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Amazingly enough, in a summer crammed with four separate superhero origin movies, all but one of them managed to become sizable hits. Left on the outside of all that success is poor Green Lantern, the only movie this summer to come from the DC Comics universe and the first desperate attempt from Warner Bros. to get another superhero franchise off the ground with the end of Nolan's Batman run clearly in sight. The movie has made just $154 million worldwide on a budget much larger than that, and yet, Warner Bros. is still committed to making a sequel-- and they may be trying to make it closer to The Dark Knight next time.
Today's Los Angeles Times story has it from several behind-the-scenes sources that not only will director Martin Campbell not be returning for the sequel, but that they'll be trying to make the second film "edgier and darker." Actually, that bit comes from a pretty high-up, on-the-record source-- Warner Bros. President Jeff Robinov. No, really, here's the quote:
“We had a decent opening so we learned there is an audience. To go forward we need to make it a little edgier and darker with more emphasis on action…. And we have to find a way to balance the time the movie spends in space versus on Earth.”"Edgier and darker" were buzzwords thrown around a lot in the wake of The Dark Knight, which reigned for a little while as the biggest movie as all time and still sets the high bar for the cultural importance and critical appeal of any superhero movie. But the same summer that The Dark Knight creamed the box office, Iron Man was another huge and even more surprising success-- and it's that film that set the tone for what came next in the genre. Not only have the most successful superhero movies since then been part of the same Marvel Universe, but that movie's bright, funny optimism has been aped both by the Marvel follow-ups Thor and Captain America and even X-Men: First Class, which gave us mortal enemies Magneto and Professor X in the first blush of friendship.
In the summer of 2008 there seemed to be two ways to go forward with the superhero genre-- dark and brooding and relevant to real life, or bright and poppy and gleefully escapist. The movie industry almost single-handedly decided to go with the latter, so why does Warner Bros. want to turn back the clock now? Sure, they're almost guaranteed to have another enormous hit next summer with The Dark Knight Rises, which should also be dark and edgy and all of that, but do they really think Green Lantern's problem was in not being similar enough to Batman? They've got a movie about a human who joins an intergalactic corps of peacekeepers devoted to the forces of willpower and goodness, and yet, they want him to be more like a tortured billionaire vigilante.
Did Robinov even see his movie and actually try to follow its tangled and dull plot? Does he realize that one of the biggest hits of the summer is Captain America, about another do-gooder fighting crime who doesn't have a single edge to him? I'm guessing the answer to both of those things is "yes," and Robinov is trying to give excuses for how everything is going to be better the second time around, when in fact he's brought back the same team of writers-- Greg Berlanti, Michael Green and Marc Guggenheim-- to try and get a different result. There's a lot that needs fixing in Green Lantern, but nothing that can really be accomplished by simply mimicking the studio's biggest hit.