Despite being regarded as something of a flop, Green Lantern will apparently be followed up by a sequel that Warner Bros. President Jeff Robinov indicates will be "darker and edgier" than the original light-hearted Ryan Reynolds romp based on the DC Comics superhero. It's reflexive for most of us to cringe when a Hollywood executive utters the words "dark" or "edgy" with respect to superheroes, but in the case of Green Lantern, such consternation may be misguided. Indeed, the franchise can only benefit from embracing the apocalyptic tone and harrowing space operatics of the Green Lantern comic books written by Geoff Johns, for it is those popular stories about heroes triumphing over ancient evils, implacable foes and violent, bone-chilling horror that elevated the character to movie material in the first place.
SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the Green Lantern movie.
"We had a decent opening so we learned there is an audience," Warner Bros. film group President Jeff Robinov told The Los Angeles Times this week, referencing Green Lantern's debut of $53 million in ticket sales. "To go forward we need to make it a little edgier and darker with more emphasis on action."
After seeing the film, it's difficult to argue with Robinov's conclusions.
Green Lantern as an A-list character, concept and viable filmmaking mechanism is a contemporary phenomenon and a direct consequence of the success of The Sinestro Corps War, the epic comic book saga devised by Johns that set the standard for all Green Lantern stories to follow. The storyline, which stacked the deck against the heroes in a truly grand fashion and exemplified the sorts of fantastical conflicts I outlined above, drove the comics to the top of the sales charts, energized DC's Green Lantern property and positioned the character to be Warner Bros.' first major film franchise since the restructuring of the entire DC apparatus (resulting in DC Entertainment). As such, it was a bizarre experience, seeing a Green Lantern film with so little resemblance to that kind of material, at least tonally.
As we discussed in our review of Green Lantern, the film adapted on a surface level many of the comics' mythological details including but not limited to: the Green Lantern Corps; Sinestro, the greatest Green Lantern; the living fear creature, Parallax (in the film's case, a corrupted Guardian); the death of Hal Jordan's father; and the dysfunctional relationship between Jordan and Carol Ferris. But the film undermined their dramatic impact with minimal action sequences (some of which were silly), disjointed storytelling, a preoccupation with the characters' shallow filial relationships, and a overly jocular, "family-friendly" style.
Where the film did succeed was with basically anything having to do with the Green Lantern Corps itself, which was rightly depicted as a noble fighting force in a universe full of exotic aliens, dangerous prophecies and powerful weapons limited only by imagination. These elements were tantalizingly communicated in the film's marketing material, including this excellent package for WonderCon 2011:
The video above promises a film that appears very much along the lines of the Green Lantern comic books: it's dark, shadowy and ominous, it's violent, the stakes are impossibly high (civilizations are being annihilated!) it's action-packed, it's brimming with all sorts of alien heroes of legend, and the vast majority of it takes place in outer space. What was delivered to audiences last month was not the movie advertised.
Weirdly, the more correct and more exciting idiom of Green Lantern manifests in every part of the Warner Bros. empire where power rings appear except the movie. There's the comics, of course; the Rise of the Manhunters video game, whose emphasis is on space action; the home video releases Green Lantern: First Flight and Green Lantern: Emerald Knights follow similar lines; and the forthcoming Green Lantern: The Animated Series promises cool space-murders that prompt Hal and Kilowog to go boldly to the edge of the universe and fight Red Lanterns all by themselves. Even the Green Lantern roller-coaster is so intense it will make you barf.
Robinov specifically addressed the amount of time Martin Campbell's Green Lantern film dedicated to its relatively mundane earthbound elements, telling The Los Angeles Times, "We have to find a way to balance the time the movie spends in space versus on Earth." As all Green Lantern fans know, that balance is best contemplated in the form this mantra: "F*ck Earth." There's little to be gained by setting a Green Lantern story on Earth, not when there are so many brilliantly over-the-top threats for Hal Jordan and his fellow heroes to best in the cosmos of the DC Universe. Let Batman or even The Flash battle the forces of evil, such as they are, on Earth. The job of the Green Lantern Corps is to take the fight to the literal forces of evil -- or forces of fear, or rage, or death, as the case may be -- in a spectacular display of interstellar war from which our fearless heroes may never return (but you know they will).
It is a shame that the drama of Sinestro's turning to the Yellow Side was undermined by Green Lantern's nonsensical post-credits fanservice teaser, where for no obvious reason he put on the yellow ring of fear and manifested the uniform of the Sinestro Corps, but the value of Mark Strong in that role should not be underestimated. It's critical that a sequel make prodigious use of this gifted actor, whose portrayal of the heroic but arrogant Sinestro in the original film was genuinely excellent, and his character still as so far to go.
Further, such a film should, like the post-Sinestro Corps War comics, take precautions to avoid any terrestrial concerns beyond the existential: is Earth about to be destroyed? If yes, we can see Earth. If no, f*ck Earth. Lastly, in 62 issues of Green Lantern plus the Rebirth and Blackest Night miniseries, there are 45 instances of what I would describe as graphic violence or horrific gore (none of which were caused by the hero, by the way), and a Green Lantern film should have a proportional amount distributed throughout its two-hour runtime (even the original Star Wars saga had one dismemberment per film).
As a fan of Green Lantern, I'm cautiously encouraged by Robinov's statements, assuming of course he is not suggesting some kind of darkly psychological, morally ambiguous treatment along the lines of The Dark Knight. Green Lantern is not light-hearted or "silly fun" superhero fare, nor particularly funny, and it hasn't been for years. What's galvanized this concept and these characters is a dedication to the melodramatic: strict, down-the-center good versus evil stories set against a backdrop of galactic chaos and horror, where the conflicts are defined by, literally, the most basic emotions, and the superheroes have to fight to save existence itself. That's a movie I want to see, and I hope it's what the Warner Bros. executive is talking about.
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