This is not an
experience of déjà vu that is forcing me to decide between returning to the
alternate reality from whence I came and remaining in the reality which I have
to come to call home. It’s a feeling that I’ve written a review like this in my
past life. As in my life of two weeks ago.

Director Mark
Waters’s adaptation of the 1936 children’s story Mr. Popper’s Penguins was a story of penguin-induced chaos into
which the screenwriters injected a more “relevant” story of a divorced family
reunited through the recovery of Mr Popper’s lost childhood.

Director Martin
Campbell’s adaptation of the DC superhero Green
Lantern (or should I say, Campbell’s adaptation of Geoff Jones’s Green Lantern: Rebirth) is a comic book
series into which the screenwriters have injected a different sort of
“relevance,” namely the story of a man who is required to overcome his childish
fears – in other words, to finally grow up.  

My déjà vu arises
not only from each film’s “injection” of “modern relevance,” but from the fact
that each “relevance” has a common emotional root: Both of these men suffer
from the “loss” of the father in childhood (semi-abandonment in Popper, tragic death in Green Lantern). Indeed, each of these
men exemplify the wounded male of our modern-day species – the child-man who
has been left broken, weakened, and afraid by this modern world in which many
fathers disappear (and many mothers opt out). But while Popper overcomes his
dysfunction by more or less becoming a kid again, Hal Jordan (the man behind
the mask of the Green Lantern) must transcend his past by leaving his childish
ways behind.

Hal Jordan (Ryan
Reynolds) is a crackerjack test pilot. Except, apparently, when he looks at
that dashboard snapshot of his test-pilot dad who got burned (literally). Then
he’s scared out of his wits, chokes, and crashes his plane. (It makes one
wonder why he kept flying with that snapshot. Or why this has never happened
before. But I digress.)

This strange
narrative twist is the filmmakers’ way of asking us to accept from the start
that Hal Jordan is, despite his many stars, one big walking yellow stripe –
that despite the fact that he is, by reason of his flying skills and bravado,
an entirely reasonable choice to succeed the fallen Green Lantern Abin Sur, he
is at the same time afraid of just about everything. Afraid of committing to
his girlfriend. Afraid of becoming a Green Lantern – afraid of the combat
training, afraid of the possibility of failure, afraid of dying. Even afraid of
flying sometimes. Afraid, afraid, afraid.

To paraphrase Hal
Jordan’s long-spurned girlfriend, Carol (Blake Lively), there’s walking away
and there’s walking away, and this Hal Jordan does it all.

Healing finally
comes for Tom Popper when he re-connects with his kids, enabling him to pull
his self, his life, his family back together. Hal Jordan is finally able to
face saving the world from the one of the scariest world-eating monster-aliens
I’ve ever seen when Carol, who never stopped believing in him, tells him that
he really does have what it takes: “I see it. I always have. The Ring didn’t
see that you were fearless. It saw you had the ability to overcome fear. It saw
that you were courageous. And you are. Just like your dad.”

But there are two
things about Green Lantern that leave
me feeling cheated out of $11 and 90 minutes of my life. The first is that the
story line is a disaster. Here’s a leading indicator: In the comic, the crash that took the life of Hal’s father is the end of his fear. In the film, it’s the origin
of his fear.

Worst case in
point: In Green Lantern: Rebirth (the
comic), there is a single allusion to the fact that Green Lantern’s long-time
arch-enemy Sinestro was like unto Lucifer, ie, was once the finest Green Lantern
in the universe. But because Green
Lantern (the movie) is a story of our hero’s beginnings, we can’t merely
allude to Sinestro’s honorable history, but have to go from “Sinestro as Hal’s
military superior” to “diametric opposite of everything Green Lantern stands
for” all in 90 minutes. Which means we first meet Sinestro as he lectures Hal
on how fear makes you weak, and then the very next time we see him he is
advocating the use of the “yellow power of fear” as the universe’s only hope.

(And then there’s
the coda in which a chastised Sinestro praises Hal for his triumph over fear,
followed by the final credits in which we see a suddenly-unreformed Sinestro
putting on the… oh, forget it.)

But the second,
and far more egregious flaw, is the star, Ryan Reynolds. His Green Lantern is a
superhero who always looks as though he has just rolled out of bed. It doesn’t
help that by the end he hasn’t exactly become a larger-than-life defender of
Earth. And it doesn’t help that the last we see of Green Lantern is Hal telling
his girlfriend: “I’m gonna go look for trouble.” Wow. That’s really cool. Maybe
that’s the relevance of Green Lantern
– a super-hero who’s not quite grown up after all.


Mark Thomas Lickona is a
screenwriter, critic, filmmaker and small-scale organic farmer residing in Los
Angeles.

Mark Thomas Lickona has a BA from the Great Books Program at the University of Notre Dame, a Masters of Arts in Theology from The Catholic University of America and his training in film...