Reviews - Film

Green Lantern: First Flight
Original Release Date - July 28th, 2009 (DTV Only)
When Hal Jordan first becomes a Green Lantern, he is put under the supervision of senior Lantern, Sinestro, only to discover that his so-called mentor is part of a secret conspiracy that threatens the entire Green Lantern Corps.

Casting and Voice Direction by Andrea Romano
Editor Rob Desales
Music by Robert Kral
Executive Producer Sam Register
Producer Bobbie Page, Bruce Timm
Co-Producer Alan Burnett, Linda Steiner
Written by Alan Burnett
Directed by Lauren Montgomery
Animation Services by Telecom Animation Film Co., LTD

Reviews by Zach Demeter, James Harvey
Christopher Meloni as Hal Jordan / Green Lantern
Victor Garber as Sinestro
Tricia Helfer as Boodikka
Michael Madsen as Kilowog
John Laroquette as Tomar Re
Kurtwood Smith as Kanjar Ro
Larry Drake as Ganthet
William Schallert as Appa Ali Apsa
Malachi Throne as Ranakar
Olivia D'Abo as Carol Ferris
Richard Green as Cuch
Juliet Landau as Labella
David L. Lander as Ch'p
Richard McGonagle as Abin Sur
Rob Paulsen as Weaponers
Kath Soucie as Arisia
Jim Wise as Lieutenant
Bruce Timm as Bug Boy
Review (Zach Demeter)
Of all of the DC Universe DTVs to come out to date Green Lantern: First Flight seems to be the least talked about. Perhaps it’s because we knew it’d been in production for a while now, but the overall anticipation for this film has been less intense among fans than the previous outing (Wonder Woman). With a live-action Green Lantern flick all but ready to start production, this animated outing is a nice way to prepare audiences for those not familiar with the DC Comics character, although those expecting a complete origin story should look elsewhere. After delving into the origins of Hal Jordon in Justice League: The New Frontier the DC Universe crew opted not to do a full retread of his beginnings and, instead, nearly have his entire origins wrapped up by the time the introductory credits begin to roll.

The synopsis given for this film is simple, but quite frankly it sums up the film succinctly and perfectly. Despite not being an origin story, it’s still very much a beginners journey (hence the whole First Flight moniker after all). This causes issues (for me, anyway) that I’ll get into later, but as far as stories go the early descriptor of “intergalactic cop story” is fairly apt. I forget which one of the producers described it as such or where that was mentioned the first time, but it stuck with me with all of the press releases and interviews that were released for the film. As such I was already prepared for a film that wasn’t tied to Earth…which may be the best way to step into this film, as it in no way feels like a mere elongated episode of a past DC TV series or anything of the sort.

With each one of these DC Universe films it’s easy to sit down and write a review immediately praising the films more “adult” themes and tones and it seems with each film I write almost exactly that…so it annoys me that I have to write the same thing again. In an interview with writer Alan Burnett he said that he knew the audience he was writing for from the start and as such he chose to “push the envelope” for that audience right from the start, noting that you could always “pull back later.” This isn’t all that hard to believe when watching the film as there never really once feels like any kind of pandering to younger audiences; the closest we get is a few glances from Kilowog or squirlish chatter from Ch’p, but never from our main characters. Hal Jordan rarely cracks a joke or says some corny catch phrase in accordance with a construct he created with his ring; he mostly just lets his prior comments fuel his later actions. To give you an example there’s a part in the film where he states that he’s dealing with a “bug problem;” he later unleashes a giant fly swatter and giant shoe to deal with them. They’re visual gags, but it’s hard to call these childish as that’s just the character of Jordan (something I heard relentlessly as Justice League/Unlimited was on the air and complaints that John Stewart wasn’t creative with his constructs).

So the film is appropriately adult in both tone and storytelling (and dialogue; there’s significantly more cursing this time around, but only in a few instances does it actually feel forced or out of place…but, even then that’s debatable. I think more than it’s just not often you hear cursing in superhero films, regardless of live action or animation), but how is the story itself? As previously stated it’s a really simple story about betrayal within the ranks of the Lantern Corp and if you’re a fan of the series or just able to pick up on very obvious cues then the eventual betrayal of a few of the Corp members won’t come as any surprise, but it’s still a fairly well fleshed out story regardless. I think that’s the films only real flaw—the ultimate predictability of it all. Thankfully there was at least one surprise for me as I knew next to nothing about the Corp aside from what I’d seen in animation previously, but I’ll leave that little bit alone for others to discover themselves, should they so desire. But that moment aside, the film was pretty easy to see coming from a mile away.

Other issues I had with the film were really minor things; Jordan’s incredibly quick learning of the rings functions, for one. Within minutes he was constructing a giant woven basket to transport something in and he had little trouble defending himself (at first) against higher ranking Corp members. It’s relatively minor in the long run, but it’s worth noting just because it’s such a fast paced first part of the film. There’s also no real reaction from Jordan in terms of all of the aliens around him—I guess we’re supposed to assume that he’s heard of the Corp in some capacity or that knowledge of a vast world of alien life forms is a well known fact on Earth. Granted Jordan also gets a crash course in the alien worlds later on in the film, but the way the character of Jordan is painted here is a lot less romantic than what we got in The New Frontier.

Again I’m not complaining about the lack of time spent on the origin…I’m thankful we didn’t have to sit through that again, but considering the film starts out before Jordan’s a Green Lantern, it just feels all too rushed. Perhaps if it’d started with him already in the suit for a little while at least and been given some kind of Watchmen-like intro with flashbacks during the opening credits…I don’t know, that’d require a whole story restructure in of itself too, but at least it wouldn’t have seemed like such an abrupt set of skills that Jordan learned almost instantaneously. There’s also the problem of us not even getting to know Jordan all that well either; it’s mostly Sinestro’s movie up until the end when our hero triumphs (spoiler? Eh…hardly).

The movie does feel slightly uneven in its pacing the more I think about it…but I did find myself enjoying it in a way similar to a good…well, a cop drama. There are sluggish elements at times, but it’s mostly wrapped up in a solid story and great supporting characters that get a surprisingly large amount of screen time. Not to mention the animation of the film itself is surprisingly good; I’d recently watched Wonder Woman and couldn’t believe how almost Disney-ish it looked (something I didn’t really pick up on the first time). With Green Lantern: First Flight it’s gone in another direction with the animation looking decidedly more anime. This isn’t a bad thing, for those freaking out; it’s still American looking in the movements, but the action sequences, the amount of character detail, the…fantastic amounts of destruction, the broken bones (some of the bent back fingers look genuinely painful…and I winced quite a bit at one characters death…again, one I’ll leave for you to discover yourself) and smoke that wisps around (was that some Return of the Joker smoke in there? I couldn’t tell…)…it all just looks a lot higher in production value than some earlier DC Universe efforts. Which is to be expected; these films aren’t all meant to look like Superman Doomsday did and I have to say I’m really very surprised by how brilliant this one looked. The color palette got a bit drab at times as the alien worlds all seemed to look the same and the Sinestro / Cuch chase was particularly drab looking with the rather mundane backgrounds flying by….but aside from those few elements, the worlds and animation of First Flight are damn nice looking and I can only hope that Telecom Animation gets a hold of future DC Universe productions. Of course the CGI used in the film was incredibly awkward and ugly looking at times; I’d figured they’d found a way to not make it look so awkward, but we were nearly back at Justice League Unlimited levels with this one.

Voice actors…I honestly have nearly zero complaints here. My only real qualm is with Michael Madsen as Kilowog, but I think that has more to do with me used to him having the deeper rasp of Dennis Haysbert, but Madsen eventually grew on me to the point I didn’t really notice it. Everyone else looked and sounded terrific; Victor Garber as Sinestro especially. Garber’s been around television a lot lately and he’s played pretty much everything from evil villains to caring fathers and his range as Sinestro is really terrific. Helfer seems underused as Boodikka, but nonetheless she’s an aural pleasure to hear. Due to Jordan’s relative quietness for what seems like the majority of the film we don’t hear much from Meloni, but what we do is pleasing as well. I really don’t have much to say about the voice acting since it was so perfect—which is to be expected when Andrea Romano is behind the casting.

I think the greatest compliment I can pay to this film is this is the first DC Universe title I watched where I felt like I was watching a story that was genuinely adult in nature—not just in visuals and dialogue, but in the themes it dealt with. It was also the one that had the least pandering to the younger audiences by playing it safe at times; yes, I know Wonder Woman sent heads flying off of shoulders, but that even seemed to me like something that was done just because it could have been. It’s hard to put into words what I mean exactly, as even though there have been more violent depictions in other DC Universe films, sometimes it just felt like it was there because they could; to me, for Green Lantern, it just felt like the action and violence that was there was all much more organic and natural. Not to knock the previous film as I’ve enjoyed those as well, but Green Lantern just feels more grown up to me.

I don’t feel particularly over or underwhelmed by Green Lantern: First Flight. There are no real moments that stick out to me as overly jaw dropping or pleasing to behold; the fights, while exciting, just didn’t have much of a punch (again, aside from the one death) to really separate themselves from something we’ve seen before and were I not so entrenched in the world of DC animation I would probably find this film even more amazing to behold…but as is I’m merely satisfied with it. As I said before there wasn’t a lot of hype to build this film up, simply because it seemed like there wasn’t a lot to get excited about with this one…and while that could still be true, it’s still something I Recommend.




Review (James Harvey)
With Green Lantern experiencing a major resurgence in the comics lately, and with a live-action big screen adventure on the way, it's the perfect time to give this popular hero his own animated feature, and that's exactly what we're given. Green Lantern: First Flight is the latest feature from the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line and it's definitely a rousing tale. It's not perfect, which I'll get into after the synopsis below, but it's definitely a movie that brings most of Green Lantern's colorful history to life. Green Lantern: First Flight has its up and down, but it still manages to come together to create a fantastic outer-space romp.

As described countless times before, this movie is essentially "Training Day in space." Our hero Hal Jordan is taken under the wing of veteran Green Lantern Corp member Sinestro and, as you can expect, things get pretty complicated really fast. Jordan finds himself way over his head, enveloped in a conspiracy that could bring down everything. It's not the most original story, but it works for this character, adding a welcome new wrinkle to the Green Lantern mythos. While the comics have leaned on the more law enforcement trappings of the Green Lantern lore for some time, writer Alan Burnett is able to to make it feel pretty fresh by using that angle as our introduction to this world, and it's pretty successful.

While the film does have some problems, which I'll get to in a little bit, I found the creative team did a good job putting everything together for Green Lantern: First Flight. It's a straight-forward movie, one that doesn't deviate from it's path one bit. Heavily based on the police procedural theme you'd find on nearly any channel on any given night in prime-time, Green Lantern: First Flight follows Jordan and Sinestro through a host of creative designed alien locales, each peppered with unique designs and solid visuals. To keep fans on the edge of their seat, most of these scene are peppered with action sequence, usually involving explosions or chases. Again, it's the standard fare, but it's bolstered by the beautiful animation, solid directing, and enjoyable script work. We've all seen these scenes before in dozens of other places, but for all of them that feel the same, you just can't beat seeing Hal Jordan taking out a suspect with a chair constructed from his ring. That's the way to do it! And we follow these beats as the story unfolds rather predictably, but still enjoyable.

However, as a result of the straight-forward story-telling, any character development in the movie comes from the plot itself, and given how basic the story is, there's not too much to be found. However, leaning toward the basic archetypes of the characters does help the movie's plot even if the audience isn't as emotionally invested as it should be. Since the movie is pretty jam-packed as it is, any attempts to fully flesh out these characters probably wouldn't have worked. That being said, the more one-dimensional portrayals do hinder a couple aspects of the movie, robbing a couple moments of that extra punch, but it's nothing too damaging. There's one scene in particular toward the end, when Jordan comes face-to-face with one of the traitors within the Green Lantern Corps that feels like there should be more to the revelation, but comes up a bit short-handed since the audience doesn't have that strong of an emotional connection to the characters.

In terms of the films' overall tone, nothing ever feels too gratuitous here. While it's still be a bit odd to hear some of my favorite comic characters spouting off the occasional bad word, despite this becoming a more and more frequent occurrence in today's comics, it never feels like it was included for the sake of it. Same with the action. The intensity is notched up, and we get some pretty graphic scene, including one impalement and one broken hand that actually made me wince upon seeing them, but it never feels like it was put in there for the sake of the PG-13 rating. Not once does it seem like Green Lantern: First Flight is pandering to a certain audience. It's quite obvious that Alan Burnett had a certain story and tone in mind from the get-go and stayed true to it. The film definitely earns the PG-13 rating, but nothing seems forced.

Another hindrance Green Lantern: First Flight suffers from is the same problem as some of the previous DC Comics direct-to-video animated features - the running time feels too short. At 77 minutes, it seems as though the movie is rushing to get through so much that it skips over chunks here and there. I completely understand why the creators behind the film rushed Hal Jordan into space, to give us this great big space-police adventure, and it works for the most part. That being said, giving us the Coles Notes version of his origin, specifically his meeting with Abin Sur and how he learned to use the ring, falls short. Even if they used the opening credits to gloss over all of that, it would've worked better then just not mentioning it. Based on the impression I get from the movie, it seems incredibly easy to figure out how to use and wield one of these rings, since Jordan seems able to do it mere minutes after receiving it. While I give props for the film finding away around the overbearing "this is how everything began" origin stories that have held back so many other movies, I actually wish we spent just a bit more time on Earth for the sole reason of seeing Jordan figure out the ring, as well as just more information on the ring itself (including the need to charge it, the color spectrum, etc.). I believe it would've helped considerably.

Jordan also seems to be the least bit shocked about anything that happens in the movie, accepting everything in stride. Whether it's his first meeting with an intergalactic being, heading out into space to join an intergalactic police force, watching his partner nearly murder someone, etc., Jordan always seems remarkably calm about everything. Given how epic in scope this movie is supposed to be, and how this is Jordan's "first flight" into space, you'd think the creative team would've played up that aspect at least a little more. It should be surprise after surprise for him, and it actually would've added a great character angle to Jordan, but this is likely another casualty of the all-too-short running time.

To piggyback off the previous paragraph, I found the film also had a few problems with pacing likely due to the aforementioned running time. We jump around considerably, leaving explanations for most of the events presumably on the cutting room floor. Assumptions and reveals are made too quickly, but the story is relatively simple to follow (and I don't mean that in a negative way) and should easily entertain the casual fan or the die-hard fan with an open mind. It's a deceptively simply story that does contain more than a few subtle nuances here and there. The film moves ahead so fast that it would be understandable if viewers are stricken with confusion here and there, but the rapid-fire pace of the movie shouldn't be a problem for most.

Even though the film may struggle against character and pacing problems, it's easy to push all of that aside and just get lost in the amazing animation. Looking a little more anime-ish than usual, I couldn't help but be stunned by some of the really breathtaking animation on display. Explosions looked utterly beautiful, the battles looked perfectly staged and executed, and nearly every scene has a great flow to it. There was the odd hiccup here and there, particularly during one sequence the film gets slathered in this drab orange/brown hue, but this is a really gorgeous looking animated feature. Really, really gorgeous. And while I wouldn't call the blend of 3D animation and 2D perfect, I never found it distracting but more complimentary of each other. Whether it's something small, like the twisted look of a broken hand, or destruction on a grand scale, Telecom Animation really hit it out of the park here with Green Lantern: First Flight. I understand that each film is set to look different, and that may lend itself to some animating easier than others, but you can't deny how great this film looks.

As what should come as no surprise, the voice cast assembled here is top-notch, without a weak link in the bunch. Victor Garber is pitch-perfect as Sinestro. Garber has that smooth, sturdy voice that really adds to Sinestro's overall character, helping avoid any of the damaging one-dimensional trappings this character could easily fall under. Sinestro's cold and superior attitude is perfectly captured by Garder. Same goes for Christopher Meloni, playing Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, who really seems to put his back into every single line. Meloni gives off a very confident, no-nonsense persona for his Jordan, making for a very believable character. Once again, voice director Andrea Romano is able to nail every character and finds the perfect voice for each. Even some skeptical casting, like Kurtwood Smith as Kanjar Ro or Michael Madsen as Kilowog, just fall into place so well.

Once again, time and time again, I feel the need to make note of the great score by Robert Kral. These direct-to-video animated features have resulted in some amazing scores, and Green Lantern: First Flight is no different. Whether it's great, lifting score over the main titles credits or the bizarre background music heard during Sinestro and Jordan's visit to a scummy alien bar, Kral compliments the action on the screen without ever overtaking it. Easily toping his work on Superman Doomsday, Kral creates another piece of solid work that definitely adds to an already enjoyable movie.

Looking at the movie overall, the pros do outweigh the cons when it comes to Green Lantern: First Flight. Where the pacing and story may have some problems, they can be overlooked (to an extent) with amazing animation, an awesome score, and a great cast. Casual fans will definitely find some fun things to latch onto with Green Lantern: First Flight, but die-hard enthusiasts may need to keep a more open mind concerning some of the omissions and changes made to the Green Lantern lore here and there. I don't feel underwhelmed by Green Lantern: First Flight, but I wouldn't call it a home-run smash. If I had to directly compare it to any of the previous DC Universe Animated Original Movies, I'd have to compare it to the likes of Wonder Woman. Green Lantern: First Flight works in some of the same ways, by introducing us to these characters and their world, but it also suffers from some of the same drawbacks, such as the story awkwardly jumping ahead from time to time. The story is good, don't get me wrong, but the running time seems to take a toll on it. But, despite the flaws, I'm still going to tout this animated feature as Recommended. It has problems, yes, but I still found myself having a blast with Green Lantern: First Flight from beginning to end.



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