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August 10, 2010

Movie Review: Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)

by Corby Kennard

Green Lantern: First Flight is the DC Universe's newest animated feature. It puts Green Lantern, a character whose time to shine has definitely come, front and center in an epic adventure across the universe. Accompanied by various members of the Green Lantern Corp, the newest lantern, Hal Jordan, has to stop a rogue Hero-turned-Villain before he destroys the Corps and enslaves the universe. It's big, loud, explosive, and action packed; everything one would expect from a superhero movie in general, and a Green Lantern movie in particular, which is why it's that much worse that the final product is mildly disappointing.

Buy Green Lantern: First Flight on DVD or Blu-ray

To be fair, the film does more things right than wrong. GL's origin story is greatly abbreviated into a five minute segment before the credits even roll. Superhero origins are generally the same: Alien falls to Earth/Fish out of water - Superman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Wonder Woman; Parents killed by criminals/Are criminals - Batman, Robin, Jericho, Raven; Bestowed power by alien/accident - Spider-man, Green Lantern, Flash; Parents are heroes - Black Canary, Huntress. The only people who don't understand that hero origins can be summed up in a few words aren't going to be buying this movie, and the director, Lauren Montgomery, understood this. Unfortunately we don't get much character development about Hal Jordan before he is given the ring, but we know what we need to: i.e. He's a test pilot, an alien Green Lantern named Abin Sur crashes on Earth, his ring finds Hal and brings him to the injured Green Lantern, Abin Sur dies, and Hal is given the mantle. Perfect, concise, and easily flows into the title sequence.

Unfortunately, this is also the film's first misstep. Abin Sur is a pinkish-red bald alien who, other than his skin color, looks human. He has always been depicted this way, in every issue or cartoon episode that features him. So, why did DC allow the animators to put weird useless horns all over his face? What was the point? Fans of Green Lantern have been waiting for a while for a film that features their hero, and they know what the characters look like. If this was a movie for fans, as the beginning seems to suggest, why would they make such a superficial-and-unnecessary change? Now, this didn't ruin the movie for me, mind you. But it was something I noticed and took me out of the film for a moment.

As the film continues, we watch Hal meet the Green Lantern Corp, and see many of our favorite Green Lanterns. Fans will recognize Ch'p, Boodikka, Kilowog, Tomar Re, and several others. The Guardians are wearing their old-style bright red and white outfits. And we see Honor Lantern Sinestro as he takes fledgling GL Jordan under his wing. Fans now know what story we are going to be told, and considering the fast pace of the film, we know we are in for a great ride on the way. But then, another turn away from the source material. In the comics, Sinestro is exposed by Hal Jordan as being a totalitarian who rules his sector of space with an iron fist in direct violation of what the Green Lantern's stand for. In the film we get a sneaky Sinestro working to undermine the Guardians and institute his own universal rule by exploiting the Power Lantern's yellow impurity. In both stories his ultimate goal is Peace Through Heavy Handed Rule. But the comics present a layered exploration of how power can go to even a hero's head when they feel they are doing the Right Thing, and then their inevitable downfall. The film story features a bunch of generic tentacled aliens and a typical Comic Book Villain Plot with less subtlety than a CSI autopsy. Sinestro's downfall in the comics is rather important to set him up as Hal Jordan's arch-enemy, as he blames Jordan for his failure, not his own hubris. This is barely a theme of the film. It is there, but almost as an afterthought.

Finally, we come to the end of the film. Sinestro is defeated and Hal Jordan is afforded the respect of the Guardians and the rest of the Green lantern Corp, especially hard to please Kilowog. There are some exciting space battles and explosions, Green Lanterns are killed, and we get to see the Sinestro Corp uniform which is a nice nod to the fans. But it all feels empty somehow, not really earned. On the way here, there are few more errors made that, added up, make me wonder if DC actually checked this film against the Green Lantern universe bible. When a Green Lantern dies, for instance, their rings don't go look for a suitable replacement, they go back to the Guardians and wait for them to find a new hero. This is not a huge deal, but it's done simply for effect, to show a rain of rings that illustrate just how many GL's died. A larger issue is that Sinestro is able to kill with his green power ring, something he should not be able to do. The ring won't allow it. Other issues with the film: Boodikka sides with Sinestro and is killed by Hal - who doesn't kill. Tomar Re dies stupidly. The constructs they make with the rings are overly simple and not too imaginative. Qward is in this universe. Lastly, the impurities in the rings mean the green ones can't affect yellow things, and the yellow one should not be able to affect green things. Yet that doesn't seem to be a problem as Sinestro shoots yellow beams that beat and ensnare Green Lanterns, and green constructs throw Sinestro and his Giant Yellow Powerball around quite a bit. (I had an issue with the Powerball, but that's just me, not a departure from the comics.) Because of this, Hal's ultimate victory feels more like an accident than a deliberate thought process: i.e. just beat on it until we win, that should work.

All of that aside, the film is fun, probably more so to someone who is passingly familiar with the character but not really a "fan". The voice work by Christopher Meloni, Victor Garber, Tricia Helfer and the rest of the cast is good enough, and the scope feels appropriately epic. The art is not nearly as stylistic as the Wonder Woman animated film, but it fits the theme of the movie pretty well. First Flight moves fast and uses computer animation to great effect, especially in a hyperspace-like sequence. All things considered, if they had just adapted the comic story of Sinestro's fall instead of using this generic and overly-simplistic story, the film would have been terrific, other flaws notwithstanding. As it stands, fans will enjoy the movie, but won't be able to take it as a serious exploration of the Green Lantern mythos. Honestly, the episode of Duck Dodgers included on the Blu-Ray disk feels more true to the Green Lantern universe than the movie itself.

Speaking of extras, the disk has quite a few. Four short documentaries covering different aspects of GL, from Sinestro to the Guardians to the idea of the power rings. (And they are short; two of them are only four minutes long.) There is an interview with Goeff Johns, the current scribe of the comic book and the architect of the summer's Big Event - Blackest Night, which also has a short documentary. There is the aforementioned terrific episode of Duck Dodgers where DD get's GL's ring from the dry cleaners by accident and decides to be a hero, as well as five GL-themed episodes of Justice League. Finally, there are short docs on three already-released animated films: Wonder Woman, Batman: Gotham Knights and Superman: Doomsday; and an intriguing preview of this fall's Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. This is definitely one of the highlights of the disk.

Essentially, this disk is not a waste of time for casual comics fans, but steadfast Green Lantern fans will be disappointed. It's fast-paced, and has plenty of extras to round out your GL knowledge. Strangely, there is no behind the scenes feature or commentary track, so that's a negative. If you just want to watch a superhero story and don't care much about continuity with the comics it came from, or you really need a Green Lantern fix to tide you over until the live-action film is released, this disk is fine. If you are looking for something a little more intelligent or challenging, this is probably not your film.

Overall grade:
NonFans: 4 out of 5 power rings
Fans: 2 out of 5 power rings

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