Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 #51 Green Lantern (2011)
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In a neat bit of synchronicity, today’s entry, the famously disastrous 2011 adaptation of Green Lantern stars Ryan Reynolds, who just so happens to also be the lead in the next two movies I am mandated to watch by the Nathan Rabin Happy Cast production schedule. That’s a pompous way of saying “shit I need to watch for my podcast.”
The next Scalding Hot Takes will be devoted to Ryan Reynolds’ Detective Pikachu and for next Sub-Cult 2.0/Control Nathan and Clint I will be revisited Reynolds’ winningly bonkers turn as an awkward young man with an unfortunate habit of killing people as well as the voice of his evil talking cat(!?!) and kindly talking dog in The Voices.
What are the odds that I would end up writing about three Ryan Reynolds movies in a row? Pretty good, actually! I get to choose what order I write about the movies on my list of Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 possibilities and Ryan Reynolds is a tremendously prolific actor who has been doing all kinds of work in all kinds of places over the past fifteen years.
Yes, they make a lot of movies these days. And Ryan Reynolds is in many of them, if not most of them. He’s come a long way baby, from his days as a sentient smirk in the risible likes of Van Wilder and Waiting.
Heck, I recently read that Marvel was planning on re-casting pretty much all of the X-Men except for Reynolds as Deadpool and thought that made sense.
How did Reynolds go from being a less obnoxious version of Dane Cook to an accomplished dramatic actor, major league box-office attraction and pop icon thanks to his wildly successful turn as fourth-wall-shattering goof Deadpool?
Reynolds clearly worked hard on his craft, stubbornly pursued his once-daring, R-rated conception of Deadpool through long years in development hell and at least one shitty, super-high-profile X-Men movie where he played the character in a version no one liked, and chose offbeat and challenging projects like The Voices and The Nines (both of which cast him in meaty triple roles) as well as the terrific 70s-style indie Mississippi Grind.
Of course it does not hurt that Reynolds is also a ridiculously good-looking, confident, rich, famous white heterosexual male married to a gorgeous movie star in a culture where all of those qualities are held in sometimes excessively high regard. Getting Blake Lively to marry you is certainly impressive and takes some doing. Being born white, Canadian and male is not.
Finally, Reynolds has obviously learned from his mistakes. He received a very useful practical education in how not to make a superhero movie, for example, from such preeminent accidental instructors/nadirs of the form as Blade III, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, R.I.P.D and, perhaps most infamously, 2011’s Green Lantern.
Reynolds was so unhappy with Green Lantern that he’s made it a running joke in the Deadpool franchise. He wasn’t the only one unhappy with the film. Director Martin Campbell reportedly clashed with Reynolds repeatedly onset, subjecting the handsome Canadian to take upon take out of frustration that he was denied his first and only choice for Hal Jordan/Green Lantern in Bradley Cooper. Screenwriter/producer Greg Berlanti, who was at one point supposed to direct, was similarly aghast at the changes made to his screenplay. Critics and audiences were underwhelmed and plans for sequels and crossovers were nixed after the film received dreadful reviews and underperformed at the box-office.
At least one good thing came of Green Lantern. Reynolds and much younger female lead Blake Lively fell in love and got married. Lively is eleven years younger than her husband/co-star which makes it unintentionally hilarious that Green Lantern casts the Gen-Xer and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants star as childhood friends roughly the same age.
I similarly encountered this problem with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which similarly tried to pretend that Robert Downey Jr. and Michelle Monaghan are about the same age when he’s clearly a man who has lived, and lived hard, for at least a decade longer than his love interest had been alive. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang at least had sparkling dialogue, wonderful performances and sizzling sexual and romantic chemistry to distract us from the glaring implausibility at its core. There’s nothing in Green Lantern to distract us from the absurdity of Reynolds playing a man a decade younger than himself.
I watched the extended version of Green Lantern out of a perhaps misplaced conviction that the reason I hated, or rather was bored and underwhelmed by the film when I reviewed it during its theatrical run in 2011 was because it wasn’t quite long enough. Nope! Turns out the extended cut offers even more of a bad thing.
The version of Green Lantern I watched begins, annoyingly, in 1993, with Gattlin Griffith, the child actor playing the young Hal as an eight year old boy overflowing with excitement over seeing his Maverick of a Top Gun pilot father conduct one of his daring tests. We know this can only mean one thing: papa gonna die, and die dramatically in ways that prove nearly as central to his traumatized son’s superhero origin story as the nifty mood ring and bong-looking green lantern of the title he picks up from a dying alien who believes in him.
Dady’s death deeply scars the young Hal Jordan, whose social circle includes Lively’s Carol Ferris, a future hotshot pilot and executive, and Hector Hammond, a li’l weirdo whose cringe-inducing awkwardness telegraphs his eventual turn into the world’s grossest, ugliest super-villain, an oily-skinned monster with a freakishly large head that looks first like a rancid white watermelon and than a Bubonic boil just begging to be lanced.
Hammond will grow up to a weaselly super-loser played by handsome actor Peter Sarsgaard under layer upon layer of hideous prosthetics that take him from ugly to viscerally repulsive to downright monstrous. Sarsgaard is sixteen years older than Lively, and costumed and made-up to look a decade older so it is very difficult to believe that he and Lively and Reynolds, beauties so impossibly perfect-looking they might as well be genetically engineered to produce the best-looking human beings, are the same age.
In the prologue and the nonsense that follows, director Martin Campbell—who directed 2006’s Casino Royale and a whole bunch of movies so dire or undistinguished they make Casino Royale look like a fluke—seems to be shooting for the wholesome, clean-cut, Norman Rockwellesque Americana of Richard Donner’s Superman crossed with the aerial acrobatics of Top Gun and the trippy world-building of Avatar. He ends up with something hopelessly bland and timid, without a sense of a wonder or much in the way of personality.
We then leap to the present, where the now grown-up Hal has turned into a smudgy Xerox of Tom Cruise’s iconic flyboy in Top Gun, a womanizing, glib and arrogant wild man of the cockpit who damn near dies pushing his plane and his body to the breaking point on a highway straight to the Danger Zone.
Then one day Hal stumbles upon a dying alien who is a member of the Green Lantern Corps, a massive organization of peace-keepers and crime fighters who function as basically the police force of the universe, only instead of a gun and a badge they use a magical ring and the titular green lantern, which, frankly, looks suspiciously like a bong yet is never used as such to do all kinds of magical shit and keep space criminals from doing space crimes.
Green Lantern is a cross between a superhero and a beat cop after he discovers his powers and travels to the planet of Oa to attend essentially an outer space police academy and learns how to harness his new powers from weird-looking alien mentors voiced by Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan.
Back on planet Earth, Hal rekindles his romance with Carol and squares off against the grown-up Hector, who grows uglier, morally and physically, with each successive scene.
According to IMDB, Sarsgaard researched his evil scientific genius character by spending time with an eccentric biologist from Tulane. What a waste! If I were an an actor of Sarsgaard’s stature, my preparation for nonsense like this would exclusively entitle reading the script, or at least learning my lines. No further effort is necessary or expected.
At the risk of damning him with faint praise, Sarsgaard is easily the best thing about Green Lantern. He throws himself into the character’s all-consuming grossness with unhinged conviction worthy of an early John Waters movie. Sarsgaard is clearly having a blast playing the most morally and psychically repellent figure this side of Lou Pearlman.
The film’s only other redeeming facet is Taika Waititi as Thomas Kalmaku, Hal’s loyal best friend and sidekick. He doesn’t have much screen time but the New Zealand cult auteur alone conveys a sense of awe over the fact that his best friend, who was previously just a devastatingly sexy hotshot pilot, has become a full-on superhero. In a related development, on Waititi’s Twitter feed today he posted a photograph of himself and Reynolds on the set of their new film with a crack about how exciting it is to be working with Reynolds for the first time ever. You don’t have to be the name-above-the-titles star of Green Lantern to make self-deprecating jokes about how terrible it is and how you wish it didn’t happen.
Reynolds is as badly miscast here as Green Lantern as he was perfectly cast in Deadpool. He’s neutered and sleepy here, clearly frustrated to be the center of a leaden epic with no idea what it wants to do or how to use Reynolds’ gifts. Though he manages a few wisecracks early on, the combination of snarky, meta-textual, fourth-wall-breaking attitude and surprising heart and depth that defines Reynolds as an actor and movie star is largely absent, replaced by smirky smugness and maudlin sentimentality.
Let’s compare these two superheroes:
Deadpool: total rapscallion
Green Lantern: not even a little bit rascally
Deadpool: constantly up to monkeyshines, mischief AND shenanigans
Green Lantern: not up to monkeyshines, mischief, nor shenanigans
Deadpool: flagrantly disregards the fourth wall to chat constantly with the audience
Green Lantern: respects fourth wall like total Poindexter; doesn’t seem remotely aware he’s a fictional creation in a movie
Deadpool: X-treme like snowboarding off a mountain while chugging Mountain Dew at the end of an eighth day meth bender
Green Lantern: mild and low-energy, like drinking lukewarm milk while watching a Jeb Bush speech and reading Family Circus.
Here’s the thing about Hal Jordan and his Green Lantern powers: if he wanted to, he could create, out of the blue, through his green space magic a giant cheeseburger the size of Yankee stadium, complete with house-sized pickles and oceans of mayo, mustard and ketchup, and then, to the delight and surprise of humanity, have a planet-sized Babe Ruth show up and eat the stadium-sized treat. How awesome would that be?
How are you going to spend two hundred million dollars on Green Lantern and not include a scene like that? An oversight like that represents a staggering failure of imagination.
Green Lantern and Seth Rogen’s Green Hornet are both such underwhelming, frustrating muddles that they really should be combined into one whole-ass movie that is then deleted from existence by a merciful God.
For a movie with a budget of two hundred million dollars, this looks surprisingly cheap, like an Asylum knockoff of itself. The character design and animation is almost impressively hideous. Its conception of dazzling alien worlds looks to me more like some primitive screensavers while its aliens all look like six foot tall walking penises with unflattering facial hair or weird, lumpy-looking fish-men in lurid green cartoon suits.
Green Lantern is so colossally underwhelming that to even deem it an interesting, insanely over-loaded mediocrity seems insanely, unnecessarily generous.
The film’s CGI is so consistently awful, particularly Parallax, a giant, earth-threatening monster from outer space voiced by Clancy Brown that looks like it belongs in a Sega CD game. Green Lantern is supposed to be eye candy. Instead it’s an eyesore.
The nice thing about Green Lantern is that many of its under-utilized stars would go on to make not just better superhero movies (although that’s setting the bar awfully low) but some of the best superhero movies of the past twenty years. Reynolds, of course, rose to superstardom as that incorrigible Deadpool. Taika Waititi, meanwhile, helmed and co-starred in the deliriously entertaining instant cult classic Thor: Ragnorok. Mark Strong, meanwhile, followed up his dour, humorless turn as Sinestro here with a much more memorable performance as villainous Doctor Sivana in an infinitely superior D.C superhero movie Shazam. Heck, even Bradley Cooper, Campbell’s first and only choice for the lead role, rocketed to comic book voicing a certain space raccoon that wears people clothes in the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Green Lantern was designed as a tentpole, a franchise-builder, the possible first film in an extended D.C Cinematic Universe that would find Green Lantern buddying up with Superman or joining the Justice League sometime in the not too distant future. Instead, this was a richly merited dead end for this particular incarnation of Green Lantern and the D.C Universe.
Zack Snyder would officially kick off the D.C Cinematic universe with Man of Steel, a film that at least had a very clear vision of what it wanted to be. The same cannot be said of the weirdly generic and misbegotten Green Lantern, which seems doomed to live on only as a self-deprecating joke among its stars and an illustration of everything a superhero movie is not supposed to be.
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