Got to see Green Lantern: First Flight yesterday, and… well, I kinda give it a thumbs in the middle.
Actually I’m being unfair and should give it a thumbs up, because on all technical levels the film is superb. The animation is definitely the best so far of the DC straight-to-DVD films; it’s visually exciting and looks great. The voice acting is strong throughout the film; Christopher Meloni is bland as Hal Jordan but then again Hal Jordan is Captain Bland so that’s all right. Victor Garber is dead-on as Sinestro, and Tricia Helfer’s work as Boodikka is engaging as is Michael Madsen’s Kilowog. The only downside in the voice cast is Kurtwood Smith as Kanjar Ro, and that’s not because Kurtwood Smith is bad but because his voice is so recognizable that I kept expecting Kanjar Ro to threaten to break his foot off in Foreman’s ass.
My problem with it isn’t even the plot, which is perfectly reasonable. My problem is that in terms of story and pacing and how they treated all the various elements, it felt much less like a movie than a comic book that was made to move.
Let me explain: in the movie, Hal Jordan gets his ring in the opening sequence (which is fine, in media res, I’m happy with that), but then in the next ten minutes there’s a huge infodump about the Green Lanterns and the Guardians and Oa and blah blah blah spacecakes and it’s all treated as very normal, right down to a Guardian complaining about how humans smell. I can’t say that there is anything wrong with this, and frankly all the gags work. As the plot advances, Sinestro gets revealed as being crazy ol’ Lawful Evil Sinestro (and they jump to Sinestro being the obvious villain far earlier than I would have liked, but it’s not badly executed), and the Yellow Ring shows up along with the Yellow Battery, and it all ends with a ginormous fight sequence and blasting rings and so forth. It’s honestly reasonably entertaining, which is why my issue with it is definitely one of personal preference and should be considered as such.
My problem with it is this: of all the DC franchises, I think Green Lantern, when translated to film (or cartoon), should feel the absolute least normal and comfortable. The Guardians and other Lanterns shouldn’t be humans with funny faces; they should be as weird as all fuck, and that has to be emphasized because they are goddamn motherfucking aliens and the universe is a deeply strange place. That doesn’t mean they can’t be funny or empathic, but they should be strange.
The Guardians are the Little Old Men From The Dawn of Time, not Smurfs with badder attitudes and superpowers. Kilowog is Kilowog, but if you met Kilowog your first impression would not be “he says “poozers” and that is funny, poozers poozers poozers” but instead “oh my god he is ENORMOUS and he is going to eat me isn’t he.” Tomar-Re is a scary looking giant beak thing. Ch’p is a talking fucking squirrel, and worse, on film he probably shouldn’t look quite like a squirrel but just squirrely enough to make you uncomfortable. And that’s before you get into the really weird Lanterns. I mean – Salaak? Walking squid thing. Olopet? Plant with a billion tentacles and one large eye. Chaselon? A walking diamond. Flodo Span? A bag of glowing goop. You can only really mention Dkrtzy RRR.
Sinestro should come across as sympathetic initially because he’s so human-like and familiar. Hal should make friends with him before the inevitable betrayal not just because it makes sense for the maximum dramatic impact but because Sinestro becomes a relative point of sanity in all this. And the betrayal should come two-thirds of the way through into the flick and not be telegraphed at all; suddenly Hal’s only common point of reference, the guy he thought he understood, is actually a crazed tyrant desperate for order at all costs, and Sinestro of course thought Hal understood too so he’s just furious at Hal for imagined betrayal as well.
First Flight doesn’t do any of this. It’s a film written by and for people who already know about Green Lantern; it’s perfectly accessible to newbies and even entertaining. But it could have been so much more; it could have made the Green Lantern concept truly distinctive, and explain why the concept might deserve to be on a level with Superman and Batman. It doesn’t do that.
EDIT: Steven, among others in comments, notes:
The problem with slow-rolling Sinestro as the villain (which I agree is the better way to do it) is that he a) looks like the Devil and b) is named SINESTRO.
“So what do I call you?”
“No, you’re not rolling the prtz syllable enough. Extend it.”
“Look, I know you only have one tongue, but that’s no excuse.”
“I honestly have no idea how I’m saying it wrong.”
Make it a joke and it’ll work just fine.