While we are enjoying an amazing year for superhero films, with the commercial success of The Avengers, as well as the upcoming third chapter in Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy The Dark Knight Rises and the reboot of New York’s favourite web-slinger with Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spiderman, it is hard to imagine that only last year one of D.C. Comic’s most glowing heroes bombed at the box office. Some believed that it was because the cinema going public had lost interest in superhero films, having already been fed Thor, Captain America and X-Men: First Class. Yet these other three films were met more favourably by critics and audiences, all earning double their budget back in the cinema. But Green Lantern barely made back its estimated $200m budget, $40m more than the most expensive Marvel title of that year, X-Men: First Class. But why? It had a proven director in Martin Campbell, a likeable leading man in Ryan Reynolds who was surrounded by a roster of great actors including Peter Saarsgard, Mark Strong, Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett, not to mention a fanbase in the comic book community.
The answer, as with most film failures, is the script.
The origin story conjured up by writers Greg Berlanti, Michael Green and Marc Guggenheim, and rewritten by Michael Goldenberg, snatches bits and pieces from the comic book history, but without any real cohesion. They chose Hal Jordan, the second Green Lantern, as their protagonist, and Parallax as their nemesis (ironically, Parallax was created in the comics as a supervillian identity for Hal Jordan, to fight against the Modern Age Green Lantern Kyle Rayner). However, here Parallax is a form of energy with an ugly face (or, to be blunt, a rip-off of the bastardisation of Galactus found in the film Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer), and so the writers add a human villain, Hector Hammond, into the mix, essentially lifting much of the first act from the 2008 comic arc Green Lantern: Secret Origin. The fact that the writers chose to segway back into the history of the character for their enemy, and not use the villain of that arc, Atrocitus, is curious. They could have laid the groundwork for a trilogy revolving around the Blackest Night comic arc (without using other DC superheroes), culminating in the War of Light…
And here we begin to see part of the problem. With so many different stories and ideas within the comics, choosing one may have proved difficult. It is possible that this wealth of choice blinded the writers to the need to create a solid arc of growth for their character, squeezing lots in which results in lengthy pieces of exposition rather than visual storytelling. They could have simply made Sinestro the villain; his story in the comics is almost a mirror of Jordan’s, initially a mentor and friend, gradually becoming an enemy of the Green Lantern Corps as he mutates from protector of his home world into its dictator. Yet in the film Jordan and Sinestro barely meet, interacting only a handful of times, while the script waters down Sinestro’s banishment and turn to villainy, pissing on it with a brief post-credit sequence.
And what of Hal Jordan’s growth arc, or lack thereof? We are told that a Green Lantern has to be “without fear,” and despite a very corny flashback sequence showing his father death (taken straight out of Hot Shots) that is supposed to underline his fear, everything else says otherwise. He flies fighter jets, he drives recklessly. He fear comes not letting anyone get close, not least of all Blake Lively’s Carol Ferris, who throws herself at him throughout the entire film. There is no love rivalry here; the closest thing to that is a perverted glance or two from Hector Hammond. Twice during the film Jordan remarks that Carol is “pretty.” In fact once he says “Now stay there and look pretty.” The writers are so lazy with her character they actually tell us what she is there for – to look pretty. No offence, but if I want to see Blake Lively looking pretty I will use Google. The side-plot that justifies her character’s screen time is a new plane that is piloted by a computer system; yet the man versus machine theme that this kicks up is never mentioned or repeated.
But back to Hal Jordan. There is no growth arc. He is fearless throughout; he is simply given a magic ring, told he is worthy, and then goes and does it. You could argue his growth arc is one of taking responsibility of his powers, but this is poorly handled. After a brief dressing down from Sinestro, Jordan mopes off claiming the ring chose wrong, and gives up, but not really, because he keeps the ring instead of giving it back. In the comic, it transpires that Jordan was one of two candidates for the ring (the other being Guy Gardner), and Jordan was chosen by proximity. Why the writers never thought to use this is beyond me; Guy Gardner would represent Jordan giving up, a way out. Alas, he does not really grow or change, and as a direct result, the audience does not grow with him, root for him. There is no point that any audience would think he would fail. His success is as inevitable as the corny, cartoonish dialogue.
There exists in the film a scene so out of place that I laughed when watching it. Hal Jordan interrupts a meeting between the Guardians and Sinestro and makes an impassioned speech for the sake of the Earth. It comes out of nowhere; up until this point there has been no indication Hal Jordan would act in such a manner, and it is so out of character to be cringe worthy. He also appears to be overly familiar with the Guardians and the operations of Oa, yet he has barely lost his training wheels. The audience is aware of the plot to wield the yellow power ring, but Jordan has been absent on Earth. The scene exists because it has to, and falls flat because it jars with the rest. It is a crucial pivot point; remove it, and the film crumbles down. It underlines a fundamental flaw in the structure of the film. Hal Jordan is not the main protagonist; Sinestro is. He is the one who has the most to do for much of the film, tackling Parallax and uncovering the truth behind the enemy, but the writers bash it to fit around Jordan, leaving us with two plots that come together unconvincingly at the end.
There are also a barrage of holes bigger than Hector Hammon’s head, and inconsistencies that the writers try to plug with Blake Lively’s pretty face. For example, we are told that there are 3600 Lanterns in the Corps, yet when they go up against Parallax, they only take ten. And where are they all when Parallax reaches Earth? And why is Sinestro so quick to turn to the darkness of the yellow energy of fear? And on and on….
In summary, the problems were:
- A number of sub-par, unthreatening villains and an equal number of underwhelming minor characters.
- A jarring, sporadic protagonist growth arc and a paint-by-numbers origin story, combined with a parallel plot he is not involved in that threatens to overtake the main plot.
- Vast amounts of repetitive exposition caused by borrowing heavily from numerous comic book storylines, but at the same time, not changing enough to fit a film.
- An ill-written love story / triangle.
- No thought to how the character’s outlandish powers would translate on screen.
And so, in retrospect, here is an alternative look at what the Green Lantern film could have been. Rather than open with a vast expositional voice-over,
- I’ve opted to focus on the protagonist, Hal Jordan, which also adds a sense of mystery to the film, and allows audiences to learn what is happening through the character.
- I have also added a love plot between Carol Ferris and Hector Hammond (although it will end on him being set up as a sequel villain).
- Hammond will not be a villain, only a rival love interest. The villains will be Atrocitus and Sinestro, who will start as an ally but be corrupted by his power and attempt to cover up his misuse by ridding Jordan of his power ring.
GREEN LANTERN – ALTERNATIVE STORYLINE
OPEN WITH: Hal Jordan, afraid. We see the fear in his eyes as he watches planes land and take off at Ferris Airbase, recalling the day his father died a few years before. Jordan has not flown since. This will be the first time he has flown since that day. He is startled by Carol Ferris, asking him if he is okay. He lies, says he is fine. She says he does not have to do this, but he admits he was made to fly. We get the impression he has had trouble holding down a job. Carol wants to say more, but they are interrupted by Hector Hammond, who is working with Ferris Aircraft and courting Carol. Hammond is unhappy that Jordan will be test piloting a new prototype plane, a favour granted by Carol. She keeps him at bay by flirting.
However, Hammond, a jealous man, sabotages the plane that Jordan is to fly.
Jordan flying the plane, but something technical goes awry (as a result of Hammond). Jordan manages to work around the problem, but then his plane is struck by a crashing spacecraft. Hal Jordan bales out, his plane crashing in the desert, as does the mysterious spaceship.
After he lands, Jordan explores the spacecraft, and finds Abin Sur, a member of the Green Lantern Corps, dying from a mortal wound sustained before the attack. Abin Sur says the ring found Hal, that it chose him. With his dying breath he warns Jordan of the threat of Atrocitus. Jordan takes the Lantern and hides it before the Army turns up to seize the spacecraft and Abin Sur’s alien body. They find Jordan tangled in his parachute, pretending he knows nothing about the crash.
After a debriefing, during which we see that Carol is still very fond of Jordan, he goes home alone to experiment with the ring and lamp. However, he cannot get it to work. Sinestro appears at his window, startling him. Sinestro quizzes him about what happened; and is sad to hear Abin Sur is dead, but the mystery is why he crashed. Sinestro takes the ring from Jordan and manipulates it to show the earth as a small globe, with two dots. Jordan remembers the word Atrocitus, which worries Sinestro.
Sinestro instructs Jordan how to use the ring, and they fly to OA, home of the Green Lantern Corps, to share the sad news of Abin Sur’s passing, and introduce Jordan to the other Lanterns, and the Guardians, who too are worried with regards to Atrocitus. They instruct Sinestro to take Jordan and investigate, granting them access to the planet of Ysmault, which has been off limits to everyone. Sinestro argues, saying Jordan must be trained first, but the Guardians counter that the best training is to actually do the job.
On the way to the prison planet of Ysmault, Sinesto explains Atrocitus backstory. Before the Green Lantern Corps was formed, the Guardians maintained peace in the galaxy with an army of sentient robots, but one of the Guardians reprogrammed the robots in a specific sector to exterminate all life. The robots wiped out all but five of the beings of the planet Ryat – they became known as the Five Inversions, and their sole focus was the destruction of the Guardians, who they blames for the attack. The five used a blood ritual to peer into the future, and from what they saw was born a prophecy known as The Blackest Night prophecy, a prophecy which held Abin Sur’s interest greatly, after speaking to one of the five Qull. The prophecy suggests that the Green Lantern Corps would be joined by six other Corps, all powered by different colours of the emotional spectrum. These seven corps would then battle in a war that would destroy the universe.
Meanwhile back on Earth, Carol is possibly investigating the malfunction on Jordan’s plane, and discovers Hector’s sabotage. Hector Hammond, due to ties to his father the Senator, gets on a team of experts to study the craft and the alien body. He finds the core of the ship, and takes a piece of its irradiated form to sell on the black market.
Sinesto and Jordan arrive on the planet Ysmault, only to find Atrocitus gone. One of the other five, Qull, reveals that Abin Sur himself freed Atrocitus, and took him to Earth to try and discover more about the Blackest Night prophecy. In flashback we see that Abin Sur broke the Guardian’s rule not to land on the planet, in order to save a crashed ship. It was then that Abin Sur first met Qull, and learned of the prophecy. Qull reveals Atrocitus promised to show Abin Sur the human who will herald the Blackest Night. Abin Sur wished to protect him, but Atrocitus wants to bring him back to Ysmault to cast a ritual that would bring forth the war.
On earth, Hammond is arranging a buyer for the stolen radiation source. He is about to return to the ship, but before he does is confronted by Carol. As they are arguing, another alien, Atrocitus, emerges from the wreckage of the craft, and kills nearly everyone. Hammond tries to escape by leaving Carol as a target. She is knocked unconscious by a blast. Hammond is trapped as well, and his radiated sample’s stasis case is broken, dosing him with the alien radiation. He watches as Atrocitus uses blood of the dead scientists in a ritual that spells out a name – William Hand.
Back on Ysmault, Sinestro cannot believe Abin Sur has done such a thing. Sinestro warns Jordan his planet is in danger, but before they can act, they are attacked by inmates of the prison planet. Sinestro is badly hurt saving Jordan. They escape Ysmault, but Sinestro is in need of help, but too far from Oa, they go to Sinestro’s home planet of Korugar. Here they meet ABin Sur’s sister, and Sinestro’s wife, Arin. They break the bad news to her. Sinestro blames himself, says he should not have dismissed the Blackest Night Prophecy so easily when Abin brought it up.
Jordan is slightly shocked to discover Sinestro is not a beacon of hope on his planet, but their dictator, ruling the Korugarians with a strong fist. They argue about the point, and Sinestro reveals his darker side, his dictorial side. Jordan, leaving SInestro in the care of his wife Arin, heads back for Earth. Sinestro now becomes worried that Jordan will tell the other Lanterns how he rules his homeworld, and snaps at Arin and their daughter, Sora.
Back on Earth, Atrocitus has found his target – a career criminal by the name of William Hand. Jordan returns to fight Atrocitus, saving Hand but Atrocitus gets away, and would have killed Jordan through fear were it not for Sinestro’s timely returns to Earth, now healed. He manipulates Jordan, saying he is weak, that he has failed, and that does not deserve the ring. Jordan, full of self-doubt – reveals that there were two choices to succeed Abin Sur – Jordan and another named Guy Gardner. Jordan was chosen simply because he was closer. Jordan gives up the ring. Sinestro takes the ring from Jordan and gives it to the 2nd choice, Gardner.
Jordan, at a low point, his ring taken from him and the love of his life Carol is in a coma in hospital.
Hector Hammond is in a radiation ward – his exposure transforming him.
Carol’s father gives Hal a rousing speech, which lifts him up out of his misery.
Sinestro and the new Green Lantern (Guy Gardner) go up against Atrocitus, who has William Hand and has invented a power rod that saps the green lantern’s ring energy. Gardner dies because he is ill-experienced. Hal Jordan tries to save him, but is unable to do so. Guy dies, and the ring returns to Jordan, who then defeats Atrocitus with his wits rather than the power of the ring, imprisoning him. Atrocitus is defeated, but William Hand steals Atrocitus’ weapon, the power sapping rod, and flees.
Sinestro congratulates Jordan on his victory, but Jordan blames Sinestro for Gardner’s death, that Sinestro played on his fear so the Corps would not discover the way he rules his planet. Hal Jordan is no longer afraid to stand up to him. Jordan says he will take Atrocitus to Oa, where he will tell the Guardians what has occurred here, including Sinestro’s dictatorship over Korugar. Jordan tells him he should return home to say goodbye to his wife and daughter. Atrocitus gives Sinestro a final prophecy warning; that his rule is coming to an end.
Green Lantern (Jordan) returns to Oa with the imprisoned Atrocitus, and reveals Sinestro’s part in what happened.
Sinestro returns to Korugar to find his people revolting. He tries to rule them with power, but Arin begs him not to, blaming him. Sinestro says he was only protecting his people. Arin argues with him. Sinestro asks where his daughter is. Arin reveals she sent Sora away for fear. Sinestro thinks she means from the Korugarians, but Arin reveals she hid Sora from him. The Green Lanterns arrive to arrest him, but he puts up a fight, and Arin is killed in the process.
Back on Oa, the Guardians strip Sinestro of his ring and imprison him in the Central Power Battery.
Jordan returns to Earth. Carol wakes up. All is good, but Jordan remembers the warning about the Blackest Night Prophecy from the Guardians, who say things are in motion, evil is coming, and the war of light will be upon them.
As we hear this warning, we see the following:
- We see Sinestro, imprisoned, is visited by the yellow energy of Parallax.
- Atrocitus, reimprisoned on Ysmault, murdering Qull for spilling his tongue, and from Qull’s blood he forges a red power lantern and red ring.
- We see Hector Hammond, head deformed, also waking up, with the power of telepathy and telekinesis.
- Finally we see William Hand studying Atrocitus’ weapon, black light radiating from it
- We see Jordan’s ring flashing, and he leaves Carol to fly off to Oa, where we hear the Green Lantern oath chanted by the 3600 Lanterns.