Four Reasons Why ‘Green Lantern’ Is DC Comics Most Successful Superhero Movie

Wha!?  “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” you’re probably saying to yourself.  The Dark Knight Rises earned over a billion dollars!  Man of Steel took in almost $669 million!  What do you mean Green Lantern, which earned almost $220 million on a $200 million budget”

Ok, if you’re thinking short-term, then The Dark Knight and Man of Steel were significantly more successful that Green Lantern, but long term…

  • The Christopher Nolan Batman Films Were Never Intended To Be A Template For An Entire Cinematic Universe

How do I know that?  Have I been hanging out with Nolan, discussing what he would or wouldn’t have done with Batman?  No, but what I do know is that the universe that Nolan created with his Batman was a self-contained one, with virtually no connections between it to the greater DC Comics universe.  I believe that that’s the case because Nolan treated the character in a semi-realistic fashion, which the polar opposite to any other DC movie characters (and I include Arrow, who’s depiction was very much based upon that Batman’s).

In other words, Batman, as defined by Nolan began with Batman Begins, and ended with The Dark Knight Rises.

  • The Tone Set By Man Of Steel Cannot Be Maintained Over An Entire Universe

As far as I am aware, Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel was a remarkably polarizing film.  Some people liked it, some people hated it (I’m in the latter camp.  I thick that it was a great alien invasion movie, but a terrible Superman one), and few people occupied any middle ground.  And with good reason.  Snyder’s Superman was like no other interpretation of the character before, in either comics, movies or television.  While I think that it would be wrong to say that the character (as interpreted by Snyder and David Goyer) had a disdain for human life, I do think that the a argument could be persuasively made that it wasn’t particularly precious to him either.

This is the movie where Superman, instead of first figuring out how to help the denizens of Metropolis, who were being pounded to a pulp by Zod’s world-building machine, instead spends the bulk of the movie, when not fighting Zod or his minions and killing thousands in the process, trying to stop the machines, all the while while even more people die.  I am not going to debate whether or not Superman should have done more to save human lives only because I have made my feelings relatively clear on the matter.  Plus, I have read enough comics to learn that Superman typically cared more about saving lives than duking it out with the bad guys.

Then again, perhaps that’s Richard Donner’s Superman, and the Superman that me and millions of others grew up with, but that’s definitely not Snyder’s Superman.

And while I am sure that there are young people who really got into this most recent interpretation, I feel reasonably safe in saying that many others that were turned off the character entirely.

So in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice are we going to once again be “treated” to tens of thousands more people dying?  Maybe, maybe not, but I can tell you this:  If I even suspect that Dawn of Justice is as needlessly violent as Man of Steel, I won’t spend a dime supporting it.

And you know what?  Dawn of Justice will probably do just fine, but I won’t be a part of it.

And there are characters where such anarchy–minus the huge, Transformers-sized scale–would be welcome.  The Punisher or Lobo (the “real” one, not that goth-“New 52” version) bumping off a bunch of people?  No problem, because those characters have always existed in a particularly violent context.  Superman–and to a lesser extent, Batman–not so much.

  • Green Lantern Wasn’t A Great Movie, But That More To Do With The Writing And FX Than Anything Else

Green Lantern was directed by Martin Campbell, who also did action films like Goldeneye, The Mask of Zorro, The Legend of Zorro, Casino Royale (which rebooted the James Bond franchise) among many others, so the guy definitely has the chops to handle action films.

One of the problems with Green Lantern starts when you notice that there’s relatively little in the way of practical sets–OA looks to be entirely CG.  The problem this brings is that there are so many instances of the movie that look like video game cinematics.  And I don’t mean really good video game cinematics, but the cheesy sort that fell out of vogue ten or fifteen years ago with Pentium II and III’s.

CGI should be used to accent practical sets, not to the exclusion of them.  James Cameron’s Avatar is perhaps the exception, and I think that they weren’t particularly interesting, beyond the visual effects, that is.

And who’s idea was it for Green Lantern to have an entirely CGI costume?  Visually it worked, but I imagine the motion capture cost millions, on top of all the other costs.  I suspect that this has a lot to do with the fact that no other superhero film has used CGI as extensively to alter the appearance of a character than Green Lantern (I don’t include Marvel’s Hulk in that because there’s no other way to realistically portray an individual as massive as he is without it.  Besides it was tried on the television show based on the character, but it wasn’t a place the producers of the film could spend any time).

And it was so unnecessary.  All that was needed was a practical costume.  The producers could have even added CGI accents if that’s the way they wanted to go, but to do the entire thing in that fashion seemed like a needless waste.

For some reason the writers chose a villain, Parallax, that was made to be as visually repellent as possible.  I actually read reviews that described him as looking like poo, and they’re not far off the mark.

Taking the above factors into account, that the movie pulled in as much money as it did was pretty remarkable, despite its underperformance.

  • What People Forget Is What Green Lantern Did Right

Most importantly, Green Lantern had a formula that’s better able to be applied to other DC Comics-based movies.  Take a charismatic actor, show the struggle it takes for them to master/understand their new found abilities and place them in interesting situations and dilemmas.

And most importantly, do it with a sense of humor.  Laughter can help to release tension, as well as make a character more relatable.

And sure, Green Lantern was a particular instance when things didn’t quite work out, but it was still a valid attempt. Besides, adventure films with a sense of humor is a time-honored path to movie success, and has worked well with Richard Donner’s Superman, the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, as well as The Incredibles, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, The Avengers, among many, many others.

And I should add, will continue to be extremely profitable, as the the upcoming Big Hero 6 and Guardians of the Galaxy will illustrate.

So I think that it’s safe to say that it’s a winning–and very profitable–formula that will not alienate nearly as many viewers as the current path DC Comics is undertaking.



5 thoughts on “Four Reasons Why ‘Green Lantern’ Is DC Comics Most Successful Superhero Movie

  1. I understand where you’re coming from but I think saying Green Lantern was “more successful” just because it strikes a more accessible tone is a bit off-base.

    Yes, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows, having a sense of humor and more-fun tone is a better basis for a meta-franchise, but just because Green Lantern had that doesn’t make it more successful, anymore than it does for Fantastic Four or Batman & Robin. It still botches the execution of every major detail of what it’s trying to accomplish and doesn’t even work on its own, much less as the start of a franchise. Nolan’s Batfilms, which are certainly flawed in their own right, are still much more accomplished on every technical and narrative level, and the fact that they are a self-contained trilogy has nothing to do with their success or impact.

    Having said all of that, Man of Steel was still a massive miscalculation and the DC universe on film is already looking like a huge clusterfuck. We’re on the same page with that one.

    1. Not at all. ‘Accessibility is what’s it’s all about. The idea is to get asses in the seats, if I may be blunt. What Marvel has done foremost is created a universe that is accessible by literally anyone, from 8 to eighty (Captain America: The Winter Soldier is debatable for younger viewers, if only because its plot machinations are a bit complex, as well as the violence). What DC has done with their film properties are to create films that–and this is not hyperbole–literally alienate their entire younger audience.

      It only works when you have enough adults interested in your property. For instance, I know of no children interested in the current iteration of either Batman or Superman (and I used to work at a school, and would have noticed) because for whatever reason the producers are going out of their way to drive away a huge part of their audience.

      By contrast, I can promise you that Guardians of the Galaxy will have a HUGE contingent of children. Why? Because it looks like fun, not a durge.

      Part of that is due to Rocket (despite the fact that, if he were portrayed as human, most children would want to have little to do with the character) is genuinely interesting to them, besides the fact that the movie doesn’t appear bleak, and the characters have a sense of humor (and I am not talking about stupid, Dumb Or Dumber-type humor, but the type that is relevant to the narrative.

      Green Lantern tried, and admittedly failed. Though that’s not the problem. The problem is that DC (apparently) gave up on the idea that a superhero movie can be both exciting, tense, and funny as well.

      As a result we get Superman movies where he neglects saving people, fights battles in the middle of occupied cities, creating huge craters and tens of thousands of dead.

      As I said, some people were jazzed to see Superman man not give a crap. For me, it was disappointing, and I am reasonably sure, unsustainable. That’s why Green Lantern is the template DC should be following, despite the weak box office.

      1. Yeah I understand what you’re saying; I guess my point was that being a good tonal starting point for a meta-franchise wouldn’t be my primary metric for gauging success. Yes, the vibe of Green Lantern was a better building block for a world than the dour Man of Steel, but either way that’s irrelevant when the story is so poorly constructed (as it was for both of those films). The reason why Nolan’s Bat-trilogy works overall is precisely because they were never meant to be the building block of a universe; he was just trying to tell his own story.

        DC/WB’s biggest mistake right now is trying to chase Marvel, when they should be handing each character to a prestige filmmaker that will tell their own stories in their own way. That way, Batman can be gritty and dour, Superman can be hopeful and inspirational, Wonder Woman can be honorable and proud, Flash can be jokey and lighthearted, etc.

        It is unfortunate that Green Lantern was such a (creative and commercial) failure, cuz if they had made a successful movie with that tone, it would’ve changed everything about their approach. All the rest of this is just reactionary decisions on their part.

  2. Haha hang on. The problem was just the writing and the FX? Even if was “just” those two things, those two things make up 90% of what films are, 80% writing. Every bad film I have seen it was always down to the script, that’s the problem, its everything a film is.

    Also gotta ask, when was the last time you read a comic? Especially DC because superman has totally been portrayed like he was in Man of Steel. Also lay off it. The Man of steel film was an origin film and they generally are darker material. Granted Synder went a little over board at times, but you know he’s the 300 guy. Haha that scene with him drowning in skulls! My cousins loved the film though and their the demographic, 12 year old boys. Different generation, Call of Duty has numbed them to death and destruction haha 😀

    Oh and if you think Marvel will be your light hearted savior i’d get prepared for disappointment. Avenger 2 is supposed to be a sober affair, Fox’s marvel films are aiming for more grittier content and the doctor strange film has a horror director on board. Sounds great to me but am not sure they’ll be your cup tea?

    But I generally get your point, need a few jokes, maybe some more light hearted moments here and there and I am sure they’ll do that. Subtle but you can’t get anymore gritty and dark so its only up up and away from here on 😀

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