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'Green Lantern's' disappointing weekend: Why do DC Comics films continue to struggle without Christopher Nolan?

June 20, 2011 | 10:00 am

  Photo: Ryan Reynolds in "Green Lantern." Credit: Warner Bros. DC Comics can count a surprisingly diverse group of characters among its roster: a Western bounty hunter, a hero afforded strength by a ring and willpower, a group of renegade special-forces agents, an ordinary-looking man who's faster than a speeding bullet.

All these characters do, however, have a few things in common. They've all been given the silver-screen treatment within the last five years. And they've all been turned into movies that have disappointed in one way or another.

Two of the four, the western "Jonah Hex"and the military-themed "The Losers," were outright flops. A third, "Superman Returns," performed reasonably well at the box office but cost a pretty penny, didn't inspire a sequel and prompted DC and parent company Warner Bros. to start again.

The fourth property, of course, became the basis of this weekend's Ryan Reynolds-starring "Green Lantern," a 3-D film that opened to just $52. 7 million, a number my colleague Amy Kaufman noted was "below even Warner Bros.' modest expectations."

These four films represent a striking contrast to another DC-Warner Bros. creation: the Christopher Nolan-led Batman franchise. The two movies in that series thus far, "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," have taken in $1.3 billion around the world -- nearly three times as much as the under-performing quartet (with "Green Lantern," of course, still going). Throw in its two tepidly received Alan Moore adaptations, "V for Vendetta" and "Watchmen" (sui generis properties but DC titles just the same) and its troubles getting a "Wonder Woman" movie off the ground, and you're left with persuasive evidence for an argument the skeptics have been making for a while now: Unless Nolan is involved, a DC-Warner Bros. production has a hard time on the big screen.

In some ways, of course, the numbers show how hard it is to create superhero blockbusters; even rich mythologies don't mean much when it comes to creating a film franchise. And there's an innate challenge here: As Hollywood expands its pool of characters beyond the A-list, it's invariably going to find it trickier to produce a hit.

But the middling performance of DC's "Green Lantern" also highlights a particular struggle for the comic-book unit.  Marvel, after all, has managed to take lesser-known properties such as Iron Man and create a blockbuster franchise. It also just made a tidy $420-million global hit out of the previous also-ran title "Thor." (Later this year it will try once again with a new "Captain America" movie.)

And it's not like Warner Bros. didn't spend on "Green Lantern" -- the movie cost an estimated $200 million to produce, one of the highest price tags of the year.

So is it marketing? The challenge of including both geek moments for hardcore fans and general scenes for everyone else? Longtime comic-book fans like to talk about the differences between Marvel and DC. One oft-quoted distinction (and a frequently debated one) has DC as the darker brand and Marvel the more pop-oriented one. That could potentially explain the box-office gap...except Nolan's movies are perhaps the darkest of the superhero lot.

Fortunately for DC and Warner Bros., the director remains involved with its two most vaunted properties, Batman (with his upcoming "The Dark Knight Rises") and Superman (via the "Man of Steel" reboot he is stewarding). But after a number of  superhero movies haven't lit up the box office this year, there may well be a shakeout to come in comic-book cinema. And with this weekend's "Green Lantern" numbers, DC titles will end up right in the middle of that conversation.


"Green Lantern" is No. 1 but hardly superpowered

Critical Mass: "Green Lantern" takes critics to blackest night

Footage of Ryan Reynold's "Green Lantern" shines a light, for some

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Ryan Reynolds in "Green Lantern." Credit: Warner Bros.

Comments () | Archives (18)

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Green Lantern received countless negative reviews from critics. However, I
think the movie is one of the most accurate depictions of a comic book ever
brought to the big screen. The acting is good, the story is good, the effects
stellar. For anyone that read this comic 30-40 years ago it is truly a treat.

Ignore the critics, go see Green Lantern you will love it.

Good article, Steve. I think honestly the main reason is just audience fatigue on superhero movies. With a new one been released every weekend, even the hardest geek gets tired of the genre. Look at the last X-Men, probably the best in the franchise and one of the best comic book related films of the year: it didn't make what they should at the domestic BO. And the reason is exactly that: overexposure of comic suoerheros in the big screen. If studios would leave some time gap between releases, they might get more bucks for their product, regardless any kind of marketing campaign designed.

It's amazing that $52 million is considered "disappointing" when you think about all the entertainment alternatives that people have today. Give it a rest, people! It's a good movie and if nothing else, it will rake in the dough on the DVD market. But seriously, when are you going to stop measuring movies by how much they gross? I wanna know how good it is, I don't care how much it made!

I would not herald Nolan as being the end-all be-all of comic book moviedom. To tell you the truth his movies do not create the surrealness that makes it a great movie. Compared to most TV shows and movies, they would seem average to a dramatic cop show. DC's overall problem is not enough good writing (even though their comics star some of the best creators in the business). Not letting the pages hit the screen and just re-imagining the icons into some generic rolodex script is just a sad representation of something really special. I will always love DC over Marvel. But until someone who writes a script actually reads some of the material and doesn't try to create their own version of what they think will make money, it will just be another bust of a try to lure true fans into a quagmire of sludge-filled hollow versions of what they would really like to see.

The problem DC has is that their heroes are less "human" than Marvel's (with the exception of Thor) - Superman and Green Lantern are gods in their own right and this causes the problem of whether the movie should be more human or more fantastic and otherworldly.

The Green Lantern movie suffered from trying to do TOO MUCH with 1 hr. and 45 minutes. Parallax didn't come along until late in the game of the Hal Jordan re-birth into Green Lantern, but probably Geoff Johns association with the project explains that. The problem is that they may now have ruled out such things as Jordan becoming the Spectre, before he goes through the "Rebirth" to become GL again.

Those are GREAT storylines, written by Johns, but may now be hard to accomodate given this continuity. Too much liberty was taken with the need for GL to recharge his power ring by reciting the oath in the PRESENCE of his power battery. This should be a unifying element for ALL future GL movies, but given the box office performance, it may be hard to convince Ryan Reynolds to reprise his role, and to bring to fruition Sinestro trying on the yellow power ring. Hope they give the Flash a better inaugural.

Might be a lot more simple than you're making it out to be. Good movies do well. Poor movies don't. Green Lantern was murdered by critics. It's Max-Payne-like Rotten Tomatoes' score is what kept me away. Iron Man had incredibly good reviews and word of mouth. Thor enjoyed the same (albeit to a lesser extent). Improve the product and people will come.

It's simple. Tell a good story, and people will pay to watch it. The DC movies sans Nolan all looked stupid. People want quality storytelling.

Seems pretty obvious to me: Batman and Iron Man (the first one, definitely not the second) were geared more toward adults and then kids, in that order. Green Lantern et al seem geared toward kids and, as an adult, I'm completely uninterested. Is it that difficult to make intelligent movies?!? Take your 3D money and spend it on the writers for a change.

The answer is simple:

Terrible writing, terrible plot. Horrible pacing.Terrible story. Too predictable. How can DC comics screw up their own heroes?

Even my nephews were bored with Green Lantern. No amount of marketing can overcome a bad story.

I've never read the Green Lantern comics and I am not familiar with the storyline. What I do know is that the previews showcased a plotline that seemed uninteresting and in fact subpar to other super hero movies I have seen.

The area that this article didn't explore was, after the movie that started all of this, Spiderman, the next few superhero film that did well were Batman, Iron Man and to a limited extent, X-men, were about characters that were filthy rich and could afford to buy all the gadgets they would ever need. The ones that didn't do well include: Green Lantern, Superman return, Wolverine, Jonah Hex, Hulk, etc., and were all characters that were just normal and had to get by with their abilities. Coincidently, the rage on reality TV these days are of rich celebs running around complaining about their lives. Maybe that's the key right now, find a decently well-known character who also happens to be filthy rich in the story and make a movie out of it.

Come on, just look at the billboard. It looks like a Saturday morning cartoon.

Marvel has released 22,(well 23 if you count man-thing) live action films this century, with 1 more this year and another next year, compared to dc, which has released what 6. 2 batmans, a superman, the watchmen, Jonah hex and the losers. I really don't know dc's problem, but hopefully the new superman can turn it around, since all they have now is Nolan to bring in the money.

Sorry, but Batman is the most interesting character DC has, and Warner hit the jackpot with Christopher Nolan. I don't think there's any other director quite like him. Watch his pre- and post- Batman Begins films and you'll see (and no, I don't think Inception is his best film - that is The Dark Knight.)

When will DC/Warner have a superhero/comic hit to equal the Batman/Nolan series? When they stop letting 4+ screenwriters doctor scripts endlessly, that's when. And no, it's not marketing. Typical Hollywood answer: Well we have a dud flick, well let's give it to marketing and see what they can do. Ug. Find Directors and Writers who are fans, big fans of the material, and you're chances of a hit go up tremendously (Nolan/Batman, Raimi/Spiderman, Matthew Vaughn/KickAss, Darabont/Walking Dead). The best superhero films have a good writer and a good director who are fans of the work and and fans of comics. 7+ writer credits on Green Lantern, whose idiotic idea was that? Hmm, probably one of the studios overpaid MBAs they keep hiring.

Outside of comic book geeks the movies must appeal to a greater audience. I'm 45 but most of the characters coming out I've never heard of. Judge Dredd was a big comic character when I was a kid but a joke on the screen for instance. I thnk movie studios need to get over the PG-13 issue, I see most parents not giving a crap about what their kids watch so rating a comic book movie R shouldn't be an issue.

The bigger issue is the lack of character development and a compelling story that must have human interest. If you're not doing that then it vould be a total fantasy world, but this would be much more difficult to pull off, little kids like fantasy not so much adults.

I saw GL this weekend, and while it was not a bad movie, it wasn't that great either. What I think hobbled it was that it got a little too hokey in the middle, that is, the Hal Jordan character was not being serious, spending too much time on comic relief. People want their super heroes to be mighty and powerful, not only in advanced abilities, but also of fortitude and inner strength. They want to be assured, even though it is make believe, that the super hero will protect them and avenge the wrongs that have been done. Those things are why super heroes mean so much to almost everyone.


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