And yet despite numerous similarities, critics and audiences seem to have really liked Thor while they rejected wholeheartedly Green Lantern.
Since in terms of style, originality, presentation, and even narrative detail the movies are virtually interchangeable, I can only surmise that the vast difference in reception came about because we’ve already seen Ryan Reynolds do this kind of shtick before (in Blade: Trinity, for instance), whereas relative newcomer Chris Hemsworth seemed like something of a revelation in Thor.
In other words, Reynolds is a familiar flavor, while Hemsworth is a fresh one. What enjoyment could be gleaned from Thor came almost entirely from our first encounter with Hemsworth’s persona and charisma as a leading man.
Am I actually arguing here that Green Lantern is a better movie than Thor? No. Only that Thor and Green Lantern exist on the same unfortunate plateau of mind-numbing mediocrity, and therefore it seems abundantly illogical to laud one effort while despising the other. Step back a pace and you can see that they are the same Hollywood-produced superhero animal: both largely devoid of inspiration and originality, and both girded up with superficial virtues, namely fine special effects and beautiful cast members. In broad terms, Thor is a bit more portentous, and Green Lantern a hair more cheeky, but otherwise, we’re looking at films separated at birth.
Green Lantern is the tale of ace pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), who — like so many superheroes these days — has daddy issues. In this case, he still grieves over the tragic loss of his father (Jon Tenney) or father-figure (think Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, etc.), and wants desperately to live up to his dad’s reputation as a paragon of fearlessness. In the film’s first scenes, Hal pulps an expensive jet during a war game to prove his courage, but the incident only seems to sow further self-doubt. Just as Thor had to deal with his own arrogance and Daddy issues, so must Hal defeat his daddy demons too.
Meanwhile, a Green Lantern-turned-bad by the yellow power of “fear” — called Parallax — defeats the great Green Lantern Abin Sur (Temeura Morrison) in space, leaving the injured intergalactic policeman to seek a replacement on Earth. “Choose well,” he implores his green ring (which harnesses the emerald power of will-power), and it promptly selects Hal.
After Sur dies, another man with Daddy issues, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) also receives an unwanted gift. While conducting an autopsy of the alien warrior, he receives a prick of Parallax-essence, and begins his descent into yellow-inspired madness and terror.
So yes, it’s the same I-Made-You/You-Made-Me or Two-Sides-of-the-Same-Coin dynamic we’ve seen in superhero productions (The Flash , The Crow , Daredevil ) since the Burton Batman popularized the cliche in 1989.
Hal finally adorns the ring and becomes Green Lantern. He visits the planet of Oa, where he is trained in the ways of the Corp. by Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan), Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush) and Sinestro (Mark Strong). This portion of the film is undeniably its strongest. The tour of magnificent Oa truly inspires awe, and Kilowog and Sinestro both come across remarkably well. Strong really holds the screen as Sinestro, giving the character a tremendous dignity that you won’t find, for instance, on The Super Friends. The scenes on Oa have a jaunty, delightful quality that lightens the movie, and the special effect “constructs” created by the Lanterns are awesomely rendered.
The remainder of the movie pretty much follows the current Superhero playbook too. Hal surrenders the “responsibility” of being a Green Lantern, and then must pick it up again when Parallax invades Earth, all while fighting to protect the love of his life (Carol Ferris), this movie’s Lois Lane/Pepper Potts/Mary Jane Watson variation. There are also a few scenes featuring a shadowy U.S. government agency, Checkmate, which is D.C.’s version of SHIELD, I guess you could say. And naturally, there’s a U.S. Senator prowling around behind the scenes, creating further intrigue (The X-Men , Captain America: First Avenger ). The movie then ends with the newly-ensconced superhero doing a kind of special effects victory lap, much like the one we saw in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002), or much earlier, in Superman II (1981).
In Green Lantern, Hal’s final battle with Parallax is pretty impressive, visually-speaking. And you won’t be surprised to read that in the final moments, he conquers his lack-of-fearlessness, if there is such a thing, thereby coming into his own and erasing the looming shadow of his father.
Watching Jordan ascend to his destiny, teeth gritted, I wished again for a superhero movie in which characters don’t treat their super powers like an albatross, a lead weight dragging them down into psychological depression. Then, the next day, my wish was unexpectedly answered as I watched Captain America: First Avenger. What a relief: a modern super hero movie that doesn’t treat super powers like a super drag.
When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s and 1980s superheroes in film and on television were pretty serious, but they generally weren’t such a glum, down-in-the-mouth and introspective bunch as we get these days. I feel at this point that the pendulum has swung too far from the camp of the 1960s to the Dark Age, because superhero movies like Green Lantern or Thor all rely on this same tired dynamic of “tortured” individuals with tragic pasts who are really broken inside. It’s been done so many times now there’s just no freshness left in the dynamic. I don’t want to go back to an “Old Chum”-styled Batman approach, either, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the pendulum tick back toward the middle a bit. I hate that our culture consistently mistakes “dark,” “gloomy” and “angsty” (and “dysfunctional” too) for “mature.” It’s a real bummer, but the dynamic, for the moment, prevails in superhero cinema.
So Green Lantern? The special effects are good, the people beautiful, the vistas breathtaking…and the movie has not a single original thought in its head. But — let’s be honest — the movie is in no measurable way a worse viewing experience than Thor. Both films scrape by on their budgets and the likability of their leads, with everything else (including internal consistency) coming in a distant second.
Faint praise, perhaps, but not entirely unexpected in an era wherein the emerald power of money often seems the chief artistic factor at work behind the making of yet another big-budget superhero “origin” movie. Fortunately, every now and then we get an Iron Man (2008) or a Captain America (2011) to wash away the generic nature of a very expensive — and very uninspired — Thor or Green Lantern.