Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern – starring Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, and Mark Strong as Sinestro – has taken a ferocious critical beating – not the least of which was from our very own Kofi Outlaw.
For all intents and purposes, the Green Lantern film is a very streamlined adaptation of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern: Secret Origin comic book – with other elements, events, and characters awkwardly thrown in for good measure.
The purpose of this article is to compare and contrast the various elements, characters, etc. that are shared between the Green Lantern comic books and movie, in an attempt to deduce which medium did the better job. For example, if the movie did a better job, the movie gets a point. If the comic books did a better job, the comic book gets a point. At the end, we’ll tally the points on either side and see which medium — The Comic Books or The Movie — comes out on top.
FAIR WARNING: If you really, really loved the film and really, really hate snark, you’re really, really, not going to like this article.
MAJOR GREEN LANTERN MOVIE SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!
The Mask (Comic Book vs. The Movie)
Advantage: The Comic Books – I shouldn’t even have to explain this. Just look at them! One’s an actual domino mask, and the other’s a veritable nose amplifier made from what appears to be green jellyfish flesh.
The Costume (Comic Book vs. The Movie)
Advantage: The Comic Books – The movie costume doesn’t look as bad as some feared, but an iconic look is iconic for a reason.
The Green Lantern Corps
What little we see of the Green Lantern Corps — Kilowog, Tomar-Re, and so forth — the Guardians, and Oa gives us the impression that they’re nearly identical to their comic book counterparts (save, perhaps, Oa, which at times looks strikingly different). Unfortunately, we see so little of them in the film that they’re scarcely worth mentioning. The comic has had ample time to give all these characters wonderful depth and complexity – which has only improved since the release of Geoff Johns’ Secret Origins. Unfortunately, the movie chose to focus on other things…
Hal Jordan in the Comic Books
The Hal Jordan of the comic books – and especially Secret Origin – isn’t too far removed from the one played by Ryan Reynolds. Before finding Abin Sur and becoming the first human Green Lantern ever, he was just a cocky jet pilot, not unlike Maverick from Top Gun. And speaking of similarities to a certain 1980s Tom Cruise film, Hal is also following in the footsteps of his jet pilot father, who died in a plane crash that Hal witnessed as a small child.
Amongst other things, Hal’s a bit of a ladies man, he can be a jerk from time to time, and he’s always wearing his father’s leather jacket when he’s not “Green Lanterning around,” for lack of a better phrase. In terms of appearance, the Hal Jordan of the comic books resembles the stereotypical fighter pilot of yore – usually seen in movie serials and what have you – with wavy brown hair, a strong jaw, and self-confident swagger (he was modeled after a young Paul Newman, after all).
As Green Lantern, he wears white gloves instead of…uh, green everything, as was depicted in the film. Recently, when drawn by the likes of Ethan Van Sciver and Ivan Reis, his suit has become more “animated,” with the Green Lantern insignia literally popping out of his chest like one of those screen saver bouncy balls.
In Secret Origin, Hal’s big character development is that he overcomes the anger he’s held onto since childhood – the hatred he has had for Carl Ferris, Carol Ferris’ father, whom he blames for his own father’s death. At the end of Secret Origin, he lets go of that hatred when he realizes that love is the only way to live, or something. It’s a bit more nuanced than that, but you get what I’m saying.
Hal Jordan from the Movie
Hal Jordan as played by Ryan Reynolds is, like I said, a lot like his comic book counterpart. In fact, most of the things I said about Comic Book Hal Jordan could easily be attributed to Cinematic Hal Jordan.
With the exception of that little thing called character development. In Secret Origin, Hal doesn’t go around crying like a baby about having been chosen to be Sector 2814’s Green Lantern. “Oh, woe is me! I’ll never be able to handle all this power and responsibility!” He doesn’t mope and whine about being afraid all the time, and his great life lesson isn’t “learning how to overcome fear.” The same, sadly, cannot be said of the film, which does all these things and more.
(By the way: Thanks, Blake Lively, for letting us know what Hal Jordan’s problem was verbatim.)
Worse still, Hal of the film gets what seems like a 25-minute training session from Kilowog and Sinestro on Oa before deciding to stomp off like a toddler on a tantrum because he can’t handle the responsibility. What should’ve been the thrust of the entire film – learning how to become a Green Lantern – gets shunted to several minutes of screen time full of exposition dumps.
Hal Jordan of the comic books would be ashamed, Hal Jordan of the film. A-shamed.
Advantage: The Comic Books – because Hal Jordan isn’t a big, fat baby in them.
Abin Sur of the Comic Books
In the comics, Abin Sur looks less like a human being without any skin – as he does in the film – and more like Sinestro with alopecia. Which is to say, he’s just a bald, magenta-hued humanoid alien. As for his backstory, for simplicity’s sake, we’re just going to go with the most recent version of Abin Sur as told in Secret Origin, because recounting his pre and post-crisis comic backstories in detail seems a waste of word space.
Briefly, though – prior to Secret Origin, Abin’s death resulted from an attack by the alien Legion. Fans who have followed the production of the Green Lantern film since its inception will remember that Legion was the main villain in one of the earlier iterations of the screenplay, but was obviously replaced by Parallax in the final draft.
Regarding Secret Origin – in attempting to bring Atrocitus to justice (a terrorist who would later become the leader of the Red Lantern Corps, which utilizes the red energy of rage), Abin Sur was gravely wounded and his ship was rendered incapable of landing safely. Rather than allow it to crash on its own, which would’ve killed thousands of innocents in Coast City, Abin piloted it as well as possible to a nearby desert. Due to both Atrocitus’ attack and the resulting crash-landing, Abin Sur, of course, died, but not before bequeathing his power ring to the Earthman Hal Jordan.
Abin Sur in the Movie
There’s very little creative breadth between the Abin Sur of the comic books and the Abin Sur in the film, muscle-skin notwithstanding. In fact, Abin Sur is one of the more accurately-adapted elements of the film, if not the best best preserved element of page-to-screen translation.
Instead of being attacked by Legion or Atrocitus in the film, Abin Sur is attacked by Parallax and infected with his yellow fear juice, which apparently results in a quick but excruciating demise. Strangely, this is the only time Parallax does this to anybody in the film. The yellow fear juice infection isn’t explained. It’s not expanded upon. A guy gets sprayed with some fear juice once, dies, and that’s that, green lantern shield notwithstanding. Apparently, there just wasn’t enough delicious fear juice to go around…
That’s basically where the differences between the comics and the film end. After being mortally wounded by Parallax’s lemonade, Abin Sur crash-lands in a swamp (not a dessert) near Coast City before bequeathing his power ring to the brash young Hal Jordan and dying soon after.
Advantage: The Comic Books – because there’s not even an inkling of fear juice in them (but we kind of liked Temuera Morrison as Abin Sur).
Parallax in the Comic Books
The history of Parallax in the comics is an extremely complicated one, so stick with me while I gingerly lay it out for you:
After the destruction of Hal Jordan’s hometown of Coast City by Mongul and the Cyborg Superman (following the death and resurrection of the real Superman), Hal was overcome with grief, survivor’s guilt, and a modicum of insanity, to say the least.
Hal decided that the only way to make things right again was to steal all the power of Oa’s Battery – that gigantic lantern that sits at the center of Oa and powers the entirety of the Green Lantern Corps – so he could remake existence as he saw fit.
The smoldering corpse of Kilowog, the alien drill sergeant with a heart of gold
Hal fought and killed many a Green Lantern, including his dear friend Kilowog and his old enemy Sinestro (freed from Green Lantern prison by the Guardians in order to fight Hal), just so he could steal almost all the Battery’s juice and become Parallax.
I say he stole “almost all” of the Battery’s juice because there remained just enough for Ganthet – the last surviving Guardian – to reconstruct Jordan’s ring and give it to the Earthman/graphic artist Kyle Rayner, the last of the Green Lanterns at the time.
Some months later, Parallax reappeared and attempted to recreate the DCU in the major event known as Zero Hour: Crisis in Time, the ten year anniversary and less successful sequel to Crisis On Infinite Earths. All the remaining heroes of the DCU – Superman, Hal’s good friend Green Arrow, Waverider, Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), Batgirl, and so on – fought and defeated Parallax, resulting in a slightly rebooted (but mostly the same) DC Universe. Again.
Parallax did not die, though – no sir! In fact, it wasn’t until another crossover event known as Final Night (not to be confused with Final Crisis) that he “died” sacrificing his life to reignite the sun and save the galaxy. What a helpful guy, that Parallax.
The deceased Hal Jordan then became The Spectre, otherwise known as “The Spirit of Vengeance,” ever-searching for redemption. Because nobody wanted to read a comic book about Hal Jordan as anything but a Green Lantern, the series was canceled just 26 issues in.
Enter 2004, Geoff Johns, and the wildly successful Green Lantern: Rebirth, where we learned that Parallax wasn’t just a cool name Hal Jordan came up with once he consumed the power of Oa’s Battery. Rather, Parallax was a super powerful space insect and the “Fear Entity” – the living embodiment of fear that represents the yellow energy that powers Sinestro’s ring – that had long ago been imprisoned inside the Battery. Parallax was the reason for the centuries-long “yellow impurity” that had rendered Green Lantern rings useless against anything yellow.
In Rebirth, we learned that Parallax influenced Hal Jordan’s emotions and actions for years and was the true cause of Hal’s megalomania and genocidal ways (not to mention his graying temples). Hal Jordan, of course, was resurrected, Kilowog was resurrected, the Guardians were resurrected, the Green Lantern Corps was reinstated, and Parallax was defeated, although he has returned from time to time, most prominently in the excellent 2006 crossover The Sinestro Corps Wars.
Parallax in the Movie
Parallax in the movie – besides being a gigantic, multi-tentacled space-cloud with a stereotypical grey alien head on top – is a strange combination of Green Lantern villain Krona, the retconned version of Parallax from the comics, and that giant sandstorm from 1999’s The Mummy.
Krona + Comic Book Parallax + The Mummy sandstorm = Movie Parallax
I won’t go into the long, complicated, and repeatedly retconned history of Krona (you’re welcome); suffice it to say, the most recent version states that Krona is a rogue Guardian who wanted to utilize the other colors of the emotional spectrum – yellow, red, blue, violet, rainbow, and indigo – to more effectively control the universe. The rest of the Guardians obviously didn’t go for that.
Similarly, Parallax from the movie was also a rogue guardian. In this case, he entered the yellow chamber of fear energy long ago – not for evil purposes, mind you, but because he felt that the fear energy would allow the Guardians to better police the universe – and inadvertently became the aforementioned many-tentacled space cloud with a head. You can’t make this stuff up, people.
In case you were wondering, this is how you suck out a “fear skeleton”
Abin Sur – the Green Lantern whose ring would eventually go to Hal Jordan – fought and imprisoned Parallax in “The Lost Sector.” Of course, Parallax escapes some years later and flies around the universe sucking out victims’ “fear skeletons,” which kills them immediately. This is the conflict at the heart of the Green Lantern film: Parallax is coming for you and he’s going to suck out your fear skeleton. (Yawn.) I say again, people, you cannot make this stuff up. Well, I mean, technically the writers of Green Lantern did make this stuff up, but what I mean to say is – they probably shouldn’t have.
Advantage: The Comic Books – because as needlessly complicated and retconned as they are, nothing’s worse than a massive yellow space cloud that sucks out your “fear skeleton.”
Sinestro & The Yellow Ring in the Comic Books
In the comic books, much like the movie, Sinestro was once a well-respected member of the Green Lantern Corps – and a very capable one at that. In fact, after Abin Sur’s death and before Hal Jordan’s ascension through the ranks, Sinestro was considered by many (himself especially) to be “the greatest Green Lantern” in the Corps. When Hal Jordan was inducted, Sinestro was assigned to be his mentor, much to his chagrin. If Green Lantern were, say, a buddy cop movie (and it sort of is, within the pages of a comic), Sinestro would’ve been the “corrupt veteran cop” to Hal’s “idealistic but cocky rookie cop.”
Eventually, it was discovered that Sinestro used his powers as a Lantern to transform his planet – Korugar – into a dictatorship, forcing all its citizens to worship him and stay in line. Hal Jordan found out, testified against him, and the vain, arrogant, and dictatorial Sinestro was banished to the planet Qward in the Anti-Matter universe. Needless to say, Sinestro held a grudge.
After convincing the people of Qward to craft a yellow power ring for him, Sinestro wore it as Hal Jordan’s most dangerous enemy (remember, this was at a time when yellow was a Green Lantern’s only weakness). Sinestro was defeated, like all rogues eventually are, and this time he was imprisoned inside Oa’s Battery. The yellow ring passed on to ex-Green Lantern and hothead Earth jock Guy Gardner, who used it for good in the Justice League International until Hal Jordan (as Parallax) destroyed it. The point being, the yellow ring of the comic books does not automatically make you evil.
Later, Sinestro – again, by way of the Qwardians – constructed countless yellow rings and amassed an army of Yellow Lanterns (The Sinestro Corps) to wage war against the Guardians and the Green Lanterns in a comic book crossover of epic proportions known as The Sinestro Corps Wars. (Which was, in my opinion, the best comic book crossover of the past ten years.) Anyone capable of inspiring great fear in others was a viable candidate, including Batman, who obviously rejected it outright. Because he’s awesome.
Sinestro & The Yellow Ring in the Movie
In the Green Lantern film, Sinestro is best friends with Abin Sur and one of the greatest, most capable members of the Corps. He also looks pretty much identical to his comic book counterpart (indeed, Mark Strong was born to play the guy). Unfortunately, this is where the similarities between the two versions end. Sure, the Sinestro of the film could be arrogant, vain, and even dictatorial, like Comic Book Sinestro, but we don’t see any of that onscreen, really. As far as we know, Cinematic Sinestro is as altruistic and kindhearted – if a little bit stern – as he appears to be.
Due to his desperation to defeat Parallax, Sinestro convinces the Guardians to craft a yellow power ring from the depths of the yellow energy chamber to “fight fear with fear.” As for how they craft such a ring, we don’t get to see that process. Sinestro asks for it, the blue Gnome-like Guardians nod their gigantic heads in agreement, and voila – yellow power ring! (Never mind how exactly fear is supposed to fight fear. Why would a yellow ring powered by fear and wielded by a Corps member be able to combat a gigantic yellow space cloud octopus also powered by fear?)
Hal Jordan stops Sinestro from placing the ring on his finger – because obviously he understands how all this fear and will energy stuff works after being introduced to it exactly twenty-four hours prior – and he runs off and defeats Parallax all by himself.
At the end of the film, Sinestro – who was concerned that Abin Sur’s replacement was no match for Abin Sur – shakes Jordan’s hand, indicating that they’ll be best friends forever. Perhaps we’ll see that buddy cop dynamic from the comic that I previously mentioned? Perhaps we’ll see Sinestro’s transition from good cop to corrupt cop? In a sequel? Maybe?
Doubtful. Instead, halfway through the credits of the film, we’re shown a brief scene of Sinestro placing the yellow power ring upon his finger for no discernable reason – remember, this is the yellow ring that was created to defeat the already-defeated Parallax – and his power suit suddenly transforms from green to black and yellow. His insignia suddenly changes to that of the one emblazoned on the outside of the fear energy chamber. He’s a Yellow Lantern now, in the exact suit he wore as the head of the Sinestro Corps in the comics.
The implication being: the yellow ring is what makes Sinestro a bad guy, not his own arrogance or control issues. A stupid, yellow power ring. Why use character development when you can use plot devices?
Advantage: The Comic Books – because Sinestro is genuinely cool, interesting and wonderfully complex in them.
Carol Ferris in the Comic Books
In the comic books, Carol Ferris was originally the Vice President of Ferris Air, and she hired Hal Jordan to fly for her father’s company. Since the 1950s, the two have been romantically linked over and over again. Repeatedly. Ad nauseum.
In Secret Origin, their initial knowledge of one another was altered slightly. Now, Hal and Carol have known each other since childhood, as their fathers were best friends and worked together. (Indeed, Hal’s father died while flying for Carol’s father’s company.) Later, Carol became a pilot for Ferris Air, but dropped flying altogether to be Vice President when her father fell ill.
In the comics, from time to time, Carol has been possessed by a member of an immortal alien race of warrior women called the Zamarons, transforming her into the evil Star Sapphire – a cosmic Green Lantern villain – forcing her to do battle with her (on, off, on, off) beloved Hal Jordan.
More recently, it was revealed that the Zamarons have harnessed the violet energy of Love – like green is to will, yellow is to fear, blue is to hope, red is to rage, and indigo is to compassion – in the form of purple power rings. Carol has become one of many Star Sapphires in the Star Sapphire Corps, and she’s no longer an evil, alien-possessed villain constantly at odds with Hal Jordan. She’s a Star Sapphire of her own volition.
Carol Ferris in the Movie
Like Hal Jordan and Abin Sur before her, the Carol Ferris of the film is pretty much identical to the Carol Ferris of Geoff John’s Secret Origin. At the beginning of the film, not unlike Hal, Carol is a very capable pilot flying for Ferris Air (under the flight moniker “Star Sapphire” – yay for Easter eggs!).
As the film progresses, Carol transitions from capable pilot to business executive – perhaps as Vice President, though this is unclear – and basically functions as the damsel in distress.
Advantage: Tie – Neither version of the character is all that interesting.
Hector Hammond in the Comic Books
In the comics, Hector Hammond has a few different origins, all of which involve a strange meteor that transforms him into a giant-headed telepath with the ability to control others but the inability to walk, talk, or prevent saliva from constantly spilling out of his mouth.
Again, for the sake of conserving precious word space, we’re just going to go with the origin revamped in Secret Origin. There, Hector Hammond was a consultant for Ferris Air in addition to being Carol Ferris’ strangely obsessed stalker. Unlike the film, though, he’s not hideous to begin with. He’s no, say, George Clooney, but he’s a normal-looking guy with a mustache. If you saw him walking down the street you wouldn’t violently cringe like you would if you saw Peter Sarsgaard in full Hector Hammond makeup.
About halfway through Origin, Hammond is hired by the US Air Force to inspect Abin Sur’s crashed spacecraft. Because his mind is on other things during the inspection – namely Carol, who won’t call him back or go out to dinner with him again – he neglects to wear protective headgear and gets blasted with the spacecraft’s thrusters. Apparently, the ship isn’t powered by fuel, as Hammond previously assumed, but rather a strange meteor.
Cue telepathy, cue ever-expanding brain + skull (eventually to the point of being gigantic), cue greedy, psychopathic behavior and mind control powers – and most importantly, cue a lifelong career as one of the few satisfactory Green Lantern villains around.
Hector Hammond in the Movie
In Green Lantern the film, Hector Hammond has conveniently known both Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris since childhood, and has been infatuated with Carol all that time. But how could Carol ever notice nerdy little Hector when handsome Hal Jordan was always there to steal his thunder?
Cinematic Hector Hammond is hired by the US Air Force – because his father, played by Tim Robbins, is a nepotistic congressman – to study the corpse of Abin Sur. In studying Abin’s corpse, Hammond is inadvertently infected with the leftover fear juice inside. However, instead of dying like Abin did, Hammond’s head grows to gargantuan size and he develops both telepathic and telekinetic powers.
There’s very little character development for Hammond in the film, but what little we get seems to indicate that he’s an upstanding fellow until the fear juice gets him. This seems to be a common theme in Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern – basically, there are no “bad guys” who make their own “bad choices,” just guys who are negatively influenced by cosmic yellow fear energy. Just like in real life.
Advantage: The Comic Books – Even though Peter Sarsgaard is bizarrely awesome in the role of Hector Hammond, he just doesn’t have a whole lot to work with.
Summation: As an avid fan of both comic books and film, I operate under the firm belief that the quality of a comic book adaptation has nothing to do with the accuracy with which it was adapted. To me, Batman Returns is a prime example of a fantastic film experience that’s nothing like the comic book version of Batman. Basically, it’s a really disturbing fever dream from the creatively depraved mind of Tim Burton, with a ghastly gorgeous aesthetic and some of the darkest, weirdest, and wackiest fairy tale characters to ever grace the silver screen … guest-starring Batman. And that’s all it’s trying to be.
The point being: if a film is good, it’s good. If it stands on its own, it stands on its own. The quality of the film is not dependent upon whether or not the filmmakers met one fan’s preconceived notions based on the source material.
That said, Green Lantern is a film that actually tries to be accurate to the source material. But whereas something like Watchmen – which, in full disclosure, I also didn’t like – actually worked hard to develop those comic book elements onscreen, Green Lantern doesn’t work very hard to do anything. It just wants to make everything easier for the audience to understand and quicker for them to digest. The things it does change or streamline are almost always less effective or interesting than they were in the books.
Warner Bros. could’ve gone completely off the rails with their Green Lantern film and I would’ve been ecstatic, provided that they had done so successfully. Instead, they lazily tried to adapt Green Lantern: Secret Origin and failed to the extreme. Better luck next time, I guess. Here’s hoping they go the semi-reboot route for the sequel a la The Incredible Hulk and make a buddy cop film in space called Green Lantern Corps.
Overall Score: The Comic Books = 7.5; The Movie = 0.5
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