Before I proceed, let me get a few things out of the way.
1. If you haven't seen one or both of these films, and you plan to at some point before you die (though you could live a wonderful life without bothering with either one), be aware that there will be SPOILERS sprinkled liberally throughout this piece. Of course, you can trust me when I say that there's not exactly a "Rosebud" moment in either movie.
2. I am an unabashed comic book geek. I may not be the clichéd Simpsons Comic Book Guy, but I’ve been rocking the long boxes for many, many years now.
3. 3. Regardless of my comic book geekiness, I try not to judge a movie by how well it adheres to the source material. If I followed that way of thinking, then I’d hate films like JAWS or THE SHINING. However, I WILL question a change if I don’t think it made sense. And while I prefer to keep the nit-picking to a minimum, I still believe a few teensy jabs are within bounds, if only to keep up one’s geek cred.
4. 4. Speaking of “geek cred”, I also have to confess that I’ve maintained a certain bias lo these many years. I’m a DC Comics guy, and have been since I was a kid (although as a child, I bought EVERYTHING on the racks). Not much of a confession, you say? Well, let me expound on that a little...
Despite my ever-increasing age and presumably corresponding maturity (to the several who are stifling a laugh right now, piss off), my brain often reverts to that of a twelve-year old in these matters. It wasn’t just looking at DC and Marvel like they were Coke and Pepsi or the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, it was a matter of choosing sides. I didn't just show a preference for DC Comics, I took an active dislike for Marvel to the point of rooting AGAINST them. So it wasn’t "mustard over ketchup"…it was loving the Yankees and hating the Red Sox. Now, this way of thinking may be acceptable when you’re twelve, but it’s utterly asinine a few decades later. Nowadays, I don’t ACTIVELY feel or think that way…but I still suspect the little Gollum inside me rubs his scabby hands with glee when a Marvel project fails just as it howls in fury over another inept DC Comics adaptation. And yes, I worked in a Tolkien reference to further solidify the geek factor here (and I’m not even a LOTR fan).
5. 5. Finally, as one could guess from the aforementioned, I’m far more of a Green Lantern fan than Thor. My familiarity with Marvel’s God of Thunder is based on the Silver and Bronze Age comics I read as a kid, and little else. Oh, for the non comic-geeks who may be reading this, just replace “Silver and Bronze Age” with “60’s and 70’s era”. Meanwhile, I have several tomes of the first few years of Hal Jordan’s adventures, as well as having purchased the Green Lantern comic for the past half-decade. Well, at least up until this year, when I gave up buying ANY new comic books.
Of course, I have Grand Canyon-sized gaps in my knowledge of all things Lantern, as there’s not only a few thousand Green Lanterns across the cosmos, the more hard-core GL fans will know each and every one of them, what sectors they hail from, what they like on their breakfast cereal, and so on. So although I may know GL better than Thor, I’m definitely no expert, as I prefer to reserve that part of my brain to retain forty years worth of commercial jingles and baseball statistics. Still, whether I try to suppress it or not, I went into each film with that bias.
Enough about me, onto the films…
Within the last month, I’ve seen both THOR and GREEN LANTERN. After viewing GL last week, I was struck by the number of similarities and parallels between the two films.
Both DC and Marvel had recently established a successful superhero movie franchise that is at least somewhat grounded in “reality” (BATMAN and IRON MAN). This time around, the properties that were receiving the celluloid treatment were far more “pure fantasy” based. Not simply the tried-and-true scenario of some rich guy fighting crime with billions of dollars to spend on fancy weaponry and cars, but other-worldly fantasy…aliens and gods and ultimate power (oh my).
THOR is a link in a chain of films (of varying quality) leading up to the Avengers movie next year.
GREEN LANTERN is (another) attempt to establish a DC superhero franchise that isn’t based in Gotham City.
The story of THOR revolves around a god who is stripped of his powers, and he has to learn how to deal with the humility of being mortal.
The story of GREEN LANTERN revolves around a man who is granted near-omnipotence, and he has to learn to deal with the responsibility of wielding god-like power.
Thor must learn a lesson. The lesson itself is somewhat muddled, I presume it's one of humility, but whatever it is, at least there’s a hot skinny chick to help him along. Once he learneth the vaguely defined lesson, then he can leave Earth to battle his brother Loki, who has usurped the throne in Asgard (a tepidly realized place where the gods hang their helmets). Loki’s just a really bad guy or god (or alien) with major daddy issues. Sure, we get his origins, but that’s all we really need to know.
Green Lantern must also learn a lesson. I guess Green Lantern's lesson is to not be a quitter and man up. Naturally, he’s helped to believe this third-rate motivational hogwash by a hot skinny chick as well. Then he can save Earth from Parallax, an entity that is hell-bent on destroying Oa (a less-than-inspiringly depicted planet where the aliens in charge drape their thirty-foot long robes), and I suppose destroying everything else too. I always find villains who are consumed with destroying the world or the universe to be amazingly short-sighted. I mean, where do they plan to hang out afterwards? Parallax’s just a really bad alien or guy (or god), mostly made from leftover parts of LOST’s smoke monster. Yeah, we get his origins too, although those details get drowned out by the stultifying amount of exposition this film needs to ladle out.
Of course, the heroes have to deal with other threats as well.
Thor’s not a big fan of the blue, icy creatures called the Frost Giants, and that’s understandable. I hated the Snow Miser and the Winter Warlock when I was a kid.
Thor also gets to do battle with the Destroyer, a metal automaton that will destroy anything in its path (hence the name), but is more than willing to hang out and twiddle its shiny thumbs while Thor and his buddies discuss strategy. I assumed the Destroyer wanted to take his time and savor wrecking the town that seems comprised of only two blocks.
Green Lantern gets saddled with taking on the rapidly evolving brain (and devolving looks) of Hector Hammond, a man whose already unfortunate hairline is only made worse when he’s infected by a smidgen of Parallax. The film inter-cuts between Hal assuming the mantle of Green Lantern and Hammond squealing in pain with the world's worst migraine. Of course, this would lead one to foolishly believe that Hector is the yin to Jordan’s yang, the Voldemort to his Potter. Well, he’s not. So all this really accomplishes is to take away from the ascension of the hero.
Jordan doesn’t have other villains to deal with as much as a bunch of dicks. From fellow pilots he may have caused to lose their jobs to fellow Green Lantern Corps members who don’t take humans seriously, the one thing they all have in common…is that they’re all dicks.
Both films toggle back and forth between mostly under-whelming events on Earth and “beyond”. At least Thor has a few better actors on terra firma, not that they’re given all that much to do. The Earthlings in Green Lantern are either wooden or they prefer to chew the scenery like rabid woodchucks (I imagine they needed animal wranglers to keep Tim Robbins from chomping down on Blake Lively).
THOR does a reasonably good job of simplified story-telling. We get front-loaded with a lot of information about the gods of Asgard, but that’s understandable and maybe even unavoidable. Thor gets pissed and acts rashly, which in turn pisses off his dad. Oh dear, the gods and the brats they do begat. Bing-bam-boom, Thor’s banished to Earth. Daddy Odin tosses Thor’s hammer down there too, just to taunt the blond-tressed goliath.
Thor meets Jane, the world’s least convincing astrophysicist who would have been easier to buy as a ballerina. She’s flanked by an old Swede who essentially exists only to warn her that homeless dudes (even muscular pretty boys) are bad news. Jane is also attached at the hip to her boobalicious BFF, but she doesn’t do much except crack the occasional joke and accidentally tase Tarzan, I mean Thor. For about three minutes, Thor has issues adapting to his new “Stranger in a Strange Land” status, smashing coffee cups and demanding a horse at a local pet shop, but he gets over that pretty damn quick.
After failing in his Excalibur moment of pulling his hammer out of the ground, Thor gets tricked by his brother Loki. He now believes his father is dead, and so he’s doomed to remain stranded on Earth. Loki is not the most subtle of liars, but fortunately Thor’s not the most perceptive guy either. Later on, Thor’s gang of buddies drops by to set him straight. Around this point is when that Destroyer shows up. Thor’s humble, Thor’s self-sacrificing…and WHAMMO -– Thor’s got his hunky mojo and his hammer Mjolnir back. He soon zips back to Asgard and dukes it out with Loki on the disco bridge. Loki gets his ass handed to him, but when it’s all over, it turns out Thor can never return to Earth. Of course, we all know that’s utter bullshit since he’s already filming The Avengers.
Oh, and for those who chose to wait through fourteen hours worth of credits listing all the dorks responsible for making Asgard look like it was designed by Donald Trump -- we get a hint about a MacGuffin that will undoubtedly play a major part in that Avengers movie.
GREEN LANTERN doesn’t handle the plotting and story quite as well. THOR at least tries to hide some exposition in scenes that have a semblance of tension and dramatic conflict, whereas GL chooses to narrate the story of the Green Lantern Corps as well as the origins of Parallax. Maybe they should have just narrated the story of Hal Jordan too and saved me another ninety minutes, but no, we do have to sit through that. Jordan’s a cocky, wise-cracking business executive –- no wait, that’s a different Ryan Reynolds film. What is Jordan again? Oh yeah, a test pilot, like one of those Top Gun dudes, only not gay.
Jordan is actually a semi-asshole who has a little daddy issue of his own: the classic Dead Daddy issue. No, not the one where the kid feels he's to blame because he could have done something to prevent the father figure’s demise (see: Superman, Spider-Man, et al). Nah, this is the one where the grown version of the kid has flashbacks of his father’s death whenever he’s doing something remotely similar. You know, like when you order a glass of water, and suddenly you're reliving that moment when your dad drowned in Lake Lame-O-Wawa.
This sort of flashback triggers a paralysis of brain function, putting the hero in jeopardy as he’s too busy absorbed in the flashback to perform the simplest action, like pull a lever or press a button. But why is this relevant, you may ask? Well, it’s not really. I guess when Hal’s down in the dumps and the girlfriend he has zilch/zero/nada/no chemistry with is trying to convince him that he’s not a quitter (ugh), she refers to his dad. It’s such a trite detail I don’t even remember it right now.
So Hal’s given a ring by a dying alien who has chosen him to be the space cop to patrol this sector…whoops, excuse me. [Adjusts thick glasses held together by Colorforms, wags finger repeatedly] The ring chooses him. He’s later whisked off of Earth and streaks across the galaxy to the planet Oa. There, he meets various members of an intergalactic peace-keeping force known as the Green Lantern Corps. There, Hal trains for about three minutes before getting dressed down by Sinestro. Sinestro turns up his magenta-hued nose at the likes of Jordan, who looks better suited to be running a pizza parlor with another guy and a girl rather than be a member of the Corps.
Oh, let me hit the pause button here for just a moment. Granted, I’ve read the comics for thirty-something years, as well as the countless cartoons that have featured the character Sinestro. But let’s pretend I had never heard of him before. His name is SINESTRO? And no one would expect that eventually this guy is gonna turn out to be a bad guy? At least unlike Thor, we only have to sit through a minute of end credits before that totally unsurprising development. Why not name him Evilbastardo? If his fucking name was Snake, and then at some point he bit you, you couldn’t get mad, because duh, the mother fucker’s name is Snake! Wait, did I just bastardize a well-know parable? Maybe I’m Evilbastardo…
Hal goes back to Earth and saves the day in the most poorly edited, least thrilling helicopter accident ever committed to film. Dear Martin Campbell (the director), please rent a little film titled SUPERMAN THE MOVIE to see how a superhero movie helicopter accident & rescue SHOULD be done. While you're at it, ask the screenwriters to watch it with you, instead of spending their time cribbing from bad Smallville episodes.
The rescue of Carol Ferris (the aforementioned Blake Lively, and boy, is THAT the wrong last name for this girl) does lead to one of the best lines in the entire film. Green Lantern later shows up on her terrace…hey, like Superman showed up on Lois Lane’s terrace –- THAT's the scene they watched? For a few seconds, you can feel the audience preparing to collectively groan and toss Twizzlers and Goobers at the screen. She’s really NOT going to know it's Hal? Is this going to be the idiotic Clark Kent glasses situation all over again?
But instead she says, "You think I wouldn't recognize you because I can't see your cheekbones?" Now, that's by far the best line of the movie, and I was delighted to hear it. I imagine the writers must have danced a little jig for hours, so pleased with themselves for coming up with a legitimately witty moment that also pokes fun at decades of a silly comic book contrivance. Settle down guys, most of what you've written isn't remotely that good.
Shortly thereafter, Hammond's noggin morphs to John Merrick-like distended proportions. Now, there was a slight hint of jealousy over Carol between Hal & Hector, but it's so barely touched upon that later scenes of Hector acting vengeful are more bewildering than anything else. But this is all just killing time until big, bad Parallax arrives. Now, I'm glad they didn't go 100% stupid and just make Parallax a cloud, like the abominable treatment of Galactus (geek alert) in the unspeakably awful Fantastic Four II (shades of Star Trek: The Motion Picture). No, this was only 90% stupid, as the puffy, wispy tendrils are at least fronted by a rubbery and altogether unconvincing face.
The ultimate climax and showdowns between Hal, Hector and Parallax lack any sort of genuine "wow" factor. It's possible some of these scenes might have played well within the confines of the world of four-color panels, but on the big screen, they're pretty lackluster, and maybe a few emerald shades better than what one might see in a Saturday Night SyFy premiere.
Despite my earlier sniping, I truly don't mind Reynolds in the role. Some would say that Jordan is far too serious a character to be played as lightly as Reynolds does at times. I would say they're wrong. Jeez, if you were given a ring that endowed you with almost limitless power, to fly and create ANYTHING...wouldn't you be in a little bit of awe? Wouldn't you have some sense of humor regarding how insane the whole situation would be? Actually (yet another geek alert), wasn't that one of the reasons DC replaced Hal Jordan with Kyle Rayner back in the 90's?
Honestly, if Jordan was written and thus portrayed as a total stick in the mud...my God, how much worse a movie would GREEN LANTERN be? Despite the film's virtual freighter-load of flaws, it' still POSSIBLE a sequel could be good. There’s nowhere to go but up, right? Then again, there was that second Fantastic Four movie...
Chris Hemsworth actually gets dealt the more difficult role to play in THOR and acquits himself a bit better than Ryan Reynolds in GREEN LANTERN. Overall, the acting is slightly better in THOR, as is the writing, the directing and most other aspects of the film. So although I am a DC Comics guy, I can still admit that THOR is indeed a bit better than GREEN LANTERN. Maybe more than a bit...
Now why the fuck doesn't Thor ever wear his helmet...even in battle? (final geek alert) I mean come on now...