Five important lessons that 'The Flash' can learn from the failure of 'Green Lantern'


Image Credit: TM and DC Comics/Warner Bros

Toot-toot, everyone hop onboard the sequel train! This summer’s gaggle of superhero films experienced mixed results at the box office. Thor and Captain America were good but not quite Iron Man. X-Men: First Class proved that most moviegoers would just prefer a new Wolverine, thankyousomuch. And Green Lantern was the rare bad movie that marketing and foreign audiences couldn’t save, grossing a mere $154 million worldwide. But Warner Bros. is unbowed by the emerald superhero’s box office failure: Studio president Jeff Robinov tells the Los Angeles Times that the studio is currently developing a Lantern sequel. (Robinov explains, “We need to make it a little edgier and darker,” which is true, although I’d settle for just “better,” too.)

More intriguingly, the studio is discussing a potential film based on super-speedster the Flash for 2014. In the hopes of creating more Dark Knights and less Daredevils, here are five essential lessons that potential films like The Flash could learn from Green Lantern:

1. Digital Effects are bad. Or at least they’re bad when they’re overrused, and few films can match Green Lantern for sheer amount of over-CGI’d tomfoolery. (Yeesh, even the guy’s costume was digital.) Batman auteur Christopher Nolan made a point of avoiding computer effects in favor of old-fashioned stuntwork with The Dark Knight, which is one of the main reasons that The Dark Knight feels like it was made in the real world and not in a computer universe inhabited by color-blind unicorns. There are plenty of awesome visual opportunities with a hero like the Flash, but don’t just plop the lead actor on a treadmill in front of a greenscreen and let the visual artists fill in the blanks.

2. You really, really don’t need to tell us everything about the mythology in the first movie. Green Lantern suffered from a classic case of overexposition. The movie started with a long narration/montage explaining the origin of the universe, the nature of the Green Lantern corps, why yellow is evil, etc. It didn’t make any sense, so later a different character explained the same thing, and then Ryan Reynolds explained it to Blake Lively, and it was like a game of telephone that ended with everyone’s head exploding. Keep the first movie simple. (Put it this way: If anyone in The Flash says the words “The Speed Force,” then the battle has been lost.)

3. You don’t need to make your superhero a tortured Peter Parker stand-in. Not every superhero needs to be an emotionally-damaged orphan with unexplored daddy issues. Part of the fun of Hal Jordan in the comic books was that he was such a high-flying jet-age jock — a truly fearless guy. The film labored to make Jordan a more “relatable” guy by playing up his dead-dad story with all the subtlety of a Hot Shots! remake.

4. If you are going to make him a tortured Peter Parker stand-in, at least make him look like Peter Parker. After a decade ruled by non-traditional actors like Tobey Maguire, Robert Downey Jr., and Christian Bale, this summer the superhero genre suddenly took a detour into the Nation of Handsome Men. There’s nothing wrong with casting dudes like Ryan Reynolds, Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Evans, but if you’re trying to make your hero an everyman, it helps to cast someone who actually looks like an everyman. (Put it this way: Ryan Gosling should probably not play Barry Allen.)

5. Don’t save your best stuff for the sequel. Mark Strong’s Sinestro was one of the standout characters in Green Lantern, and the character has a pretty good history as a comic book villain. Pity that he spent the first film stranded on a greenscreen space rock, while the film focused on the giant swarming pile of roaring mediocrity that was Parallax.

PopWatchers, any other valuable lessons we can learn from Green Lantern? Do we even need to specify that you shouldn’t make the supermodel-hot girlfriend character a brilliant businesslady who also flies test planes?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Comments (61 total) Add your comment
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  • AKP

    X-Men: First Class did well, I thought, but I wished it had pulled in more money so people will stop describing it as a failure. It’s really a great movie and one of the best of the summer, in my opinion.

    My bf and I went back and watched all the X movies and saw First Class twice in the theater, and we both agreed that it was our favorite X-movie to date. And really, I loved X2 so much that I didn’t think another could top it.

    • uu

      Agreed. Besides, filmgoers probably didn’t flock to see X-Men first class because of its horrible two predecessors. I doubt another Wolverine movie will do well unless it has an awesome director and script, and is marketed very very very very very very well.

      • TraceyD

        People didn’t see it, because the cast was all unknowns.

      • AT

        I pity you if James McAvoy, Kevin Bacon, and Michael Fassbender are considered “unknown” to you.

    • Johnification

      I’d agree with you on that. I was wishing at the end that we could get more stories in the James McAvoy/Michael Fassenbaum era, but I guess the under-performance just means we’ll get more under-written Wolverine spin-offs.

      Meanwhile, I agree on the points of the article as well.

    • Jake

      The only problem I had with X-Men First Class is that it did not feature the real first class X-men. And no I am not anxious for another wolverine movie, the first three X-men movies focused to much on him to begin with.

    • tracy bluth

      I personally thought X Men First Class was good, but overpraised. Or maybe I just feel that way because January Jones played my favorite X-Men character Emma Frost like she was lobotomized and a lot of the young mutants (especially Angel) kind of sucked.

    • Chelsea

      Sure First Class didn’t make X-Men Trilogy kind of money but it certainly made back its budget and then some. Not to mention it was very well-received. It wasn’t a failure.

    • Jane Freud

      Green Lantern hasn’t even been released in Australia, so I’m not sure how you can calculate the worldwide figures yet.

    • KFed

      I’m sure most EW readers know who James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are. Most regular folk – you know, the ones you need to make a movie successful – do not. You can pity whoever you want AT, TraceyD has a very good point.

  • MWeyer

    Wow, this is off-base on several points. First off, I LIKED Green Lantern, no idea why people ripped it so badly. Was it perfect, no, but I blame the studio as apparantly they cut a bunch of stuff on Oa and Hal’s heroics to make it under two hours.

    As for Hal’s character, yes, he’s devil-may-care but flashbacks to his youth show he was pretty much a total jerk then and he’s always been haunted by his dad’s death, that’s sort of the point. The original screenplay was supposed to be even more backstory, including Alan Scott hinting at his own past as a hero. As for Sinestro, I agree, he was great and that’s the point, we see him as a noble GL first which makes his turn to Yellow more powerful for the sequal. And effects? Look, the entire POINT of Green Lantern is he has a ring that makes his thoughts reality, you NEED major FX for that. It’ll be the same for Flash, you can’t make a guy faster than light work without that. It annoys me that “GL” was an actually fun film that will now have this rep of being an utter travesty.

    • Brian Wallace-Cavill

      Green Lantern was not a “fun film.” It was a poorly thought out and executed mess with 4-5 action set pieces that sounded cool, and were jammed together without much thought for logic. The entire universe is in danger? Don’t worry—TEN to TWELVE of our best guys are on it! The villain is attacking the new guy’s planet? Oh, okay—let’s let HIM try to fix things by himself, that’s a great initiation rite. Evil yellow force can travel many, many times faster than light? BETTER NOT GET TOO CLOSE TO THAT SUN—the GRAVITY WILL PULL YOU IN! Umm, yeah right.

      • Fingerlakes Dave

        Your applying real world logic, and physics, to a comic book universe? Please try again. You get two plays for a quarter! ;-)

    • Fingerlakes Dave

      I’m in agreement with you MWeyer.
      I ENJOYED ‘The Green Lantern’, with my family. Four satisfied movie goers at the end of the flick. And the theater was packed.
      I saw no one walk out.
      Wow! A whole theater of people ENJOYING a movie (and in 2D!) the critics hated! (Gee, how ofter does that happen? ‘Hangover 2′ comes to mind)
      It’s expensive, however thinking for yourself always has been!

      • They Took Our Jobs

        Its box office was bad because the film was bad. Blaming the critics is a cop out.

    • Esox

      I’m a huge Green Lantern fan and I have no issue with GL’s amount of CGI. It’s a ring that makes green things for cripes sakes, how else you gonna do that? I do have an issue with the villian. Gaseous blobs have never made good villians. See Galactus- Fantastic Four II and Vger-Star Trek I. Hector Hammond could have easily been the main villian. Saving Sinestro for the second one is fine. No problem with Ryan Reynolds, he was perfectly cast. Problem with the filmmakers trying to squash every bit of the GL mythos into the plot. That was one of the slowest plotted movies I’ve ever seen because of that. I like this movie because of the subject matter, and the fact that I knew it. The movie itself was a mess. If you don’t know the mythos behind GL going in, I can see how anyone could dislike this movie.

    • TraceyD

      I lOVED Green Lantern! because they explained the mythos to a superhero I was unfamiliar with. It also translated LIKE a comic book on film. gee what a concept.;)

  • Taylor

    Excuse me, but X-Men: First Class was the best superhero film since The Dark Knight.

    • Andrew

      They were talking about the box office performance of “X-Men: First Class,” which they consider underwhelming.

    • Rick

      I agree!

  • Andrew

    “X-Men First Class” didn’t do THAT badly at the box office. Unfortunatley people would rather see cra like “Transformers” and “The Hangover.”

  • Ryder

    Even though I liked Green Lantern, I had to admit it had it’s problems, the biggest, like the article stated, with Hal Jordan’s character. They should have stuck with Geoff John’s interpretation rather than the Emerald Dawn storyline, which made Hal a whiny jerk rather than the cocky, fearless half jerk he should be. And The Flash won’t work if they get all crazy with the alternate universes and time travel stuff. Stick with Barry getting his powers from the lightning storm and chemical splashing on him origins and base it somewhat in science. Don’t get all mystical with the speed force, most people are not going to get that or even care after snout a half hour. And remember, Barry is a serious guy, don’t make him Robert Downey Jr. from Iron Man.

    • Ryder

      about, not snout. My bad

  • Ian

    They don’t need to go dark and edgy, that only works for certain characters (Batman). What they need is a better script.

  • malik

    Just give me my “Wonder Woman” movie. They been trying to get her to the screen for 20 years, but movies like “Green Lantern”, and “Captain America”get made

    • darclyte

      Captain America was a pretty good movie, and the Wonder Woman tv series stunk like year old lasagna.

    • pastafarian

      Wonder Woman could only work if they took the Captain America approach by beginning in the past/original era, recognizing and diffusing the hokey anachronisms (mostly the costume), and pushing forward with the parts that work (little guy/underdog standing up for what’s right, etc). Too bad Captain America already used the Captain America approach.

    • TraceyD

      Freakn AMEN to WW.

  • Johnification

    Darren, didn’t you say in another article that superhero films tend to succeed more when they have a “genre”, like Slapstick (Iron Man), Fish-out-of-Water Comedy (Thor), Michael Mann thriller (Dark Knight), 60’s Spy Thriller (X-Men First Class), or WWII Movie (Captain A)? Could The Flash perhaps benefit from having a guiding structure or template like that?

  • Dudeman

    Who would win in a foot race, The Flash or Superman? Answer, Flash.

  • West Coast Laura

    How about a strong female lead? Blake Lively was so bland and boring, it never made any sense why so much time was spent on her. It was one of the lower points of the movie for me.

    • tracy bluth

      I didn’t see Green Lantern, but I can’t imagine Blake Lively as Carol Ferris…who, keep in mind, becomes a villain in the comics.

    • BG 17

      Comic book movies usually suffer due to the poorly written female characters. Dunst’s MJ, Connelly’s Betty Ross, Holmes’ Rachel Dawes, Bosworth’s Lois Lane, etc etc etc. It’s no wonder they can’t get Wonder Woman made. We need more roles like Kidder’s Lois Lane and any female character from a James Cameron flick.

  • Big Bad Voodoo Lou

    Actually, Ryan Reynolds would have been the ideal casting choice for Wally West in a Flash movie, rather than Green Lantern Hal Jordan (who should have been Nathan Fillion). Of course, the current DiDio/Johns regime at DC has shunted the more fun and relatable Wally West aside in favor of Barry Allen, so I’m sure any Flash movie will be about Barry. Since a Flash/GL team-up is inevitable, the best casting choice should be Neil Patrick Harris. He would be ideal as Wally (the next best choice after Reynolds), but he could play Barry as well, and make him more charismatic than he is in the comics.

    • darclyte

      I agree with Ryan as a better Wally West than Hal, but while I like Nathan, at 40 he’s probably too old to play Hal, and Ryan (35) is too old to play Wally.

    • pastafarian

      Stop trying to make Nathan Fillion happen. What has this guy done movie-wise to warrant another leading role? TV suits him just fine.

      • TraceyD

        Awww the true geeks can dream.;)

      • schadenfreude

        I know right? It’s Nathan Fillion-mania with these people. He’s a good guy and all but come on.

  • darclyte

    Green Lantern is one of my favorite superheroes (and inspired my name.) I knew once I read that the suit was going to be CGI that it’d be too much. There are plenty of ways to tone it down but still make it effective. CGI is what GL needs ONLY in terms of his Constructs, CGI can enhance some things, but it doesn’t need to dominate the movie. Kilowog, Tomar Re, and the Guardians are great characters, but next time put the REAL actors in mocap suits and then CGI over them like Gollum, or Ceasar from the new Planet of the Apes, so they at least APPEAR real. Since Sinestro will be the bad guy, they should have them battle it out on Earth or some other planet and not in space (too much CGI.) There are ways to make OA without everything being CGI. Also, make the outfit REAL, or at LEAST the mask, because a REAL suit such as in the Spider-man or Batman movies CAN work with GL.

    • darclyte

      As far as a Flash movie…look at the 1990 tv series and see what worked and what didn’t because at least that could help. Again, a REAL suit would be great, but something leaner more like Spider-man’s (as opposed to the “chunky red diver suit” used in the tv series) would be better.

  • cheese

    The main reason I didn’t go see The Green Lantern was because of the casting of Ryan Renolds. All I’ve seen of him is in comedies where he is totally goofy. I couldn’t buy him as a serious guy who could save the world. Besides, even though the Green Lantern was originally white, I would have preferred the black Green Lantern that I was introduced to in the animated Justice League show on Cartoon Network.

    • darclyte

      John Stewart was introduced in the GL comics in 1972.

      • cheese

        yeah, I looked that up after the show premiered. I was saying that I was introduced to the Green Lantern character with the John Stewart incarnation. :)

    • pastafarian

      Will Smith as Green Lantern. Ponder that for a second, cuz that’d be a studio’s most likely choice. But I wouldn’t mind seeing Michael Jai White (yeah Spawn sucked, but Black Dynamite warrants a clean slate).

  • ST

    I actually thought Ryan Reynolds would have made a great flash b/c he has the sarcastic streak that would work well with the character. I agree the character needs a real suit (not a CGI one) and some of the stunts do need to be somewhat real in order for it to be relatable.

  • MWeyer

    A friend of mine had a great line: “You know why it’s easier to adapt Marvel comics than DC comics for movies? Try explanining Gorilla Grodd’s origins to a non-comic audience.”

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