Recharging Green Lantern: Seven Suggestions for a Better Sequel

Since Barry’s review of Green Lantern, I’ve been giving some more thought to what I liked and didn’t like about this movie, and how this could have been a better movie. Here are some thoughts:

First of all, I thought this was a good movie, an entertaining movie, a movie I would not mind seeing twice, a better movie than many comic adaptations. It had good acting, with Ryan Reynolds and the other cast members doing a good job. The dialogue had some funny points, and the special effects were great. However, I thought it could have been better. In trying to pinpoint what went wrong and what would need to be changed to make this a better movie, I identified seven areas where I’d suggest some improvements could be made:

Problem #1: Underdeveloped characters. GL’s own development was decent, as was that of Hector Hammond. Parallax, Carol Ferris, the Guardians, the Lantern Corps, and other major and minor cast suffered from underdevelopment. Parallax is scary when he shows up, but his story is left mostly off-screen, and he receives development mainly through Hammond. Carol Ferris’ emotionally explosive plot potential as Star Sapphire is left unused. The Guardians sit around looking wise, but display little initiative in guarding anything, letting Sinestro take charge. Sinestro’s conflict with GL is the most emotionally-charged conflict in the movie, but it mainly gets developed in one training scene, with the most important development delayed until after the credits have started rolling. Tomar-Re and Kilowog immediately establish a strong presence when they appear, but they appear too briefly to have much impact. Amanda Waller exudes little of the menace she oozes in the Justice League cartoon and Smallville, instead appearing uncharacteristically reasonable and vulnerable in her dealings with Hammond. Hal’s nephew gets a key role early in the movie, and then disappears. Hal’s tech-geek friend Tom spends several minutes contributing gratuitous dialogue without performing any useful function. Granted, it’s not possible to develop all these characters fully in one movie, but more could have been done. Delving deeper into Ferris and Sinestro’s relationships with GL would have upped the emotional ante more than focusing on the distant menace of Parallax.

Problem #2: Underdeveloped settings. The movie starts off with a potentially strong backstory introduction in the spirit of the opening of Fellowship of the Ring. But where that film plays events out visually for strong effect, Green Lantern settles for a narrated voiceover set against space scenes that look beautiful but reveal little about what we’re hearing about. We later get welcomed to Oa and told that the Guardians created “all this,” but we get to see very little of what “this” is, beyond a panoramic long-shot and small glimpses of the Guardians’ council chamber and Green Lantern’s training platform. GL’s trips from Earth to Oa lack sufficient sense of transition, leaving a feeling that events on Oa have little bearing on the main action on Earth. Contrast this with how Asgard is developed in Thor, where we get extensive looks at Odin’s palace, Bifrost, and Jotunheim, and the action in Asgard intertwines with events on Earth. Similar treatment of Oa would have made Green Lantern a stronger film. Meanwhile back on Earth, Amanda Waller’s lab and what it represents could have also stood development. What else is Waller up to? In Justice League and Smallville we get a sense that her cameos are glimpses of a much bigger game involving very big players. This could have been achieved here by having Waller and her goons lean on Hammond more strongly, having Hammond walk by a few of her other government projects on the way to Abin Sur’s cadaver, and dropping allusions to the Suicide Squad and Luthorcorp.

Problem #3: Underdeveloped conflicts. Green Lantern’s simmering conflict with Sinestro could have been developed to inject more personal drama than the impersonal threat of Parallax. Turning Carol Ferris into Star Sapphire would have achieved an even more intense effect. Waller could have been used to build a conspirational mood.

Problem #4: Uneven pacing. On several occasions, the movie cuts away from the developing plot to a scene where GL or Sinestro are talking with other characters about the plot. This slows down the pace of the movie in places where it should be building.

Problem #5: Not enough sustained action. This is partly a byproduct of uneven pacing and partly a lack of choreography. There are only two real hand-to-hand fight scenes: when Hal gets jumped in the parking lot and when GL crosses swords with Sinestro. Neither of these lasts long enough or gets physically interesting enough to build a mood. The expectation of a follow-up scene where GL battles Sinestro and redeems himself by winning is left unfulfilled. The armed combat scenes fail to make up for this lack of fisticuffs. When using his ring, GL sticks to simulating fairly conventional weapons, and rarely uses his trademark weapons like his energy fist. And when he gets struck, it’s left unexplained exactly what protection his suit gives him, but he doesn’t seem to receive any real damage, and doesn’t have much occasion to use his famous shield. The underlying problem is that we don’t ever get a real sense of GL being physically threatened. What this movie is missing is a fight scene like those in the first two Spider-Man movies where Spidey survives being nearly beaten to a pulp to win through sheer determination. We need to see GL’s will exhibited physically, not just through his ring. We get a small sense of this when he’s using the fighter jets to hold himself back from being sucked into the Sun, but we needed more of this, and more of it earlier.

Problem #6: Underused special effects. Tom asks Hal if he couldn’t have used his ring to create something better than a racetrack his first time out. Unfortunately, despite a $200 million production budget, he doesn’t come up with anything much more spectacular by the time the film ends. Expanding the swordfight with Sinestro into something like a light saber fight would have helped. And a planet-threatening menace like Parallax calls for a bigger and more creative weapon than a jet fighter. Where’s a Death Star or an Ultimate Nullifier when you need one?

Problem #7: Buried cliffhanger with Sinestro putting on the yellow ring. It’s become popular to stick cliffhangers several minutes into the credits. Bad idea: over half your audience is already gone. The classic serial movies had it right: end on a high note and leave your audience in a mood for more.

And I do hope there will be more. I don’t think this is an unfixable franchise. But it does need some recharging.

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