5 years ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was just getting started. 2011 delivered two Marvel origin stories: Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Both would serve as the final pillars of an unprecedented undertaking which culminated in the record-breaking success movie, The Avengers. The movie would cement a small studio, which used to hold only the "B-characters", into an entertainment juggernaut of unprecedented success that left rival DC Comics in the dust.
2011 also saw a DC movie release that was expected to be a kickstarter of sorts
for Warner Bros., a company that was already in the superhero movie race but never
truly saw the potential of the properties at their disposal. They saw an uptick
in interest for superhero/comic book movies, a lot of which they themselves
helped create. And they were ready to take full advantage of this.
Look, I thought Green Lantern was a safe bet. Hal Jordan is one of the best comic book characters in history. His adventures with both the Green Lantern Corps and the Justice League are some of the greatest stories ever told in that medium.Â With a plethora of riches at their disposal, one would think it would have been impossible for Warner Bros. to mess it up, right?
Alas, Green Lantern flopped so hard that the company wouldn't even allow him to star in the upcoming Justice League movie.
A less-than-inspired script and ultimately wrong tone brought about the demise of a comic book character that had more potential than any space-based superhero. Green Lantern fell prey to a bunch of coat-and-tie executives who never believed in the source material but rather felt the need to liken it to the only superhero blockbuster they had. The highly anticipated movie of earth's greatest guardian fell to The Dark Knight effect, an illness that still plagues the DC cinematic universe to this day.
Fast forward to the present and we see that Marvel owns our summer, while the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is still struggling to compete. Even with the best cards in the game, Kevin Feige and his misfits at Marvel are still running DC out of the playing table.
Captain America and Thor,
who at that time were thought to lose to Green Lantern, are now well into their
own trilogies while simultaneously providing two of the cornerstones for
Marvel's film universe.
That, being said, Doctor Strange is now the fourteenth movie in Marvel's crazy "no-signs-of-stopping" cinematic universe. A welcome addition and (funnily enough) a refreshing new aspect to this shared universe, Doctor Strange's integration of magic was phenomenal. It was as visually spectacular as any Marvel movie we've ever seen. "Trippy" is the word thrown around a lot when this movie is discussed. But the true magic (haha, magic pun) of this movie is that you would not have any trouble believing that this is also the world inhabited by Tony Stark, Scott Lang and Rocket Raccoon.
Now, Doctor Strange isn't the best Marvel film ever made, as we said in our review. It won't quell the usual qualms about Marvel films having less-than-compelling villains and a formulaic structure that has been used in almost every origin film they've ever made. But it's exactly this point which I find fascinating.
I've seen this movie before. Five years ago, Green Lantern had almost the exact same premise.
A hotshot ace in his field gets dragged into a world that he does not know exists. He then joins an elite organization that protects Earth from external threats, all while wrestling with his own inner demons. With a villain that has less than zero charm, likability or personality, we then find out that he is but a pawn who is being controlled by a primordial entity with insane god-like powers (they also both happen to be dust clouds, by the way). The hero then has to to overcome his flaws and accept his new duties as protector of Earth.
"Isn't that how all origin stories go?" you ask. Well, both movies' opening scenes depicted cocky, good-looking assholes who would later become great heroes. They also took their audiences to places far away from Earth, featured two of the most powerful artifacts in the comic book world, and had a mentor go evil by the end of the film.
Still not convinced?
Let's line the cast up, then.
Stephen Strange mimics Hal Jordan. Christine Palmer mirrors Carol Ferris. Mordo copies Sinestro. Dormammu rips off Parallax, Kaecilius take ques from Hector Hammond. Â If I can stretch it a bit, even the Ancient One is Abin Sur.
Oh, and just for shits and giggles let's say that Wong is the Doctor Strange equivalent of Kilowog.
So how did Marvel create a fun, entertaining and ultimately better film while DC completely dropped the ball with someone who should, in all honesty, have had an easier time doing all of this?
One could argue that Marvel already had thirteen movies under their wing before getting into Doctor Strange. Likewise, people would probably say that the company had the benefit of introducing the movie at a time when comic book movies are at an all-time high. Both are valid arguments. Although I could counter both statements by saying that Doctor Strange is one of the better Marvel stand-alone movies (along with Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy), having a comic book movie in the midst of the golden comic book movie age isn't a sure-fire guarantee for critical box office success (just take a look at Suicide Squad).
Warner Bros. failed with Green Lantern because they didn't trust the source material enough. They didn't trust the tone of the comics. They didn't understand what the character of Hal Jordan was all about. Warner Bros. never got over the impression that every comic book movie had to be Nolan-ized. It never occurred to them that Christopher Nolan's gritty tone worked because it embodied who Batman was. Batman embodied fear, and nothing less than a gritty dark tone would have done the character justice.
Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern was never about fear. It was never about darkness. Green Lantern is about the strength of humanity and the potential for one measly human to create light from the darkness created by fear. There was never any need to Nolan-ize Green Lantern as it should have been the complete anti-thesis of dark and gritty.
The absence of grit
and a dark tone shouldn't imply that the resulting film would be light and
campy. Serious subject matters can be discussed in movies with lighter tones.
In a movie filled with otherworldly elements such as aliens and magic rings, a
little bit of levity and humor would help the movie's relatability and anchor
the viewers deeper into the film.
This is the reason why the general audience loves Marvel movies so much. The lightness that humor brings helps make their characters with godlike powers relatable. It helps endear audiences to them, something Doctor Strange did quite well.
managed to capture the audience with concepts of magic, parallel dimensions,
and sorcerers because it made the characters relatable. With all the talk of
spells and godlike beings from other dimensions, it was still basically a
journey about a broken man who wants to get his self-worth back. You know, a
Hal Jordan was
chosen by the ring because he had the greatest will on Earth. What we got was a
completely unrelatable, poorly-written lead with very, very vague motivations.
Dude, you were just chosen to wield the most powerful weapon in the universe and
you don't want to do anything because you're scared? Care to elaborate on this
instead of inexplicably whining the whole time?
Doctor StrangeÂ never alienated its audiences. Instead, the movie took us by the hand and guided us through the weird and magical. Marvel never shied away from its weird, colorful and downright trippy source material. It embraced it. The writers dived in and made sure that they knew what the essence of the comic book was. It was about the weird, the different, and the unknown. Instead of these elements being crutches, it helped enriched the overall experience. It gave us a whole new world to explore while still anchoring us in an environment that we were already familiar with.
Green Lantern could have delivered all these things and more if only Warner Bros. paid attention. It was never about the dark tone or the humor. It was never a question of whether was it supposed to be gritty or goofy. Green Lantern failed because it doubted itself. It was too afraid to show the world what it was really about.
In a sad, ironic and somewhat comedic twist, Green Lantern lost to fear.