Green is for stop, please stop with the exposition!
In an introductory screenwriting class we often talk about what makes the task of writing a movie unique. This is a huge topic, but we can begin to focus our discussion by reminding students that all movie writing is led by two of the oldest yet most important principles: the need for narrative economy and the mantra of ‘show, don’t tell’. The first reminds us that you are likely to have a maximum of two hours to tell your story, so get on with it and make every moment count. The second that you are working for a visual medium so don’t write a radio play. These lessons are frequently lost on the team behind Green Lantern, which is one of the stodgiest superhero movies I have ever seen.
Any superhero origins story is stuck with the problem of taking beloved bullshit seriously enough to please fans of the source material while simultaneously keeping the two-hour movie clipping along at a good pace. The problem for Green Lantern is that its own version of the beloved bullshit smells like it is much, much closer to the wrong end of the cow than is usual even in this kind of story. Faced with that problem writers usually either play it straight but blow it off as fast as possible or work it to camp and revel in the rich farmyard odors. Green Lantern not only takes it seriously but lectures us about it at length and both in dialogue and voice over.
The result is a movie that is long on pointless self-justification, yet short on coherence. Rather like the movie’s villain Parallax, the exposition billows out and sucks the life force from a plot that is only tangentially related to its hero at the best of times. You know you are in dangerous waters when the spectacular final confrontation between superhero and supervillain is also their first confrontation.
Part of the problem is that the movie’s incarnation of Parallax is kind of a one shot, beat him or die deal so the whole movie is played out through proxies until big bad finally shows up. The other problem is more to do with a studio’s almost total lack of faith in the waiting audience. This is a film about the battle between will and terror where the real battle has been lost in development before the movie begins.
The lesson of Green Lantern for the producers of future superhero movies must be that your audience is familiar enough by now with the beloved emissions of the wrong end of the superhero cow that we are willing to just go with it. Don’t be scared, have the will to just have fun for heaven’s sake, otherwise how are we ever going to join you?