Warner Bros. // 2009 // 77 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 28th, 2009
Beware his power.
DC's well-regarded line of animated films continues with the origin story of Hal Jordan (known to many as the definitive Green Lantern). Is it another success?
Hal Jordan (Christopher Meloni, Law & Order: SVU) is a pilot who enjoys his job a great deal. One day, he's running a flight simulation in a high-tech machine when something bizarre happens. The machine is lifted into the air by a strange green light and carried to the site of what appears to be some sort of aircraft crash. Lying in the wreckage is an alien named Abin Sur, who is quickly bleeding to death. Abin Sur informs Jordan he has been chosen to be a part of the Green Lantern Corps, a sort of intergalactic police force. Before Hal can say, "Hey, dying guy, that's crazy talk!" he finds a green ring on his finger, a nifty spandex suit on his body, and a group of tough-looking aliens standing around him. They tell him they're going to take him to the planet Oa for training. Telling him, not asking him. So, Hal goes along.
When he arrives on Oa, he meets The Guardians, a race of little blue people who have apparently been around far longer than most species. They're skeptical about the idea of allowing Jordan to join their elite group. After all, he's a human, and humans are known to be a less than ideal for such a noble task. Another Lantern Corps member named Sinestro (Victor Garber, Alias) has an idea. He suggests that he take Jordan under his wing, show him the ropes, and report on whether or not Hal is up to the job. The Guardians agree and Jordan's first day as a Lantern begins. However, trouble is a-brewin'. Sinestro's violent and controversial behavior leads Jordan to wonder whether his new mentor is such a good guy. If Sinestro is up to something, it's going to be up to Jordan to find out what and stop him.
It's a good time to be a Green Lantern fan. In the past few years, comic book writers Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi have been doing great things for a branch of the DC Universe that had been limping painfully along for quite some time. With the character's reinvigorated comic book popularity has come an announcement of a Green Lantern theatrical film that will star Ryan Reynolds and be directed by Martin Campbell. As icing on the cake, we now have Green Lantern: First Flight, the fifth DCU Animated Film and the third from director Lauren Montgomery (who previously helmed Superman: Doomsday and Wonder Woman). Fortunately, it's another stellar effort from DC and Warner Bros. that should prove a good time for fans of the character and newcomers alike.
Much like Wonder Woman, this is essentially an origin story which may or may not be used to set up future animated tales. Writer Alan Burnett (who has a long history of working on various DC animated projects) breezes through a pretty good chunk of plot material in a coherent and well-paced manner, even if it means cutting back on a few story elements for the sake of time (Jordan's boss and girlfriend Carol Ferris only appears in the first few minutes before vanishing completely). He has described the plot in interviews as, "Green Lantern's Training Day," which is a rather apt comparison. Anyone who knows even a little bit about the Green Lantern franchise knows Sinestro will eventually turn corrupt, a fact this film doesn't try to hide. One of the strongest scenes occurs when Sinestro takes Hal to an otherworldly night club and attempts to force information out of a female alien by subjecting her to a potential overdose of an exotic drug.
Hal is understandably sidelined for a significant portion of the film, forced to simply observe Sinestro's actions and learn more about his new surroundings before attempting to take any sort of action. Even so, we get a reasonable handful of heroism before the 77-minute running time concludes. The film gets stronger as it proceeds, culminating in an impressively-staged action sequence between Sinestro and the entire Green Lantern Corps. As with some of the previous DCU animated films, this one really excels in the action department, using the advantages of the medium to create some genuinely epic sequences. You want high-flying space opera? You got it. Burnett does a nice job of developing the characters throughout the often action-packed proceedings. By the time the noisy finale arrives, we actually have a solid handle on who everyone is and, more importantly, we are interested in and care about them.
DC Comics junkies such as myself will be pleased at the active roles some of the lesser known characters in Green Lantern universe get to play. No Green Lantern story would be complete without Kilowag (Michael Madsen, who naturally makes the character much gruffer than he was when Dennis Haysbert voiced him in the Justice League animated series), the bulky Corpsman responsible for training and supervising most new members. There's also some extended screen time for Boodikka (Tricia Helfer, Battlestar Galactica), the squirrely Ch'p (Juliet Landau, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and the villainous Kanjar Ro (Kurtwood Smith, That '70s Show). Still, this is very much the Hal vs. Sinestro story, and it's a rather good one that will hopefully inspire more Green Lantern animated films in the future (it would be great to have an adaptation of something like The Sinestro Corps War to accompany the new theatrical film in 2010).
The DVD transfer is quite excellent, rendering the beautiful animation with clarity and detail, considering its somewhat limited budget. Though there were a few long shots that made me yearn to see the film in hi-def, this is about as good as it gets for straight-to-DVD animated releases, far superior to many of the animated television discs I've reviewed recently. The colors, dominated by deep blacks and bright greens, pop off the screen with vibrant energy. The disc also boasts a strong sound mix, with the not-bad synth score by Robert Kral blending in nicely with the booming sound design and crisply-recorded dialogue.
I had the mixed pleasure of reviewing the single-disc DVD version of the film, which of course boasts far fewer special features than the 2-disc DVD and Blu-ray sets. This version only has two noteworthy featurettes, neither of which have much to do with the film itself. First up is a 7-minute sneak peek at the next animated feature, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies which will be released in December. Looks like fun, even if it is based on a less-than-amazing comic book arc by Jeph Loeb. We also get an 8-minute sneak peek at Blackest Night, DC's current comic book "event" running through the Green Lantern titles. The first issue of the core miniseries was read by yours truly just a couple of weeks before writing this review. While I found it immensely engaging, the promotional piece here does a less than ideal job of convincing newbies to check it out. There are also "sneak peek" pieces on three other DCU Animated films (all offered on previous releases) and a batch of trailers. Meh.
I did feel like the film got off to something of an awkward start. For the first ten minutes or so, it seemed like First Flight was simply going through the necessary motions required to get Hal Jordan to Oa. A similar origin scene was witnessed in Justice League: The New Frontier, and it was somewhat less effective here. Thankfully, once the movie gets going, it rarely stumbles again.
I'm immensely pleased to report that DC has turned in yet another winning straight-to-DVD adventure. If you've enjoyed the previous entries, you'll certainly enjoy this one. It's a great jumping-on point for people who have never heard of Green Lantern. However, only pick up this single-disc version if you could care less about supplements, because the other releases have far more to offer.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 77 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Sneak Peek