Two Very Different Superhero Movies

This weekend, I went to see two superhero movies and had very different reactions.  I was extremely disappointed in Green Lantern, while I thought that X-Men: First Class was one of the best films of the year.

It's ironic, I suppose, because growing up I was a bigger Green Lantern fan than X-Men fan.  I used to read every comic book I could get my hands on, and unlike many of my friends I can't really say I leaned one way or the other in the big divide between which was better, the Marvel Universe or the DC Universe -- I liked heroes from both.  My favorites were Superman, Batman, the Hulk, and Spider-man, with every other title thrown into the mix.  I remember trying to keep track of all the X-Men -- it seemed like more and more were coming out of the woodwork with each issue.  Green Lantern was cool with some wacky storylines, but my favorite was a three-issue mini-series called Tales of the Green Lantern Corps, a universe-spanning adventure that showed the galactic protectors as a noble army united and sacrificing themselves to defend all life.  My Star Wars-loving brain couldn't get enough of all the different aliens.

I give DC Entertainment credit for trying to stay faithful to the original source material, showing the galaxy-spanning scope of the Green Lantern mythology, but the movie fails in execution.  The computer-generated effects made it seem as if it would have been better suited as a cartoon rather than a live-action motion picture.  X-Men: First Class, on the other hand, while dealing equally cartoonish superpowers and speculative comics, managed to tell a story that allowed the audience to better suspend its disbelief and care for the characters on the screen.

It's probably unfair for me to compare the two movies.  They should each be judged on their own.  Yet, during this summer of countless superhero genre films, comparisons will be inevitable, especially with Marvel's great modern track record of hit films and DC's struggle recently, beyond Batman and Superman, to launch a new blockbuster franchise based on its comic book content.

What X-Men gets right, first and foremost, is the story.  I typically despise prequels, but in this case, setting the tale in the 1960s and discovering how Professor X and Magneto came to be was a brilliant creative decision.  Accolades must also be given to director Matthew Vaughn and his entire crew for their outstanding production values, making the reboot fit in nicely with the other movies that came before (or will come later if we base it on the continuity's timeline.)  The cast was great, with wonderful performances by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, January Jones, and especially Jennifer Lawrence (not to mention a bunch of very cool cameos that I won't spoil here).

My wife, who originally wasn't too enthused to see X-Men, thoroughly enjoyed it.  By comparison, my little nephews, who were eager to see Green Lantern, seemed bored and restless by director Martin Campbell's version, which suffered from the aforementioned special effects overkill and by plodding storytelling.  Whereas X-Men had a perfect story structure with well-contructed beats throughout, Green Lantern had too much exposition and too many slow-moving scenes.

The best parts of Green Lantern were the scenes on Oa, especially the moments with Sinestro, but they just made me think of what could have been if only they had a stronger script.  Instead, the primary villain Parallax was a CGI blob that looked like poop (literally).

More superhero movies are on the way. X-Men: First Class and Green Lantern prove that there is nothing wrong with the genre -- it can still offer great cinema, but it is only as good as the creators who try to bring the stories to life.  What works on the comic book page might not always transfer well to the silver screen, unless shaped by the hands of filmmakers who fully grasp the themes of the original and know how to make them work in a believable way as a live-action film.