The latest DC Universe animated film, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, was officially released yesterday in both digital and optical disk formats, the second animated film featuring Green Lantern. While not linked to Green Lantern: First Flight in terms of continuity, the fact that the creators choose to take a shortcut and use the same character design could certainly add a bit of confusion if you began watching this feature thinking you were getting a sequel. Like Batman: Gotham Knights, Emerald Knights is an anthology of five animated sequences held together by an over-arcing story, however where the Batman anthology seemed a little disjointed by an unclear narrative and diverse art styles Bruce Timm and friends have done a better job to put together a film that serves as a primer for anyone new to the Green Lantern universe that remains satisfying to long time fans.
The over-arcing story for Emerald Knights is loosely inspired by the 1981 three-issue limited series, Tales of the Green Lantern Corps, written by Len Wein from a plot by Mike W. Barr. Retooled for this feature by Green Lantern scribe and DC Entertainment’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns, we join the Green Lantern Corps amidst the discovery that Krona, the renegade Guardian who created the multiverse, is mounting an attack from the Antimatter Universe. The original story also connected Krona to Nekron of Blackest Night fame, who discovered our universe when the death of the supposedly immortal Krona allowed him to peer into our realm from his own.
As the Corps prepares for Krona to launch his attack on the Guardians from a portal in the sun that Oa orbits, Hal Jordan shares the story of the first Green Lantern with new recruit Arisia. Comics history reveals the first Green Lantern to be Rori Dag who first appeared in Green Lantern Volume 2 issue 67 back in 1969, but in a bit of retconning, Green Lantern film script writers MarkGuggenheim and Michael Green re-envision the first lantern as a scribe name Avra.
Avra’s tale reminds the viewers about not judging a book by its cover in a story that really serves to give new fans a stripped-down version of the history of the Green Lantern Corps. While certainly nothing groundbreaking and avoiding the complex details of the emotional spectrum, the Manhunters and such, “The First Lantern” is a great primer wrapped in an enjoyable tale of the discovery of the rings’ potential.
Next up is “Kilowog” adapted by Peter Tomasi from a story he also wrote for issue three of 2009’s miniseries “Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps”. The tale of the rookie Kilowog learning about who he is and the hardships of being a Green Lantern from his trainer is very enjoyable even though it is a bit predictable. Here the comic version of the drill instructor, Ermey, has been replaced by a new character, Deegan. It’s unfortunate in my mind that the producers didn’t go after the real-life R. Lee Ermey to voice the character created in his honor as it would have been terrific casting. I’m certainly not knocking Wade Williams who does a good job voicing Deegan, but it seems like a great opportunity lost.
“Mogo Doesn’t Socialize” is adapted by Dave Gibbons who drew the original short story written by Alan Moore. The story here plays out well, especially for those who don’t know the reveal at the end about the identity of Mogo, but even long-time fans like myself can enjoy the segment with wrestling great “Rowdy” Roddy Piper providing the voice of Bolphunga the Unrelenting. Even though I knew what was coming and the story offered nothing really new, I’m just thrilled to see a story like this adapted to film after all these years.
Laira’s tale was also one that I found a great adaptation from the original source work that, while predictable even to those who don’t know the story, the action and imagery made it something fun to watch. The directing of this particular story was great in terms of planning out the action sequences and juxtaposing the fighting between Laira and her father in the background with the images of far happier times playing out in the foreground. Again, this is another character who deserves some face time who probably wouldn’t get it any other way – at the same time, it shows how epic the scale of the Green Lantern universe is and how each member of the Corps has a unique story that defines who they are regardless of the fact that they all have the same kind of ring.
Abin Sur’s tale, a Geoff Johns adaptation of the “Tygers” short story by Alan Moore, is probably my favorite. Deviating a bit from the original tale Johns weaves in bits of the future Sinestro Corps War and Atrocitus into the story that serves to provide a bit more characterization of the late Green Lantern of sector 2814. I will say that it did whet my appetite for an animated adaptation of that storyline for sure and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see fans asking Bruce Timm about a project like that during this summer’s convention circuit. This short also serves to tie together the relationship between Abin and Sinestro a bit more for people who are somewhat new to the mythology, something that may be helpful when viewing the live-action film.
The main story that serves to tie these all together surprisingly doesn’t suffer from being broken down into segments to allow for the insertion of the five stories. Johns wrote in a reference to the Blackest Night prophecy that fans are sure to pick up on and the epic battle at the end again illustrates the grand science fiction element that is so much a part of the Green Lantern universe. The story keeps you interested rather than act like glue to hold the whole film together, with quite a bit of action in the final act to provide a more than satisfying ending.
The voice acting throughout was solid with perhaps the exception being Henry Rollins as Kilowog. While he had the range to carry out the subtleties of the Wog’s voice, it just didn’t have the depth that fans would expect from a being of that size. Nathan Fillion does a great job with Hal, who serves mainly as a narrator throughout the film. Like always Fillion adds warmth and charm to what he does and his voice serves the film well. Piper is a hoot as Bolphunga, Kelly Hu is great as Laira and Jason Isaacs does a serviceable job of Sinestro given that he doesn’t have a great deal to do here but act as a smug man with a British accent. Elisabeth Moss does a great job here of playing the role of Arisia, who here is portrayed more as a typical teen. The score and animation for Emerald Knights were top-notch as well.
The Extras :
Dan DiDio, co-publisher of DC Comics, and Geoff Johns provide a commentary track for Emerald Knights that is less movie commentary and more casual Green Lantern conversation. Not necessarily a bad thing but I think it might be a stretch to call it a film commentary although they do refer to what’s going on periodically. As a DC Comics fan, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to listen to the talk about the history of the resurgence of the Green Lantern mythology and some of the decisions by the company in the past.
“Why Green Lantern Matters: The Talent of Geoff Johns” is a twenty-minute feature that looks at the man responsible for Green Lantern becoming one of DC’s most successful franchises. While there is some repetition of clips from interviews and there’s not much new information here for long-time fans, it does a good job of sharing information that less connected fans might not have already seen and it reminds us of how far the Green Lantern mythology has traveled since Green Lantern: Rebirth was first printed back in 2005.
“Only the Bravest: Tales of the Green Lantern Corps” is about thirty minutes long and is a fascinating look at the nature of will and bravery combining comments from comics creators and psychologists to explore how those two elements combine together with the Green Lantern mythology. While it doesn’t necessarily bear repeated viewing it’s pretty interesting and it would also be a nice addition to the eventual release of the live-action film. A couple of mini-bios of Abin Sur and Laira give brief looks back at their comic book roots and how they made the jump to the small screen. Nice information for those not in the know, but it leads to wondering why the other highlighted characters didn’t get the same treatment.
Warner Brothers included one full-length Batman: The Brave and The Bold episode, “Revenge of the Reach,” and a 3-minute clip from the episode “The Siege of Starro, Part One”. Both are offered in high definition and are worth a peek. An advanced look at the next animated film, Batman: Year One, looks great, and also included is a preview of the previous DC animated feature All-Star Superman. There is also a Green Lantern Virtual Comic that I quite honestly skipped over once I found out how hard it was to read.
Finally, there are the pre-requisite trailers and of course, there was one for the Green Lantern movie, but it was the trailer from last November that so underwhelmed people I’m not sure why they would choose to include that one here when they had two superior trailers or the Wondercon footage to choose from. I personally found the lack of promoting the film ill-conceived here, I would have thought that maybe an exclusive clip would have been a great promotional tool, or as they did with Harry Potter provide the first few minutes of the movie on the disk.
All in all the movie is a lot of fun and not holding a marketing blunder against it I’d have to say it’s one of the best DC animated films yet. The variety of storytelling really plays off of the depth of Green Lantern mythology and makes an anthology a perfect way to explore the whole universe. Visually and audibly stunning this is a great film for fans both old and new. I know I found it fun to share with my own family who would have to be deaf and blind not to know about Green Lantern with me in the house and certainly know who the main players are since this gave them more information about what Green Lantern is all about.
Nine out of ten lanterns.