Welcome back to the WTF Happened? series, a collaborative effort, along with the Jock and Nerd Podcast, to take a look at some of the worst movies imaginable. For this entry we are going to take a look at DC/Warner Bros. failed first attempt at building a larger DC Cinematic Universe, 2011’s Green Lantern.
Note: Please remember, what follows is not a 100% accurate recounting of the events that led to the creation of the film, but a speculation based off of research that I have cultivated. Also be sure to listen to the WTF EPISODE RIGHT HERE as well!
THE SET UP
Ah, 2011, back when life was simple, gas cost more than $3, DC Comics was completely rebooting their comic book titles with the New 52, and The Avengers hadn’t completely broken how Hollywood worked just yet. After the earth-shaking success of The Dark Knight, the rather lukewarm reaction to Superman Returns, and a renaissance of the Green Lantern comics at the hands of Geoff Johns, Warner Bros. was certain the time was right to make a lot of money off of a Green Lantern movie.
MAKING THE FILM
Truth be told, Warner Bros. and DC had plans to make a Green Lantern film for more than ten years before it finally made it into theaters. Back in 1997, before the world was subjected to Bat Nipples and Arnie-freeze, Warner Bros. had interest in producing an action/comedy based on DC’s Green Lantern comics. Then Batman and Robin happened, and everything Warner Bros/DC related was immediately cancelled.
Seven years later, when Warner Bros. was working to rebuild it’s DC film market, they rekindled interest in an action/comedy Green Lantern film. Famed television writer Robert Smigel (SNL, The Late Show with Conan O’Brien) submitted a draft of a script that would star Jack Black as the then-current Lantern, Kyle Rayner. For whatever reason they had, (possibly sanity) Warner Bros. decided to scrap the Smigel-penned film and steer the Green Lantern project away from being an outright comedy. It was about three years later when writer/actor Corey Reynolds approached Warner Bros. with his own idea for creating a Green Lantern trilogy centered around the character of John Stewart (best know as the Green Lantern of the Justice League cartoon.) Corey was given the go-ahead, and drafted the first film of his series, which Warner Bros. initially greenlit.
Too bad three months later DC unceremoniously cancelled the film. The studio decided they’d rather have their first Green Lantern film be about the first Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. Warner Bros. hired on Greg Berlanti (future creator of CW’s Arrow-verse) to write, direct, and produce their Hal-centric film, which he agreed to do as long as Mark Gugganheim (Smallville) and Michael Green ( Batman: Lovers and Mad Men) co-wrote the film with him. Warner Bros. almost immediately dove into pre-production on the film, casting for roles while Berlanti, Gugganheim, and Green were joined, at some point, by screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) to flesh out the script for the film.
Bradley Cooper, Justin Timberlake, and Jared Leto all auditioned for the part of Hal Jordan, but it was Ryan Reynolds who ultimately took the role. As the project neared production, and more of the cast was filled out, Berlanti was pulled from directing duties on the film. Warner Bros. decided to put him in charge of another one of their projects, and placed veteran James Bond director Martin Campbell at the helm of Green Lantern instead.
Production was set to begin in December of 2009, and filming was meant to be take place in Australia, but for an undisclosed reason (most likely tax cuts) the production was pushed back to March of 2010, this time setting up shop in Louisiana. With a production budget of $200 million, Green Lantern was in principle photography for five months, having to run longer than planned after Ryan Reynolds separated his shoulder filming a stunt sequence. Production wrapped in August of 2010, and post-production ran all the way into May of 2011 for a film that released a few weeks later in June.
It was reported an extra $9 million was pumped into the film’s post-production budget to bolster it’s visual effects, only two months before it was due in theaters.
SO, WTF HAPPENED?
Green Lantern barely made back it’s production budget at the box office, sits at a painful 26% on Rotten Tomatoes, and is widely considered one of the worst superhero films in existence. At a time when both Marvel and DC were putting out some really well-received property, how could they have failed so egregiously with this film? The best person to answer this question would be the star himself, Ryan Reynolds.
“Well, script. When we shot Green Lantern, nobody auditioning for the role of Green Lantern was given the opportunity to read the script, because the script didn’t exist.”
The truth is Green Lantern was the perfect example of Warner Bros. and DC not understanding what made Marvel’s recent movies successful, and learning the wrong lessons from that success. They had seen plenty of success with Christopher Nolan’s two Batman films, which took a highly-realistic approach to the world of Batman, and included some dark elements sewn into them. Marvel, on the other hand, offered fun films that included more moments of genuine humor and colorful costumes. The key, though, was that Marvel’s films truly captured the spirit of their source material. When DC decided to make an attempt at keeping up with Marvel, they weren’t sure how to approach it. Darker and realistic was working, but Marvel was making a lot of money with light and funny.
What they wound up with, was a script was afraid to take itself seriously for fear of being too unrealistic and dense for casual fans when establishing a heavily sci-fi concept. For every moment of space fantasy, they chose to add a moment of self-awareness and self-deprication for fear of audiences thinking the story was too ridiculous. Like a school kid afraid of being picked for his new glasses, Green Lantern decided to beat all of the bullies to the punch and made fun of its own glasses first.
DC felt colorful and funny was all they needed in their film in order to capture the same kind of magic that Marvel had. Sadly, DC didn’t seem to realize that Marvel’s magic wasn’t just in stunning visuals and funny quips here-and-there, but in a general understanding and embracing of the characters and concepts that were already present in their source material. It is very obvious in the film that Berlanti, Guggenheim, and Green were not familiar with the Green Lantern source material, and instead decided to stitch a bunch of Wikipedia facts together, which Michael Goldenberg fit into a generic superhero outline for them. Fearing that audiences didn’t know the Green Lantern well enough, or would not take the story serious enough, led to them blatantly copying pieces of more successful films of the time like Spider-Man and Star Trek, hoping familiarity would win over the uninitiated. This also led to the film being filled with moments of heavy-handed exposition, and taking place almost entirely on Earth, despite Hal Jordan being made responsible for patrolling an entire sector of the galaxy, not just his home planet. The dialogue was stunted or forced, motivations were muddled, and characters were flat and obtuse caricatures of their beloved comic books sources (or in the case of Hal Jordan, very obviously skewed to accommodate Ryan Reynolds)
The blame does not sit entirely on the writers, though. Some of it should be shared with the director, Martin Campbell, who is only just getting back into the directing game after this movie failed. One look at the film is proof that Campbell was in over his head when it came to directing a movie that so heavily relied on CGI and VFX to flesh out its story and characters, and he too would rather copying other superhero movies for a quick paycheck. For the most part, the VFX of Oa, the various alien races, and even some of Hal’s power constructs are anywhere from great to passable, but for some reason the attention to detail didn’t extend to the suit and mask they render on to their main actor. The massive amount of CGI work (and subsequently the money that went into making it) also meant that the film was limited in its locations due to a constraint on the rest of the budget. This could easily explain the move from Australia to Louisiana, and the films love of hanging out in various characters apartments.
Green Lantern is an epic-scale space adventure story that spans all across the galaxy, and at times even into other dimensions. Those who know the character and are familiar with the mythos understand that in order to be chosen as a Green Lantern, one must be capable of battling and overcoming great fear for the greater good. Sadly, Warner Bros. and DC didn’t seem capable of doing that when it came to making this film, and it led to them making a film far worse than they could have imagined.
Well, at this point the WTF score board is sitting at two Marvel-based movies, and two DC-based movies. Will we shift focus back to Marvel? Continue on the DC train? Could we chose to venture outside of the big two and look at another company’s comic adaptation? Let us know what you want to see by sending a tweet over to @MattDelhauer or @jockandnerdcast with your suggestions for our next film. Be sure to include #JockAndNerdWTF so we can find it easier.