A Green Lantern for Red States

06/17/2011 10:34 AM |

Green Lantern with Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively

Hey, it’s Blockbluster, our seasonal feature in which Benjamin Sutton and Henry Stewart find out during which sorts of movies regular people all over the country are turning green. This week they get greedy watching Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern.

Henry, before getting into Green Lantern‘s hilarious color-coding system (green = willpower, yellow = fear, purple ≠ gay), let’s talk about the allegory with which Martin Campbell and his seven-writers-strong screenwriting team (!) flirt most overtly: that the Green Lantern Corps are an intergalactic version of the UN peacekeeping forces—or, more sinisterly, the U.S. Army. In the opening CGI-and-voiceover exposition, a former ally who turned evil escapes his space prison. The Green Lanterns, at the behest of the Security Council-like Guardians, dispatch troops to fight the fear-fed, planet-devouring terrorist baddie, while the Corps’ latest recruit—playboy fighter pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds)—trains at their home planet military base Oa. If Green Lantern is another comic book-sourced showdown between pacifism and militarism—a la X-Men and Thor—which side wins in the end, Henry? A possible clue: did you notice that most of the things that Jordan creates with his willpower are military weapons? How unimaginative!

Yes, Ben, there’s a UN parallel there, but only so this very conservative movie can bash that peacekeeper’s lily liver. The US Army parallels are much more conspicuous. After all, it’s called the Green Lantern Corps, which evokes the Marines, and that each member is a handpicked elite made me think of special forces—Green Berets, for an earlier era, or a Seal Team for the present. Look at who the good guys are in this movie: defense contractors, fighter-plane pilots, even a government scientist (Angela Basset), who in any other movie would be sinisterly conspiratorial, and the senior senator from Louisiana (Tim Robbins), who in any other movie would be conniving and corrupt. And who’s the only earth-bound villain? An academic (Peter Sarsgaard)! Ben, did you catch how the movie admonishes the cowardice of “assessing the situation” regarding the impending war? Do you think the movie was written while Obama was weighing his options in Afghanistan? And when Jordan finally accepts his lot as a Lantern, he gives a stirring speech to the UN-like elders in which he highlights the threat to Earth—specifically, to America—as being not just “fear” but the fear to fight. We have to bring the fight to them, Ben, “to destroy evil wherever it may hide”—particularly in Iraq, maybe? Jordan sounded a lot like Colin Powell ca. 2003 there.

Yes, Henry, Green Lantern‘s world-policing U.S. Army stand-ins were much more striking; I guess I was just trying to be diplomatic. But as you point out, diplomacy isn’t on this movie’s agenda. Neither is owning up to your mistakes: Jordan’s whole speech to the Guardians is premised on the idea that, yeah, humans are idiots, but “we’re only human.” The film’s argument for passion and might over reason and problem-solving recalls Kirk v. Spock two summers ago and Erik v. Xavier two weeks ago. Here, vanquishing fear becomes commensurate with proving humanity’s worth, which is funny given all the evidence of our worthlessness we see. The city Parallax attacks is New Orleans, the site of an especially inhumane disaster; and when Jordan’s predecessor crash-lands on Earth he ends up on a sad little stretch of the Gulf of Mexico, another place devastated because, hey, “we’re only human.” Is Green Lantern trying to blame evil aliens for man-made problems? That would explain its backwards environmental politics: the film’s fetishism of muscle-cars and mighty jets is some Michael Bay-caliber shit; the threat to the entire planet only registers as a risk for humans (there’s other stuff on Earth, right?); and when Jordan finally harnesses his green energy, he uses it to create giant (toy) cars and fighter jets. Green Lantern‘s misrecognition of the contemporary meaning of the color green is astounding—it’s enough to make me hope for a big screen adaptation of Captain Planet and the Planeteers. What did you think of the ways in which Jordan used his new-found powers?

Did you notice that Jordan’s new-found powers—his responsibility—was symbolized by putting on a ring? One of Green Lantern‘s most striking features is its 12-year-old’s conception of masculinity, embodied by Jordan, who’s stuck in arrested, pre-adolescent development. (When he shows up late to a flying job because he slept in, his love interest tells him “I used to sleep in. And then I turned 11.”) After he pisses off his employers with some stunt flying, he’s “grounded”—something every pre-pubescent boy can relate to! And Jordan’s romance of recklessness is something they can all admire: how he drives with his eyes off the road, has casual one night stands, used to ride a motorcycle. The “ring” that takes him out of this state—what more encapsulates growing up to a child than getting married?—first brings him through a (re)birth: Reynolds is picked up in a giant ball of energy (womb), dumped out into swamp water (placenta…or baptism?) Jordan’s foil, Sarsgaard’s professor, is also reborn, but into a monster. What did you make of the movie’s “sibling” rivalries, and their Abrams-esque daddy issues?

Well Henry, let’s see, there’s the coded brothers’ competition for the affections of the same girl, Carol (Blake Lively), and the approbation of the same father (figure), Senator Hammond (Robbins). Both are brought into the intergalactic conflict by the same Lantern, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), whose ring chooses Jordan after he crash-lands on Earth, and during whose autopsy Hector becomes contaminated with the fear virus. In Jordan’s case there’s also some very over-determined psychoanalytic subtext to do with his dad: his task as a Lantern mirrors, distorts and exaggerates the trauma caused by his father’s death. In the early exercise during which Jordan and Carol try to defeat Hammond’s scary new military drones, our hero becomes parallaxed with fear, engendering an overlong boyhood flashback of his father’s jet blowing up right before his eyes. In this militarized revision of the Icarus-Daedalus myth, Jordan flies too close to the sun (twice!) and very nearly dies much as his dad did before. Jordan can’t best his father’s apparent fearlessness flying jets on Earth, but his training program on Oa revolves around his need to step out of his daredevil daddy’s shadow. Literally the entire universe conspires to usher Jordan into functional, fear-facing adulthood. His journey to defeat the monstrously externalized fear of not measuring up to his father provides a convoluted first-person fantasy that echoes Green Lantern‘s adolescent sensibility and pervasive video game aesthetic, don’t you think, Henry?

Oh, totally, Ben. Not only did the digital rendering of outer space have that relatively crude virtual-reality look of video-game graphics, but that whole beginning sequence, with its narrated back story that introduces the villain, felt like those expository sequences between game play. I kept wishing I had a B-button to push so I could skip through it! I wonder, Ben, going back to what I was saying earlier about the movie’s conspicuous attempts to lure in the pre-teen demographic, whether this visual and narrative resemblance to video games is a result of the inevitable need for Green Lantern to be adapted for Xbox—you can already imagine what the levels will not only be about but what they’ll look like, even feel like to play—or if it highlights a new cultural aesthetic: do 12-year-olds play so many video games that their movies have to look like video games, too? And their heroes have to act like petulant children? Sorry to get back into this again, but how about how Jordan’s cockiness single-handedly destroys an entire small town economy, and then the movie portrays his consequently laid-off neighbors as the bad guys?

Henry, Green Lantern‘s class politics are exactly what you’d expect from a movie whose dominant color is green: mad greedy and cash-grabby. As you already pointed out, the good guys are plainly evil defense contractors and an irresponsible fighter pilot, and the bad guy is a humble academic (and, okay, an escaped space clergyman). Carol is the heir apparent to her father’s weapons company; Jordan lives in a swank loft (not so different from Tom Hanks’ in Big) and drives a vintage American gas-guzzler, while Hector lives in squalor. This all seems not to register until Jordan crashes an F-35, causing most of his colleagues to be laid off. In Green Lantern‘s only dark scene, three former colleagues beat the shit out of Jordan in the parking lot of the local dive, at least until he harnesses his green-ness and lays them all out in one punch. Take that, jobless jerks! And of course, a scene in which an entitled asshole critically injures three no-longer-insured unemployed men appears all the more offensive for being set in New Orleans, a city that was very nearly destroyed by its class divisions. Hey, speaking of Green Lantern‘s way of tactlessly tapping into environmental disasters worsened by human neglect, Henry, did you notice that Jordan kind of uses global warming to defeat Parallax? Apparently the best weapon against fear isn’t willpower, it’s denial.

Hm, I think I detected some (willfull) climate change denial here, too, Ben. There’s a minor subtext about different kinds of energy: there’s willpower, which harnessed by alien technology gives the Lanterns their power; and there’s fear, an alternative energy source the Lanterns have eschewed for its unpredictability (and, as we see, its tendency to end in disaster). Is fear a stand in for “solar,” because it’s yellow like a child’s crayoned sun? Or is it nuclear power? At first, I wondered if this was some super-lefty environmental position that had snuck its way into Green Lantern but then I realized, of course not. A movie this conservative? It must be financed by the oil industry.

8 Comment

  • thanks for seeing this movie so I don’t have to.

  • I have to say the two fellows who wrote this are without a doubt the two dumbest people on the planet. Everyone who just read this article now has their heads full of non sense and irrelevance that has nothing to do with the Green Lantern. Thanks fellas!

  • Oh man, and BY THE WAY “L MAGAZINE” thanks for re-solidifying my decision to leave Williamsburg last year, Got tired of listening to pure idiotic ‘discussions’ like this very article at every bar and party I went to… people who have no clue about the source material, no clue about the brilliance behind the characters… Every read Any of Johns work? Where he set up the precedence of the difference in ring creations between Hal Jordan, John Stewart, and Kyle Rayner, due to the difference in their personalities and fundamental ways of thinking? Cause that gives answer to all your bitching about Jordan’s choice of projections… He’s a pilot. For the airforce. Morons. JUST ABSOLUTE FUCKING MORONS.

    ALSO: “Henry, before getting into Green Lantern’s hilarious color-coding system (green = willpower, yellow = fear, purple ≠ gay)”

    Hilarious? this is one of the most awe inspiringly kick ass things ever done with comic books… if you had any idea what it meant to be an actual FAN of something (not just shitting on everything because, clearly, you are SO much smarter than everyone who has ever written professional comics for DC. YOU with your BS backwater web articles that only one loser named mike and myself seem to have read. You have the opinion that matters, cause you’re a professional in the field….) You might actually ENJOY whats being done with comic book media today. You might have some knowledge of the characters your commenting on, and some vague clue as to what they are like in their original settings, not just the vague interpretation you’ve created because you were bored watching a movie you didn’t want to see in the first place. You’d understand that the ‘color coding’ was done after like 40 years of stories that had perviously established the lanterns power source as fueled by willpower. For someone to come along and fill out both the emotional and color spectrums was pure genius.
    *Also writing purple not equal to gay – kinda makes you sound like a crazy bigot.
    just saying. Cause purple is for the star sapphires who are all women and represent love on the emotional spectrum…How did the gay community even come into this… represented by the rainbow not the color purple – just sounds like mindless bad attempts at humor by some small minded asshole to me…

    There is SO MUCH more pseudo intellectual Garbage in this article, i really don’t know where to begin…. If you guys think that cinematic showing of Hal Jordan being a bit of a bastard prick (“Take that jobless jerks?” are the guys who wrote this 10 years old, seriously? they literally don’t get ANYTHING) You once again don’t even grasp the basics of the character. And I feel they did a decent job of building that persona up for the opening sequences of the film, but hey, its hollywood – theres a reason why movies are 2 hours long. People are too stupid to absorb proper amount of character driven background. they get bored with it, and then they go and write shitty articles like this…)
    This movie must have been financed by the oil companies? Are you fucking kidding me??? Is that the only way to get idiot hipsters to follow you? by consistently pushing some imaginary anti-governemt agenda? Seriously? Jesus Christ… go read a fucking comic book before you write an article about the direct cinematic product they inspire. I mean, the movie was FAR from flawless, but seriously… at least write about the stuff in the movie that was bad, not just some shit you pull out of your ass cause its what your garbage pamphlet/magazine wants to push out there. (You guys bitched about the CG for OUTER SPACE… WHAT THE FUCK!?! gonna go out on a wire here, guessing you guys have never been to outer space nor could you do the SIMPLEST thing in maya… so ALL of your thoughts and opinions on that one are just stuff out of your ass? Did it not look as good as the other imaginary fabricated versions of outer space other pop culture outlets have shown you? And people blame the internet for killing the magazine industry…. turns out it was these two assholes.

  • Uhhh the “big yellow bug” was Parallax…. you SIR haven’t read SHIT for GL comics if you don’t even know that…. The death of superman chapter were hal goes nuts and kills everyone… that was lame and horrible. it was one of the shittest parts of the shittest money making ploys of all time… the death of superman. Hey I know lets ‘kill off’ Hal Jordan too, GL comics weren’t selling well.. so fuck it, have his whole city destroyed! we’ll sell a million books! that fact that Johns was ABLE to explain that NON SENSE CHEAP ASS 90’s HYPE BASED DC CRAP TO SELL MORE COMICS – with the creation of Parallax as a being of pure of fear – AMAZING! HE SAVED THE SERIES.

    “…to readers that want comics with compelling stories and characters.”
    No one thought the death of superman, the ‘breaking of the bat’ of the coast city crap was compelling. The whole of the comic book world veiwed these events as cheap jokes, lame ploys to make money. Anyone with half a brian of ANY convictions boycotted DC for a long time after 94… the darkest summer for modern comics… that kiced off so much BS… to hear someone say they are ‘decade long fan’ of GL.. well lets see that would mean you WEREN’T EVEN READING DURING THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN, WHEN COAST CITY WAS DESTROYED. So your whole opinion seems to be falsified.
    And lets see what they did AFTER that brilliant piece of writing… lets see… Hal Jordan became… the Spectre?!?!?!?! Yeah DC didn’t know what to do with him and figured, fuck it the both wear green domino masks! Cause that made sense.
    Seems obvious the were setting up the Sinestro corps and the color wars in the film, which if you THNK about it, kinda makes sense. You cant do the death of superman in a GL movie so what other options do they really have… brilliant. And for you to bring Hard travelin’ heroes into this… the dawn of the modern age – not really applicable… totally different stuff. Ground breaking for comics, but not really anything to do with the GL mythos. To even bring it up while talking about the 2011 cinematic release just seems pointless and illogical. I read them too (when they first came out – im old.) and they were beautiful and poignant at the time… really tackled some major social ills… now a days though, it makes no sense. Heroin addiction and racism… not really the hot button topic they were back in those days… Sure they were compelling stories, but that was cause O’Neil was THAT good as a writer. plain and simple, his excellent writing for 3 years back in the 70’s doesn’t define the character.

    The light wars were an answer to MARVEL ZOMBIES??!?!?! are you kidding me… marvel zombies lost all popularity 2-3 years ago, and it wasn’t that big to start with. DC DID NOT write a major year long cross over event to “answer Marvel zombies” that statement is so mind bogglingly stupid, I– I don’t even have words….

    I’m kinda thinking this ‘response’ is just a fake one put up by the authors themselves… no one would or should kiss the ass of two morons who writes bad internet articles that much, it’s completely unnatural… seriously – go read it again.

    Does anyone on this site actually write about things they know, or just pull random things out of their ass, like the rest of hipsterburgh?

  • This was not a fake response. If we

  • I discovered Green Lantern when I was 7 in 1960. He hasn’t changed, the movie was good, anymore than that is stupidity. I liked the Flash also, then Justice League, they were good for about 5 years. Then I grew up, you should too.

  • Whoa. My prediction about a Captain Planet adaptation came true: http://kidscreen.com/2011/07/19/captain-pl…