The Oscars are tonight, and while I’ll have a little more content relating to that in days to come, I spent part of this weekend thinking about the kinds of movies that don’t win awards but are hugely successful anyways. Right now, the best example of that is Deadpool, which is breaking just about every February box-office record there is and actually giving Ryan Reynolds a franchise he can run with.
If you don’t know what I mean by that, then you must have been one of the many people who forgot a movie about DC’s Green Lantern came out a few years ago. It’s got a 26 percent at Rotten Tomatoes and has been abandoned as the first in a potential series, so the question is: how bad is it really? Let’s take a look at just where it went wrong.
Fatal Flaw #1: The protagonist is a jackass
Superheroes come in many stripes these days. You have billionaire playboys (Iron Man, Batman), outcasts and underdogs (Spider-Man, Captain America) and space aliens that are somehow exactly like human beings in almost every way (Thor). One common denominator for every single successful superhero is that they have a struggle that gives the audience a reason to root for them, whether it’s coming to terms with their own baggage or realizing what exactly it means for them to be the kind of hero they are.
Enter Hal Jordan, played by Ryan Reynolds and devoid of character to the point that he might as well just be named Ryan Reynolds too. When the audience meets him, his biggest problem is getting to his awesome movie job (superstar fighter pilot) on time after sleeping with a gorgeous woman the night previous. He is constantly told how great he is by everybody, even when he blows a big contract, and ends up romancing his boss because of course he does.
Simply put, the dude is not relatable at all, and he’s not funny either, which is the trait they try to hinge his personality on. He’s just kind of a dick that never really struggles with anything that feels legitimate. He wins the space lottery because he’s fearless and gets to be a superhero, then does superhero things, and that’s the movie, congratulations for watching.
Fatal Flaw #2: It looks like a bad video game
I may be biased here because I rarely find movies that are super heavy on CGI effective — there’s just something to be said about practical effects and not looking like a goddamn cartoon. But a goddamn cartoon is exactly what Green Lantern turns out to be. It’s uncanny valley-rama as you have to spend the movie looking at weird blob people like those seen above, or even worse, the hero’s own costume. Yes, the source material has tons of weird looking alien dudes walking around, but even the Star Wars prequels weren’t this funny looking.
Fatal Flaw #3: It doesn’t know how silly it needs to be
Tone is really important in anything, but if you’re trying to make a successful movie, you can’t jerk people around for a few hours trying to run the gamut of human emotional responses. Superhero movies have mostly tended to fit into two categories: lighthearted and often humorous, or dark and gritty and super serious (think The Dark Knight for a good example and Man of Steel for a bad one.) Green Lantern doesn’t ever quite figure out what it wants to be, besides a starring vehicle for Ryan Reynolds. It’s not quite funny enough to be noteworthy nor are the dramatic stakes ever real enough to draw an audience in; we know the giant space rock monster that constitutes a villain in this isn’t going to literally destroy the planet because DC transparently wants to make this a franchise.
The worst thing you can do in a movie is be silly by accident, and Green Lantern commits this sin on the regular. Take the scene early on where we learn about Hal’s backstory and relationship with his father (which is, by the way, awkwardly intercut with an action scene for no reason). A young Hal has to watch his father explode right in front of his very eyes and…it’s kind of funny, how heavy-handed and laboriously tragic it all is. You have to be really bad to have people laughing at kids watching their dads explode!
Fatal Flaw #4: I could’ve written it better
Speaking of writing, there are a lot of questions raised throughout a first viewing of it. Lucky for the audience that the script feels like it’s almost entirely exposition! The Green Lantern mythos are complicated and very intricate, but there has to be more graceful ways of cluing audiences in than giving literal history lessons. This is probably the biggest problem with the movie, and probably a result of a clueless studio that didn’t understand the character themselves than anybody who was really involved.
The final verdict
Rotten Tomatoes calls Green Lantern “noisy, overproduced, and thinly written,” and I’m inclined to agree. I’m not a big fan of the character in general, but it wouldn’t have such a following or long lifespan without being appealing in some fashion to a lot of people. The film squanders any audience goodwill it might have and ultimately is just a generic stab at success that didn’t quite make it.