Sunday, December 04, 2011

Green Lantern

If one of the new-fangled budget breaking superheroes was going to actually jump out of the pack and embrace the crazy Silver Age roots of its concept, it should have been Green Lantern, and for a little bit, it kind of even tried to...

Let's go through some history. I promise to stay brief.

Alan Scott, the first comic book Green Lantern, was created in 1940 by Martin Nodell and Bill Finger. At that time, he was given a magic ring with which he perform acts of magic that he used to solve crime and such.

The core story is a reference to Aladdin, with a lantern modernizing the lamp, and "Alan Ladd" originally being a play on "Aladdin" prior to being changed and some other guy making the name famous.

The character was popular and successful, launching his own title and becoming a founding member of the Justice Society of America, the original superhero team book.

However in the early '50s, nearly all of the Golden Age superheroes drifted off into the distance.

The surviving characters would go through rough times surviving. But this would come to an end. The ideas would be reborn and rebuilt, beginning with Showcase #4, which would re-invent The Flash for a then modern audience. This Flash had a slick new Space Age look and a job as a scientist that led to his gaining his new powers.

Hal Jordan, the new Green Lantern, would also sport a new Space Age origin and concept, courtesy of John Broome and Gil Kane, along with Julius Schwartz. Jordan was a test pilot who was given the ring by a dying alien, Abin Sur, for the fellow geeks who need me to include that, recruiting him to become a member of an intergalactic peace keeping force.

The concept and execution of the Green Lantern Corps borrows liberally from the Lensman series by E.E. "Doc" Smith, showing a sweeping Space Operatic force, with a powerful tool that each member keeps that allows them to focus their power for good.

It's a no-brainer for a terrific yarn, and must have been toyed with as a potential movie since shortly after its development, certainly since Star Wars and Superman: The Movie made a movie of that scope and style possible to suggest in real world terms.

But even with that, the lightning in a bottle of those quickly proved elusive for Hollywood to recreate. Even now, these decades later, they seem so simple, like they should be so easy to reproduce in volume.

It wasn't until recent years proved a virtual boom for superhero movies did Green Lantern move forward.

On the heels of X-Men and The Dark Knight may not have been the right place for Green Lantern, although perhaps Iron Man might have been a step in the same direction.

I think the character feels impossible to separate from that Space Age origin and I think The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke is, as such, the modern interpretation that really seems to "get it".

And while a Mad Men style take on the material could be brilliant, I don't believe it's impossible to solve as modern tale.

I think the thing that killed it in terms of fan support right off was Ryan Reynolds.

Look, I like the guy. Really, I do. Hell, I liked Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, so what do I know?

But after failed attempts at playing characters supposedly based on Hannibal King and Deadpool in movies that came at both characters without respect for their history and turned out to be really dull-witted movies, old Ryan just didn't have any more goodwill left in the comic book fan community.

Anything short of the greatest Green Lantern movie was almost bound to get dismissed with Reynolds in the lead.

Director Martin Campbell shows up as kind of a mixed bag. He certainly has consistently shot competent cinema and clear, kinetic action. But then he shows very little that could be considered a "vision".

So, what is Green Lantern?

Basically an example of a very professional mixed bag without a clear vision.

I've seen complaints about the movie showing Hal Jordan's learning curve, but then that's been standard since Broome and Kane. Perhaps amping up the humor to suit Reynolds's fanbase, or at least his strengths, may have been done to a greater extent than I'd prefer, but not by too much.

For me, the movie falls apart when it decides instead of really embracing the Green Lantern Corps and the major Space Opera it builds to, it instead tells some re-invented story of Hector Hammond as one more mundane comic book movie villain with "daddy issues". The major conflict with Parallax - portrayed as kind of a Galactus ripoff (although certainly a more accurate take than the one in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer - ends up feeling like an afterthought.

I'm unsure if the movie ended up running out of the necessary budget to execute a proper Green Lantern Corps ending or in they ran out of the courage of their convictions to embrace the character's origins and go full-on Silver Age!

The result of this movie is a frustration. It's nowhere near the disaster it's often accused of being, and yet it's not good enough - or even quite trying hard enough - to feel worth defending.

There's enough good that I'd like to see them go ahead with the sequel, so we can get on with the Interplanetary battle against rogue Green Lantern Sinestro, and not have to bother with what would otherwise undoubtedly result in another retelling of the origin, and that doesn't seem worth it.

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