Green Lantern (Cultural Counter Punch)

There’s a line in the cultural sand of superheroes.  It’s a line that says superheroes are either “dark and sophisticated” like The Dark Knight or “slight and stupid” like Green Lantern.  It’s deeper than superheroes actually.  It’s how we have been taught to view the world now.  Shows like Dexter and The Wire and others like them tell us, over and over again, that good guys are an illusion and that genuinely heroic protagonists are a thing of the past.  It’s everywhere in our culture, but it’s most obvious to me in superheroes because they come from such a starkly different point-of-view originally.

For long time, I’ve mostly ignored this accepted “truth”.  I haven’t tried to make a big deal about it because why should I care?  If people want to watch dark shows where everyone’s an asshole, then that’s their choice.  But this live and let live attitude has not been returned.  I have sat by as the dark side wages war against the other side.  The truth is that I can’t ignore films like The Dark Knight and all the praise they get because, inevitably, it leads to outright hostility toward anything even remotely different.

I hate the term “culture war”.  And its standard use doesn’t fit this topic very well.  But there is a battle for our cultural media, how it portrays good guys and bad guys, how it tells stories, and which stories are valued.  If the critics who heaped loads of praise on The Dark Knight and First Class insist insist on attacking a good, fun, and smart film like Green Lantern, then somebody has to step up and counterattack.  And it appears that person is me.

Here goes:

Green Lantern is a heck of a good film.  Perhaps the best superhero flick I’ve seen in ages.  It is fun, lively, and has a terrific little story that never loses sight of its human characters.  It promises an epic battle and (mostly) delivers, and has some very creative action adventure pieces.  In short, Green Lantern is everything any reasonable person should expect from a magic ring space cop movie.  And even a little more.

This is a movie that dares to say being a superhero is cool.  Hal Jordan is not damaged goods.  He doesn’t come from a tragic past.  He isn’t fighting against a psychopath clown.  And in the end, he is a good man fighting to stop a monstrous evil.  His character arc GL is well-planned, believable, and satisfying.  His supporting cast is just important and established enough to make us care about them without making them cardboard characters.  And his use of his powers is every bit as fun and absurd as they should be.

Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.  Anyone who says The Dark Knight or Watchmen are provably superior films is wrong.  Given the nature of all these films and their goals, comparing them is like trying to pick your favorite food.  They aren’t trying to satisfy the same appetite.  And this isn’t a failing on GL‘s part.  This is a deliberate choice.  One I can fully get behind.

If I have to pick a side in this cultural war, I’ll take an unapologetic film like Green Lantern over an aching to be meaningful film like Dark Knight anyday.  I shouldn’t have to pick though.  Fans should be able to like what they like without falling into the trap of “My superhero is better than your superhero” nonsense.

The FX in GL are outstanding.  Even if they weren’t, I know this is a story about aliens and monsters.  As long as the FX are trying, I can play along.  Although, really, the FX are outstanding.  I think people are less annoyed by the FX and more by the more fantastic elements.

GL‘s one weakness comes in the appearance of Amanda Waller.  She’s a great character who is in here for no clear reason, who accomplishes nothing, and who demonstrates none of her comic book portrayal’s competence and demeanor.  It’s annoying that, while the character is short and overweight in the comics, she is tall and leggy (and even introduced wearing ridiculous heels).  But it’s more annoying that she appears to be an entirely different character.  I could take skinny Amanda Waller.  I can’t take dumbass Amanda Waller.

Yes, shame on you Green Lantern for this major mistake in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable film.

So if you are hesitant to see Green Lantern because of the negative reviews, I’m here to say ignore them.  Unless you hate the fantastic and prefer your superheroes more grounded in reality.  That’s okay too.  Just don’t get mad at me for enjoying a less dark, more positive superhero where the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and where punching a fear monster in the face with a giant fist is what heroes do.

There’s a line in GL that summarizes everything I love about this film and how ridiculous I find its critics.

“I’m sorry.  Did I embarrass you when I created a racetrack out of pure willpower and saved hundreds of lives?”

Hell, no, Green Lantern.  Quite the opposite in fact.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. DilDave
    Posted June 23, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    @A Lee Martinez,

    Nope…It doesn’t matter if the film is worth seeing. No need to worry about FX or storyline. It’s not even necessary to be a comic reader. The only reason you need is Ryan Reynolds. Women fantasize about Ryan Reynolds, and he helps men get laid. Go see Green Lantern for the sex.

  2. Posted June 26, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t gotten to see Green Lantern yet, but kudos to you Mr. Martinez for this post. The anit-hero and hero perpetually go through cycles of acceptance in media (usually every 10 years). And just because the anti-hero is in right now, doesn’t mean the hero is meaningless. As long as the story is solid (at least for the most part) then it should be a good movie, even if it isn’t your type of story.

  3. Alberto
    Posted June 27, 2011 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    So… what exactly is meaningful about The Dark Knight? I haven’t seen Green Lantern nor do I plan to, it’s just not my cup of tea, but I had to sit through (suffer) Dark Knight and I hated every second of it. If meaningful means miserable, with characters I couldn’t care for nor believe in, then give me “slight and stupid” any day, thank you very much.

  4. Posted June 28, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Martinez, I am the events coordinator for Alamosa Books, a small independent bookstore in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I am writing to inquire if you anticipate being in our area anytime in the future? We would like to invite you to our store and host an author’s event featuring your books. We specialize in literature for children, but if you check out our calendar of events, you’ll see that we try to appeal to all age groups.
    I look forward to your response, and wish you continued success.

    Richard Vargas
    Events Coordinator

  5. Samuel Erkison
    Posted July 4, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    I just wanted to say that these two Green Lantern posts– as well as your comments on Twitter– pushed me to give the movie a shot today. All three of us that went enjoyed it a great deal. Thanks for the alternate viewpoint– we would have otherwise missed out on a very fun movie.

  6. David Thompson
    Posted July 9, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    I guess I’m weird. I liked both Dark Knight and Green Lantern. Dark Knight was fun for the sinister aspects. The Joker was beyond redemption and Batman was headed in the same direction. It examined a man’s decent into Darkness as well as the aftermath of that decent.

    Green Lantern was pure fun; cheerful, fulfilling beat the bad guy fun. The antics and exuberance of GL reflects how we feel when doing something new and interesting.

    For that matter, I liked Thor. A shallow tale about a Norse God making good. What??? I saw it as a rich kid getting his come-uppance. High School on galactic steroids.

    The FX in both Thor and GL were on a universal scale. Soaring through galaxies, through nebulae to a far away star was great. A hammer that can’t be lifted and a ring that chooses its wearer. The stuff of daydreams; imagination running wild that can actually be seen, heard and felt. Way cool.

    I’m just a summer movie addict.

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted July 9, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      I’m glad you liked both. I really see nothing wrong with that, and don’t consider the films to even be in competition. That they can both satisfy different needs is just fine and dandy with me, even if I’m not a fan of Dark Knight myself.

      But variety is great, and it’s only when I see one particular style of storytelling unjustly venerated while another goes unappreciated that I have a problem. Otherwise, I’m all for as many different types of stories (even within the same genre) as possible. So thanks for the comment.

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