On a stifling hot New Orleans afternoon, “Green Lantern” director Martin Campbell closed his eyes and thought about the cold, deep reaches of outer space. “The interesting part of all this is to take a hero and take an adventure and then go out there,” the filmmaker said pointing to the ceiling and beyond. “That’s something you haven’t really seen.”
Campbell has made masked-man movies before (he brought a smart verve to both “The Legend of Zorro” and “The Mask of Zorro” in the 1990s), and he knows his way around venerable brands that can be smothered by fan expectations (his “Casino Royale” bet the house on a hard-edged James Bond reinvention and won big). Now he’s bringing that experience to “Green Lantern,” the Warner Bros. project that wants on-screen superheroes to boldly go where they’ve never gone before — into a deep-space film franchise.
“This was a chance to do some things I’ve never done before,” Campbell said between takes for a scene near the end of the film, which arrives in theaters on June 17. “We have a story that is very human and very much about human emotions, but what’s within that story takes us off-world and into some alien settings that are extraordinary.”
The film stars Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, a cocky test pilot who is pulled into a cosmic struggle between good and evil when he is selected as the first human to serve in the Green Lantern Corps, a galactic peacekeeping force whose members are armed with power rings. Co-stars include Mark Strong, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Geoffrey Rush and Tim Robbins.
Reynolds said he was sold on the project when he saw the concept art of the planet Oa, ancient home of the Green Lantern Corps and the alien membership that wears the same uniform motif despite assorted numbers of limbs, eyes and heads. The tale of Jordan and the Corps dates back to 1959, and the film speaks to every era of the character’s ever-morphing mythology. That too pulled in the 34-year-old actor.
“I wandered through the art department, and that’s what sold me, seeing this universe that’s created and the scale of it all,” Reynolds said. “They’re taking the Green Lantern canon from the comics and they’re extending it out into this new medium. Our goal is to make the first superhero who really goes on a ‘Star Wars‘ kind of epic journey, and this mythology goes back a lot further than ‘Star Wars.’”
Visual effects supervisor Jim Berney said the film is an enticing challenge for digital wizards too, with the Lanterns’ power ring, which creates a glowing emerald construct of anything its wearer can imagine; on the screen that presents the chance to create giant guns, flying fists or energy nets that look like a cross between a genie’s magic and the luminescent tech of “Tron: Legacy.”
The big worry for fans has been tone – the earliest trailer made the film look more like a galactic version of “The Mask” than a gripping epic in which the universe hangs in the balance. A strong showing at WonderCon has tempered some anxieties, but even last summer on the set, Reynolds seemed to sense that the challenge for the film wasn’t the struggle between green and yellow energy but the balance between peril and comedic moments.
“Tone was the biggest concern going in and then it almost became a contagion, and it became the concern of everyone and with me just harping on it,” Reynolds said. “And now I feel that it’s the most exciting discovery as we kept going. No, it’s not dark like Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, but it isn’t very light like you saw some of the [1980s] Superman movies get. The character is somewhere in the middle. He’s a classic male. Han Solo, who was witty but not really funny, was one of the touchstones.”
Reynolds added: “It’s about courage versus fearlessness and the power of willpower and the need for sacrifice and service. This is not a comedy film but like Han Solo or an Indiana Jones, there are moments where you smile and the hero can trades lines with anybody.”
Screenwriter Greg Berlanti has called the overall story architecture a mash-up of “Top Gun” and the Jedi knight culture from “Star Wars,” and that might make “Green Lantern” a franchise for a new frontier in superhero cinema, Berney said.
“Look, to me, Spider-Man, Batman and those movies, I don’t know where you go with those other than plugging in another bad guy,” Berney said. “They did an amazing job with those last two Batman movies, but really [visually] where do you go with those characters? You’re still in New York or in Gotham. With this, you go on and on. The characters, the planets, the reach … this is the hero who takes it the next level and beyond.”