June 23rd, 2011 by Bruce Edwards
If not, we would likely be raving about this movie, not only for its imaginative CGI (i.e., sans 3-d), but also for its playful but uncampy, serious but open-handed treatment of what is probably the most complex mythology created for a comic book.
The Green Lantern phenomenon, i.e., the ongoing reiterations of origins of multiple Earth-bound Lanterns, and those who patrol the utter cosmic reaches of the vast universe, rival J. R. R. Tolkien’s own creative intensity and output for inventing middle-earth, its languages, creatures, landscapes. But alas, moviegoers, except those (like me) fascinated by the DC comic’s history and uniqueness, will be unlikely to discern the cogency of these kinds of comparisons.
The movie is dwarfed by the sheer number of movies gone before, and the onslaught of scripts and treatments and, therefore, derivative movies, now out there, coming soon, or already in production. Hero fatigue is at work. But how sad that the sui generis genre that Green Lantern represents goes unremarked and beyond the grasp of the majority of people who will see it. When I was growing up (late 1950s, early 60s), it was pre-Marvel (the age of the newly self-conscious and problem-driven, angst-filled superhero) and, so, the age of the singular superhero: Superman and Batman, men driven by childhood trauma (the death of Krypton, the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents), to fight evil and combat villainy all by themselves. Superman was “invulnerable” (I loved that word, and all that it meant; except for green Kryptonite, nothing could “penetrate his skin”) and he could fly, had x-ray vision, super hearing, and, what is this used for anyway?: “super breath”; Batman, lacking superhero “powers,” out-thought, out-manuevered, out-athleticized his enemies, whose own colorful idiosyncrasies (The Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin) made up for Batman’s own dark and brooding nature, as the bat signal in the sky, Batman only summoned at night, symbolized his lonely, sunless crusade. These were heroes who were Alone, Unaccompanied in their quest to rid, first, their cities, then, the cosmos, of crime, delinquency, and evil.
Along came Hal Jordan into my comic book universe: The Green Lantern. What’s a “Green Lantern”? Sit down, son, and I will tell you—it’s complicated. Green Lantern was empowered (rather than “powered”) by the ring that all Green Lanterns wore. (He was decidedly not “invulnerable.” Abin Sur, who brought the ring to earth in a crash landing proved that.) Did I say “all”? Yes, there is a Green Lantern for every sector of the universe. Except that Earth sort of came last in the designation of a hometown Green Lantern, last, no doubt, for some of the same reasons C. S. Lewis chose to call Earth in his cosmic space trilogy, the “silent planet.” In Lewis’s imaginative world, Earth’s angelic overseer, its “Green Lantern,” had been cast down as a rebel, and Earth being “quarantined” from the rest of the galaxy for his corruption. This makes the imaginative landscape for multi-world, multi-verse adventures and plots and alien life forms infinitely expandable.
Though Green Lantern’s earth-bound adventures were thrilling, it is when he went off-world that my heart soared, because I knew he would encounter the diversity of non-biped species, and the artists would be freed to draw the most amazing creatures, creatures not beyond good and evil, but subscribed to the same ethical creed as “our” Green Lantern, “let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power, Green Lantern’s light.” Wow. We were not alone in the universe, and if Superman and Batman couldn’t be in two places at once, well, there were thousands of Green Lanterns who could come to our rescue. I was comforted by the notion that the Green Lantern Corps stood behind us, and were not dependent on “earth’s greatest scientists” to save us or rid the universe of evil.
Looking back, I didn’t understand it so theologically, of course, but like Lewis’s archangels (“Oyarsas”) who governed for the deity, Maledil, the Green Lanterns were the spiritual agents of glory and majesty, ever brave, loyal, and true, and empowered by the emerald glow of their rings and lanterns–the combined, unfallen will of their Creator. Could there have been a more enterprising and ambitious set of premises for a comic book?
But I digress.
This Green Lantern, is less lofty, at least in this first episode, because of all the obstacles in front of the moviegoers already cited (and I can throw in clueless critics like Christy Lemire, who declares categorically that the Green Lantern mythology is “stupid”) and also because of all the dilemmas in front of the screenwriters and director of what to include and what to leave out (the “fanboy,” ugh, factor). It doesn’t come close to satisfying the longings of a audience member like me, who “knows too much” to enjoy the movie simply as is. But it doesn’t betray me, either: a crucial distinction.
Here’s the thing: when I think of the sheer improbability of Green Lantern coming to the big screen at all, the odds of its moving through the “green-lighting” (sorry) process, it’s a miracle that it indeed emerges as the respectable and respectful movie it is, one that tells the story of Green Lantern’s origins and Corps as best as it can to an uninitiated audience, portrays the power of the ring “in use” as skillfully as one could hope, and, therefore, begs for a deeper and even more imaginative sequel to explore and display the richness of the worldview behind it.
This I believe: If Green Lantern had preceded the Iron Man series, we’d be talking retrospectively about its wit, the jovality of Ryan Reynolds, and the ingenuity of set designers and f/x wizards who manage to bring both childlike innocence and cosmic import to the use of the ring, and, how, subsequently, Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance seems, by contrast, crass, flip, incongruently selfish, and pugnaciously snide. Here’s some advice: Ignore the critics. See Green Lantern. Hope for a second coming.