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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Green Lantern

 (Two Stars)
U.S.: Martin Campbell, 2011

Maybe I’m just getting really, really tired of Superhero movies — and maybe the people making them are getting a little tired of them too — but I had trouble sitting through Green Lantern.

A half an hour or so into the show, I started checking my watch, and soon I was checking it every few minutes or so– even though on the screen, a lot was happening. Cities were exploding, mad scientists were running amok, the entire world was in jeopardy, and we kept getting whisked off to the Planet Oa, where our hero, Green Lantern, a.k.a. Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a crime fighter in skin-tight costume and a silly little green mask, kept getting briefed on his new superhero intergalactic-peacekeeping duties, as well as the progress of the ongoing war with the monstrous Parallax (an intergalactic fiend voiced by Clancy Brown).

What was Hal, an earthling test pilot turned intergalactic cop, doing there? Well, Pay attention: Hal became the first human member of the universe‘s prime law enforcement group, because he happened to be around when another Corpsman, Abin Sur (played by Temuera Morrison of Once Were Warriors) was dying, and, because the all-powerful green ring on Abin’s hand, chose Hal. How’s that for a super-charged wish fulfillment fantasy?

That should have been enough to keep my mind from wandering and my watch under my sleeve! And so should the cast: Ryan Reynolds as the engagingly cocky daredevil test pilot Hal Jordan, turned Green Lantern, Tim Robbins (always a welcome sight) as the powerful and politically hefty Senator Hammond, Blake Lively as Hal’s fellow test pilot, magnate’s daughter and love interest Carol Ferris — and especially Peter Sarsgaard as the nerdy scientist/teacher turned sadistic, misshapen intergalactic maniac Hector Hammond.

In fact, Planet Oa itself should have held my interest — particularly since there was so much money so obviously spent on it. So why did I feel so gloomy whenever G.L. went back there? Maybe because it was such a gloomy-looking place, a weird-looking habitat of lofty spires towering into the murk and the perpetually overcast skies, where the weird-looking populace kept talking and yelling at each other on the rooftops, and where our hero kept confabbing with Tomar Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush), a wise old Yoda of the Guardians of the Universe, and a chap who looked something like an erect talking fish, as well as Sinestro (Mark Strong), a cranky superhero with what looks like a pretty bad sunburn.

On Oa, despite the murk, there’s so much of incredible interest to engage us all! We can see Hal/Lantern quickly learn how to be one of the stalwarts of the Green Lantern Corps, policemen of the universe, whose motto reportedly is “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my (our?) sight.” (There’s no Green Lantern Military or Police Academy, or at least none I saw. Apparently, you just pick this stuff up from a few tutors.)

Sound exciting? But no, with all that going for it, the movie evetually struck me as stupefying. Part of the problem may have been the secret identity bit. I like sort of wimpy, bullied secret identities like Clark Kent (Superman) or Peter Parker (Spider-Man). Green Lantern’s superhero had a secret identity — or his regular alternative identity — who was himself a kind of superhero, or at least a hero: the arrogant star test pilot Hal, who thinks nothing of breaking rules, mouthing off and wrecking billion dollar planes.

Even worse, this secret identity was almost impossible to keep secret, since all Hal has as a disguise is a skintight costume and that silly little green mask. (The scriptwriters, to their credit, have heroine Carol point this out.) 

I’m sorry I’m being so flip, but I never read Green Lantern as a kid, so I have no emotional investment in him, and to me, the dying Abin sounded delirious. But what do I know? As soon as Hal hooks up with Abin, he takes the ring, and suddenly is transformed into a super-duper-hero possessed of all kinds of amazing superpowers, including superhuman strength, being able to super-fly everywhere, including Oa, being able to alter reality and shift shapes around him at will, and, most importantly, being able to wear the Green Lantern outfit without falling on the floor in fits of hysterical laughter.

I’m sure it all works much better in the comic. Anyway, you know the superhero routine by now, at least for this movie. You fly to the city, you fly to the Planet Oa, you yak it up with the Guardians of the Universe and take a few martial arts lessons from Kilowog (who looks like the Hulk as a Thing), you try not to lose your cool with Sinestro, you love-spat with Carol, and you try to calm down Hector Hammond — who injected himself with something from the corpse of the late Abin Sur and now has gone utterly gruesome and crazy. You put on the damned costume. You try to save the world every few days. After a while, it gets almost boring. And the medical benefits cost a ton.

There s just one other thing wrong with this whole superhero gig, or at least with the Green Lantern gig. It’s that silly little green mask…


Flashback. When I was a kid, I was a D. C. comics kid. From about six to eleven, I got Superman comic books, I got Batman, I got Superboy.

But I never asked for Wonder Woman and I never asked for Green Lantern, though they were D.C. comics too. (Green Lantern, from the ’40s and then the ’60s on, was maybe too early and too late for me, but I still remember seeing him. ) Wonder Woman I passed by perhaps because of some kind of juvenile psycho-sexual thing, but I know why I never would have bought Green Lantern. It’s because of that mask. It may seem an overreaction because, except for Superman (who just whipped off Clark Kent‘s glasses), a lot of those guys had masks (like Batman, who has a mask and a hoodie). But Green Lantern’s was particularly oddball, mostly because it was little and green.

Maybe that’s a false memory, because I actually like green as a color, just not on comic book superheroes. Anyway, according to the records, Green Lantern was around from 1941 to 1949, and then he took a hiatus, and he came back in 1960, in the Hal Jordan version — and by then, I was reading science fiction and mystery magazines, and even more serious novels and books, like “Studs Lonigan” and Norman Mailer’s “Advertisements for Myself,” and Dickens and Shakespeare and Graham Greene.

So maybe the point is moot. But here comes another shot at Green Lantern again, in a big new superhero movie from Warner Bros. and D.C., and he’s got that silly little green mask again. And it strikes me as a silly green movie even though Reynolds is not bad, and even though the movie was made by Martin Campbell, who directed two of the best non-Connery James Bond movies. (I won’t mention the writers.) And even though it’s got a great villain, Sarsgaard’s Hector, who steals the whole movie, from Reynolds, from Strong, from Rush, from everyone. I bet he’d have stolen it even if they made him wear a silly little green mask too.

Maybe not. I mean, that mask could have defeated anyone. It could have defeated Laurence Olivier. Or Laurence Fishburne. Think about Barack Obama wearing that mask. Or Mitt Romney. Imagine a Republican presidential primary debate, with all of those guys wearing silly little green masks. I mean, that mask is pretty damned silly. So is the movie, a lot of the time. (It probably should have been more of a conscious comedy, like Iron Man.) But you know, it’ll gross a ton anyway. And I’ve got to say, I wouldn’t turn down the Green Lantern silly little green mask concession, if they offered it to me. So much for childhood sentiment.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon