Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Script Review: Green Lantern (Berlanti/Green/Guggenheim version)

Green Lantern is one of DC comics major superheroes, though he's never been quite as popular as Superman and Batman. That may very well change, as Warner's is mounting a major media offensive to put Green Lantern in the spotlight, with the movie as the centrepiece.

I don't know whether this is the shooting draft, though I think it is, but it's recent (early 2008) and Marc Guggenheim is very active in both television and comics at the moment (he's one of the current Spider-Man writers and has written for Law and Order and CSI Miami, among others).

For those of you who do not know what a Green Lantern is: the Green Lanterns are an intergalactic police force, who possess rings with which they can create almost anything. They're powered by willpower, and have to recharge their rings every day with the aid of a... green lantern, which is connected to the power battery on the planet Oa. Here the Green Lantern Corps has its headquarters and their creators, the Guardians, watch over the galaxy. Every space sector has their own Green Lantern, and obviously the movie (and the comic books) focus on the Green Lantern of Earth, who is (at the moment, anyway, there have been a few others) Hal Jordan.

Spoilers will follow, unavoidably. But I'll try to keep them to a minimum.

At 12 years of age, Hal Jordan loses his dad, a jet pilot, in an accident with an experimental plane. 15 years later, Jordan is a jet pilot as well, but he's cocky, selfish, and rebellious, much to the chagrin of his boss and ex-girlfriend, Carol Ferris, who runs Ferris Airplanes together with her father.

Elsewhere, an alien Green Lantern, Abin Sur, is attacked by a monstrous enemy of the Corps, Legion. Abin Sur is mortally wounded but manages to crash his space ship on Earth. His ring flies off to look for a successor and chooses Hal Jordan.
Jordan and his best friend, Tom Kumalku, find the spaceship and Jordan gets some Green Lantern information before Abin Sur finally dies.

Later, during a date with Carol, Jordan is attacked by the boyfriend of one of his one-night stands, and the powers of the ring suddenly spring to life. And soon after, he's whisked away to Oa, where he meets the Guardians and several other Lanterns, including Sinestro, Abin Sur's best friend and the most revered Lantern of the Corps, and the impressive alien drill sergeant Kilowog.

Jordan's rebellious ways soon have him saying no to the Corps mentality though, and he returns to Earth determined not to have anything to do with the Lanterns.

Meanwhile, Abin Sur's space ship has been discovered and a scientist, Hector Hammond, is infected with a particle of Legion. This causes him to keep mutating throughout the script, and to develop enormous powers of telepathy, telekinesis and mind control. As Hammond is a mean, screwed-up wreck of a man, this spells no good for the people of Earth...

Jordan is forced to become Green Lantern at an air show when Hammond (unbeknownst to anyone there) takes over the jet plane his father is flying in and tries to cause a major disaster. Green Lantern saves the day (and Carol Ferris), and this becomes the impetus for Hal to throw himself into superheroing full-time. He also takes the time to romance Carol in his Green Lantern identity (the ring provides a costume and mask).

The rest of the Corps, meanwhile, mount an attack on Legion and subdue the creature, though at great cost.

Eventually, Green Lantern confronts Hector Hammond for the first time, and is defeated. He returns to Oa to ask for help in handling the supervillain, but the Guardians insist he finishes his training first. Disgusted by their bureaucracy, Jordan quits the Corps just as Legion breaks loose and causes havoc. And back on Earth, Hammond keeps getting more powerful and targets his dad and Carol Ferris again...


Green Lantern simply is a superhero movie script done right. Respectful of the original material (the script is full of little touches which will delight DC comic fans), keeping the origin story true to the comic book, and wholeheartedly embracing the superhero ethos and aesthetic. Reading the script, with all its colourful and spectacular visuals, the pure fun of traditional superhero comics at their best comes shining through.

Stage directions are vibrant, very visual, and drive the action forward. The reader is engaged, but not in a way which pulls you out of the reading experience (except when profanity is used, as it's completely absent in the dialogue. It's fairly jarring in this case). While reading the script, you can just imagine the special effects, and they promise to be truly awe-inspiring. It's an excellent example of 'a really good read'.

It's also interesting to note that on a couple of occasions references are already being made to possible prequels and sequels to the film... I haven't encountered that before.

Hal Jordan's character is an excellent part. He's seriously flawed, but in such a way that the character remains attractive to the audience, even when his behaviour is foolish or self-destructive. We also get the feeling he doesn't want to hurt the people around him, but he's incapable of not doing so because of his own inner pain. This is definitely not a film in which the villains are more interesting than the hero.

Which is not to say that the villains are slouches. Legion is a big, invincible alien entity, while Hector Hammond is a sleazy, insecure man with a big chip on his shoulder and a very bad relationship with his Senator father. When he gets powers, he uses them to get back at the world and everyone who's ever caused him pain. As his powers grow, so he keeps mutating and his actions become more and more evil - a nice correlation of outer and inner corruption. And there's a nice balance at work between Hal and Hector: both suddenly come into great power, both are unhappy and are emotionally messed up, but Hal comes to use his abilities to make things right while Hector uses them to lash out at the world. It's in this contrast that the fundamental truth of both characters is revealed.

One of the things which impressed me the most upon reading is how exciting and interesting the first act is - although Hal Jordan performs no superheroics whatsoever. Instead, we get:
- the opening introduction to the Green Lanterns and their world
- Abin Sur fighting Legion
- the death of Hal Jordan's father
- Adult Hal defeating 3 automated warplanes by extremely reckless flying during a demonstration at Ferris Airplanes
- Abin Sur crashing into Earth, and the ring looking for a new bearer (passing a certain bespectacled journalist from the Daily Planet along the way) and finding Hal Jordan
- the introduction of Hector Hammond, his autopsy of Abin Sur's corpse and his discovery of the Legion fragment

And mixed in with these sequences we get Hal Jordan's family and the introduction of Sinestro as well.

So the first act basically continually keeps moving, weaving several strands of narrative, all of which engage the interest, reveal character and set up the rest of the film.

I have some concerns about act 3 though: there really are three climaxes - fighting Legion on Oa, defeating Hector Hammond, and saving Carol without the power of the ring. The final climax is the end of Hal Jordan's personal story (going from self-centered semi-jerk to a true, self-sufficient hero). However, the resolution of the Legion storyline is the biggest bang in the script, and there's a real danger of the rest of the act being overshadowed by it. Moreover, Hal Jordan has proven to be a true hero before, so it doesn't really feel as if this final climactic development is all that necessary. It might have been preferable to combine the plotlines of both villains more strongly so the climax could intertwine the two.

I also found Hal quitting the Corps twice was a bit too much, especially because it basically was for the same reason (he didn't want to go through the training process, the first time because he's too rebellious, the second time because he has a villain to stop). It's actually too bad that Hal doesn't train in this film, as Kilowog is such a great character in the comics.

Despite these minor niggles, Green Lantern is one of the best superhero scripts I've yet encountered. It has all the potential for being a major blockbuster, and it could easily launch a movie franchise (as is clearly intended). It's slated for Winter 2010 and I'll be eagerly awaiting its release!


Ubernerd said...

Awesome! I'm probably the one of the biggest fans of Green Lantern around! I'm truly nervous about this film and from your review there are still many things that make me cringe, in a very fanboy way, but besides all of that the film sounds very good! Here's hoping we get to see Guy Gardner in the sequels!... Speaking of which, this franchise could go on forever, as all they have to do is change which GL they are focusing on... hmm

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Green Lantern has been my favorite hero since ever, and anything will make me feel happier than a Green Lantern movie, it's definitely one of my dreams.