July 28th marked the release of the 5th DC Comics direct-to-dvd movies, this time starring everyone’s favorite emerald gladiator. Like the Wonder Woman dvd before it, Green Lantern: First Flight is an original story taking elements of the character’s origins that comics fans are already familiar with and creating an all-new adventure. Does this one hit the mark?
I guess that really depends on how much of a stickler you are for keeping true to the source material. If you’re really dependent on a 100% true-to-the-comic film you’re not going to find it here, and you’re likely not going to find that in any comic related project taken to another entertainment medium. But if you’re willing to let go of some of it and relax a little, “First Flight” is a fun and entertaining romp. There are a couple of transgressions that I personally have a little trouble getting past as I’ll point out later on.
My cousin and I are life long comics fans and we usually watch comics films together at some point. A criticism we both share is that many comic book inspired films take too long to explain the character before we get going forward into the plot and we end up thinking that we would have been better served just jumping into the action. We both liked Iron Man because the origin moved pretty fast and it didn’t slow the pace of the film down. On the other hand a huge amount of time is spent establishing Peter Parker as a character in the first Tobey Maguire Spiderman film, but it’s done so well and it creates a great connection between the viewer and the main character that it’s almost a necessity for the uninitiated because his story is actually more important when he’s not in costume. It’s a delicate balancing act that some movies get right and some just miss the mark.
In “First Flight” we get the ring into Hal Jordan’s hands before the opening credits roll. That’s great in terms of moving the viewer along, but in this case it’s also a hindrance because, for people not familiar with Hal Jordan the man, this Cliff Notes version of how Hal becomes Green Lantern doesn’t tell the viewer why he’s the best choice on the planet to get the ring. There’s an opportunity lost to allow the viewer to make a connection to the hero of the film that is pretty important to understanding what makes him tick. One could easily argue that Bruce Timm and company know their target audience and, in trying to get the film down to a mandated running time, eliminated something they felt the viewer already knew, but I don’t think that’s necessarily an assumption any film maker should make. When Hal encounters a contingent of corpsmen there is no indication of how long Hal’s had the ring, something that I think would have helped people understand why Hal could use the ring so readily when there’s an immediate conflict over Abin’s fate and something that was as easy to deal with as putting a “x days later” graphic on the screen. Again, there are things that should have been included to say why it’s not as easy as putting the ring on and why Hal Jordan was chosen to succeed Abin Sur.
Hal Jordan in this film is kind of like Indiana Jones – the story moves through him and you can enjoy “First Flight” as the action film it is, but when the film is done Hal as a character doesn’t have an emotional resonance with the viewer. It has nothing to do with Christopher Meloni’s performance at all – he does a great job but the script moves quickly through the plot and the story really doesn’t give him or us many opportunities to get into Hal’s head. Now Sinestro on the other hand – the film does a great job getting into his head and you really understand him as someone who isn’t really a mustache twirling villain, but a guy who’s been around the block and become jaded enough that his world-view has gotten majorly skewed. And Victor Garber does a great job with the role making the audience see him as not only the greatest Green Lantern, but a most dangerous foe.
Plot wise the film is just as fast paced as the opening credits. I’m not going to break the plot down and talk about exactly what happens, but there’s a lot of great stuff here. What I found great about the Wonder Woman film holds true here as well. Both of them start with the commonly recognized premise of their respective mythos, but then they go off in their own direction. I actually prefer that to see adaptations of comic book stories for the simple reason that the film becomes a new experience for me. Sitting in the living room with my family who knows something about Green Lantern (they are living under my roof!) we all shared an adventure that was a new for me as it was for them. We all knew Sinestro would end up being the bad guy by the end of the film, but the journey there was a unique one.
Scenes that really stood out for me where the scenes where Hal stands up to the Guardians when no one else but Sinestro seems willing to. In fact it’s crucial to the plot that Hal and Sinestro have this seeming common bond that sets up their future opposition to one another. “He’s got the hang of it!” has become my wife’s favorite line of the movie and she chuckles every time she hears it. I also liked the whole series of events in the space station and the pursuit of Kanjar Ro. It was great to see Hal use the ring for more than just force bubbles and laser beams and in particular liked seeing Hal use his force of will to pass by the rest of the Corps during the hyperspace chase subtly illustrating how Hal isn’t just another one of the corps.
Some people have complained about the uber-weapon at the end and how it seemed to be more of a pet than a ring-powered WMD. I can kind of see that but it was easy enough to overlook. If there was anything in particular with the plot I’d say was a major problem was the whole thought behind the lantern’s power source. The whole “green element” and “yellow element” thing feels like they had settled on how the film would end and needed to explain where their power comes from but didn’t want to spend the time to get into the whole emotional spectrum thing, so they took the easy way out. It seems hokey and contrived to me and I’d rather have seen a few minutes spent on the emotional spectrum. One also is left wondering why Abin Sur’s ring seeks out Hal when we see other rings return to OA when a lantern dies. These may seem like little things, but they detract from the film over repeated viewings.
The animation is top-notch and there are some fun and innovative uses of the power ring scattered throughout the movie. I watched the film on blu-ray and the work that the animation team did really shines. There’s a lot of great detail work and the colors really pop. Other than not liking the anime-inspired transformation when Hal first puts the ring on, everything looks great. In terms of the character design the costume was changed (no love for the white gloves), but I have to look at Kilowog and wonder why he looks like he needs Jenny Craig rather than being a huge tank of a character. Kanjar Ro has been completely redesigned and the depiction of the Weaponers of Qward of notably creepier than their comic book originals. Abin Sur also looks notably more alien, not that it detracts from his brief appearance. If anything it’s a welcome change in my opinion as he should look more alien to me since Abin’s appearance represents how Hal’s world is about to get much bigger. There is one big nitpick with the animation though and that’s the continuity. For example, in the scene in Labella’s bar Sinestro’s ring goes from left hand to right and back again. So there’s a little sloppiness there that jumped out at me – picky maybe, but somebody missed it. On the other hand, kudos to Timm and company for adopting the newer Sinestro uniform design rather than the traditional blue outfit he had for so many years!
Andrea Romano has done another great job with the voice casting and direction. Meloni and Garber do a great job and the co-leads of the movie. Michael Madsen’s Kilowog is so-so in my book, but he gets the job done. Tricia Helfer does a good job with Boodikka understanding that her character is not exactly portrayed as she is in the comics. Veteran actor Willaim Schallart joins Malachi Throne and Larry Drake and the voices behind the Guardians of the Universe. I’ve always wondered what Tomar-Re’s voice would sound like, and while I’m not sure John Larroquette’s is what I hear but it works for the few lines he gets in “First Flight”. Juliet Landau’s voicework as Tala on the Justice League animated series worked fine, but as Labella she sounds as if she just walked off the set of True Blood with too much southern drawl and not enough exotic alien thrown in.
There are some nice extras as well, but notably missing was a commentary track and a behind the scenes featurette. There’s a nice preview of the Blackest Night event and some information on Sinestro and the Guardians as well as Geoff Johns and the GL mythos. There’s also the obligatory “Justice League” episodes as well. The Blu-ray edition also features a featurette on the use of rings and totems in various mythologies and The Green Loontern episode of “Duck Dodgers in the 24th and a half Century”. This being the 50th anniversary of Hal’s introduction in Showcase #22 it would have been great to have had a retrospective, but I get the impression with the increased pace of the production of this direct-to-dvd features that less time is available to put together extra content. Just like the Wonder Woman film the menu structure doesn’t even have a scene selection option.
All in all Green Lantern: First Flight is an exciting and fun film representing a great effort to bring the Green Lantern mythos to the small screen. Bruce Timm has said that there may be another Green Lantern animated project in the future to coincide with the live action film, so I hope that even more care it taken if and when that happens to bring another adventure to Green Lantern fans. Despite some issues great and small this is definitely worth having in your collection and I would rate it eight lanterns out of ten.