. . . Yo.
I finally saw Green Lantern, and, well, it wasn’t very good. It isn’t literally the most incompetent superhero film ever made — I apologize for the hyperbolic post title — but it comes stunningly close. I suppose it’s the most incompetent mainstream superhero film made in, say, the last fifteen years.
But I’m not going to go into much detail why the movie is bad. Not now, at any rate. I’m not going to complain about the awful effects, off-putting art design, derivative musical score, amateur sound mixing, awkward editing or pretentious morals. Besides, as terrible as each of those issues are, the film’s true failing is the screenplay.
I’m going to try to lay an Enneagram over said screenplay, and if it’s a bad match (which it most definitely will be) then I’ll try to make some fixes. But don’t expect any miracles.
Let’s run this by the numbers, shall we?
The movie opens and we get some narration. That’s okay. This movie is dealing with some truly off-the-wall science fiction, and it needs to establish a few impossible things right off the bat or else risk bulldozing the audience with this stuff later.
We get hit with all sorts of stuff: there are aliens, there are a lot of aliens, and some of them are effectively humans, only pink or purple or anthropomorphic animals. Many of these wild aliens are part of the Green Lantern Corps, Space Police who wield powerful rings that let them conjure whatever the hell they want for a limited time.
We also learn about the film’s main villain, a giant octopus thing named Parallax that feeds off the fear in other creatures. This thing was imprisoned on a planet by Abin Sur, played by Temuera Morrison, who’s best known for the role of Jango Fett in Star Wars.
A few alien astronauts stumble across Parallax and accidentally unleash him — I’m not sure how — and he seeks revenge on Abin Sur and mortally wounds him. Abin Sur flees in a spaceship, intending to pass along his Green Lantern Ring to a worthy successor. He lands on Earth and lets his ring do all the heavy-lifting, because apparently the inanimate object decides whoever will bear it next.
For some reason it chooses Ryan Reynolds.
Ryan plays Hal Jordan, a fighter pilot with serious daddy issues who we are repeatedly informed is “afraid.” I question this character arc, since as far as I’m concerned, people willing to get into an armed aircraft and risk their lives shooting dudes and flying into the troposphere simply to prove a point do not fit the definition of “afraid.” Maybe “suicidal,” but that’s a very different kind of fear and I don’t think it’s what they were going for.
Anyhow, we’re still in the One. It’s not a long One, considering all the info it needs to deliver. It’s also the best section of the movie, although that isn’t saying very much. It’s bland, not awful.
We meet more characters and get some basic idea of how they relate to each other: Tim Robbins is the shady senator of . . . somewhere, Taika Waititi serves as Hal’s Comic Relief Friend, and Blake Lively plays Carol Ferris, Hal’s ex-girlfriend, wingman, and eventual Love Interest.
It’s a little stale to me that Carol ends up falling for Hal all over again; why must all the ex-girlfriends in movies drop the “ex” by the end of story? The superhero Love Interest has been done over and over again, so this movie is already struggling for originality. Cutting out the romance angle could have lent a unique dynamic to the characters. Maybe Carol’s his girlfriend in the comics, I don’t know, but her relationship with Hal feels pretty forced.
As for Hal himself, well, he’s nothing special right now, just your run-of-the-mill pre-superhero: he’s already good at something (in this case flying jets) but has a critical character flaw, and he fails at healthy social interactions. He’s a Competent Loser.
The Two moment is a little uncertain. I would say it occurs when Hal meets Abin Sur and receives the Ring, but his main character arc is established earlier when he and Carol fly a test run against two drone jets. While screwing around with them Hal has an unintentionally hilarious flashback of his father dying in a freak accident. The film shows Hal nearly go catatonic with despair when he re-experiences this tragic moment for the hundredth or so time.
Because the film’s “theme” is fear, and this sequence in the jet introduces Hal’s crippling flaw (which is apparently fear), I’ll have to say this is the Two. To reinforce this, it should be mentioned that Hal’s trick for disabling the drones is used later in the Eight to defeat Parallax. A correlation like this between the Two and the Eight is a good sign.
But now what?
It sounds like the Three will occur when Hal is abducted by the power of the Ring and brought before the dying Abin Sur, but this doesn’t suggest any kind of Six for later. I’m afraid I’m going to have to admit that the movie is too poorly-written to have any kind of Six at all, at least with this set-up.
The next best thing is the introduction of the film’s sub-villain, Dr. Hammond, played by Peter Sarsgaard.
Hammond is a criminally mishandled character — everything about him, from his makeup to his relationship with Hal and Carol, is butchery. There are spots of good ideas within him — moments where I almost felt impressed by originality — but we’ll get to that.
Hammond is introduced as a struggling biology professor and amateur xenobiologist, then taken by a Men in Black-type organization to perform an autopsy on the corpse of Abin Sur. In the process of doing so he accidentally ingests a blob of Parallax, and from this point onward he starts physically deteriorating and acquiring mental superpowers. Meh.
This is a poor Three because it occurs way too late in the film, but at least it has an approachable Six-connection later.
Stuff happens, and most of it happens far too quickly. I think I heard once that this film had a buttload of cuts done to it in post-production, and it feels like it, even if it’s not true.
Hal starts to understand the power of the Ring and is eventually brought to the planet of Oa against his will. Here he gets suited-up and meets the other Green Lanterns, namely Sinestro (Mark Strong).
As I may have mentioned, I have never read a single Green Lantern comic book and most of my knowledge of the character is drawn from the classic Justice League cartoon, but I know enough to recognize Sinestro is intended to become one of Hal’s greatest foes. For now, though, he’s merely an antagonistic mentor-figure to Hal. He’s not a poor character, exactly, but he doesn’t have much to do other than talk politics with the Guardians, a group of weird elder aliens that apparently run the Green Lantern Corps.
Sinestro trains Hal for a bit and insults him a whole lot, to the point that Hal decides to quit the Corps. I would think that the Corps would try to remove his Ring and Lantern at this point — they can’t just let a rogue Green Lantern traipse around with the power to create weapons out of thin air, can they? But nope, they let him go without a fuss, and Hal is free to potentially wreak havoc on Earth.
Hal attends a party with some of the other characters where we learn for the first time that he and Dr. Hammond are old acquaintances. That would’ve been handy information twenty minutes ago. In the meantime . . .
Hammond uses his mind powers to secretly attack his father, but Hal manages to save him using the Ring and reveals himself to mankind. This isn’t a swell Switch, but it’s the best I could find; the movie just kind of burps from scene to scene. Here Hal has decided to abandon the Corps but use his abilities anyway to save lives, and from this point on he’s dedicated to serving justice.
In one of the film’s best scenes, Hal visits Carol while wearing his costume, but she sees right through his flimsy disguise, subverting and Lampshading the old superhero trope where a tiny domino mask is all the hero needs to protect his identity. Very funny. Too bad the rest of the movie rarely runs with this. A superhero movie that’s all about subverting superhero tropes? Not the most original idea, but it could have saved this disaster, as evidenced by this great scene.
The Five has little else to show, although we get another politics-talk between Sinestro and the Guardians where we learn that Parallax is actually an ex-Guardian who tried to “harness the power of fear” and transformed into a giant octopus baby made of skeletons and fecal matter. This might have been interesting if we had more context for the Guardians and/or if Parallax was genuinely scary, but as it stands it’s rushed and uninspired.
Meanwhile, Hammond is turning into a sapient goiter and gets abducted by the Men in Black, who proceed to incarcerate and experiment on him, hoping for a way to heal him. However, he breaks free and uses his mind powers to attack everybody, including Tim Robbins, his father.
I have no idea how, but Hal realizes where Hammond is and flies in to stop him. They get into a superpowered fight that Hal manages to lose, and Tim Robbins is killed. The real Six moment occurs when Hammond reads Hal’s mind, deducing his identity and his association wit the Corps. He also sees that Carol knows Hal’s secret and is beginning to regain romantic interest in him, which upsets Hammond and will drive him to kidnap her later.
The Six is just as weak as the Three, so I won’t try to defend it.
After Hammond escapes him, Hal decides to return to Oa so he can ask the Guardians for help. Except . . . by “ask for help” he simply means “let me fight Parallax.”
So instead of staying on Earth and fighting Parallax he flies all the way to Oa just so he can tell the Guardians that he’s going to fight Parallax, then returns to Earth to fight Parallax?
Is he asking for permission? But he quit the Corps — why would he care about their permission now?
Sure enough, while he was gone doing absolutely nothing with the Guardians, Hammond kidnaps Carol and puts her into some sort of suspended animation, and when Hal returns he threatens to inject her with some of his blood — blood infected with Parallax’s icky fear germs.
There’s some fighting and Carol’s saved, then Parallax arrives and kills Hammond. Hal battles Parallax and overcomes his fear, I guess, so there’s one character arc sewn shut. In a mirror to the drone-jet sequence in the Two, Hal resorts to drawing the bad guy into space, where he tricks him into getting sucked into the sun. Wow, that was effective — why didn’t Abin Sur think of that? Actually, how did Abin Sur manage to imprison this thing at all?
Whatever, it’s the happy ending. Hal and Carol resume their romance and Hal is allowed back into the Green Lantern Corps, and it’s implied he’ll serve them by policing other sectors in space. Time for the sequel!
So what went wrong here? Well, many things, but the big beef I have with the script is that it couldn’t settle on a story to tell. It packs a number of sub-plots together and tries to connect them, but they’re all rushed and badly written.
The film is failing to tell several different stories, but I picked up on at least three that they could have shown more love for:
Cain and Abel:
Hal and Hammond aren’t literally brothers, but there are hints in the film they grew up together and have a rather strained relationship. Tim Robbins is Hammond’s biological dad, but it’s obvious he disdains him and considers Hal a worthy substitute son.
In a similar plot vein, Hammond clearly has a crush on Carol, but her affections lie with Hal (or used to, anyway). Hal is irresponsible and crass, but he gets all the attention anyway.
We learn in a small scene that Hammond was given the opportunity to inspect Abin Sur’s corpse because his father knows people in the Men in Black and paid them off. To my surprise, Hammond actually reacted angrily to this information: he thought he was chosen for his skill, not his connections, and he’s smart enough to realize that other, better scientists should have been given this opportunity. It’s a very nice spark of originality, and it adds a molecule of depth to Hammond.
The filmmakers could have dove into the relationships between Hal, Hammond, Carol and Tim Robbins and built a better soul for the story. Downplay the Green Lantern elements — keep Parallax’s possession of Hammond but save the creature itself for a sequel, maybe adjust the stuff on Oa so Hal gradually learns of his new powers and duties instead of literally being dragged into outer space, etc. A tale of a biological son VS a symbolic son isn’t an amazing idea, but I haven’t seen it used much in a superhero film and it would have served well here.
Another poorly-done sub-plot is Hal’s difficulty forgetting the death of his father. I mean, come on: when he was a child he saw his dad climb into a cockpit that spontaneously exploded for no reason at all.
And because of this he suffers from . . . I don’t really know.
Does he blame himself for his dad’s death? That makes no sense. Is he afraid his own jet will explode on him? Not only is that silly, but if he’s genuinely afraid of exploding planes then why does he continue to fly them?
Anyway, scrap the dad’s death scene and replace it with something memorable. It doesn’t need to be fancy, and besides, the main issue shouldn’t be the father’s death so much as his legacy. The film hints that Hal has been shown special treatment in the jet-business because of his father’s popularity and that he resents it, preferring to prove himself through skill alone. (Coincidentally also Hammond’s main issue, as I mentioned above.)
Similarly, in the Green Lantern Corps Hal is under immense pressure because he wears the ring of Abin Sur, supposedly one of the greatest Lanterns to ever live. The film toys with this too. So why not make these two issues the film’s focus? Hal grapples with the responsibility of not only living up to his father’s name, but Abin Sur’s name as well.
I’m not sure how this would shape the story, but at least it’s unique, and it would draw interesting parallels between the people of Earth and the aliens on Oa, with Hal and his angst caught in the middle.
The Vanguard of Earth:
If both of those mushy family issues are too Hallmark for you, then why not simply focus on Hal’s integration as a Green Lantern? Really immerse the film in the fantastic aspects and leave Earth behind. Hal is the first human being to receive the honor of becoming a Green Lantern, which means he is effectively an ambassador as well as a Space Cop. What does that feel like?
Rather than muddle around with a vague theme like “fear,” pay attention to why Hal was chosen to represent his species when he’s such a witless social outcast. How did this happen? Was he chosen for this position precisely because he’s a flawed person? Explain why the other Lanterns were chosen as well, to create contrast with Hal and develop some Mass Effect-style human+alien jolly co-operation.
Also, it goes without saying Hal shouldn’t quit the Corps as soon as he gets in; he needs to stay and prove the value of himself and his species, and there needs to be plenty of crazy Star Wars action on spaceships and alien planets. Build an IP, a living, breathing world with unique aliens and powers, and use Hal as the Straight Man — the normal guy who experiences all this awesome stuff for the first time.
There’re my two cents.
I have no Enneagram fix for the finished film because I don’t think it would have ever worked in its present condition. It’s simply too overstuffed and misguided. Like I said, I don’t know anything about the comic books, but I’m sure the filmmakers took a dozen interesting things and mashed them together without using their brains.