Does The Green Lantern Movie Introduce Too Many Zany Creatures?

Green Lantern isn't just the story of an ordinary run-of-the-mill fighter pilot who gets a magic ring from space. It's also the saga of a whole army of aliens, each with his/her/its own magic ring.

The footage we saw at Wondercon laid the early fears of cheap, crappy CG work to rest. (Mostly. There's still the mask.) But it raised another, more fundamental concern: Does this movie go too far in introducing the sprawling Green Lantern mythos to moviegoers who don't even know who Hal Jordan is? And are there just too many cartoony aliens and cheesy creatures for mainstream moviegoers to deal with?

Actually, the real question is: How much fan-pleasing clutter can you include in a big-budget production before you turn off the casual viewers? And Green Lantern is an interesting case that provides a microcosm of this larger issue, because it's:

A) A character whom nobody outside of comic book fans has ever heard of B) Insanely complicated and full of Silver Age silliness

The gold standard for bombarding audiences with tons of over-the-top creatures - not to mention an ocean of insanely garish computer graphics - has to be James Cameron's Avatar. Cameron force-fed us CG cheese and a whole ecosystem full of creatures, and made us like it. Even a week before Avatar came out, I wouldn't have been able to predict whether the eye-searing colour palette and over-saturated worldbuilding would work for people. I could easily have believed that Avatar would be a huge flop.

Star Ryan Reynolds has been going around comparing Green Lantern to the original Star Wars, but all along I've felt like Avatar is a more apt comparison. Both movies are about one guy who goes inside a strange world of uncanny life forms, and winds up joining them. What Avatar does really well, though, is establish Jake Sully and the world of humans before thrusting us into the jungle of Pandora. The other thing Avatar does is give a really strong arc for Jake Sully, that it never loses track of, and very clear villains.

Hopefully Green Lantern will do the same thing, but I have to admit that the early marketing is making me a bit nervous. For one thing, there's the fact that they're putting the menagerie of Lanterns front and centre - perhaps it was necessary to lay the "CG animation failure" meme to rest, but it downplays the extent to which this is a human story, with largely human characters on Earth. And the point of the marketing thus far appears to be reassuring die-hard fans rather than winning over newbies, which is always a bad sign.

Then there's the fact that the film apparently has two wildly divergent villains — the scary cosmic threat of Parallax and the huge-headed Hector Hammond. (With Sinestro apparently waiting in the wings.) In a film that has to introduce oodles of backstory, that might just be too much ground to cover.

The thing is, Green Lantern has a really simple concept: he's a guy with a cosmic wishing ring, and a lamp that recharges it.

The original comics introduced all the other elements really slowly. When Hal Jordan first gets his ring, in Showcase #22 (1959), the details are purposely kept vague. He meets a dying alien, Abin Sur, who gives Hal the magic ring and tells him only, "Look at this battery, Hal Jordan... Yes... in your words, a Green Lantern... but actually it is a battery of power... given only to selected space-patrolmen in the super-galactic system... to be used as a weapon against forces of evil and injustice. It is our duty... when disaster strikes... to pass on the battery of power to another who is fearless... and honest!" And that's all the info we get.

After that, in the comics, Hal doesn't really find out more about the ring and the battery and where they come from, for quite a while. A few times, he receives instructions via the lantern, telling him to go to a planet where there are people in danger, but he never knows where these instructions come from. Finally, in Green Lantern #1 (which is page 82 of the reprint collection Showcase Presents Green Lantern Vol. 1), Hal meets the Guardians of the Universe — but it's only Hal's "energy twin," and the real Hal doesn't remember anything about it.

Hal keeps wondering, "But who speaks to me through the Lantern? Whose thoughts do I receive? Will I ever know? Will I ever get to see them?" (Showcase Presents, p. 94).

It's not until Green Lantern #6 (May-June 1961) that we finally meet another member of the Green Lantern Corps besides Hal and the dead Abin Sur: Tomar-Re, the Green Lantern of the planet Xudar, who's got the weird fish-bird head that you've seen in all the trailers. Hal teams up with "the Green Lantern in the nearest sector", Tomar-Re, to stop a galactic menace. After they've won, Tomar-Re tells Hal about the Guardians of the Universe, who created the rings and batteries and "inhabit a world somewhere in the cosmos - no one knows where!" The Guardians only contact the ring-wearers indirectly "through the power battery".

In the following issue, Green Lantern #7, Hal's "energy twin" returns to visit the Guardians, and they tell him about the one Green Lantern who turned bad: Sinestro, who becomes Hal's arch-enemy. And then in issue #9 (Nov-Dec 1961) Hal prepares to attend "the first galaxy-wide conference of all power battery possessors", but Sinestro takes his place - and it's here that we first learn that the Guardians live on the planet Oa. We also meet a large number of crazy-looking alien Green Lanterns, including Larvox and Chaselon.

And a lot of the other characters that we now take for granted in the Green Lantern mythos weren't introduced until the 1980s - Kilowog first appeared in GL #201 and Salakk first showed up in GL #149. The 1980s comics featured a Tales of the Green Lantern Corps miniseries, followed by a set of backup stories in the issues of the Green Lantern comic proper. (It was these "Tales" that gave us some of Alan Moore's great inventions, including the F-sharp Bell and Mogo, the GL who doesn't socialise.) As for Parallax, he's a much more recent invention.

All of which is to say, the Green Lantern mythos is like most others out there - it didn't start out insanely complicated, but it got that way over time. And as fans have become more devoted to it, those bits of added mythos have been treated as though they're part of the core concept - as though you can't have Hal Jordan without Kilowog and all the rest.

Imagine if the first Iron Man movie had tried to introduce the Mandarin as well as Obadiah Stane - and what the hell, let's throw in War Machine and the Extremis virus as well. You'd have ended up with a bit of a cluttered mess, and maybe asked audiences to buy into too much stuff at once.

Or imagine if Russell T. Davies, instead of relaunching Doctor Who with the elegant, stripped-down "Rose," had chosen to give us a convoluted nightmare featuring a regeneration, the Eye of Harmony, a confusing Dalek cameo, confusing lectures about the Time Lords, and the Master. Actually you don't have to imagine that - just watch the 1996 TV movie.

All of which is to say, I hope Green Lantern is a huge hit - both because I'm a huge fan of the character in the comics, and because a successful Lantern movie will lead to other DC Comics characters getting their chance on the big screen. A lot is riding on Hal Jordan's shoulders here.

So let's just hope that Green Lantern can repeat Avatar's achievement, and make us want to dive head-first into a world of colorful creatures. If not, it'll be another sign that audiences are resistant to stories that try to sell them on too much mythos (and too much silliness) all at once.


Comments

    "Imagine if the first Iron Man movie had tried to introduce the Mandarin as well as Obadiah Stane – and what the hell, let’s throw in War Machine and the Extremis virus as well. You’d have ended up with a bit of a cluttered mess"

    Yeah, we had to wait for the second movie to get that. If I wanted a goddamn Avengers movie, it'd wait and see that instead of having it shoved down my throat while trying to watch Iron Man

    Also, I thought this was a gaming news website, not once are videogames mentioned in this article.

      The first movie actually DID introduce the Mandarin if you knew what to look for. The Ten Rings for instance. The second movie had it as well, the people who broke Whiplash out of jail. Granted it was background stuff but still...

      Batman Begins had Mr Zsasz, Scarecrow, Falcone amongst other minor ones and it still did it well.

      It's all in how you handle the characters.

    Really?

    The reason I started to appreciate Green Lanterm was after reading Alan Davis' "JLA: Another Nail" learning that he was part of this huge space police force and that there were so many different Green Lanterns out there was so much more interesting than just a guy with a magic ring...

    I guess it helps that Davis' attention to detail in the art made every creature look awesome.

    Man, people are really on your backs about "this is not gaming news" lately.

    I found the article interesting, I don't give a shit if it's gaming news or not. Let's face it, I don't read half the "gaming news" articles on here anyway because half of them don't interest me. I don't see any problem having the death of Osama bin Laden on this website nor do I have any problem with this article.

    People need to stfu, if you don't wanna read something then don't.

      agreed!

      its like those who complain about whats on the radio on a certain station... dont like it, then just change the station!

    As a Lantern fan I've never had much faith in this movie, but it's stuff like this that makes me think maybe it wont be a disaster (at least from a fans perspective). There's a lot going on that they just wouldn't bother with if it was going to be another superhero movie loosely based on an existing IP.

    They're doing stuff that a simple superhero origin movie wouldn't cover and they're diving into the stuff that really seperates it from the standard superhero stuff and pushes it into proper sci-fi. I'm not convinced they'll pull it off but if they manage to make this an adventure in space first and a superhero movie second I'll be very happy.

    The big thing that bugs me about this article is that it sort of assumes the audience is too stupid to get this stuff without everything being given direct screen time. You don't need to know their backgrounds. They're usually extras. The ones who aren't extras aren't complicated.
    Kilowog needs about as detailed an introduction as Chewbacca. He trains the rookies. Same goes with Salaak. He's basically dispatch. There's more to him than that, but there's no need to go there in a movie about Hal Jordan. No one is going to be sitting there going 'wait, what was with that Tomar-Re guy, I don't think he was human'.

    It also doesn't seem quite like they're trying to blind us with the CG spectacle of it all like Avatar. The alien approach of the costums doesn't seem like an attempt to create an alien world but merely the designer realising that unless they want to him to look like the future kids from the start of Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey they have to change the Green Lantern costume.
    The inclusion of so many alien characters doesn't seem like an excuse to use CG as much as just being an important part of the Green Lantern mythos. I'm sure at some point in time they used those things as an excuse to sell the studio on the idea (it'll be this big CG experience!) but I think there's more substance behind it than that.

    Admittedly when I heard Hector Hammond was cried a little, but I did the same thing with Scarecrow in Begins. That's what stops me from writing this movie off like I probably should. So far all the crazy stuff I've heard about this movie isn't crazy like the Peters Superman script it's crazy like someone who knows Green Lantern had an idea of how the movie would work on screen.

      It's not so much the assumption no-one knows anything, but the balance of fan service and casual accessibility.
      Iron Man did a good job by mentioning elements fans could appreciate while still being simple enough for the average hipster to enjoy without hurting their head.
      The "ten rings" reference, the war machine armour, Nick Fury turning up after the credits, Captain America's sheild in the second, while casual observers don't notice them, they let fans nod knowingly to each other.
      It sounds like this movie is trying to introduce the entire corps using Hal as an entry point, rather than only doing a movie about him looting Abin Sur and getting some new bling.
      It also seems like they're trying to embrace the entire fanbase, catering to those who have been reading since silver age and those who started with Darkest Night.
      I hope they manage it.

        That's the thing though. In this case I don't think there really needs to be a balance between fan service and casual accessibility. They just need to pick the right battles.
        Kilowog and the rest fill the role of fan service while still remaining legitimate parts of the movie. As long as they don't spend five minutes setting Hal up to say 'that Queen guy sure is a left-wing nut job!' they should be fine.

        I'm hoping they go more Begins and less Iron Man 2 with the references. Less 'look kids, it's Captain America's shield!' and more of those second time you watch it 'wait, that was Mr Zsasz' moments.

    So their setting the scene that the green Lanterns are a multi-species organisation. Did Mass Effect 1 compromise on the introduction of all those galactic races? No!

    Just run with it guys ...

    Oops typoed a lot. Re-posting. Hope the previous comment is removed.

    Um. But aren't the Green Lanterns pretty much the protectors of the Universe? And doesn’t the backstory of how he get his ring involve going for training hence REQUIRING meeting Sinestro and all those other aliens?

    I’m not a hardcore comic fan but I just don’t see how they can avoid putting any of those other characters in the film. Maybe less focus on them is all they can do.

    I have not read anything about the movie nor even seen the trailer but in my opinion the movie should be showing his journey outside of Earth and across the universe. That’s what makes the Green Lantern different – They’re guardians of the universe and not just Earth itself…

    This ain’t Superman.

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