Tuesday, July 21, 2009

DVD Review: Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)

Green Lantern: First Flight
77 minutes
Rated PG-13
Available July 28th to rent or own on DVD, two-disc DVD, Blu Ray, or OnDemand

by Scott Mendelson

In this era of reboots and franchise launches both good and bad that spend huge amounts of time with the origins and go out of their way to explain or justify their respective fantasy trappings, it is incredibly refreshing to see a superhero property that just trusts the audience to accept its world at face value. The newest DC Animated Universe feature, Green Lantern: First Flight, dispenses entirely with the origins in the first-five minutes. From then on, the film leaves Earth almost immediately for a full-on space adventure that spends as little time with exposition as humanly possible. While Wonder Woman was an angry feminist adventure epic, and The New Frontier was a rich tapestry of real-world history and DC mythology, this simpler new film is actually a science-fiction-tinged police procedural. It's not particularly deep and character development is almost non-existent, but it is a stunningly economical white-knuckle action picture.

A token amount of plot - Air Force test pilot Hal Jordan (Christopher Meloni) stumbles upon a crashed space ship with a dying alien aboard. With his last breath, the mortally wounded creature entrusts Hal with a green ring that turns him into a 'Green Lantern', one of an elite group of intergalactic space cops who patrol the universe in search of evildoers and the like. While the elder Green Lantern Corps questions the worthiness of this new recruit, the veteran Sinestro (Victor Garber) offers to take Jordan under his wing. Together, they set off to find the alien responsible for the murder of Hal's predecessor.

Rather than do a fleshed-out origin story and/or protracted 'watch as Hal Jordan grows as a person as a result of the responsibility that comes with the ring' fable, producer Bruce Timm, writer Alan Burnett, and director Laura Montgomery instead fashion a variation on Training Day, using the Green Lantern mythology as a jumping point. With the somewhat naive, but merciful rookie squaring off against the experienced, uncompromising, and possibly corrupt lifer, the film quickly becomes a war of ideology. Sinestro quickly makes the case that the galaxy must be controlled by brutality and fear, while the other Lanterns are reluctant to sacrifice their moral superiority in order to achieve a form of peace. What little character development there is occurs mainly through plot. While it makes for sharp and focused storytelling, it also leaves the story lacking in any emotional impact.

Oddly enough, Hal Jordan is shown as being so unflappable that he completely accepts without question the various calamities that occur. He doesn't seem the least bit shocked by the existence of a super-race of interplanetary law enforcement. Nor is he fazed beyond annoyance when Sinestro nearly murders a would-be witness in an attempt to collect information. While I'm relieved that we are spared the 'cocky hotshot learns to reign it in and work for a team' story arc that I might have expected, our lead character ends up being far less fleshed out than our eventual villain. Heck, we learn more about Hal Jordan's predecessor than we do about him. If this were a pilot for an ongoing television series, than this wouldn't be an issue. But since I don't forsee a whole slew of animated Green Lantern movies, the near lack of character given to our hero is something worth noting.

While the characters (Hal, the other Lanterns, the elders Guardians) are still paper thin by the film's end, the picture makes up for it by focusing on plot and action. There are several rousing action set pieces, as well as a rather high body count. Quite a few relatively recognizable green lanterns bite the dust. While the outer space energy beam smack downs aren't as realistically grisly as the hack-and-slash action of Wonder Woman, there are a few choice moments are genuinely gruesome violence. While the finale becomes the sort of 'people randomly shooting lasers at each other' thing that I usually find dull, there are more than enough creative staged action scenes for the casual and hardcore fan. I'm particularly fond of the chase through what appears to be an interplanetary teleport (free tip - don't touch the sides).

While the film isn't nearly as ambitious as The New Frontier or Wonder Woman, it absolutely succeeds in the somewhat simpler goals that it sets out. It is vastly superior to the plodding Batman: Gotham Knight and a little smarter than Superman: Doomsday. It is a well acted and crisply directed science fiction action adventure. And it's a refreshing change of pace from the 'let's explain everything for the masses' norm, and its perfectly comprehensible to the casual viewer. You can either accept the world set up by Green Lantern: First Flight, or you can wonder why you bothered to watch such a thing in the first place. However, anyone intentionally choosing to rent or buy Green Lantern: First Flight will come away satisfied.

Grade: B+

The extras are surprisingly slim for a DCAU title. Gone is the filmmaker commentary and the full-on documentary detailing the origins and mythology of the hero being featured. The first disc is primarily about advertising other products. There are three previously featured spotlight featurettes (about ten minutes each) about Wonder Woman, The New Frontier, and Batman: Gotham Knight. There is also an eight-minute preview 'Blackest Night', DC Comics's official summer 2009 'epic event' where the dead rise (did Superboy Prime punch a glass wall again?). The only thing of note on disc one is the obligatory preview for the next DCAU animated feature, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (due in September) . This is basically an adaptation of the first six issues of the immensely popular Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness comic that teamed up the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader for larger-than-life adventures. The story in question was both occasionally stupid and incredibly entertaining, with a climax that will make every ten-year-old boy on Earth squeal with glee. Of note is that this feature will reunite the vocal talents of Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, and Clancy Brown (if you don't know why that's cool than what are you doing reading this review?).

Anyway, the second disc houses several all-too brief featurettes. We have an eight-minute Green Lantern piece, a four-minute bit on Sinestro, and a four-minute bit on the Elder Guardians of the Universe. Finally we have a bonus Duck Dodgers episode ("The Green Loontern") and two Justice League Unlimited episodes ("The Once and Future Thing" parts 1 and 2) that prominently feature a couple different Green Lanterns. Said episodes also serve as a borderline spoof of the multi-verse, crossover, retcon, mega-event madness that has crippled the DC universe in the last ten years. The Blu Ray will feature two additional episodes, but since only this two-disc DVD is being sent out for review, I can only promise to update when I'm able. Oh, and the second disc contains a digital copy, for those who care.

Overall, this is a terrifically fun movie, with a lovely transfer and a slightly disappointing batch of extras. For more information, visit www.greenlantern.com and enter the official Green Lantern sweepstakes.

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