Thanks to the horrible Ryan Reynolds GREEN LANTERN movie of a few years back, it’s hard to get some good GL action in movie form, unless you switch to animation. Cases in point:
We begin with a 2009 offering from Warner Animation, GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT.
Directed by Lauren Montgomery from a screenplay by Alan Burnett and Michael Allen, FIRST FLIGHT starts off in familiar territory, re-telling the classic Hal Jordan origin story, with test pilot Jordan being unexpectedly summoned to the site of Green Lantern Abin Sur’s crashed starship, where Jordan is given the power ring and power battery. Almost right away, however, the story veers off into new territory, with rookie Hal Jordan assigned to veteran GL Sinestro as a partner, in a very deliberate echoing of the film TRAINING DAY, with Sinestro taking the Denzel Washington role of the embittered, tough-as-nails officer whose more disturbing, corrupt side slowly reveals itself.
With the duo in pursuit of Abin Sur’s killer Kanjar Ro (one of many Easter eggs and cameos that longtime comics readers will enjoy) Sinestro’s larger scheme for power comes to light, with Hal Jordan framed and booted from the Cops in the process. The film ends in much more epic fashion than I had anticipated, with a left turn into some of the events of the more recent comics, executed here on screen in fine fashion.
What I admired most about FIRST FLIGHT was how it immediately chose what it wanted to be and never looked back. This was going to be a “Green Lantern in space” movie, right from the get-go. If you wanted lots of Carol Ferris and secret identity drama, and a split between outer-space action and Coast City to keep the story grounded and familiar (a decision which, I think, split the focus of the live-action feature film and made for a weaker movie), you weren’t going to get it here. Honestly, the script is cleverer, more serious and better conceived than that of the feature; they’d have been better off just shooting this. And also, a bit of a warning: the movie plays for keeps here, with quite a few deaths both on-camera and off, so those watching with the little once should be prepared; it’s not exactly BRAVE AND THE BOLD.
Along with its smart, tense script and smooth animation, FIRST FLIGHT offers a great, understated but very capable voice cast, starring LAW & ORDER: SVU’s Christopher Meloni as Hal Jordan, ALIAS’ Victor Garber as Sinestro, Michael Madsen as Kilowog and Kurtwood Smith as Kanjar Ro. While nearly all the Warner Animation DC offerings have been enjoyable, FIRST FLIGHT ranks up there with NEW FRONTIER and UNDER THE RED HOOD as one of the best.
Much more recently, Warner Animation released GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS, an anthology film designed to support the theatrical release of the live-action feature. Directed by Christopher Berkeley, Lauren Montgomery and Jay Oliva, and with a murderer’s row of name comic-book writers supplanting the screenwriters, names like Geoff Johns, Dave Gibbons, and Marc Guggenheim, just to name a few. In EMERALD KNIGHTS, various GLs find themselves recounting famous tales of the Green Lantern Corps to new recruit Arisia, as the Corps evacuates Oa in preparation for an invasion.
Many of the tales here are taken directly from the comics, including “The First Lantern,” which tells of the first GL to use his ring creatively, and “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize,” from the cult classic comic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, which introduces the biggest and most surprising member of the Green Lantern Corps. (Gibbons wrote the screenplay for the segment, while Moore. in keeping with his current rather extreme views on corporate ownership, has had his name taken off entirely.)
The voice cast here may even be a little better than FIRST FLIGHT, with Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan, MAD MEN’s Elisabeth Moss as Arisia, Jason Isaacs as Sinestro, Henry Rollins as Kilowog, and in a hilariously perfect bit of casting, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as galactic asskicker Bolphuga the Unrelenting. While the anthology form of the film detracts from a little of the dramatic tension, the film’s framing device still makes for a surprisingly strong and well-done climactic action sequence. While I’d say that FIRST FLIGHT is technically a better film, EMERALD KNIGHTS is certainly more fun, and captures even better that precarious mix of serious science fiction and whimsy that the best GREEN LANTERN comics bring to the table.