There was a moment a full decade ago when DC Entertainment’s Green Lantern was expected by observers to become the big cosmic superhero hit of the summer in 2011. Meanwhile Marvel’s Thor was expected to stumble and slide off the Rainbow Bridge into the box office void.
Of course we know what really happened: Thor, while a modest hit by modern Marvel standards, became a cornerstone of the MCU and Green Lantern—released on June 17, 2011—flamed out spectacularly, an inarguable bust with both critics and audiences alike.
On the surface, the first live-action film based around the interstellar police force had it all: a well-liked leading man (Ryan Reynolds), a director with solid action credentials (Martin Campbell of Casino Royale and The Mask of Zorro fame), a strong supporting cast (Mark Strong, Blake Lively, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, Peter Sarsgaard), and the kind of epic visual imagery made for summer franchises.
But for various reasons the combination did not work, although one of the bright spots of the film was Mark Strong’s performance as Thaal Sinestro, the militant Green Lantern who’s initially a mentor to new Earth recruit Hal Jordan (Reynolds), and then becomes increasingly disenchanted with the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians of the Universe who oversee them.
“I loved doing Green Lantern,” says Strong now on the eve of the film’s 10th anniversary. “It was great fun to shoot. Ryan Reynolds was great fun. You know, we had a good time on it, or I certainly did. I love the transformation of Sinestro.”
Strong notes that when he came onto the project, the filmmaking team had a different look in mind for Sinestro than his classic comic book image. Strong recalls pushing hard to make the character more accurate to the comics.
“I remember going in for the early look of him, and it was done sort of different,” the actor says. “They’d envisaged him with a kind of ponytail, not like the Sinestro from the comics. And I remember just saying, ‘Listen, the whole reason that I’ve done it is because I want to see if we can really manifest that comic book character look in real life.’ And in the end they did an incredible job. The prosthetics guys were unbelievable, and I loved playing him because I thought he looked the part.”
Green Lantern ended with a mid-credits sequence (of course) in which Sinestro, having pushed unsuccessfully for the use of yellow power to defeat the villain Parallax, slips a yellow ring of power onto his finger. It turns his suit and eyes yellow and foreshadows his eventual descent into villainy, which is a longstanding component of the Green Lantern comics after he breaks away to form his own corps.
“When we did that sequence of him trying on the yellow ring at the end of the first film, I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m ready for this,’” says Strong. “And it’s just a shame it never went any further.”
Whatever its faults were (and we’re sure they’ll be picked over again for the film’s anniversary) and whatever the reasons for its lack of commercial success, the fact that we never got to see Strong go full villain as Sinestro in a sequel is one of the more regretful aspects of Green Lantern’s failure (a new Green Lantern TV series is currently in the works at HBO Max, and it’s expected to delve into the Sinestro storyline, although a Green Lantern Corps movie also remains in limbo).
Meanwhile, you can see Strong do his thing in the new Disney live-action film, Cruella, opening this weekend, and read more of our talk with him shortly.