It’s been eleven years since Warner Brothers released a true Green Lantern animated film, the last being 2011’s excellent Green Lantern: Emerald Knights anthology film. For the third Green Lantern animated film, the studio switches gears and brings John Stewart in as the central figure. For this review, I will be going in-depth in some of my analysis, so this review will contain spoilers for anyone who is concerned about reading any of the plot details.
Green Lantern: Beware My Power is an origin story for John Stewart and presumably sets him up to be the main Green Lantern in the new “Tomorrowverse” animated universe if these new movies really are a part of an overall continuity that Warners is trying to create. Where Green Lantern: First Flight was Training Day viewed through a Green Lantern filter, this film is Apocalypse Now according to Ernie Altbacker, the film’s co-writer. Drawing definitely from John Stewart’s depiction in the Timmverse, this version of John Stewart is suffering from PTSD, and it’s the journey in the film that takes John from someone who’s lost to someone who finds a new purpose in life.
In broad strokes, that story isn’t a bad one, but the story-making decisions and execution undermine the film and the end product falls far, far short of its potential. Along the way, there are choices made that are going to make many diehard Green Lanterns angry and why the creators chose to mine the most divisive Green Lantern story in history, and then execute it so poorly, is something I’m still scratching my head over. Comic book adaptations are not known for literally translating the written page to the screen, but smart creative teams know how to make a film accessible to the general public while still providing good fan service. This tends to get people excited about a project and help creates good word of mouth. Look no further than Green Lantern: The Animated Series for a stellar example of how creators took the rich Green Lantern mythology and presented it in a fashion that not only created new fans but really pleased existing ones at the same time.
I bring up the animated series for another reason, that being that Jim Krieg, co-producer of the animated series, is the producer of this film. The aforementioned Altbacker also wrote seven of the animated series episodes. I’ve talked with both of these men before and have a great deal of respect and admiration for them, but I have to say I’m bitterly disappointed in how they executed this film. As bluntly as I can say this, it’s like they took the plot points from “Emerald Twilight”, “Zero Hour”, and “Rann-Thanagar War” and threw them in a blender to create one of the worst animated films in the Warner Brother DC library.
As John is dealing with adjusting to civilian life and coping with his PTSD, Ganthet crashes on Earth and when John arrives on the scene of the flaming and smoking wreck, is told by Ganthet that he was seeking John out. The Guardian fades from existence, leaving John with a ring and no idea how to use it. That brings John literally to the Justice League satellite and a confrontation with Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, and Vixen. When Oliver Queen returns to Earth with John and examines the crashed ship, the two leave for Oa and the movie gets going. Now, the first thing that springs to mind at this early junction are the immediate parallels between John getting his ring and how Kyle Rayner received his – in my opinion it’s way too similar. The other thing is that I wonder how good of a job the Justice League does when they had no idea that an alien ship entered Earth’s atmosphere….let alone how John had time to go to the satellite, fight with the League, and then return to the scene of the crash before any emergency crews did.
Arriving on Oa, John and Ollie find a bunch of dead Green Lanterns, including Salaak, Boodikka, Ke’Haan, General Kreon, and a few other familiar faces. It’s nice to see them used, even if they were just for cannon fodder. While John’s goal on Oa is to simply give the ring back, he’s pulled into the mystery of the attack on Oa, which the arrival of Hawkgirl deems to have been an evil turn of the Rannians. The Rann/Thanagar conflict takes center stage, to the point at which John is overshadowed by Shayera, Ollie, and Adam Strange as they try to unravel exactly what is going on. While the mystery unfolds John does take the opportunity to use the ring to teach himself the minimal basics needed to function as he is pulled into the conflict. I will say I did like the concept introduced here about the ring AI providing some rudimentary training – it’s no replacement for Kilowog for sure, but it’s better than nothing. I’m not keen on the male voice for the power ring, but that’s just personal preference.
We eventually get clued in that Sinestro is behind the attacks on both Rannian and Thanagarian assets, stimulating both sides to take up arms against the other. Sinestro is really not portrayed as the multi-layered “master of order at any cost” character he should be, here reduced to a rather two-dimensional mustache twirler whose motivations are not made clear until the very end. We see that Sinestro is joined by Lyssa Drak and two beings who look like Despero and Kanjar Ro in his plot to destabilize things between Rann and Thanagar. Something jarring that hits anyone with any familiarity with Sinestro will no doubt be dumbfounded by the odd logo on Sinestro’s uniform. While Sinestro’s ring clearly has the Sinestro Corps logo, and Lyssa Drak herself has the logo on her outfit, Sinestro’s look is certainly…different. That and the added facial hair just seem to diminish his presence a little.
The big reveals for the movie start early in the third act when the heroes find themselves imprisoned alongside a haggard-looking Hal Jordan, who is not as dead as we were led to believe. Together they make their escape and Hal shows a more brutal side when he kills two of his captors, and while Hal and Ollie’s relationship isn’t firmly established, it’s clear that the two have enough history that Hal’s actions raise the archer’s eyebrows. No such eyebrows are raised when John Stewart kills Sinestro which is a bit of a double standard when you consider all Hal had to work with Shayer’s mace and a laser gun. A distinction is made and how Hal and John react to their respective actions, but there’s plenty of room to see it in several ways. The biggest reveal is in learning that Sinestro really isn’t the big bad here, he’s a subserviate to Hal, who’s gone full Parallax.
That’s right, we’re going back to 1994 and the most controversial story in Green Lantern’s 80-plus-year history, only it’s written worse if you can imagine that. There’s no Hal falling down in a time of great loss and breaking bad in a moment of weakness. This is Hal Jordan, who the movie goes out of the way to say is the greatest Green Lantern of all time, being knowingly infected by the Parallax entity and just embracing it and wanting to erase history to rewrite it better. No motivation is provided, Parallax just opens Hal’s eyes up to his true calling and we’re off and running.
If that weren’t enough, we get one of the oldest tropes in the book used as a means to end the conflict. John Stewart, a guy who’s only had the ring for a short time and hasn’t gotten any formal training, gets the better of the greatest Green Lantern of all time, who’s wielding ten rings AND has the power of Parallax inside him! This is a fight that isn’t even a fight, but plot armor gets in the way and we see John will some of the rings off of Hal’s hands. And then, wait for it, when Hal does regain the upper hand he’s taken out with an arrow. Yeah, he was in “Zero Hour”, but he was also nearly out of energy at that point so he couldn’t protect himself. There’s no such plot device this time. Not only doesn’t it make sense, but the execution is sloppy when we see the arrow entering Hal from behind when Ollie is standing several feet in front of Hal. And while Ollie was critical of Hal when he took lethal action, Ollie himself never tried to talk his friend down and went straight for the kill shot. What nonsense!
In the end, we see that John has made an ally of Hawkgirl as a nod to their romance in the Timmverse, and the movie ends with John embracing his new sense of purpose with his new bestie, Oliver Queen, who has no problem going out to grab a bite to eat after having killed his friend. Heck, Ollie didn’t even bring Hal’s corpse back to Earth for a proper burial. Yeah, it could lead to a Green Lantern: Rebirth type of film, but I have no faith that we’ll get anything like that, especially if we have to wait another eleven years for a Green Lantern animated film.
There are a lot of problems with this movie besides the poor creative choices and the script itself. The acting is wooden with the exception of Jimmi Simpson’s performance as Green Arrow. Aldis Hodge’s portrayal of John Stewart is sadly one-dimensional, not that the script gives him the chance to be anything more. The movie really underscores how the John Stewart character just isn’t all that interesting and doesn’t have the charisma to carry a project on his own. Simpson provides all the entertainment value in what is a very weak story. Nolan North does okay as Hal Jordan, but again there’s no meat on the bones for him to create a performance that offers any pathos for the character, so we’re just left with a good guy gone bad trope.
I will say that, other than the goof in Ollies miraculous through the back shot, the animation and fight choreography are good. I also appreciated the depiction of the ring’s energy as something more than stagnant green beams. It’s shown as something much more like I think of it in my head – so kudos there. The overall color tone of the film was good as well, using varied lighting and color choices to good effect and preventing the movie from looking like a green neon festival.
Character design was okay for the most part, but the biggest stumbles are with Sinestro, Parallax, and John himself. Sinestro’s failings have already been mentioned, but Hal as Parallax takes bad creative choices to a whole new level. While I couldn’t stand Hal’s turn as Parallax back in 1994, I have to admit that Darryl Banks’ costume design was pretty easy on the eyes. But this? I don’t even know how to describe this monstrosity. As for John, well he rarely gets out of his street clothes despite having Green Lantern underoos on underneath, and when we finally get a reveal of their costume design we can understand why they kept it covered. There was nothing wrong with John’s look and what they gave him just looks like a bad v-neck onesie.
What made this movie nearly unwatchable to me was that it was simply boring, and then when we get to the third act it goes out of the way to through the most popular Green Lantern under a bus that undermines the Hal Jordan character. If this “Tomorrowverse” is to be an actual tight continuity the creators have taken Sinestro and Hal off the playing field before we’ve really even gotten started. And that’s a terrible shame because the one thing I see fans asking for is an adaptation of the “Sinestro Corps War” story, and the meat on the bones of that story is the relationship between the two characters you just killed off.
And this movie does John no favors. I saw Altbacker say in an interview that he felt that John should be joining the Flash, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in DC’s “Big 5”. While I hardily disagree with his choice of John over Hal in that spot, Beware My Power doesn’t make a good case for John when you have to take from other characters to prop him up. From layering Kyle Rayner’s origin over John to adding PTSD because there isn’t anything compelling about the character as is, to throwing Hal under the bus to make room for him the movie doesn’t give me a reason to have any confidence in the John Stewart character.
When the trailer came out I had an exchange with a Warner Brothers PR person who contacted me and took me to task for daring to have a critical opinion based on the trailer. I’ll stand my response to him in which I outlined a much better way to have introduced John that would have complemented his origins and character, and even more so now that I’ve seen the actual film.
Here’s the thing – you could have used the Sinestro Corps War as the main plot of the film, introducing John Stewart early on when he and Hal get into a fight in a military bar ala what we saw in “Secret Origin”. The Sinestro Corps War erupts and John is chosen as Hal’s partner when the Guardians deem that they need to counter the threat by giving each sector a team of two Green Lanterns. Enter the serious, tactical John Stewart who takes this all very seriously being paired up with the roguish Hal Jordan as the two learn to work together against this huge threat. You get the fun “Lethal Weapon” vibe without the age factor and heck, you could even have Hal get possessed by Parallax and have John rescue him. A lot for one film, but since Batman: The Long Halloween got two parts the same thing could have happened here – heck you could have done a cliffhanger with Hal getting infected by Parallax and then spent the second half with John teaming up with Kyle or Guy to rescue Hal in the second half. I know, Warners and DC would actually have to have some faith in their characters outside of Batman to do something that radical.
I’ll just add one more observation before wrapping this up. I found it odd that Warners credited a number of creators for some of the characters in this movie, and rightly so. But I found it odd that they chose to not acknowledge Ron Marz and Darryl Banks for the creation of the Hal Jordan Parallax character, nor Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver for the creation of the Parallax entity.
In the end, Green Lantern: Beware My Power is a flop of a movie, failing its lead character and making him the supporting character in someone else’s movie. Lifting plot points of Kyle Rayner’s origin, throwing Hal Jordan under a giant green construct bus, and making up new character traits in order to elevate the least interesting Green Lantern does not serve him or the mythology well. Ignoring the opportunity to provide a compelling story that also delivers good fan service, this is one movie that I sadly cannot recommend. Four out of ten lanterns.