Haters gonna Hate: Green Lantern vs. The Critics

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If you only get your movie reviews from Nerdy Nothings (and why wouldn’t you?) you’d be convinced that Green Lantern is one of the best films of the summer, courtesy of Rebel Rikki’s glowing review. If you then looked, well, anywhere else, you would be utterly confused, sad and alone. According to Rotten Tomatoes, Green Lantern (25% fresh) is one of the worst reviewed films of the summer. Worse than the likes of Ghost Rider (27% fresh), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (37% fresh), X-Men: The Last Stand (57% fresh), Daredevil (45% fresh), both The Punisher (29% fresh) and Punisher: War Zone (27% fresh) AND Blade Trinity (26% fresh). That’s some sad company. Why the hate?

Green Lantern may be a good case to point out how we shouldn’t view scores on Rotten Tomatoes and why they aren’t always the best indication of what is a “good film.” While 25% is a horrible score, this could mean that 75% of critics barely didn’t like it — certainly not the case when you read through the actual reviews — but it’s technically possible. A Metacritic score of 41 tells a clearer story of critical views, since Metacritic reviews are each graded on a 100-point scale and then averaged, not a simple aggregate of yeses and nos, but that is still far below most well-liked films from the past few years.

I’m not here to defend the film-making of Green Lantern (Rikki already spent a good amount of time doing just that), but I’m certainly perplexed and interested in the incredibly low Rotten Tomato score the film has received. Currently the film sits at #25 of the 56 films I’ve seen from 2011. By the end of the year, I imagine Green Lantern will be the highest film on my list with the lowest Rotten Tomato consensus score.

We can use a lovely comparison piece for this analysis in Thor, a film that was generally liked by critics. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is 77% (which would be the 10th best wide release of the year, depending on what you would call a wide release — Cedar Rapids and Win Win included), while its Metacritic score is only 58, indicating that many of the critics that would have been barely down on Green Lantern were barely up on Thor. It’s also interesting to consider that the films are very similar in terms of their overall scope, basic plot points, over-use of CGI, and general successes and failures. Also, neither have the mainstream appeal of other superheroes while still trying to set up their own franchises.

So why has Thor gotten so much praise while Green Lantern is mired in general disdain? Rotten Tomatoes calls Green Lantern: “Noisy, overproduced, and thinly written” and says it “squanders an impressive budget and decades of comics mythology.” In my opinion, Lantern wasn’t remarkably more “noisy” or “overproduced” than Thor which was described as a “dazzling blockbuster.” And while it may have been a little more fun, Thor had the same bad special effects, albeit fewer (scenes on Asgard worked less well than scenes on Oa — although I will agree that the suit and mask were quite bad) and the emotional and romantic beats were far more rudimentary (I mean, why exactly is Thor so quickly in love with Jane? I know it is Natalie Portman, but he is literally a god). Critics seemed to look over this, however, as I’ve heard no mention in reviews on the flimsiness of the romantic plot line.

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The simplest answer may be timing. Thor had the pole position this summer, being the first comic book superhero film we’ve seen since Iron Man 2, almost a year-to-the-day later. This would give even the most cynical movie-viewer a little time to breathe. Now that we have had three released over the last month, it’s quite easy to bash on a genre that has been on a steady decline. This certainly could factor in as to why it didn’t do well in its opening weekend, and could very easily be the major reason why critics have been sour. There is no doubt that Green Lantern does very little to contribute something new to the super hero genre or the hero narrative — it is part goofy, part serious, with a fun origin story, damsel in distress and villain by committee. This doesn’t help the film stand out and with the cumulative effect of the genre, critics won’t give it any slack.

Another contributing factor might be the “impressive budget” that Rotten Tomatoes mentioned. Sure, Thor’s production budget was over $150 million, but once you hit the $200 million mark, you start playing with fire. There is maybe nothing that movie critics hate more than money being wasted on films that have no interest other than mass entertainment. To put this in perspective, Green Lantern is one of the 10-15 most expensive movies ever made. Writing this down makes me a little angry thinking about that. Avatar can get away with this because of its technological advances, but if you look at the rest of the films that cost over $200 million, they were generally given fair to bad consensus reviews — only Avatar, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Toy Story 3 and Spider-Man 2 could be considered strong critical hits made for more than 200 million.

Adding together the extraordinary budget for marketing and the film’s production you begin to whet the hater’s appetite before the movie has even been released. This could just be coincidence and certainly no critic will ever outright admit this. Too much money means there are many, many “suits” to satisfy and the film may begin to lose touch with what actually makes a movie good — or that much money in a film is a sign that things haven’t gone well and money wasn’t wisely spent.

Finally, it might be easy to think that DC can do no wrong, with the success of the The Dark Knight franchise, but super hero adaptations have been owned by Marvel as of late. Yes, they have far more misses than hits (note all the films mentioned in the first paragraph), but with the Iron Man and Spider-Man series capturing the hearts of the mainstream, Thor’s success and the building buzz of an upcoming Avengers film, super hero blockbusters have been synonymous with Marvel (X-Men: First Class is from a Marvel property, but is not technically a Marvel film).

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Mainstream movie critics probably don’t actively think about this when they are seeing these movies, but there may be a tangible argument that Marvel Studios have the leg up on anything not made by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale. This may be as easily explained as the people at Marvel as starting to “get it” while DC is trying their best to make a “Marvel film” with Green Lantern, and that certainly won’t work.

Is this simply a case of the critics “just don’t understand”? Not exactly. America showed this weekend that they aren’t terribly interested in a Green Lantern movie — it appears to be the biggest opening weekend disappointment of the summer. But those that did venture out to see it were generally more positive than critics, with a Rotten Tomatoes user score of 61%.

Have we finally seen the tipping point projected by so many critics, where audiences and film reviewers are simply fed up with super hero films? Green Lantern’s legacy seems to be as another cog in the 2010-2011 machine, casting the “end of cinema as we know it” (see also: Battle: Los Angeles, Sucker Punch and Mr. Popper’s Penguins). Hyperbole aside, a lot more light will be shed on this question when we see the performance and reviews for Captain America — but if these critical trends continue even Marvel may be in some trouble pushing its Avengers series. And with sequels already announced for Thor, Iron Man and sequels hopeful for Green Lantern, this mainstream super hero genre isn’t going to get any more “fresh.”

tags: green lantern, metacritic, rotten tomatoes, thor

  • DeAndre

    I think you raise some good issues, some I have raised myself. However, you also overlook some things as well. In film adaptations DC and Warner have done very poorly outside of Batman. Most of their movies in the modern era of comic book film adaptations (2000-present) have often been critical and financial disappointments. Some were complete misfires ( Superman Returns, Catwoman, Jonah Hex, Constantine) and others were just middling (Losers, Red, Watchmen). So what we start to see is a long history of DC dropping the ball with its films. The highest grossing non Batman/Superman film they released was Watchmen with a lowly $107 million domestic take. It also has the highest opening weekend for a non Batman/Superman feature with $55 million. Green Lantern’s less that sparkling reviews and relatively poor performance falls right in line most of DC’s adaptations. 

    With that said, is the failure of Green Lantern really a result of skewed reviews and populist hate? I don’t think so. More than likely, DC and Warner Brothers just dropped the ball again. 

  • colby

    Eh, I dunno, man. Generally, I’m a little skeptical of assigning ulterior motives to people’s subjective opinions of art/pop culture. There’s just so much that’s really hard to put a consensus on- for example, while I was kinda ambivalent on Thor, I would completely disagree with “scenes on Asgard worked less well than scenes on Oa”, at least in terms of SFX. But I didn’t even know their respective budgets, and I’m perfectly happy with multiple super hero movies in a summer. Then again, I’m no critic, but I figure they can’t be THAT different from me.

  • http://twitter.com/pinkstonaa Aaron Pinkston

    I disagree a little, at least in this case.  $200 million is a bit of a magic number, and I didn’t even mention that it was well publicized that the studio spent another insane amount of money on the marketing.  While I don’t think its the biggest factor, I think it was in a lot of people who are paid to write about film’s minds.

  • http://twitter.com/pinkstonaa Aaron Pinkston

    Three things:

    1. One of my major points here is in fact that Marvel hold all the cards, and DC is not a major player.  I don’t explicitly say that other DC movies haven’t done well, but it’s implied.

    2. While Green Lantern certainly had a poor showing at the box office, I don’t take that into consideration at all in this article.

    3. Look at the critical consensus of Superman Returns.  It may be looked at as a disappointment at the box office and in the eyes of fans, but it has a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes — that is far from a failure.  Watchmen and RED also had positive critical consensus.  Constantine and The Losers are both over 45%.  And while Catwoman and Jonah Hex are both much lower, Green Lantern is a much better film on a technical and enjoyment level.

  • http://twitter.com/pinkstonaa Aaron Pinkston

    Although I will say, I don’t believe this would sway someone from liking it to not.  If a critic didn’t like the film, however, it is more incentive to REALLY not like the film. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.kanne Jeremy Kanne

    Um… I think it was just a bad movie. I don’t like to hate, especially on comic book movies, but I agree with Rotten Tomatoes on this one and thought the Green Lantern/Thor comparison was a great justification of believing in the majority opinion.

    I do agree though that timing and marketing have an affect on people’s expectations on a film and thereby an affect on their review of a film. For me, the marketing on this film was lame and then the movie disappointed over my low expectations. 

    Green Lantern SHOULD get poor reviews because it seriously lacked punch in storytelling and dialogue – which are exactly what connect a person to a movie.

  • Anonymous

    You guys are crazy if you’re saying that Green Lantern is SO much worse than Thor (it’s not), and you’re also crazy if you’re denying the use of a forensic film study like this post. 

    As to Jeremy’s point, Martin Campbell is the punchiest superhero film director this summer. Yes, his script didn’t approach the level of X-Men’s or Thor’s, but his style (storytelling) was by far the most energetic of all three movies.

  • http://twitter.com/pinkstonaa Aaron Pinkston

    The critical consensus has been monumentally bad, though. Is it really worse than any of those films I listed in the first paragraph?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NTQOUW7RWRZDWC57Z2ZXKNMNJA m

    I don’t personally see why the critics were hating on this film personally. Was it a great film? Not necessarily. However, it was nowhere as bad as they made it out to be. Green Lantern is no Dark Knight by any means but its way better than clunkers like Catwoman, Steel, Jonah Hex and Superman Returns. Either the critics have never read a Green Lantern book a day in their life or are secretly on Marvel’s payroll.  I personally felt the critics were just being assholes for the most part by trashing this film.

  • Dragonseyex

    Agreed, bro. Although I do agree that WB & DC’s marketing ineptitude is a big part of their problem, a lot of people overlook the fact that Marvel has a virtual monopoly on the super-hero genre, so no matter what DC puts out they are never going to make as much. I saw the Green Lantern film myself over the summer and it was nowhere as bad as the critics said it was, which makes me believe that either most of the critics have never read a Green Lantern book a day in their life or genuinely believe that Marvel is the be-all, end-all of the comic genre.
    This is the same kind of harshness films like Van Helsing suffered from; biased reviews. 

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