SAN FRANCISCO – Team HitFix rolled into town midday on Friday, giving me just enough time to check into my hotel, get something to eat, and make my way over to the Moscone Convention Center so I could see the Warner Bros. presentation for one of their biggest summer movies, “Green Lantern.”
I spoke to a couple of people who saw this presentation at CinemaCon in Vegas, but I specifically asked them not to tell me details, just overall impressions. I wanted to walk in as cold as I could today, all things considered. For Warner Bros, this is make-or-break time on this film, and they’re struggling to shake off an underwhelming start to their campaign. The problem they’ve faced all along is that this is an incredibly post-heavy film. So much of the movie is just now starting to really exist that they’ve had to hold off until now, and they know that fandom has become intensely curious, and that any absence of information will lead to people speculating that something’s wrong.
Based on how packed the convention hall was today, I don’t think Warner has to worry about whether or not people are curious about the film. I saw tons of Green Lantern shirts and full costumes in the hall. This is a huge comic right now, probably bigger than it’s ever been before, and it feels like if there’s ever been a moment to make a movie about the character, this is it. I know the character in a general sense, but I am not a rabid fan by any means. As a result, I don’t have any particular expectations or demands for the film. All that matters to me is how it plays as a movie. For me, this is as “new” as a big adapted comic book movie gets.
I ended up seated right in the middle of a bunch of DC employees, and to say that they were pumped for what they were about to see would be a gross understatement. I understand why. We may have seen Batman and Superman films for the past 30 years, but in many ways, this feels like the first time we’re seeing a “real” DC Comics movie, one that fully embraces its comic-book nature.
Eddie Ibrahim came out to do the intro for the panel, and he gave the standard anti-piracy warning first, then mentioned a giveaway by Warner at the end of the panel, and then quickly brought out Geoff Johns to moderate. Seems fair. If there’s any one person who can be credited with the revival of the character, it’s Johns. He’s also deeply involved in Warner’s overall plans for DC properties, so he’s invested in seeing “Green Lantern” succeed. I like that he had a Green Lantern trucker’s cap on, and he seemed so low-key about things that it’s hard to believe he’s introducing the first finished footage from one of the biggest gambles of the year.
Altogether, they showed us about 15 minutes of the film, mostly from the first act. The reel opened with a single title: “Sector 2814.”
We begin outside a strange spaceship, all odd angles and tech on top of tech. Inside, Abin Sur (Temura Morrison) sits at the controls of the ship. He gets an incoming message, and Sinestro (Mark Strong) appears as a holographic message. Right away, I’m impressed by how weird the movie seems to be. Growing up, I was always drawn to the crazy cosmic comic books, like the Jack Kirby stuff. I’ve literally waited my whole life to see people try these types of films, and while there’s no way of knowing until the film is actually done whether it worked or not, just seeing them try this sort of thing makes me happy.
Sinestro warns Abin Sur that they’ve lost another planet, and it’s obvious he’s furious about it. “The Guardians are silent,” he growls, adding that he demanded an audience with them to no avail. Just as Sinestro finishes his message with a last statement, “It was Parallax,” something attacks the ship. What follows is a frantic, visually arresting sequence as Abin Sur tries to flee the ship. The entire thing, something is chasing him, something huge and amorphous and, most importantly, yellow. Finally, Abin Sur manages to make it into a lifepod, but he’s already been wounded badly. As he flees, he tells the ship to find the nearest inhabited planet so they can begin the selection process.
The next scene starts with Hal (Ryan Reynolds) finding Abin Sur’s crashed ship. He sells the reality of what he’s seeing and just how bizarre it is. At one point, he tells Abin Sur to hold on so they can get him to a hospital “where they have purple blood for you,” well aware of how strange that sounds. Abin gives him the ring and tells him that he’s been chosen. He points out the lantern onboard the ship and tells Hal he needs to put the ring in the lantern and say “the Oath.” With that, Abin Sur dies, his energy suit vanishing, leaving a freaky naked purple dude laying there in front of a visibly shaken Hal.
The next scene picks up with Hal alone in his apartment, the lantern on the table, contemplating what he was told. He has no idea what oath Abin Sur was referring to, and at first, he tries something like the Boy Scout oath crossed with the Pledge of Allegiance. As he gives up, the lantern starts to glow, the ring responds in kind, and then Hal’s eyes begin to reflect back that same green light. He perfectly recites the Oath, and immediately is launched on a trip into space, eventually landing on the distant planet of Oa.
Watching Hal in the full Green Lantern costume try to play it casual as he walks through an alien environment, it seems to me that the greatest strength Reynolds brings to the role is a sense of humor that is grounded in the absurd reality of what’s going on around him. That certainly helps when he comes face-to-face with the completely computer-generated character Tomar Re (Geoffrey Rush), who looks like a cross between a fish and a chicken. Tomar Re talks about how Hal is a bit of an experiment, one of the youngest species to even be given the ring and turned into a Green Lantern, and he also explains the way the mask and the suit are generated by the ring.
Just how many races are actually in the Green Lantern corps? Well, the final scene they showed us starts with Sinestro slowly descending to land in front of a full assemblage of the corps, what looks like thousands of different aliens, all in uniform, all of them summoned for a meeting. Sinestro briefs them on Parallax, and tells them that the only way they’re going to face this challenge is together. And here’s where I saw the most completely insane imagery out of what they showed us, with giant eyeball creatures and weird squid monsters and all sorts of different alien species, all of them hanging on every word that Sinestro speaks.
Finally, after some quick shots that were familiar from the first trailer, they brought out Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds to answer questions. The first thing they were asked was also the most obvious question. “How does it feel to see all of that?”
Reynolds replied, “Pretty spectacular. Six months on a soundstage in Louisiana staring at the color blue until you have just two smoking ocular cavities… it all feels pretty good when you see that shit.”
Blake talked about why she chose to dye her hair brown for the role, saying that her bodyguard on “Gossip Girl” is a very quiet guy. Or was, rather, until he heard that she was cast in “Green Lantern,” at which point he went nuts, asking her questions, telling her about his love of the comic, and telling her that for her own safety, she had to dye the hair so that fandom would not go berserk.
Asked about his diet on the film, Reynolds replied, “Nothing but orphan children.” He went on to explain that it was a full six months of physical training before the shoot so that he could work on gymnastics skills that would play into the wire work and the flying, and how punishing the diet was in general.
At three separate points during the audience Q&A, people asked them “What was it like to work together?” Makes you wonder if people are actually listening to anything else that’s said while they’re waiting for their turn at the microphone. Each time, the actors made a joke of it. “Ryan was horrible to work with,” Blake replied at one point.
“Well, the restraining order made shooting difficult,” he continued.
She spoke about how she got jealous watching all the things he got to do in the film, and how much she’s looking forward to sequels where her character, Carol Ferris, eventually becomes a super-powered being called Star Sapphire. “I’m just saving up all the rage I felt for when we finally fight.”
The only time Reynolds was flustered during the entire Q&A was when someone asked him why he wanted to play the character, and before he could answer, someone else yelled from the back of the room “So you could show off your 6-pack!”
He struggled to find a way to respond, and was thankfully saved by some tech issues with the microphones. “Crazy. We can send a man to Oa, but we can’t make the mic work.” Finally they got things working again and someone asked Reynolds if he reads the comic. “Of course. I’d be an asshole if I didn’t.” When the next person up called him “Mr. Hottie” instead of Ryan Reynolds, he interjected, “Well, that’s not my Christian name.” They went on to ask him what makes the character stand out for him, and he replied that he grew up as a “Star Wars” kid. “That’s what made this special. You look at what this studio did with the ‘Harry Potter’ films, and they don’t cheap out. They spend the money in the right way, and now technology is finally able to tell these stories.”
One of the greatest moments of the San Diego ComicCon “Lantern” panel was when a young boy asked Reynolds to do the Oath for him, and Reynolds did. Someone asked Reynolds if he could show San Francisco some love and do it again despite us having just seen the big moment from the film, and Reynolds handled it well. “Let’s do it together.” He led the audience in a call and response version of the Oath instead of just doing it himself, and then he busted the front row for doing a very bad job.
There were several questions about Deadpool, and he said he couldn’t really get into the future of the character, simply saying that there were things about his appearance in “Wolverine” that he would have changed, pointing out “I’m not the one paying for these movies.” He did promise that if the film happens with him in the lead, it would have to be a hard-R. Someone asked if he preferred playing a villain like Deadpool or a hero like Hal, and Ryan corrected him. “Deadpool is not a villain. He’s an asshole.” He went on to say that he prefers the world of “Green Lantern,” though. “I love this movie. It’s the imagination. Plus we’re sticking very closely to the real mythology, which I prefer.”
Asked if there was anything in particular that helped them on-set, both Blake and Ryan said that Geoff Johns was their greatest resource. “We could always turn to him and trust that he’s the voice of all of you guys,” said Blake.
When asked how long the film took to shoot, Ryan replied, “Six months, but it felt like 100 years.” He pointed out that this film really only started to come together once it reached post-production, and that there are still hundreds of people working around the clock to finish it.
They asked Reynolds if he improvised any of the jokes in the film, and he pointed out that Hal’s not really a comedian. “it’s more about getting the characters right,” he said.
“Well, you really brought the character to life,” Johns said to him.
Someone asked Lively if she wants to do the stunts as Star Sapphire, and she was emphatic in her response. “Absolutely. The costume is a little daunting, though. Maybe they could put some more fabric on it.” Her answer was met with a hearty round of boos.
The next kid at the microphone started by praising some of the performances Reynolds has given, naming the film “Ordinary Magic.” Reynolds let out a surprised “Whoa” in response. “Dude… lay off Netflix. My mom doesn’t even know about that movie.”
Someone asked Reynolds if there are any other heroes he would want to play, and he smiled. “Well, I almost came in to tell you that I’m playing The Flash since it’s April Fool’s Day. But I think I’m at my quota now. This is a gift.” He also said that if they do end up making a Wally West version of The Flash, he thinks Bradley Cooper would be the man for the job.
The next person asked if Reynolds is happy with the CGI costume. “Well, I argued for straight-up fishnet,” he answered. “The mythology is that the suit is made of pure energy. You don’t want to wear a mo-cap suit in August in Louisiana. It’s like a coffin with a zipper.”
Of course the subject of the possible “Justice League” movie came up, and Reynolds said that he hasn’t had any conversations about it at all. Johns confirmed that it’s “in development,” but said nothing beyond that.
Someone finally asked him if any of the other Corps will appear if they make sequels to this one, and Reynolds replied, “I bloody well hope so.”
Asked how “Gossip Girl” is different from something like “Green Lantern” in terms of work, Lively called the making of the film “rejuvenating. Being in that world of blue curtains is amazing. And it’s so exciting to see the finished product.”
Finally, the panel wrapped up with Reynolds talking to one young aspiring actor about how he had moved to LA originally to try to make it into the Groundlings, only to be rejected. He said he is lucky that his career was a slow build. “If I’d been this guy at 21, I’d be dead now. I’m very lucky that I never got pigeonholed into just one thing or the other, and I can do both comedy or drama.”
Overall, it was a real showcase for the way Reynolds can work a room, and the footage went a long way to suggesting the scale and ambition of the film. Can Martin Campbell pull it all together and make this all work? Is this really a “Star Wars” superhero movie? Can they launch a larger DC universe on film?