Jul 16 2012

Learning Writing Skills from Green Lantern

(Please see the movie before reading this review).


1. The two minutes of voiceover/narration should have been cut. First, do we really need to start the story with the backstory of the Green Lantern Corps? It would probably have been more natural (and less pretentious) to cover this in a conversation with Hal Jordan (probably when he meets up with the Corps on Oa). As it is, I think this information is a distraction from Hal, contributes to a disjoint between what the aliens are doing and what Hal is doing over the first 30 minutes, and is redundant with the two other scenes recapping the purpose and history of the GL Corps.

1.1. When you’re introducing a character and/or organization to readers, I think it’d be more effective to show them in their element rather than through lengthy exposition. We’re later told Abin Sur is a “great light” of the Lanterns, but we never actually see him do anything impressive. Similarly, rather than introduce the GL Corps with a speech, I’d much rather see them doing a typical-but-interesting job (the GL equivalent of a hostage situation or a high-stakes bank robbery). Since the defining characteristic of the GL is supposed to be fearlessness, it’d be better to have them do something memorably courageous than to show them panicking as they face Parallax. Fleeing isn’t the most intuitive way to establish a corps founded on bravery. Moreover, we don’t actually see much fearlessness from the Lanterns over the course of the movie.


2. The relationship between Hal and his father was one-dimensional and did not help develop Hal or the plot. This felt like a very forced way to work courage vs. cowardice into the plot. “You’re not scared, are you, Dad?” “Let’s just say it’s my job not to be.” Ick. Here are some more effective examples of family cameos.

  • Ellie, the main character’s wife in Up. In just a few minutes, each character shows how much they mean to the other. (Spoiler): When she dies, viewers really feel the main character’s loss, whereas Hal’s dialogue with his father is so lifeless that there’s no emotional heft. In contrast, Up’s Ellie-Carl scenes help develop why the main character is lonely and surly for most of the rest of the movie and helps set up some of the immediate conflict between the grouch and the cheerful Boy Scout he gets trapped with. Speaking of which, the Boy Scout’s relationship with his family is also emotionally effective—I’d really recommend seeing this movie if you haven’t already.
  • Batman’s relationship with his father mixes respect and conflict. Ra’s al Ghul points out that Bruce trained to become something like the opposite of his father—if the father had been as physically tough as the son became, they all would have survived Joe Chill. This is more interesting than JUST having the character try to fill his father’s footsteps (a la Hal Jordan). I also like that various other characters try pulling Wayne’s legacy in different ways (e.g. Ghul accuses him of being useless and mocks his philanthropic work, Joe Chill falsely claims that he died begging for his life, Batman risks disgracing his father’s name by cutting himself off from high society, and Joker implicitly disagrees with the elder Wayne about whether Gotham is worth saving, etc).
  • The mother of Kick-Ass has an aneurysm and dies while eating breakfast. This adds some ghoulish comedy and helps reinforce that the main character is lonely and sort of messed-up. It also plays on the comic book trope that the character’s parents will always die in some plot-relevant and meaningful way. Not bad for ten seconds of screen-time.


3. Main character Hal Jordan makes his first appearance 6 minutes into the movie. While I think it’s generally interesting to try scenes without the main characters (e.g. Dark Knight’s ferry scene), focusing on minor characters to the exclusion of the core of the story is probably unsound. I can’t think of any reason to start with the aliens here rather than either 1) starting with Hal and covering the information about the aliens later, probably when Hal meets the aliens or 2) starting with the aliens doing something which directly involves Hal. For example, it might make sense to start with Abin Sur as he’s looking for a Green Lantern—this would help develop what was so impressive about Hal that he caught Abin Sur’s eye.


4. The villains looked and sounded like a bad joke. Most of their dialogue felt almost as bad and corny as supervillain lines from the 1990s. “You are… (dramatic pause) afraid.” The visual design was probably worse, faithfully recreating the look of characters which looked awful in the comics. The lead villain looked like something out of Mars Attacks and anybody who signed off on giving Hector Hammond a scrotum for a forehead should check out Dark Knight’s Joker and ASM’s Lizard for examples of ugly villains that look imposing rather than laughable. As far as physical disfigurement stories go, I would recommend checking out any Clayface story, particularly the two “Feat of Clay” episodes in Batman: The Animated Series. The antagonist has more of a personality and a development arc.

Admit it. You had a similar reaction to Hector Hammond's head.

4.1. I think more limited villains tend to be much more effective. I’d recommend looking at the most memorable villains for, say, Spider-Man or Batman—they’re usually city-wide threats (or occasionally global threats) rather than galactic threats, and I think that helps keep them grounded and remotely believable. For example, in terms of fear-themed villains, I think Scarecrow is vastly more effective than Parallax. Incidentally, using a villain with fear-themed powers might also have helped the moviemakers show what it was that Hal was so afraid of.


5. Taking out Hal Jordan’s secret identity (or maybe doing more with it) would probably have helped.

  • His best friend, girlfriend, and villains all (effortlessly) find out that he is Green Lantern. The secret doesn’t create any drama.
  • Given Hal’s carelessness, a secret identity is not believable. For example, three of Hal’s ex-coworkers come to beat him up and he fends them off with a giant green fist. These characters are never mentioned again. It’d be less of a plot hole if he didn’t have a secret to maintain.
  • It doesn’t make sense that the Green Lanterns would generally have secret identities. Joining the Green Lanterns is repeatedly referred to as “a great honor” and GLs are chosen because they are fearless. If they were fearless, why would they hide the fact that they were doing honorable work?  (Possible explanations: the Corps is uneasy about individuality and/or some members are so modest that they don’t want recognition for doing the right thing). If Hal did want a secret identity, I think it would have been more interesting if that had differentiated him from other GLs and/or led to conflict. Maybe something like “Being a Green Lantern is a great honor for your species, but I’m not really sure what the Air Force would think of an ex-airman pledging allegiance to an intergalactic military alliance that looks down upon our species.”


6. Hal is probably the most unlikable movie superhero in the last 15 years. 

  • He wakes up with a random chick in the opening scene and crudely blows her off.  His sort-of-girlfriend accuses him of “‘flying’ with anybody who will get on the plane” with him. Tony Stark and James Bond are also serial philanderers, but have fewer likability issues here because they’re more charming than crude.
  • He has a notably weak present for the kid (his nephew?), and he wrapped it in a newspaper while driving. Spider-Man has some responsibility issues (e.g. forgetting Aunt May’s eggs), but he was distracted by being a superhero and he later shows some development by remembering the eggs.
  • Social tip: if you’re in an accident serious enough to make the news, tell your family you’re okay, particularly if your father died in a similar accident. His plane goes up in a fireball and he doesn’t even do a Facebook update.
  • He tries to figure out the Oath in a stupid, goofy way, but the worst part is that he has a tantrum when his stupid, goofy way doesn’t work. If you try something as idiotic as yelling “By the power of Greyskull” at an alien artifact, don’t flip out when it doesn’t work.
  •  “I wanted Jenkins instead of you.” “Yeah, well, Jenkins was busy not being good enough.”  This isn’t a horrible line, but it reinforces his unlikability. Tony Stark acts this cocky, but we see that Tony Stark is actually competent enough to earn it. In contrast, in Hal’s first two minutes, he’s late to work for a huge project, manages to botch a child’s birthday present, and delivers possibly the unsexiest parting line ever.  The man-child delivers more incompetence in 2 minutes than many superheroes do in 2 hours.  He’s also more irresponsible than any movie superhero I’ve seen before, including the children in Incredibles and Kick-Ass.
  •  “Without meaning to, you actually did us a favor.” “Look, I’m not comfortable calling myself a hero.”
  • He forgets his girlfriend’s birthday. This isn’t a huge deal by itself, but we see many failures and very few successes on this front.
  • It’d be easier to forgive his immaturity if he were more stereotypically competent and/or tough (the Wolverine/Batman/Dr. Manhattan exception to social norms). He doesn’t deliver on those fronts, either–his girlfriend is tougher than he is. Oof. I can’t see any reason the ring chose him rather than her (or even a random hobo, for that matter).
  • The ring chooses him for no readily-obvious reason. He hasn’t actually earned his role as a superhero.  His flaws would be easier to accept if he had had a better chance to show off his strengths while earning his spot among the Green Lanterns. Please see #7 for more details.
  • His attempt to woo Carol by humming obnoxiously is even more annoying because it works. Totally unbelievable.  She’s a hot CEO. She could do much better than Hal.
  • Mitigation: Hal deflects praise that he’s a doer and not a thinker. This shows more empathy and magnanimity than we see from him throughout the rest of the movie.  Too little, too late.


7. The origin story was lifeless. It would have really helped if Hal and/or Abin Sur had more memorable lines and unusual decisions. Sinestro later criticizes Hal for being unable to fill Abin Sur’s footsteps—“you insult his memory by wearing his ring.” So it would help to have Abin Sur do something here which shows that Abin Sur is genuinely impressive. At the very least, maybe we see Abin Sur defeat ~10 of Parallax’s minions before being mortally wounded, and Hal uses Abin’s ring to defeat the last one. This would help show that, while Hal has much to learn, he’s not totally useless right now; he’s brave and empathetic enough to get involved in a dangerous fight which isn’t his. If he picked up a signature wound here, that might be a helpful symbol of bravery (more subtle than just talking about it all of the time). As it was, Abin Sur showed me nothing to make me care about his death. Hell, I would have missed Coleman Reese more if he had been killed in Dark Knight—he’s a greedy bastard, but he shows a bit of humanness/personality in how he bungles the blackmail scene with Lucius.


8. Some of the one-liners are actually pretty stylish, although more clever than masterful. 

  • TEAMMATE/GIRLFRIEND: “There isn’t anything you can do that they [unmanned planes] can’t do better, faster, and without disappointing women everywhere.” HAL: “I think we both know that’s not true.”
  • GEEKY FRIEND, upon seeing Hal’s ring run out of power: “Did you break it already?”
  • ABIN SUR: “Tell Shintarra—”  SINESTRO: “Shintarra is dead.” ABIN SUR: “The planet’s inhabitants?” SINESTRO: “Permission to evacuate the inhabitants is no longer necessary.” I think this is more chilling and subtle than actually seeing the planet get devoured.


9. There’s a lot of wasted space.  

  • The first 45 seconds of the dogfight scene (9:10-~9:55).
  • The flashback to the father, and every line referencing the father.
  • The nephew’s birthday party.
  • As far as I can tell, every line mentioning fear or courage.
  • All of the voiceovers/narration (including the first two minutes of the movie).
  • Hal’s speech to the Guardians.
  • The first ~40 seconds on Oa, Hal’s shirtless scene. Unless you’re going for a Schumacher vibe, this sort of half-assed attempt at sex appeal is wasted space.
  • The autopsy scene could probably have been shortened and/or sharpened. In particular, the line where the xenobiologist notes that the alien is magenta is just embarrassing. It probably would have been more interesting to have Hammond spend more time examining the wound and speculating about what might have brought the alien to Earth. (“Based on the weaponry found on the craft,…)
  • Most of the racetrack scene. I think a scene could have had Hal save the day, advanced the plot and developed key personality traits in less time. Plus, the action here was goofy and weak.
  • Sinestro’s speech congratulating Hal at the end. I would have preferred something more personal and memorable. For example, I think the three alien Green Lanterns surprising Hal and Carol at a bar would have been more lively. KILOWOGG, to Hal: “Who’s the girl?” CAROL: “Hal’s teammate.” TOMAR-RE, gesturing at Green Lanterns: “Likewise.” CAROL, gently making a joke at the expense of Hal’s irresponsibility: “Oh, are you in for a treat.”
  • “We are Corp!” would have been a cooler moment if something had actually happened here. For example, maybe Hal witnesses what might be a brewing mutiny (e.g. more reckless members want to rush off, but other GLs are waiting for the go-ahead from the Guardians). As it is, they fire their beams and it looks cool, but that could have been taken out because nothing comes of it.


10. The scene transitions could use work. For example, the transition from Hal in the cockpit to Hal day-dreaming about his father’s death is seeing a picture of his father in the cockpit. If he’s that distracted by a picture of his father, why does he have the picture in the cockpit? Another example is when the geeky friend and Hal are talking about Hal’s superpowers, and the friendly randomly ends the conversation with the line “Don’t they [superheroes] usually get the girl?” That’s a really awkward transition to a conversation between Hal and Carol. I think it would have been much smoother to end the conversation with a phone-call by Carol.


11. Important decisions need believable consequences. By violating the terms of engagement in the test, Hal does more than anybody else to ensure that the company will lose a major contract and risk bankruptcy. The owner decides to fire half of the company, but Carol intervenes to spare Hal. WTF? I don’t see why she would, especially after she chews him out for using her as a decoy, destroying his plane, violating the terms of engagement, and losing the contract. She also criticized him for being irresponsibly late and pointed out she would rather have had Jensen. It doesn’t feel believable that she goes so easy on him. (She explains that it’s because she cares about him so much, but we don’t actually see him earn that consideration—also, there’s no indication that their relationship is serious at that point and she even acknowledges it when she says “you’ll fly with anybody who will get in the plane with you”).

  • “Hal, I just don’t want to see someone I care about getting hurt.” Oof. Show how he earns this. Work in consequences for actions. Amazing Spider-Man did a better job here—construction workers help Peter Parker, a favor he earned by saving a trapped child even though it meant letting Lizard go.


12. The conversations could be more coherent. For example, in a conversation where Carol is mainly berating Hal for his irresponsibility and losing the company the contract, Hal randomly shifts to criticizing her for wearing a business-suit. This could be a lot smoother—for example, tie this into the main thread of conversation. For example, maybe he points out that she’s coming at him like a businesswoman rather than a pilot—he made a bad business decision by not losing, but fighter pilots play to win.

  • “The bigger you are, the faster you burn.” In context, this doesn’t feel natural coming from a 8-foot alien to a 6-foot human. If Hal had made a huge mech for himself, then this would make more sense.
  • “The Lantern is a threat. Eliminate him.”  It would help a lot if GL had actually done something to earn this. He interrupted a minor crime, but not successfully. I just can’t see a world-eating monster giving GL any notice at this point. In contrast, when the gangs go after Batman in Dark Knight, he has certainly earned that status—he’s disrupted their operations so much that the gang leaders are scared to go out at night.


13. There were too few unusual decisions, especially for minor characters.

  • Hal uses Carol as a decoy in the simulation. Clever, but I would have preferred if there had been more of a consequence to this—like shooting down one of the unmanned planes.
  • Hal violates the terms of engagement. Good character and plot development here (although it would have made more sense if Carol had actually done something about his recklessness).
  • Kilowogg sucker-punches GL while helping him up. “Your enemy… he’s not gonna play fair.”
  • GL leaves the Corps. Surprisingly light on consequences. Please see #23 for more details.
  • Hector is angry that his father secretly got him a prime assignment ahead of scientists that have been waiting their entire lives.  This is the closest he gets to human.
  • GL takes off his ring and offers it to the villain in exchange for sparing Carol. Gutsy/stupid.  This decision would have been clever if there had been any consequences to it, but GL might as well have just engaged the villain directly.
  • GL risks himself to make sure that the villain will get sucked into the sun. Clever play on fear, I think.
  • Missed opportunity: Hal puts very little thought into his nephew’s gift. It would have been more interesting if there had been consequences.
  • Missed opportunity: taking the Oath should have been an unusual decision, but it was not made consciously. If the choice had actually been Hal’s, it probably would have developed him more.
  • Missed opportunity: a scene where most characters would have apologized but Hal does not. Otherwise, cut the line that Hal never apologizes.
  • Missed opportunity: anything for Carol besides an inexplicable decision to spare Hal’s job.
  • Missed opportunity: anything for the geeky friend.


14. There were several plot-holes.

  • Why does Hal call in his geeky friend (who we haven’t seen before) when he comes across a crashed flying saucer? Is there any reason he’d rather have an undeveloped geek with him here rather than, say, his wingman Carol?
  • There are at least 10 streetlights in the background when Hal approaches the alien spaceship. This scene might make more sense if it were in a more deserted area.
  • After Sinestro has been named the leader of the mission to defeat Parallax, why does Sinestro care so much about this new recruit Hal rather than, umm, worrying about how to defeat Parallax? (If Hal had defeated any of Parallax’s minions in the origin story, this might be more believable—then Sinestro might want to see if this new guy was actually promising or just got lucky once).
  • How does GL know that there’s a fight at the secret government facility?  (3 second fix: have the ring alert him to an enemy using powers from Parallax).
  • Why does Sinestro use the yellow ring after Parallax has been defeated?
  • I might have missed this, but how does Hammond get away from the government facility without GL catching him?
  • Besides Senator Hammond, nobody seems to notice that Hector Hammond looks like an absolute freak.  For example, one of the guards could have asked him if he needs medical assistance.  Then we might feel more sorry for the characters about to get killed.
  • Parallax’s leading minion on Earth just happens to be an old acquaintance of Hal and Carol? This might be contrived. Plus, how many Senators’ sons grow up alongside Air Force brats?


15. Killing off characters without any development is not liable to make an emotional impression. Again, I’d recommend checking out Up and Kick-Ass for more ideas about how to use a death to develop the characters/plot and make a lasting impression on viewers.  Green Lantern could have done a lot more with these characters:

  • Abin Sur
  • Hal’s father
  • Amanda Waller’s husband
  • The faceless extras at the government facility
  • The Green Lanterns sent to defeat Parallax


16. The Green Lantern Oath should be cut or readapted. Hal Jordan stumbling through this scene is one of the most painful things I’ve witnessed in a superhero movie.  I think the writers originally wanted to take it seriously/solemnly, but realized how stupid it was to have the character go through this scene knowing as little as he did. It might have been a better plan to let the character know what the oath is, but make him uneasy about proceeding for some reason. (If H.P. Lovecraft has taught me anything, pacts with alien artifacts should not be made lightly 😉 ). Avengers incorporated its comic book legacy much more effectively than GL did here–Avengers made changes like shedding most of the superhero names almost entirely (to make conversations feel more natural) and giving Hulk only one line of dialogue (“Puny god”). Avengers gave the “Hulk smash” catchphrase to another character, which cleverly threaded the needle between Hulk fans that want to hear the catchphrase and viewers that would have felt stupid listening to Hulk referring to himself in the third-person.

  • If Hal hadn’t known the oath, rather than having him idiotically grope around with “by the power of Greyskull,” I would have preferred if he had treated the lantern as an intelligent entity. For example, “Hey, you chose me. If you want to work with me, explain what’s going on and I’ll consider your offer. Otherwise, I’m going back to [whatever].”  It’s a bit crazy and self-entitled, but it comes across as less idiotic than the original scene does.
  • Hal goes into a trance and starts reciting the oath. Umm, what? His decision to sign on might be more interesting if he does so of his own will.


17. The romance between Hal and Carol needs a world of help. I was particularly unimpressed by the scene where he keeps humming as he asks her to dance. She says no three times, he keeps humming, and then the camera cuts to them dancing. I lost respect for her because she falls for this horrible pickup. In contrast, I can totally see why ladies fall for Tony Stark and Xavier. They’ve got charm.  For example, Xavier took a creative and memorable approach praising random women for their genetic mutations in First Class, whereas Green Lantern dropped forgettable lines like “You look pretty.”

  • The conversation between Carol and GL right before GL faces Parallax is (you guessed it) painful. In terms of conversations where one character thinks another is about to die, even a video game does better—in Arkham City, Batman gets increasingly sick and Oracle eventually gets so worried that she asks Batman about contingency plans in the event of his death. This felt to me like a serious person thinking seriously about how to handle a potential disaster. In contrast, I just wanted to throw a towel at Carol. The war is on right now—save any tears for the funeral.


18. Protagonist-vs-protagonist conflict is lacking and antagonist-vs-antagonist is nonexistent. Hal vs. Kilowogg was very brief, but I thought Kilowogg was sort of memorable because he’s more likable than most drill instructor characters.  Hal vs. Carol stalls early (when she saves his job) and never recovers.


19. For the sake of plot coherence, Hal needs to reach the Green Lantern homeworld much sooner than 39 minutes in. Prior to this point, nothing connects Hal to the central plot (defeating Parallax). If I had been rewriting the script from scratch, I probably would have had Hal meet Abin Sur around 10 minutes in and reach Oa 12-15 minutes in. Until Hal gets to Oa, everything the aliens do will probably feel like a distraction.

  • Over the course of the movie, I would also recommend having the aliens interact more with humans (ideally besides just Hal). That would probably help them feel like they’re in the same movie as the humans.


20. The scene introducing Hal to the GL Corps is largely ineffective. Instead of having a pretty basic conversation about where they are and covering the backstory for a third time* (!), it would probably have been more interesting to have the alien start asking Hal questions to make sure that his knowledge-base is working properly. (Remember, they’re not sure if it will work on a species as young as humans). Then, when Hal asks questions, he can just skip to stuff more interesting than “Where are we?”

  • *The voiceover at the beginning, the conversation with Abin Sur, and Hal’s arrival on Oa. I’d recommend covering this only once (or at least not overlapping from one explanation to the next).
  • Adding setbacks probably would have helped GL’s training sequence. For example, Neo fails to make the leap of faith in The Matrix, and his failure raises the stakes and raises doubts about whether he’s the one the protagonists have been looking for. In contrast, Green Lantern has a 2-second setback learning how to fly, but 95% of the scene is him succeeding without any lasting setbacks.
  • Cut (or dramatically shorten) the conversation about the significance of the color green. I’d much rather they developed characters and plot points which actually matter. For example, what’s his first task as a Green Lantern? What sort of things will he be called upon to do as a GL?


21. The aliens might have been more memorable if they had been more individualized.

  • More protagonist-vs-protagonist conflict. This is a sign that characters are actually following their own agendas and motivations. I’d like to contrast this with, say, the Avengers or the Gotham Police Department—most of the members are on different pages at least some of the time.
  • More personality and individual development. Besides Kilowogg and Sinestro, everybody was useless.  It might have helped to come up with something to occupy most of the Green Lanterns, like a raging war with Parallax’s minions/sympathizers. As it was, it looked like 99% of the GLs were sitting around while a planet-sized monster was killing everybody. What sort of courage-based peacekeeping operation is this?
  • Besides the unnamed insect alien and possibly Kilowogg, the Green Lanterns mostly looked like weirdly-colored humans. Not terribly memorable.  If you’re going to go with an epic space saga, I think it would help to show us things we haven’t seen before. I thought the cantina scene in Star Wars was much more effective here.


22. The superpowers could have been used in a much more impressive way. Go-karts. Oh, God, go-karts. This scene probably cost more than $5 million and is still laughably inept and corny. The use of go-karts is the only major decision in the scene, and it’s a real head-scratcher. (It’d be in-character for Billy Batson, maybe, but a fighter pilot?) Another character points out how much this scene sucked. “A race track. That’s the best you could come up with for your first big appearance?” “I’m sorry, did I disappoint you?” YES. Batman does much more with what he can fit in a belt. Nightcrawler mixed a heretofore-forgettable ability with acrobatics to execute the most memorable White House scene since Nixon threatened to pop a cap in his vice president. Chronicle’s characters were fittingly immature with their superpowers in a charming and fun way.  Hal Jordan had nigh-unlimited powers and he came up with a neon racetrack.


23. Hal’s departure from the Green Lanterns could have been more memorable if there had been more consequences. For example, they should probably confiscate his lantern—that way, the ring will eventually die out, but he’ll have enough energy to get back to Earth. This would give him a brief window of time to redeem himself and/or reconsider his decision to leave the Corps. I’d also want to put more thought into why he returns. As it is, it’s just the voiceover repeating “To be chosen by the ring is the highest of honors and the greatest of responsibilities. The ring never makes a mistake.”  If that was enough to change his mind, why didn’t it work the first time? I would instead have him get back to Earth, get drawn into a crisis and manage something brave and responsible, convincing him that he might actually be fit for this position. (Then, when he gets back home, he could find his lantern and a “Welcome back” note).


24. A more complex style of pacing the scenes might have helped. In Green Lantern, almost all of the scenes were self-contained. One would be introduced and finished, and the next would be introduced and finished. In contrast, other movies have done a MUCH better job mixing things up, like introducing one scene, temporarily switching to another, and then finishing the first. For example, Dark Knight used this really effectively to build anticipation and/or raise the stakes during certain scenes. The ferry scene was interspersed with the scene where Batman tries to stop a SWAT team from shooting hostages dressed as criminals; the SWAT scene is more urgent and desperate because we know the ferry passengers are on the line. Coleman Reese threatens to reveal Batman’s secret identity, but then the scene switches and the movie waits about 10 minutes to actually resolve the Reese scene—I think that helps establish how many different problems are unfolding in Batman’s life and helps build anticipation for the resolution to the Reese threat.


25. Don’t force characters into conversations they aren’t prepared to have. “This new weapon of yours, you can’t use it. Once you’ve crossed that line, once you’ve given into fear, you’ll never go back. I’ve seen it.” 1) There’s no way he knows enough about this plot thread to actually deliver these lines. 2) Given his personal history, I don’t understand why he’d have this point of view. “You’ll never go back if you give into fear”? Umm, what? He gave into fear by leaving the Green Lantern Corps, but came back.

  • “How did we end up so different?” This would be a lot more interesting if the characters had any similarities to begin with. For example, Harvey Dent might plausibly ask this of Batman after he becomes Two-Face. It makes a lot less sense for Hector and Hal, though–Hector is an unassertive and presumably intelligent professor; Hal is a dumb test pilot.


26. Miscellaneous snark about the conversations.

  • “You don’t think your dad ever felt afraid?” Oh, God, not THIS again.
  • GIRLFRIEND: “You’re going to throw it away again. Please explain this to me, Hal. Just once…” HAL: “Because I’m afraid!”  Oof. This doesn’t sound believable—too on the nose. Somebody that actually was afraid would probably say something along the lines of “I can’t do it” or make up some excuse. No guy—least of all a jet pilot—would admit that he isn’t brave enough, especially to his girlfriend.
  • “You’re afraid to even admit you’re afraid. I know. I spent my entire life doing that.” This doesn’t fit with the character, who outwardly exhibits very little cowardice and has a stereotypically courageous job (test pilot). For example, he runs towards trouble when the helicopter malfunctions and, even before he knows he has superpowers, he handles a 3-on-1 fight pretty admirably. Even after he’s gotten his ass kicked, he calls out the assailants, showing he’s not beaten. If he actually WERE afraid, I think he would have run at the first sign things were going to get ugly. He would have kept his mouth shut rather than goading the attackers again. After losing the company a huge contract, he might have quit his job quietly rather than face the music.
  • “Let me go fight for my world.” What’s he asking for? Just go and do it. I’d recommend just ending the conversation with a question: “Where can I find him?”
  • One minor touch I did like: when Hal comes back to Oa and lays out this crazy-brave plan of taking on the nigh-omnipotent villain, Sinestro ends the conversation with “Good luck, Green Lantern.” It’s a subtle show of respect for a GL that has impressed him with courage. I think this is the first time in the movie Sinestro addresses him as a Green Lantern.


27. Final verdict: Green Lantern is probably the worst movie either DC or Marvel has come out with since 2000. If I were on a plane, I’d literally rather listen to the jet engines than watch this movie. Out of 2 hours of screen-time, perhaps 15 minutes were better than a jet engine. In contrast, Catwoman had 20-30 watchable minutes: Benjamin Bratt’s scenes were generally at least decent and Catwoman’s action/fight scenes were significantly better than GL’s.

UPDATE: As of 2016, GL is still the gold standard of awfulness. E.g. Batman Vs. Superman wasn’t well-written and there were some moments that were comedically bad like the bat-elevator, but at least it wasn’t Green Lantern.

53 responses so far

53 Responses to “Learning Writing Skills from Green Lantern”

  1. B. McKenzieon 16 Jul 2012 at 5:15 pm

    5300 words. Oof. Good job for making it through this article, but great job for making it through this movie.

  2. YellowJujuon 16 Jul 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Great, now whenever I scroll down to the recent comments, I have to look at a bloated forehead. Just great 😉

  3. YoungAuthoron 16 Jul 2012 at 6:16 pm

    “…anybody who signed off on giving Hector Hammond a scrotum for a forehead should check out Dark Knight’s Joker …” HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA. I actually lol’d. Never read anything funnier.

    And I thought Green Lantern was decent. Obviously it was no Dark Knight but I thought it wasn’t too bad. I personally liked Hal Jordan (he reminds me of the main character I’m writing) becasue he had a ton of character development. He started from being a sexist reckless sleezebag to saving his world and willing to die for it. Though I do agree with most of these points and it could have been much better

  4. B. McKenzieon 16 Jul 2012 at 7:57 pm

    “Great, now whenever I scroll down to the recent comments, I have to look at a bloated forehead.” My apologies. Hopefully someone, somewhere is learning from this nightmare fuel. It boggles my mind that Hector Hammond and (to a lesser extent) Parallax made it to the final cut looking like they did.

    ““…anybody who signed off on giving Hector Hammond a scrotum for a forehead should check out Dark Knight’s Joker …” HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA. I actually lol’d. Never read anything funnier.” I’d recommend an emergency prescription of Dave Berry and Dave Chapelle.

  5. B. McKenzieon 16 Jul 2012 at 8:04 pm

    “I personally liked Hal Jordan (he reminds me of the main character I’m writing) because he had a ton of character development.” I’d generally be wary of taking characterization cues from a movie that got 27% on Rotten Tomatoes and lost more money than any other film in the history of cinema.

  6. Chihuahua Zeroon 16 Jul 2012 at 8:20 pm

    I actually read through all of this over a span of forty minutes or so (while switching through tabs the entire time). #24 makes me want to watch The Dark Knight just to see how the scenes you described there unfold.

    Now I need to focus on my writing.

  7. B. McKenzieon 16 Jul 2012 at 8:26 pm

    “#24 makes me want to watch The Dark Knight just to see how the scenes you described there unfold.” I highly recommend watching it. It is heads and shoulders better than any other superhero movie by Warner Bros.

  8. Carl Shinyamaon 16 Jul 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Even in the comics, we don’t often see Abin Sur do anything impressive.

    Though, I’ll be fair: While I didn’t see him DO anything impressive, I remember one appearance in which he made interesting decisions. In Green Lantern: Secret Origin, Abin Sur defied the GL Corps’ guardians by looking for proof of the Blackest Night when he was forbidden to even discuss the subject further, then he also defied the GL Corps’ territorial edict to pursue said truth, flew in a ship in space rather than use his ring, and freed Atrocitus from his prison to use his aid in locating proof of Blackest Night.

    I thought that made him much more interesting, if not more likable.

  9. YellowJujuon 16 Jul 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Yeah…that looked pretty awful. I’ve never read a Green Lantern comic. Is Hector Hammond in the comics? If so, does he have the forehead scrotum?

  10. YellowJujuon 16 Jul 2012 at 9:05 pm

    Never mind, that was a stupid question. I could have just as easily googled him.

  11. B. McKenzieon 16 Jul 2012 at 9:34 pm

    “If so, does he have the forehead scrotum [in the comics]?” Yes, but I think they would probably have been better off changing this for the cinematic adaptation. In terms of remaining true to the source material, I think it’s most important to capture the feel of the original, but I think purely cosmetic changes are usually pretty safe there. For example, I haven’t heard many X-Men fans complain that the movie shied away from blue-and-yellow spandex for the protagonists. Likewise, I couldn’t imagine many Green Lantern fans complaining that the villain’s head didn’t look like a… well, you know.

  12. deadmanshandon 16 Jul 2012 at 9:44 pm

    It’s subtle but I don’t think you enjoyed Green Lantern. lol

    I can’t blame you. It was really, really bad. Forget my issues with other superhero movies – this is the worst superhero movie of the current generation. Barring the inclusion of such gems as Mercury Man.

  13. B. McKenzieon 16 Jul 2012 at 10:14 pm

    “Forget my issues with other superhero movies – this is the worst superhero movie of the current generation.” If we had to pick the worst superhero movie regardless of budget, I’d probably go with Zoom. It received 3% on Rotten Tomatoes. But my expectations for a movie with a shoestring budget are much lower than for a movie with Green Lantern’s production budget of $200 million. I would say that Green Lantern is certainly the worst superhero movie with a budget of more than $150 million.

  14. MScaton 17 Jul 2012 at 1:39 am

    I just had a quick thought I wanted to share on the subject. I agree that Abin Sur should have done something (even briefly) to develop him as this great and respected lantern.

    Idea: Abin Sur flies his ship to a remote sector. Sinestro asks why he has entered a sector that the guardians have deemed forbidden. Abin Sur responds by telling him that he had received a distress call and could not ignore a cry for help. He is then attacked by Parallax’s forces. Abin Sur fight off most of them but is over powered and injured. (the rest you can figure out 😉 )

    I don’t know if it’s the best idea but in a short scene i think I did a pretty good job of showing that Abin Sur is focused on defending the innocent even outside his sector. He’s also not afraid to defy the guardians for the greater good (an act the probably wouldn’t tolerate unless he was a well respected member of the corpes). Also if the fight scene is done right it can show that Abin Sur is a very powerful and capable fighter.

    This was just my thoughts on improving one aspect of the film.

  15. ekimmakon 17 Jul 2012 at 4:48 am

    You seem to have a lot of articles on learning from movie scripts these days.

  16. JPon 17 Jul 2012 at 5:21 am

    This is very in depth thanks B. Mac. This really helps me with one of my main characters who’s built similarly as Hal: cocky and irresponsible. Now i have guide to avoid my character from being unlikable while still having those traits, but what did you mean by “It’d be easier to forgive his immaturity if he were more stereotypically competent and/or tough (the Wolverine/Batman/Dr. Manhattan exception to social norms)”?

    Also, is there a column on the website about writing a superhero group? The approach is different from just the traditional single superhero and I could really use some advice.

  17. deadmanshandon 17 Jul 2012 at 9:04 am

    “If we had to pick the worst superhero movie regardless of budget, I’d probably go with Zoom. It received 3% on Rotten Tomatoes.”

    You haven’t seen Mercury Man then. It made Zoom look like Citizen Kane.

    JP – “but what did you mean by “It’d be easier to forgive his immaturity if he were more stereotypically competent and/or tough (the Wolverine/Batman/Dr. Manhattan exception to social norms)”?”

    What he meant is that he didn’t have anything special that allowed him to get away with not conforming to social norms. Like him being late to work or breaking the rules of engagement would have been easier to swallow if he had just been so damned good at his job that they couldn’t get rid of him (I call this House Syndrome). Or being late to his nephew’s b-day party and getting him a crappy gift because he was doing something that actually showed an interesting facet to his personality – like him being late from trying to stop a mugging. Successful or not you could have forgiven him being a late, useless jackass because there was a good reason.

  18. M. Happenstanceon 17 Jul 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Question to all: if you were selected as a Green Lantern, how would you use your powers in combat? I’d like to see how many people can win the Better Green Lantern Than Movie Hal Jordan Award.

    If it were me, I think I’d start with some forcefield armor. Something intimidating, yet practical. Adaptive, too, since I can shift it on the fly.

  19. LanternGreenon 17 Jul 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Clearly using a ton of guns and missiles and planes with a ring like that. I feel that GL was more comical than most hero movies but overall i was disappointed

  20. B. McKenzieon 17 Jul 2012 at 2:38 pm

    “You seem to have a lot of articles on learning from movie scripts these days.” If you have any suggestions for other writing articles, I would appreciate them.

  21. B. McKenzieon 17 Jul 2012 at 3:10 pm

    What did you mean by “It’d be easier to forgive his immaturity if he were more stereotypically competent and/or tough (the Wolverine/Batman/Dr. Manhattan exception to social norms)”? I think DMH nailed it here: “Successful or not you could have forgiven him being a late, useless jackass [if] there was a good reason.” Readers will put up with more **** from a character if he has earned it in some way.

    Yes, Tony Stark is arrogant, but he is a master of charisma and executed a daring escape from a heavily-armed squad of terrorists with only a box of scraps and his wits. Hal Jordan is arrogant, but he has nothing to be arrogant about. He can’t even manage to get a decent birthday present and his one vaguely-competent moment in the first half of the movie (managing to shoot down the enemy jets) didn’t even count for anything positive because he had to cheat on the rules of engagement to do it. (I’d recommend checking out Kirk’s handling of the Kobayashi Maru in the new Star Trek movie for a more interesting example of breaking the rules to prove a point).

    Yes, Spider-Man made some irresponsible mistakes (like forgetting Aunt May’s eggs), but he was busy being a superhero and, besides, I think it’s more forgivable if a teenager forgets groceries than if an adult treats a girlfriend in a really shoddy way (e.g. Hal’s opening scene) or really half-asses a kid’s birthday. In addition, Spider-Man has some moments of unusual maturity, like handling Captain Stacey with exceptional diplomacy even after Stacey has proven to be an utter toolbox and outing himself to Gwen Stacey almost immediately after becoming Spider-Man (rather than leaving her blissfully unaware of the danger she’s in). The closest Hal comes to notable maturity is deflecting a compliment, which is very little, very late.

    Yes, Wolverine is an ass, but he’s also a badass. Hal Jordan is an ass, but he’s an emotionally fragile failure that isn’t particularly good at anything.

    As it was, it looked like the writers were trying to make Hal come across as a lovable loser, but I only saw the loser. He had so few redeeming qualities. Moreover, other characters recognized that he was a failure, but didn’t do anything about it. For example, given how often Carol criticizes his job performance and his qualities as a friend/lover, it doesn’t feel believable that she’d intervene to save his job.

    To get this movie to a vaguely decent score on Rotten Tomatoes (i.e. let’s say 50%), I think Hal Jordan would probably need to be much less of an ass.

  22. B. McKenzieon 17 Jul 2012 at 3:28 pm

    “Question to all: if you were selected as a Green Lantern, how would you use your powers in combat?” I’m not sure, but there’s a scene in The Taxman Must Die where (spoiler) a character with imprecise telekinetic skills has to save (what’s left of) a helicopter transporting a bioweapon sample which gets hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. He’s not comfortable enough with his skills to try to psychically hold the helicopter’s parts together for a soft landing. Instead, he grabs a ton of soil, forms a crude hand, and encases the helicopter, trying to land the fist as softly as he can. Everybody on the helicopter suffers some sort of moderate injury, but the force of the landing is mitigated enough that the CDC case survives the drop without releasing the virus into the air.

    I think the visual of a huge hand of dirt grabbing a helicopter is more interesting (and takes less time) than a mostly-goofy racecar track.

  23. deadmanshandon 17 Jul 2012 at 4:34 pm

    “BOLD talk. I will try to find a copy of MM.”

    I’m going to apologize ahead of time. It’s painful unless you have a group of friends pulling a MST3K on it. We’re talking the Room or Birdemic level bad.

    “Question to all: if you were selected as a Green Lantern, how would you use your powers in combat?”

    This may sound strange but here we go. Chains. I’ve encountered the chains as supernatural weapon motifs in a number of places (Spawn, Hellraiser, the MTG novels concerning Chainer, and others) and the imagery is potent. When pressed in a stressful situation to fall back to either training or the first image that comes to mind. My training for stressful situations comes from a background as an amateur boxer and kickboxer and wouldn’t help on the Lantern end of things. Imagery would. In this case the imagery of chains catching or binding people and objects is a powerful one. It’s dominance. An enemy is never more defeated than when he kneels bound at your feet. A potent image. For a good example see the episode of Avatar the Last Airbender where Aang finally beats the Firelord. It doesn’t use chains but it’s the same imagery of completely dominating your opponent.

    I like that image.

  24. JPon 17 Jul 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Nobody’s still answered my question if there’s a post here about writing superhero groups….

  25. deadmanshandon 17 Jul 2012 at 5:42 pm

    I haven’t seen one. Try looking under Superhero Writing Articles in the sidebar at the top.

  26. JPon 17 Jul 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Thanks I’ll go through all of it. And B. Mac have you ever watched I Am Number Four?

  27. deadmanshandon 17 Jul 2012 at 6:49 pm

    I am Number Four was entertaining movie based off a god awful book.

  28. M. Happenstanceon 17 Jul 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Haven’t seen the film, but I read the book once, on my cousin’s Kindle in a stuffy Chinese restaurant. It’s probably a good thing that I was stuck there for two hours, because I would have never picked it up otherwise. Let’s just say that I spent those two hours waiting for the book to get interesting. Spoiler alert: it never did.

    It’s Twilight with aliens, and the authors didn’t even try to disguise that.

  29. B. McKenzieon 18 Jul 2012 at 12:12 am

    “And B. Mac have you ever watched I Am Number Four?” I have watched the movie (but haven’t read the book). As far as teen superhero movies go, I highly recommend Chronicle, Kick-Ass, and any of the Spider-Man movies instead. I Am Number Four received 32% on Rotten Tomatoes. That feels about right to me.

  30. JPon 18 Jul 2012 at 12:23 am

    Well do you think you could do a break-down of I Am Number Four too? My book’s genre resembles more of that (Sci-fi, young adult fantasy novel) than comic book superheroes, so a post about it would really help a lot.

  31. B. McKenzieon 18 Jul 2012 at 12:47 am

    I’ll see if I have time for I Am Number Four, but I focus on the three following types of works:
    1) Quality superhero novels (and perhaps short stories), ideally exhibiting at least one element of really strong writing.
    2) Superhero movies, ideally 70%+ on Rotten Tomatoes.
    3) Incredible movies (ideally 90%+ on Rotten Tomatoes) which have some plot element or writing technique which might be relevant to superhero writers. Personally, I learn more from incredible works outside of my genres than mediocre works within them. For example, Up would probably help in terms of character development, voice, protagonist vs. protagonist conflict, plot coherence, symbolism, and emotional impact.

  32. deadmanshandon 18 Jul 2012 at 10:34 am

    I would like to hear your thoughts on Chronicle, B. It had, I thought, a surprisingly well done descent into villainy.

  33. Aj of Earthon 18 Jul 2012 at 11:53 am

    I Am Number Four was just ok I thought. I never read the book(s?) so I had no source material to gague it off of, but if it was as bad as you all are saying then I suppose it doesn’t matter… I can’t say that I would watch it again though, which is probably all that needs to be said.

    Ditto for Chronicle. The concept was fun, but it was undeveloped. Things were just left unresolved. …And the whole city street Akira showdown?… Dunno, it had the potential to be righteous I think if a little more time was spent on it. Instead I came away thinking of ways it could have been a lot better.

    Are we a fan of the Hellboy movies/comic/animation here? I know not quite the traditional superhero genre, but they are in fact heroes and the storytelling is great.

  34. YellowJujuon 18 Jul 2012 at 11:54 am

    The filming annoyed me in Chronicle.

  35. M. Happenstanceon 18 Jul 2012 at 1:31 pm

    In my opinion, Chronicle was an interesting film with a disappointing final showdown. I think the climax would have been much more interesting if the Andrew there resembled the Andrew we’d spent the rest of the film with, as opposed to the forgettable mad-with-power telekinetic we got. I think that the finale would have had a more emotional conclusion if he had still been recognizable as himself.

  36. B. McKenzieon 18 Jul 2012 at 4:28 pm

    I’ve moved the picture of Hector Hammond below the fold. It was freaking out people just looking for the most recent comments. Congratulations, WB visual designers–you really outdid yourself this time.

  37. YellowJujuon 18 Jul 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Thanks! Haha

  38. Frenzyon 22 Jul 2012 at 10:51 am

    I personally liked Hal the most, to be honest. Sure, he’s got a lot of “negative” traits, but I think they make him more interesting. I mean, my two main characters are both villains; they kill people who even slightly annoy them without giving it a second thought, one of them hates pretty much everyone and has a horrible attitude that is certainly not likeable, but they’re interesting. You could create the most likeable heroes ever but if they’re not interesting then . . . well, they won’t interest the reader.
    I’m not saying it was a brilliant movie (although, I do tend to like bad movies), but I’m saying that I find him far more interesting than some of the more “mainstream” heroes. Take Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker for example. I believe that the reason so many disliked him was because he was so bland, and the only times he ever did show emotion (as Parker, not Spider-Man) was to bitch and whine (especially in the first two). Though I haven’t seen it in a while, I remember finding him incredibly boring.
    Hal is at least interesting and doesn’t come across as boring, which I find much worse than being unlikable (at least in story telling).

  39. B. McKenzieon 22 Jul 2012 at 2:00 pm

    “Sure, he’s got a lot of ‘negative’ traits, but I think they make him more interesting.” I’m not adverse to negative traits, but he needs redeeming qualities. I think he’s like Tony Stark minus any semblance of competence/brilliance.

  40. YellowJujuon 23 Jul 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Have you ever thought about doing reviews of Spiderman 1, 2 and 3?

  41. Gibsonon 26 Jul 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Holy analysis batman!

    Very nice run-down. I was thinking about the movie the other day, its more of a superhero parody than actual superhero film. There’s not much more to say-the film just didn’t work.

    Sorry to say my review was not nearly as in-depth as yours:


  42. B. McKenzieon 26 Jul 2012 at 7:50 pm

    “Have you ever thought about doing reviews of Spiderman 1, 2 and 3?” I suspect that I will have 1 and 2 done within a month, but I’m not sure so far how I would approach Spider-Man 3.

  43. B. McKenzieon 26 Jul 2012 at 7:57 pm

    Hello, Gibson. I think a lot of your points are dead-on.

    “Yet they chose to imprison him just below a planet’s surface, with no guards. And the prison, a sort of crystal chamber, is so well-constructed, the mere presence of three alien explorers triggers Parallax to break free… Maybe a cooler intro would’ve been having some space alien seek out Parallax’s power or trying to free him. Then there could’ve been a fight scene.” That would have been a more promising way to introduce the GL Corps than having explorers randomly stumble upon a galactic-level threat imprisoned in a prison which could be defeated by a five year old with a shovel. You could also use this to set up a more interesting lieutenant for Parallax than Hector Hammond, and then have this lieutenant fight Abin Sur to an epic draw which ends up killing one or both.

    Another option would have been giving Parallax some sort of army, which could give the GLs something to do besides sit around. Or maybe add a GL vs. GL conflict (like an attempted mutiny or something). If Hal’s main internal struggle is getting over fear, it might be thematically helpful to see how other characters deal with fear (or fail to). Instead of having Parallax randomly kill people, it might be better to give the craven a choice between signing onto his evil plan or being immediately killed.

  44. YellowJujuon 26 Jul 2012 at 11:04 pm

    “I’m not sure so far how I would approach Spider-Man 3.”
    What’s different with 3?

  45. B. McKenzieon 27 Jul 2012 at 3:03 am

    Unlike most of the movies I’ve done so far, Spider-Man 3 is neither really good nor abysmal.

  46. YellowJujuon 27 Jul 2012 at 9:46 am

    It’s definitely the least memorable of the three.

  47. B. McKenzieon 28 Jul 2012 at 4:47 am

    It definitely suffered from too many characters.

  48. Slickon 01 Aug 2012 at 5:56 pm

    I think Mark Strong did a great job as Sinestro.

  49. Anonymouson 13 Aug 2012 at 3:42 pm

    You wrote what i thought… are you a mind reader?

  50. Nayanon 06 Oct 2012 at 3:07 am

    In ‘Green Lantern’, Black Lively’s character was not developed at all. She did not contribute anything to the plot. Thats why, i think ‘The dark knight’ is the best superhero movie. Rachel Dawes was deeply developed. Even Goldman Reese had to do something

  51. B. McKenzieon 06 Oct 2012 at 4:24 am

    “Blake Lively’s character was not developed at all. She did not contribute anything to the plot.” Agreed. She spent 99%+ of her time doing things that 99%+ of love interests do. There was so little creative spark to her character. In contrast, I’d recommend checking out Peeta from Hunger Games, the unsteady marriage between Helen and Bob in The Incredibles, the aborted romance between Mystique and McCoy in First Class, and maybe Vesper from Casino Royale.

    Looking back on Blake Lively, the first snarky rejoinder that comes to mind is “Even EVE had more interesting dialogue, and she had a vocabulary of ~2 words.”

  52. Nayanon 21 Feb 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Green Lantern also had consistency problem. In this movie, Hal Jordan wakes up with a randon girl in his bed. That meant he was shown as a playboy. But in the entire movie, he did not give that impression. In fact, he seemed like a loser.

  53. B. McKenzieon 21 Feb 2013 at 10:25 pm

    “In this movie, Hal Jordan wakes up with a randon girl in his bed. That meant he was shown as a playboy. But in the entire movie, he did not give that impression. In fact, he seemed like a loser.” That’s a good point. However, would you agree that he does come off as a loserish wannabe-playboy during the scene? “There’s water in the tap” makes him sound incompetent enough that I felt it could be consistent with his deer-in-the-headlights approach throughout the rest of the movie.

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