Green Lantern: First Flight (2009) — Still not the definitive Green Lantern experience

“In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power… Green Lantern’s light!”

Drew’s rating: “And I shall shed my light over dark evil, for the dark things cannot stand the light, the light of the Green Lantern!”

Drew’s review: Historically, Green Lantern has been one of DC Comics’ foremost B-listers. You have the Big Three (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman), who are untouchable and will never die or go away for long. Beyond them lie the second tier characters like Aquaman and Green Arrow, the ones whose names are recognizable but who aren’t as sacred cows, meaning they can actually die, lose limbs, or be replaced for extended periods of time.

Sitting at the very top of that list have traditionally been two names: Green Lantern and the Flash. The Brave and the Bold. In recent years DC has made a major push to have Green Lantern take his place with the big boys in hopes of creating another franchise character, and as part of that we have Green Lantern: First Flight, GL’s first animated movie. (Incidentally, the Flash has just started what looks to be a similar revitalization, so don’t be surprised if 2011 brings us “The Flash: Starting Line” or something.)

Obligatory background: Green Lantern was one of DC’s first superheroes, but the end of the ’40s saw all of them except Supes, Bats, and Wondy cease publication. A decade later, someone at DC decided to borrow the names of the old “mystery men” and update them into streamlined, space age heroes for a new generation, giving us sleek police scientist the Flash, shrinking physicist the Atom, aliens Hawkman and Hawkgirl… and Green Lantern, a test pilot who was chosen to join a galactic police force run by the Guardians, immortal aliens dedicated to keeping peace throughout the universe.

By charging his power ring once every 24 hours, Hal Jordan could fly and create anything his mind could imagine, but the ring carried an impurity that made it vulnerable to the color yellow. Periodically other Green Lanterns would temporarily replace Hal: John Stewart, the token angry black guy who overcame his two-dimensional roots to become a well-rounded character. Guy Gardner, who damaged the part of his brain that controls how much of a douchebag you are and at one point had the bright idea to take the most powerful weapon in the universe off his finger and challenge Batman to a fist fight. (Hint: this became known as the “one punch” incident.) Kyle Rayner, the lucky punk who inherited a magic ring by accident when Hal went insane, but (some would say) eventually rose to the challenge. All did respectable tours of duty, but the best known and most popular Lantern remains Hal, and he’s the focus of our movie.

Like any superhero with five decades of history, Hal’s early days have been retold many times and altered by degrees along the way, like a literary version of Telephone. What Green Lantern: First Flight tries to do is simplify things, jettisoning the parts that don’t work and dispensing with his origin within the first five minutes, allowing the rest of the film to focus on his training and early struggles in the Green Lantern Corps. Thus the movie plays out like a hodge podge of several early GL stories, with rookie Hal assigned to veteran Sinestro, the greatest Green Lantern of all, to learn the ropes of ring slinging and investigate his predecessor’s murder. Yes, that’s right – the Guardians, displaying the infinite wisdom accrued over countless millennia, have elected to put a guy named “Sinestro” in charge of the most powerful army in the universe, presumably because there’s no way that could backfire. Surprisingly it does, as Hal discovers that Sinestro maintains order with an iron fist and secretly despises the Guardians, thinking them too weak to truly effect change. After obtaining a yellow ring (and a power battery shaped like the Death Star), Sinestro openly defies the Guardians and lays waste to the Corps. All seems lost, but if only there were some brash young hotshot who’s a bit of a rebel himself, but with enough morality to still fight for what’s right. Wait, you don’t think…?

In a rare moment of frankness, I’ll just come out with it: I thought the film was pretty good, but definitely started stronger than it finished. This is largely due to its strange habit of oversimplifying some elements of the Green Lantern mythos while simultaneously overcomplicating others. Why would Sinestro bring his power battery into battle with him rather than hiding it somewhere safe, since he can create any weapon he wants with his ring? (For that matter, why does it bear a black GL symbol? Sinestro’s not a Lantern anymore, and his uniform gets a new emblem.) We don’t ever see the Green Lanterns recharging their rings before the climax, so the concept of them running out of juice may come out of left field for some viewers. And good grief, could the Guardians be bigger pusses? These are the immortal demigods who power 3600 interstellar policemen, and the best they can do is shoot some vaguely wavy energy and save their own useless troops from falling to their deaths? Why does Hal want to join these losers again? Go back to the Air Force, Jordan, they have REAL badasses there.

I realize this “review” has been about 60% history lesson, 40% actual review, and I don’t know, maybe I’m just burned out on animated superhero movies. (It’s not just me, there have there been a lot of them lately, right?) Regardless, First Flight was enjoyable but just didn’t bring it home at the end. It hurts to say that because I have a lot of time for Hal as a character, but this is not his best story. Like I said, it isn’t a bad film – the animation is impressive, they got some really talented voice actors, and the first 2/3rds really works for me. But it doesn’t capture the mood and intensity of the Batman animated features, nor the grandeur of the Justice League cartoon. It also invites unfavorable comparisons to both the “In Brightest Day” episode of the Superman cartoon, which told a Green Lantern origin story that’s nearly as thrilling in a third of the time, and Justice League: The New Frontier, which depicts the origin of a more fleshed-out Hal, but set against the backdrop of the greater DC universe. Stacked up against those examples, First Flight unfortunately falls a bit short. I’d still recommend you see it, but maybe as more of a rental or a discount buy. So says the Green Lantern!

Didja notice?

  • It is maybe the coolest thing ever that Ch’p, the squirrel Green Lantern, made it into the movie. The only thing better would’ve been G’Nort, the incompetent dog… thing.
  • Arisia appears in a minor role, seemingly an adult. In the comics, Arisia (a humanoid alien) became a Green Lantern at age 13, but due to having a crush on Hal Jordan, subconsciously used her power ring to age herself to full adulthood, and she and Hal eventually dated. It was exactly as creepy as it sounds.
  • I know it’s just a cartoon, but the scene where Sinestro basically forces drugs on an alien prostitute to make her talk is still pretty uncomfortable.
  • Anyone notice how similar Sinestro’s philosophy is to Sean Connery’s from The Untouchables? “They pull a blaster, you pull a power ring. They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of theirs to the morgue. That’s the Korugar way.”
  • Hey, Red from That ’70s Show is Kanjar Ro! “Sinestro, I swear, if you betray me I’ll put my foot so far up your ass…”
  • Wow… they actually showed a guy getting sucked out into the vacuum of space through a tiny hole. No blood, but still.
  • Okay, so there is some blood. This movie is definitely for teenagers, not kids. In the comics Green Lantern rings were until recently programmed not to allow the use of lethal force, but clearly that’s not the case here.
  • The part where Sinestro reanimates a dead corpse and plies it for information is also quite creepy. Way to earn that PG-13!
  • Scratch that again, there’s a LOT of blood. We’re a long way from the days when a trickle of AB positive from Batman’s mouth was all the blood the Animated Series team was allowed to use for an entire season.
  • Apparently to staff their ultimate police force, the Guardians have been recruiting heavily from preschools, ladies’ auxilary clubs, and chess teams. Seriously, one dude makes 20 Green Lanterns look like total chumps? Sinestro’s supposed to be the best Green Lantern, sure, but better than all of the others combined?
  • The whole levitating rocks thing isn’t helping people not compare you to Yoda, Ganthet.
  • What does it say about me that I’m more surprised by the use of the word “bastard” than all the violence and blood?
  • I could live without the heavy anime influence. Getting pwned with just your “regular” superpowers and having to absorb a mysterious energy source to turbocharge you is a little too Voltron, and there’s no reason Hal freakin’ Jordan should be doing a power ring Hadoken in space. Giant green boxing gloves will do just fine, thank you.

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