Wednesday, November 11, 2009

“You got soft on me back there, Earth boy, and that I will not tolerate.”

So Warner Brothers and DC Comics have been producing quite a few animated, PG-13, direct to video movies featuring a growing number of their superheroes. They started out with mostly Superman and Batman stuff, and while that’s cool, I guess, I’m not in a hurry to see these because those two have twelve feature length, live-action theatrical releases between them. However, other characters have been getting animated pushes, and Green Lantern: First Flight (2009 for those of you wishing me to look at really recent stuff) definitely intrigued me. 1) the Star Wars fan in me wants good space action and 2) I’ve always pretty big on Green Lantern as a kid (I even had the infamous “woman in refrigerator” issue from the 90s). I’m not the biggest GL fan I know (that honor goes to a buddy who may or may not eventually give me back my copy of First Flight), but I definitely dig the characters and concepts, and always have.

77 minutes isn’t a whole lot of time to get stalled by boring backstory, so the movie doesn’t bother. We open up on Hal Jordan, test pilot getting his simulator yanked out of its building and transported to a crashed space ship where a dying member of the Green Lantern Corps. hands Hal a ring that immediately transforms him into a new GL. Shortly thereafter, some more Lanterns show up, unhappy that an Earthling has a power ring and take him to Oa, the home of the immortal Guardians, tiny blue aliens who built a giant power battery at the center of the Universe and send out Green Lanterns to be the cops of space armed with rings that can create constructs of whatever is in the user’s imagination, limited only by their willpower, and the charge on the ring, and the rings don’t do too well against yellow either. But other than that, its limitless power. After Hal convinces the Smurfs that the ring chose him, they grudgingly assign him to one of the most famous Green Lanterns, Sinestro. After some training, Sinestro takes Hal into the field to track down the killer of Abin Sur, the guy who gave Hal his ring. What happens after that I’ve heard referred to as “Training Day in space.”

Hal Jordan, Green Lantern of Earth: Christopher Meloni (probably most famous for being on just about every version of Law & Order ever) plays the very much rookie Hal. He’s a test pilot, so he’s no stranger to danger and courage, but he’s a complete greenhorn when it comes to the procedures of the Green Lantern Corps. He ends up questioning them a lot.

Sinestro: Victor Garber (who’s been in a lot of things) voices Sinestro, the Green Lantern of Korugar and a guy who thinks the Guardians are being too soft on crime. He enters a den of criminals run by someone named Labella (Juliet Landau) and basically tortures her for information. People familiar with the Green Lantern mythos (and anybody who notices his name) will be pleased to note that Sinestro stays true to character and ends up going rogue. But before and after it, he’s easily the movie’s badass (Hal’s just a rookie, after all)

Boodikka: Tricia Helfer (you know, the hot Cylon from the Battlestar Galactica reboot) plays a veteran female Lantern that warms up to Hal a lot faster than most of the other Lanterns.

Kilowog: Michael Madsen (from Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill) plays the big alien bruiser and drill sergeant of the Corps. He doesn’t like Hal at first, but after the poozer saves his bacon, he starts reconsidering his assessment. 

Tomar Re: John Larroquette (yeah, I was surprised too) plays the bird-like, beaky alien who’s with the squad as they find Hal.

Ganthet: Larry Drake (who was in an episode of Firefly and was the bad guy in two Darkman movies) plays one of the little blue Guardians, and the one most amenable to humans.

Kanjar Ro: Kurtwood Smith (whom you may have seen as Red Foreman in That 70s Show. Not I, though, because that show was terrible. I’d rather think of him as the bad guy from Robocop or the jerkwad dad from Dead Poet‘s Society). He plays a crook who’s goon was responsible for Abin Sur’s death. He’s got a pretty powerful weapon that the key to finding one that’s even more powerful, one that’s even capable of challenging the Guardians.

Directed by Lauren Montgomery, the animation team has produced a stylish, slick and colorful action flick. The animation is solid and the action scenes, which are most of the movie, are duly inventive for a movie featuring rings that can magically create anything the bearer thinks of. This being a Green Lantern movie, expect the abundance of that color, as well.

Written by Alan Burnett (who’s written for pretty much every Western animated series since the early 80s) does an interesting job with the script. While he hits all of the major beats (test pilot, Sinestro turning coat, the Carol Ferris appearance, a bunch of fan-favorite Lanterns make an appearance) he also changes quite a bit to keep things interesting. The appearance of some of the aliens, for one thing (Kanjar Ro was never this intimidating before) and the dialog, particularly Sinestro’s, is really solid.

The original score by Robert J. Kral (who’s done a fair amount of TV scores, including the lamentably cancelled The Dresden Files) does a fantastic job. The fanfare playing over the main credits is both heroic and science fiction-y in particular.

Green Lantern: First Flight is really good for a modest, direct market animated film. The animation quality is great, the casting great and the story delivering an action packed but not stupid ADVENTURE! If it wasn’t for the damn Animation Ghetto that the West is currently in, these kinds of films might get a little more press in the mainstream instead of the usual stuff that gets dismissed as mindless fluff.

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