Green Lantern: First Flight (2009) Movie Review

So it’s finally here. DC Animated’s and Warner Premiere’s newest direct to video release, “Green Lantern: First Flight” has finally touched down and oh what a ride it was. Timed almost perfectly with DC Comic’s summer long Green Lantern centric, universe wide crossover “Blackest Night” and the revelation that Ryan Reynolds will be playing Silver Age GL, Hal Jordan in the upcoming live-action release, “First Flight” sets the stage for all those unfamiliar with the emerald ring slinger, and gives something long overdue to fans of the character.

Without giving too much away, the movie goes like this: Hal Jordan, a cocky but fun loving test pilot is whisked away to the crash site of dying alien Abin Sur. Sur is a member of the intergalactic police force known as “The Green Lantern Corps.” After bequeathing his ring to Jordan (the first human ever to be chosen by one of the rings), he tells him that the Guardians of the Universe (the Lantern’s superiors) will send for him. The ship promptly explodes after Sur’s last words, “Use the ring wisely.” Soon after several members of the Corps show up to take Jordan to meet the Guardians. And so begins a legend.

Before I get into the meat of this review, I’d like to address the cast and crew first. PURE GENIUS! Starting with Bruce (I made the DCUA) Timm and Andrea (I cast the best voices in animation ever) Romano, this movie has everything going for it. If you couldn’t tell I love them. I have been a huge fan of the DCUA (that’s DC Universe Animated), starting with Batman The Animated Series, and have been on board for every show since, even The Zeta Project. Bruce Timm pioneered the art style that eventually evolved into Justice League and JLU (Justice League Unlimited) and has been a producer since. Andrea Romano is responsible for casting people like Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker and Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor. You know all the voices we hear in our heads now when we read comics. Also on the list Allen (the animation Guru) Burnett as writer. You may have heard of him, been kicking around DC characters on screen since Super Friends and even worked with those lil blue dudes The Smurfs.

And directing this fun filled yarn, Lauren Montgomery, who’s been making a name for herself by directing 3 of the 5 films released by DC – “Superman: Doomsday”, “Wonder Woman”, and “First Flight”. I will say this; the woman can direct some serious animation. Going back to Andrea Romano, she couldn’t have found a better cast for this. Chris Meloni (Law & Order: SVU) voices Hal Jordan, previously voiced in “New Frontier” by David Boreanaz (Angel). Meloni was pitch perfect. Just the right bit of charm and cockiness without arrogance. He’s got an everyman quality and yet exudes hero just as much as Superman or Batman. Sinestro is voiced by Victor Garber (Alias) and he oozes charisma and malice all at the same time. He’s got a true superior air about him, and his status as a revered Corps member just adds to it. Rounding out a supporting cast with Michael Madsen as drill Sergeant Kilowog, Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica) playing Boodikka, and Kurtwood Smith (That 70’s Show) voicing would-be warlord Kanjar Ro. This is one of, if not the best voice cast they’ve had so far…until “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies” comes out September 29.

Now with all the technical stuff aside let’s talk shop. This is an animated film and so that is the first thing I want to address. Simply put…I loved it. I am an anime and comic book fanatic. This was an almost perfect representation of both. The designs stayed very true to the comics, yet the feel of the action, the way the space “dogfights” flowed and the camera whipped around both characters and objects had that kinetic feel that anime brings with it. I loved the subtle things they did, like showing Hal’s eyes through his mask. He still has the whited out eyes, but when there are close ups you can just see the shape of his pupils as a whitish green in the middle of the stark white. I also really liked the character designs for this. There was a subtle change in the uniforms for Hal (no white gloves), and it almost looks like armor the way the green on the outfit kind of reflects light. Also the ribbing/pipping on the suit reminds me of what comic artists are doing now, making the classic suits a little more realistic with seams and such. I dig the unique, yet uniform look of the GL Corps suits. I know it’s always been a mainstay, but it felt fresh here, and in JLU I always thought they looked a little boring (until the episode “The Return” in season 3 where each Lantern had an individual look). My biggest issue with character design was actually the villain Kanjar Ro. In the comics and in Justice League (in the episode titled “In Blackest Night”) Ro has a huge pointy nose. Now this version has NO nose. Pet peeve really. He still has the multi-sectioned bug eyes and his henchman (of the same race as he) have some cool attributes.

So with all that said, how’s the story? Allen Burnett you sly fox you. Though this is very much an origin story, Hal’s origin (how he gets his ring) takes place in the first five minutes of the movie before we get the opening credit sequence. And yeah even the opening credits are cool, thanks to an amazing theme (the first comic character theme to stick with me since 1989’s “Batman” theme by Danny Elman). But back to the story. I’ve read it, heard and now that I’ve actually seen it, and I have to agree, “Training Day in Space” is a perfect analogy. Sinestro is the veteran cop who may just be a tad overboard when dealing with criminals, and Jordan plays the rookie cop. Though silent and observant at first, Hal is quick to question not just the Guardians but Sinestro as well. Without giving it away (like the name Sinestro screams hero), the plot is a police procedural/mystery that ends in the betrayal of the Corps by some obvious and not so obvious members. Yet this is still very much an origin tale, as we see Jordan and Sinestro becoming the characters we have loved for decades. The main story builds the characters of Jordan and Sinestro throughout the film and lets the action show their characteristics and personality.

Actually I want to address that. I had read several reviews praising “First Flight”; however they all seemed to agree on one thing: Hal Jordan is unflappable. He seems to have no reactions to any of the outrageous things he comes across in his adventure. I disagree. Here’s why: In the first five minutes of the movie, Hal is abducted in his flight simulator, tries to save a dying alien, is given a magic ring, and then is almost blown up by the ship when it explodes. All this ends with Hal looking at his ring and uttering, “What the Hell?” Now if all that just happened to me in five minutes (and I was told of an intergalactic police force by the first alien I ever saw), I’d be pretty unfazed by what happens after that too. This is a guy who has lived to push the envelope of danger in his day job. So after that little incident, several MORE humanoid aliens dressed like me showing up wouldn’t be too much of a shocker. Nor would little blue men, or the dozens and dozens of alien species that make up the Corps. There’s only but so many “Holy Crap” moments you can have before people start going, “Yeah, you’re shocked we get it.” Remember “Men in Black”? Will Smith’s Pre-Agent J, was shocked but was very calm about the first alien and strange weaponry he encountered, and it wasn’t until Jeebs that he had a big reaction, and that was played for laughs.

Hal has his moments of wide-eyed looking around, particularly when he goes on patrol with Sinestro. But for the most part he does a good job of taking everything he’s seeing and dealing with and looking at it on a smaller level. Also I’m sure after growing up with “Star Wars”, and “Star Trek” and other sci-fi seeing these things for real was just like, “…oh well of course there are bug people in space.” Also the fact that Hal went to help the dying Abin Sur instead of having a “What the Hell?” reaction when he saw him is part of what makes Hal Jordan one of the greatest Green Lanterns and heroes in general. Chris Meloni did an amazing job with portraying Hal as an everyman, yet the character shows his truly heroic side through actions and not words. Also his ability to use the ring without instruction is a part of what makes Hal who he is. It’s a testament to his will power.

Speaking of which, the story did make me wince once. When they started talking about the “green element” and the “yellow element” I scratched my head. GL rings have always been powered by will power. I understand trying to make something tangible for newbies to grasp, but it comes off as a bit adolescent. Current storylines have revealed the “emotional spectrum,” with each emotion having a corresponding color in the visual spectrum of light. Like when people claim to see auras of specific colors, it corresponds to their emotional state. Green is represented by will power in the middle, and not being a true emotion. Yellow represents fear. And we get hints as Boodikka explains things to Hal she briefly mentions the spectrum, and Sinestro preaches to Hal that the Corps should rule through fear. A little bit of extra exposition about the emotional spectrum would have worked even with the inclusion of the elements.

But I digress. It’s another pet peeve, and in the grand scheme of things, the story is a brisk, well paced action packed romp. There’s more action in the first half of this film than in “New Frontier” and “Batman: Gotham Knights” combined. Overall I’d say this was a solid film, an amazing piece of animation and a fun, action filled ride, great for fans and non-fans alike. If you knew nothing of the Green Lantern mythos, you will after seeing this. I really hope they do a follow up; “First Flight” and “Wonder Woman” almost begs to have a second go round.

Now as for features, I got the two-disc version. The special features on this were a little disappointing. On the others we get behind the scenes featurettes for the films, as well as the obligatory “First Look” at the next film in the pipe. Well you get the first look at “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies”, based on Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness’ opening arc of the Superman/Batman comic. We also get a preview of the “Blackest Night” event in DC comics. That’s the best of it unfortunately. After that we have the three behind the scenes featurettes that came with “New Frontier”, “Gotham Knight”, and “Wonder Woman”. Which if you owned any one of those movies you already have them. Hell, if you own Wonder Woman you have them. On the second disc we get an 8-minute featurette on Green Lantern by writer Geoff Johns, and then two four minute ones about Sinestro and The Guardians, respectively.

Finally we get some goodness: Bruce Timm’s picks. He’s picked some episodes of his previous shows that highlight whatever character the current film is about, starting with “New Frontier”. However, his choices, though good, could have been better. He chose the two-parter “Once and Future Thing” from JLU which has a brief cameo by Jordan, probably why he didn’t pick “Hearts and Minds” featuring Katma Tui, Kilowog and some other Lanterns. As a bonus we also get an episode of Duck Dodgers entitled “The Green Loontern.” Let’s just say a dry cleaner mishap has never been so funny. I really wish they had done a behind the scenes or behind the voicing featurette or something. The closest I have are the “First Looks” on my “Wonder Woman” DVD and my “Watchmen: Tales From The Black Freighter” DVD. Ah well. No use crying over spilled milk when you still got the gallon right? “Green Lantern: First Flight” was a top notch production with enough action, humor, and thrills to keep you coming back to Oa (home planet of the GLs) for more.

Lauren Montgomery (director) / Alan Burnett (screenplay)
CAST: Christopher Meloni … Hal Jordan / Green Lantern (voice)
Victor Garber … Sinestro (voice)
Tricia Helfer … Boodikka (voice)
Michael Madsen … Kilowog (voice)
John Larroquette … Tomar Re (voice)
Kurtwood Smith … Kanjar Ro (voice)

Buy Green Lantern: First Flight on DVD