Reynolds, Hal Jordan is a problem. He was a comic book character who came into being when comic books were read exclusively by children. There’s no depth of characterization because the audience didn’t need any. He was a good guy who fought bad guys and nobody needed anything more from him. Even when DC toyed with the character to make him more relevant in the ‘70s they made him more of a stiff to act as a foil to hippy archer Green Arrow DC also made him a bad guy in the grim and gritty ‘90s comics and he was still boring.

The only prominent personality trait Jordan’s ever had is that he has no fear. Even this is boring: overcoming fear is a cornerstone of compelling heroic tales. And anyway, a man without fear seems to me to be a man without sense. Fear is pretty helpful in a lot of situations.

Story Problem

Basically, the whole movie was disjointed bullshit nobody cared about. I don’t think I need to get into greater detail than that.

Solutions

First things first: Get rid of Hal Jordan. He’s a nothing character blocking the chance for a more interesting and probably more popular choice: John Stewart.

John Stewart is the black Green Lantern and is maybe the greatest end result of super hero affirmative action. He was called up from the minors to be the Green Lantern in the ‘90s Justice League cartoon so the team wouldn’t be all white. And we can all get into a huff about deviating from the source material, but this turned out to be a great fucking idea.

His name’s a problem, but it has easy fix: change it to John Brown. Or even John Green. It’s a little on the nose, but nobody’s going to confuse him with a Daily Show host.

Stewart is a former Marine with a stubborn streak with a pronounced sense of moral duty, occasional problems with authority and a chip on his shoulder. In other words: boom goes the depth of characterization dynamite.

And obviously, as a bonus, you have a black superhero, which would be pretty rad. There have been at least 20 superhero films made in the last 15 years. None of them had a black lead (except for Hancock and Blade, both of which only barely qualify as superhero and/or comic book movies). If nothing else, you’d get a ton of good will from the largely socially liberal media. Plus, since the cartoon of Justice League is probably more popular than the comics, you’re actually using a Green Lantern that more of your audience will know.

Secondly, scrap the entire story, especially the space cop stuff. Keep all of the action on earth and tell a clean, simple story.

Here’s how it should go:

ACT ONE

Soon to retire Marine John Stewart is on a mission in a remote part of the world. He is involved with a dangerous situation where his superiors make a bad decision and cost lives, leaving Stewart guilty for his failure to act. In the wake of the incident, he ends up alone and injured (maybe everybody else is dead or he’s been abandoned.).

Alone, wounded and wandering in treacherous terrain, Stewart comes across the remains of a crashed alien ship. Inside is a dying Green Lantern, who instructs Stewart to take the ring and leave him to die. Stewart ignores the instruction and tries to bring the alien to safety. After he gets the alien out of the ship an EVIL ALIEN (OR ALIENS) attacks them. Stewart gets his ass handed to him and the green lantern is killed.

ACT TWO

Stewart buries the Lantern, and gives a short eulogy about his regret that he wasn’t able to do more for his fellow soldiers or the alien. He puts on the ring, which charges up. The ring gives him some information about the evil alien and its power. Unfortunately, the ring is almost out of juice and has only limited functionality. Stewart has to find the power source while fending off the evil aliens. Through trial and error, and in the face of great danger, he haltingly learns to use the ring and uses it, along with his military expertise, to win a fight against the evil aliens.

Meanwhile, some unfinished business from the Act one mission arises.  That story gets mixed up with the evil alien story somehow. Stewart finds out that people he cares about are in jeopardy. Shit gets real.

ACT THREE

Stewart discovers the true nature of the alien’s plan, which will have dire consequences for planet earth. AND they have the lantern. AND they’re more powerful then Stewart thought imaginable.

Stewart decides that he has to make up for the other times he thinks he failed with a huge last stand. He forces the ring, which has been rationing its power up until now, to fully power up for a suicide run. There’s a huge, awesome fight. He fights valiantly, gives it everything he’s got, but is outgunned and outclassed.

But then, he somehow gets to the Lantern, which sucks him inside. He is in some virtual reality place and the dead alien is there. The dead alien tells him that it wasn’t an accident that John Stewart found him. The ring sought him out because it knew Stewart and Stewart alone would have the strength to do the right thing. And also, Stewart learns some dope Green Lantern powers.

He exits the Lantern and, in an even bigger battle, kicks everybody’s ass, saving the day.

Then, after everything in the mission plot is sorted, Stewart is again visited by a holographic projection of the dead alien. It’s his final message. He tells Stewart about the Green Lantern corp., and has Stewart recite the oath for the first time before he is surrounded in a green force field and rockets off into space.

Angela Bassett appears after the credits and they set up the Flash movie. The audience goes home to discuss how great Chiwetel Ejiofor was as the Green Lantern and how parts of the movie reminded them of Predator.

THE END.

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