It’s been a decade since Bryan Singer helped revitalize Superhero Cinema with his beloved mutant masterpiece, X-Men, but with the birth of each successive comic book film franchise, I often get the feeling that I’ve seen it all before. That sentiment changed when Warner Bros. Pictures whisked me away to New Orleans in early August for the coolest set visit I’ve ever been a part of: Green Lantern.
As a former comic book store employee and all-around spandex enthusiast, I’ve long considered Green Lantern one of my favorite fictional characters because of his unique backstory. It’s what makes his first feature film, which is directed by legendary action impresario Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), the movie I’m most anticipating next year. Unlike many of the costumed crime-fighters we’re accustomed to, cocksure test pilot Hal Jordan didn’t really choose to become the defender of Sector 2814; the power ring of a fallen champion set him on that heroic path. And he is not the only one of his kind. Over the course of the film, we will meet many members of the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic police force that maintains order throughout the universe, including fan favorites like Kilowag, Tomar Re and others that I’m not at liberty to talk about – yet. Their unique kinship is just one aspect of the massive self-contained mythology that defines the world in which Green Lantern lives, a world which sets him apart from the other heroes of the DC Universe.
Of course, an eclectic cache of supporting characters isn’t the only thing that makes Green Lantern unlike any superhero movie you’ve ever seen. The look of the film is both contemporary and otherworldly, and as we follow our hero from the suburbs of Coast City to the towers of Oa (the home planet of the Corps. and the source of their green energy), you’ll see why the talent and vision of Grant Major, the Academy Award-winning production designer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, was required to make the film a reality. His experience in creating new worlds from the ground up lends itself to the extraordinary task of realizing the Oa that we’ve seen in the comics for decades.
As I toured a large sound stage on the set, I got to see some models of a few of the structures that we’ll see on the alien planet and could feel the influence of Middle Earth, and specifically the rocky towers of Mordor, in the designs of the Citadel, where the Guardians of the Universe (who founded the Corps. and serve as its advisors/leaders) reside, as well the Great Hall at the center of the planet, where a particularly exciting scene takes place. It should be noted that the scale of these environments is colossal: tiny paper cut-outs of characters were placed within the models to bring into focus the sheer size of these sets and it’s some of the most ambitious stuff that I’ve ever seen. Despite the technological and scientific advancements of its civilization, Oa will look very natural and organic, much like Hal Jordan’s home Coast City, but don’t think that creating an American metropolis for the big screen is any easier for the art department.
“The character of Coast City is very West Coast, California, as it’s described in the comics, but Coast City from our point of view is a hybrid of a few different things,” says Major. “Obviously we’re here in New Orleans making the film and so there are some key locations that we’ve incorporated into Coast City.” One such location is the Lakefront Airport, which will depict the main building and hangars of Ferris Industries, the aircraft company that links the three major characters in the film. “Although this part is New Orleans, this part [he gestures over to a series of concept paintings that combine to show us a full view of the Ferris compound] is going to be digital, this part will partially be on the West Coast,” he continues. “We’re also using Long Beach as a location in this jigsaw, so we sort of gather all of these elements together and make them into a faux Coast City.” As you can tell, crafting a city from scratch using little more than your imagination to guide your work is a trying task, but if you think that Major’s job is hard, try walking in Ryan Reynolds’ shoes.
“It’s just tough,” the 33-year-old actor says in response to questions about his work involving blue-screen battles and “construct creation,” a term that describes the fantastic abilities of the power ring. “A lot of times we build stuff and I can really just build muscle memory of everything I’m doing. [Sometimes] we’re going to create a construct and it’s going to be modified in post from what we thought it was on the day we shot it. It’s about trying to find different options.” Luckily for Reynolds, his performance isn’t totally governed by impractical effects.
Hal Jordan is a three dimensional character who Reynolds believes conforms more to the archetype of a “Han Solo or Chuck Yeager” than a Tony Stark or Clark Kent (yet another element that makes the film fresh and original) and comes complete with a “real family story” that is “steeped in tragedy,” as he puts it. “Hal loses his father and that is pretty difficult for any kid to overcome,” he says of Jordan, who uses wit and charm as an emotional defense mechanism. It’s a trait that differentiates him from the usual wisecracking funny man we’re used to seeing Reynolds play. “He’s at odds with his entire family and is a bit of a pariah, but he himself doesn’t see that. It’s the same reason people who play villains in a great way defend their characters. They believe they are not the villains, they just have different convictions than everyone else.”
Speaking of villains, current go-to antagonist Mark Strong is playing Sinestro, one of the greatest Green Lanterns of all time and a mentor of sorts to Hal as he develops his abilities. Anyone who has seen Strong’s work in films like Kick-Ass and Sherlock Holmes knows that he’s really good at being bad. Reynolds had nothing but esteem for his colleague, who’ll be prominently featured in our full set visit report in the coming months. “He’s going to be something to contend with,” says the star. “He really brings this weight and dignity to his character. He’s so elegant in the way he moves and the way he behaves and speaks; it’s minimal effort for maximum gain with him.” Having seen full character renderings of Sinestro, I can tell you that Mark looks incredible in character, as if he walked right out of the comic books themselves. His performance is inspiring, and will likely go down in history as one of the great comic book villains of all time, right up there with Jack Nicholson’s Joker and Terrence Stamp’s General Zod.
However, in no way am I comparing Green Lantern to Batman or Superman: The Movie, because you just can’t. As I said before, this film is unlike any superhero movie that you’ve ever seen in terms of story, special effects and scope. Even Campbell, who’s no stranger to big-budget productions of this size, marvels at what he and his team have accomplished. “Clearly Green Lantern is huge, simply by virtue of the stories and the concept of the character being a part of an intergalactic police force. With this character, you have the whole of space and the universe. That gives you tremendous scope. How much bigger can you go?”
And that’s the great thing about this film: it’s BIG in every sense of the word. You’ll see every type of battle imaginable, from fistfights and aerial dogfights to swordplay and space battles, in addition to some of the most breathtaking and immersive imagery ever created for a film. Warner Bros., Campbell and co. have something very special on their hands and I can’t wait to share more with you about their spectacular film, but you’ll have to wait for our full set visit report, which should be coming in a few months. It will include FULL interviews with Reynolds, Campbell, Strong, costume designer Ngila Dickson, co-producer and DC Entertainment CCO Geoff Johns and more! Check back with us for more on Green Lantern and be sure to keep June 17, 2011, marked on your calendars in green!