Well it’s about that time – time to kick open the doors and once again instigate the age-old battle between DC Comics fans and Marvel Comics fans, this time in the arena of the silver screen.
In the last month we’ve been graced with the first real looks at two upcoming movies featuring second-tier characters from the DC/Marvel universes: Thor and Green Lantern. Now, based on what we’ve seen in the Green Lantern trailer and the more recent Thor trailer, it’s time to discuss which comic book house is making the better product in the era of “Comic Book Movies 2.0″.
If that term – “Comic Book Movies 2.0″ – doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because I just made it up (feel free to use it). I personally define the era of “Comic Book Movies 1.0″ to be that time period running from the late 199os through the early 2000s, where films like X-Men, Spider-Man and Hulk turned comic book properties into Hollywood’s new golden calf. That “1.0” era ended around 2009 with Chris Nolan and The Dark Knight, which launched us into this “2.0” era, in which comic book movies are not just popcorn blockbusters, but serious (not to be confused with “dark”) cinematic ventures that attempt to be deep, complex, insightful and artistically refined, in addition to being fun and epic.
We could debate the shift in comic book movie eras for an entire post, but we can all acknowledge that DC, Marvel (and every comic book publisher in between) are currently ramping-up to make comic book movies in a way that has truly not been seen before: with comic properties as studios’ major tentpole focus; shared movie continuities; unique and visionary directors at the helm; and of course, money, money, money being invested.
Thor vs. Green Lantern
It’d be nice if we had the trailer for Captain America: The First Avenger to add to this mix, but for now Thor and Green Lantern are what we have to work with. I’ll post both trailers below for those who haven’t yet seen them, then we’ll compare them according to specific criteria:
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The Leading Men
Sure, we could talk about the casts of Thor and Green Lantern as a whole, because both movies feature an impressive cast of actors. However, in terms of these first trailers it’s the two leading men playing the titular comic book heroes who receive the majority of the focus, and will inevitably be responsible for carrying their respective films. So it’s the two leading men we shall discuss:
Thor (Chris Hemsworth)
While Australian movie fans are probably familiar with Hemsworth’s work, American movie fans are still getting to know him. Hemsworth was featured in the indie flick Ca$h – but admittedly, a lot of people didn’t catch that flick. The actor also had a brief but intense bit part in A Perfect Getaway last year – but again, a lot of people are just now catching that flick on cable. Unfortunately for Hemsworth (and Marvel) the actor’s two big American projects – the Red Dawn remake and the Joss Whedon horror film The Cabin in the Woods – either of which might’ve made Hemsworth a household name – both fell by the wayside thanks to the MGM Bankruptcy. Guess Hemsworth put his faith in the wrong studio…
Most American audiences will know Hemsworth best from the opening sequence of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, where he played Captain Kirk’s father, George Kirk. While people may not immediately recognize that G. Kirk is the guy playing Thor, most will certainly acknowledge that – while brief – his Star Trek performance left a positive impression of Hemsworth as an actor.
As for Thor? Well Hemsworth has certainly beefed himself up to look the part of a warrior god and truly fits the mold of the character in terms of attitude. The intensity is there, the touch of humor (“Oh no, this is Earth isn’t it?“) and even some deeper Oedipal themes are successfully conveyed in his expressions when he confronts his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), in the trailer. If there were any doubters before, I think most fans are now breathing easy that marvel picked Hemsworth as their Thor.
Green Lantern (Ryan Reynolds)
Most people know Ryan Reynolds as the funny handsome charmer scamp from films like Van Wilder, The Proposal, or Waiting. Despite those comedic associations, Reynolds has proven he has range, playing dark and intense characters in films like The Amityville Horror remake and Buried; he also showed action/comedy chops in comic book flicks like Wolverine and Blade Trinity.
By now Reynolds is a household name, has been dubbed “Sexiest Man Alive” and (until yesterday) was married to one of the most famous actresses on the Hollywood A-list. So he’s a natural and prudent choice to help Warner Bros. give Green Lantern the mainstream appeal the character needs.
However, the fanboy community is still torn over the decision to cast Reynolds as Green Lantern/Hal Jordan. It’s not that they don’t like Reynolds, it’s just that some geeks feel that his funny handsome charmer scamp personality would’ve been much better suited to the character of The Flash (another DC movie on the horizon) rather than the more serious character of Hal Jordan. But despite the light tone of the first Green Lantern trailer, we here at Screen Rant know that the film will explore some dark themes; and while Reynolds can no doubt handle those darker moments, inevitably there will be other moments where flashes his charm or goes for a laugh, and that will leave some GL purists groaning and rolling their eyes.
VERDICT: He might not yet be tested on American shores, but Chris Hemsworth as Thor looks to be the early frontrunner.
Direction / Design / Effects
Thor has acclaimed thespian/writer/director Kenneth Branagh at the helm – in large part due to Branagh’s past achievements working with Shakespearean lore, of which the story of Thor carries many shades. Like Green Lantern, Thor also takes place on two worlds: Earth, and the mystical realm of Norse Gods known as “Asgard”. The task Branagh and his crew have undertaken is challenging: they have to bring a fictional realm to life, make it feel believable, and juxtapose that realm against Earth while not having our home planet feel drab or boring. Thor also boasts non-human characters that must be brought to life, such as the Frost Giants and The Destroyer armor – both of which are seen wreaking havoc upon our hero in the Thor trailer.
So far it looks like Branagh and Co. have done a pretty good job. The look and set design of Asgard is pretty inspired, and after a lot of early worries about the science-meets-magic aesthetic of the Asgardian decorum, armor and weapons, nothing in the Thor trailer looked to “plasticky” to me. Thanks to good cinematography and sound editing, the battle scenes look to have properly simulated the physics of the world Thor inhabits, which speaks to something old and Medieval, yet totally new and unique at the same time.
On the other hand, there is a portion of the film which is set in the American Midwest, with Thor roaming around sans his powers, weapons and armor, and despite scenes of The Destroyer blowing stuff up in the desert or Thor kicking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent ass, there still is the danger that the middle third of the movie will have little to offer in terms of visual splendor or awesome effects – or anything besides “character development” for that matter. I can’t say for certain, but it certainly is a worry. Regardless, the sight of Thor’s hammer Mjolnir crackling with thunder before he smacks it down and lays waste to everything around him is pretty freaking awesome.
The Green Lantern movie has director Martin Campbell at the helm, leading an award-winning crew of cinematographers, costume/production designers, artists, makeup and effects gurus. The challenge Campbell and his team are facing is daunting: they must create a multiple races of CGI aliens (The Green Lantern Corps), at least one alien world (Oa) and visual effects that range from the CGI projections of a Lantern’s power ring, to the complex makeup required for supporting players like the villainous Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) and militant Lantern, Sinestro (Mark Strong). Oh, and they have to make all of these fantastical characters, worlds and powers not feel silly.
While we only get brief glimpses in the trailer, so far Campbell and Co. look to have done the job half-right. Oa looks good, the CGI characters (Kilowog, Tomar-Re) look fairly good, the makeup on Sinestro and Hector Hammond looks spectacular, as do the ring projection effects – but Ryan Reynolds’ CGI Green Lantern costume is still highly debatable.
There’s still plenty of time until the release date of Green Lantern and Campbell and his team are no doubt going to be polishing things up until the last minute. As for direction: Campbell is a solid helmer, but while Casino Royale successfully relaunched James Bond, films like Edge of Darkness, Golden Eye, The Mask (and Legend) of Zorro and Vertical Limit were all simply solid – not spectacular. Green Lantern is not a guaranteed hit.
VERDICT: Looking at the track record I would say Branagh is the better director, but Green Lantern’s design and effects are certainly more complicated. I would have to call this one a tie.
Overall Impression and Tone
Thor has me split at the moment. The scenes in Asgard – specifically the power-struggle between Thor, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and father Odin (Hopkins) looks to have serious gravitas. The action scenes look epic and the overall story and tone of the film looks to be sufficiently serious and layered, while never becoming so serious as to sacrifice the fun escapism and epic excitement that a comic book movie should provide.
However, (if you haven’t yet guessed) I am worried about that middle bit of the film set on Earth. I hope (and expect) that Branagh and the gang of screenwriters who worked on the script use Thor’s de-powered time on Earth – and romance with human girl Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) – as an opportunity to tackle themes of humility, heroism and humanity that should be the apogee in Thor’s character arch. If that Earth time doesn’t offer some good story or drags, the film will feel really uneven as a result. Luckily, Branagh is used to telling very human stories without a lot of bells and whistles, so I’m betting we’ll be OK.
If I were only judging the trailer, I would say that Green Lantern looks like a campy wash. However, having seen the script and knowing the details of the mythos created by DC Comics writer Geoff Johns (which is the basis of the film), I also know that despite the early impression, Green Lantern is going to be a more serious and (yes) darker film than people may be expecting.
While some fear Ryan Reynolds’ comedic persona ruining the film’s tone, I think the actor may surprise a lot of his naysayers and deliver the richly complex (and yet stalwart) character that has made Hal Jordan a recent favorite amongst comic fans. Add to that the technical wizardry from the some of the best and most innovative minds in the industry, and it’s understandable that Green Lantern is still riding high on fans’ most anticipated list for 2011.
Of course, all the positive things I just described are based on good faith and not what was shown in this initial trailer. Green Lantern still has a lot to prove, and trailer #2 better be spectacular.
VERDICT: Fair is fair and this post IS titled ‘Trailer Showdown’ and based on that criteria alone (the trailers)… I have to give Marvel’s Thor the early lead.
What did you think about the results of our trailer showdown? Do you agree with our verdict(s)? Which film are you liking best at the moment?
Thor will thunder into theaters on May 6, 2011.
Green Lantern will shine in theaters on June 17, 2011.