‘Green Lantern’s’ future: Salvaging a franchise

In most industry circles the huge second weekend drop as well as critical and audience reaction to “Green Lantern” would seem to be clear signs the Emerald Crusader won’t return for a second go around.  However, sources confirm to HitFix that a sequel is still in the works.  That’s pretty amazing considering the weak global box office so far and a domestic cume expected to top out at approximately $135 million.  Especially when you’re carrying a reported $200 million plus price tag and that’s not even counting marketing costs.  And sure, licensing helps ease the burden, but it can’t cover everything. As a toy and licensing property, “Green Lantern” isn’t in the billion dollar league of “Cars.”

Warner Bros. and DC have some serious decisions to make. Do they return to Reynolds to the same universe as the first film, but try to fix all the obvious problems the second time around?  Or, do they go the route of “The Incredible Hulk” and the upcoming “The Wolverine” which pretty much ignored or will ignore the previous incarnations and were/are almost complete reboots in a short time frame from the original (note: Hugh Jackman is still returning to play the iconic mutant in “Wolverine” even if everything else is different).  With those possibilities in play, here are some suggestions for the WB execs to consider.

Geoff Johns is a nice guy, but…
It’s never easy being the figurehead when things go wrong, but that’s why they pay you the big bucks, right?  Having met Geoff Johns, currently the Chief Creative Officer for DC Entertainment and architect of the “Green Lantern” title, I can attest he’s a very nice guy.  In fact, he may be too nice for the job he was given.  Most disconcerting, he does not have enough movie experience if he’s expected to shepherd DC’s universe outside of Superman and Batman to the big screen.  Too many decisions seem as though they were to honest to the comic book mythos and didn’t take into account this was a movie.  Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios may not always be 100% right in their decisions, but they always have the properties best interests at heart as movies, not comic books.  Right now, outside of Christopher Nolan’s pocket of the DC universe that appears to be missing in Hal Jordan’s world.  And, unfortunately, as the face of DC Entertainment who was out in front of “Lantern” pitching it at Comic-Con, Wonder-Con, online and in print, Johns has to take some of the blame for a number of mistakes the first time around.  It’s time for DC Entertainment to put someone in charge who makes sure there are less cooks in the kitchen so the finished result doesn’t seem like such a hodge podge of different ideas.

“Lantern” needs an auteur who cares about the character
It’s clear that one of the film’s biggest mistakes was hiring Martin Campbell to direct.  The idea that Campbell could fashion an original vision for “Lantern” is now, after the fact, laughable.  Campbell may have hit a career high note with “Casino Royale,” a reboot of a 007 franchise he has strong affections for (even if he won’t admit it), but he’s first and foremost a “shooter.”  That’s Hollywood slang for a competent director who is going to provide, solid if unspectacular work (it’s a huge step from a “hack” who usually takes a good concept or screenplay and runs it into the ground).  A “Lantern” sequel just doesn’t need a young, creative director who knows how handle a big visual effects movie, but a filmmaker who actually cares about the property.  Jon Favreau’s affection for “Iron Man” is in every frame of that film.  Matthew Vaughn’s love for the X-Men is more than evident in “X-Men: First Class.” You can even say Kenneth Branagh’s admiration for “Thor” seeps through that epic.  “Lantern” deserves the same sort of guiding hands the second time around.

Not just a new director, but producer and screenwriters too
Like Johns, producer Donald DeLine is a great guy.  Incredibly nice, honest and, unknown to most outside the industry, DeLine got a raw deal as Paramount’s President when Brad Grey took over that studio in 2005.  DeLine had finally turned things around after years of mediocrity at the Mountain only to be shown the door when Grey decided to clean house.  He returned to producing and has had varying degrees of success since with “Fool’s Gold,” “Body of Lies,” “I Love You, Man,” “Burlesque” and “Yogi Bear.”  One thing he’s never done though is directly produce a movie with so many visual effects.  The horrible inconsistency in the effects is directly related not just to Campell’s inexperience but that of DeLine and his other producer Greg Berlanti. There just wasn’t enough time built into the post-production schedule to make them consistently superior.  Berlanti, who also co-wrote the screenplay, is the “lifelong” Green Lantern fan was completely in over his head a a day-to-day producer. This skillset just is not in the TV veteran’s wheelhouse.  At least not yet anyway.  A more experienced producer such as Ian Bryce (“Transformers” franchise) would be much more welcome a second time around.

More Hal Jordan, less Tony Stark
Ryan Reynolds, like Johns and DeLine, is a great guy to chat with.  Funny, self-deprecating and always friendly to a fault.  His sarcastic one liners have made him a star, but they were completely wrong for this particular role.  There is nothing wrong with having Hal Jordan have a sense of humor, but he’s not a wisecracking Tony Stark wannabe.  Does this mean Reynolds was wrong for the role?  Not necessarily, but Jordan is a pretty serious guy (something Frank Miller mocked in his recent run in “All Star Batman and Robin”).  Nobody is saying he has to be that much of a bore.  Jordan’s personality is that of a classic hero who rarely throws out a one liner to ease a tense situation.  Reynolds doesn’t have to portray him as a bore, but he’s not in Deadpool’s wheelhouse either.  If not, move on and make a clean break.  Both Reynolds and the franchise can survive the separation.

Set some rules please
Nothing was more frustrating than watching “Green Lantern” and having characters not react to the idea that a man with a glowing green suit was flying around.  Does this mean superheroes are common place in this reality?  Is it no big deal?  Let’s clear that up the next time around, shall we?

Recast Carol Ferris
Blake Lively was obviously on WB’s radar after her impressive performance in “The Town,” but the “Gossip Girl” star was out of her league as Jordan’s love interest Carol Ferris.  She just doesn’t have the depth to play a character who is supposed to be both an up and coming business woman and an ace fighter pilot.  Like “The Dark Knight” did bringing in Maggie Gyllenhaal to stand in for Katie Holmes, there is nothing wrong with recasting the part. 

It’s a movie, not a comic book
Everyone understands the need to differentiate the DC Universe from the Marvel one even in the movies, but at some point you have to have a realistic frame of reference to keep audiences engaged.  In a comic book, you can get away with having your hero create a racetrack and race car made of green energy to save a runaway helicopter.  In a movie?  It comes across as silly.  You can still show “Green Lantern’s” constructs without making the film feel like it was aimed at 4-year-olds.  The more realistic, the more people will believe it and associate with it.

Bring back Mark Strong as Sinestro
One of the few things that really worked in “Green Lantern” was Sinestro.  Now, his scene after the credits where he puts on the yellow ring is a bit of a stretch considering his character’s actions earlier, but Strong’s Sinestro could be a much better adversary for Jordan in a sequel.  And Reynolds and Strong were two of the only actors who had chemistry on screen together the first time around.

The franchise has also introduced interesting depictions of Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett), Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush) and Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan).  There is no reason they can’t be fashioned into any new “Lantern” adventure.  Although if international box office doesn’t turn around its going to be harder and harder to justify another “Lantern” film.  And at this point, do we really want one?  

What did you think of “Green Lantern”?  Do you think DC and Warner Bros. should return to the same universe or reboot the property?  Share your thoughts below.

For year round entertainment commentary follow Gregory Ellwood at @HitFixGregory