Saturday, July 3, 2010

Green Lantern: First Flight (DC Comics/Warner Bros., 2009)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was Green Lantern: First Flight, an animated production from Warner Bros. and its subsidiary, DC Comics, based on one of their more interesting superheroes — Earth’s representative of an interplanetary law-enforcement team blessed with secret powers from a giant battery on the home planet of “The Guardians,” the people who run the entire operation, powered by a chunk of crystalline rock called “the green element.” I had got this in an order from Columbia House along with Nights in Rodanthe and Carriers, the other two credits they had listed for Christopher Meloni other than Law and Order: Special Victims Unit — and Meloni provided the voice of the Green Lantern himself, a.k.a. Hal Jordan, test pilot who in the beginning of the film is locked in a flight simulator and is annoying his controller, Carol Ferris (Olivia d’Abo), with reminiscences of their most recent vacation together as boyfriend and girlfriend.

Hal, a hot-shot even in a training simulator, takes the gizmo on a wild ride and a crash landing, and then it takes off again and flies through the ceiling of the building (quite a lot of ceilings get crashed through in this movie, either by flying machines or flying humanoids, and I wondered what possessed writer Alan Burnett and director Lauren Montgomery to push this particular envelope so hard and so often), landing again on a deserted patch near some rocks where Obi-Wan — oops, I mean Abin Sur (Richard McGonigle) — lays dying. It turns out he was the previous Green Lantern agent responsible for the sector of the universe that includes Earth, and as he expires the Green Lantern power ring flies off his finger and onto Hal’s — indicating that the energy behind the Green Lantern Corps has decided Hal is his proper replacement, sort of like The Santa Clause.

Hal gets a visit from several other Green Lanterns, who take him to the Guardians’ home planet, where the Guardians explain to him that only they can admit him to full Green Lanternhood instead of just Green Lantern pledge status. A Green Lantern named Sinestro (Victor Garber) offers to take Hal under his wing and teach him the basics, but it turns out — as if we couldn’t guess, not only from his name but from the red face and pencil moustache — to be in league with the villains, a race of upright-walking land-based octopi headed by Kanjar Ro (Kurtwood Smith), and so (and this is a legitimate surprise) is female Green Lantern Boodikka (Tricia Helfer), who we think is on Hal’s side until she suddenly turns out to be Sinestro’s girlfriend and co-conspirator. The plot deals with the “yellow element,” the one force in the universe that can counteract the “green element” that gives the Green Lanterns their power, which was safely hidden in a time warp or something until Kanjar Ro stole it and threatened to put an end to the Green Lantern corps by using the yellow element to short out the Green Lanterns’ recharging battery that charges the rings that give them their powers.

Sinestro and Hal capture one of Kanjar Ro’s lieutenants, Kuch (Richard Green), and Sinestro kills him while torturing him during an interrogation — even though the Guardians wanted him kept alive because only he and Kanjar Ro knew the secret whereabouts of the “Weaponers,” the sect that are hiding the yellow element for the bad guys. Sinestro eventually knocks off Kanjar Ro in an operation for which Hal gets criticized and bounced out of the Green Lantern Corps by the Guardians (so even in this outer-space context Christopher Meloni is still playing the same character he does on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit: the headstrong law-enforcement officer whose tactics get him reprimanded by his superiors but who ultimately saves the day!). Deprived of the Green Lantern ring and the powers that go with it, Hal nonetheless hangs out at the Guardians’ planet and, working with another Green Lantern named Kilowog (designed as a sort of giant upright pig and voiced by Michael Madsen) Hal tries to stop Sinestro from plugging the yellow element into the Green Lantern’s battery — which Sinestro actually manages to be able to do, recharging himself from a battery containing yellow element so his costume changes color and he essentially becomes the Yellow Lantern. (Alan Burnett’s script tells us that yellow is the only color that neutralizes green; apparently no one told him that red is the color-wheel opposite of green and green is actually a compound color of yellow and blue.)

There’s the predictable fight to the finish between Sinestro and Hal — who gets to be a Green Lantern again, thanks to a ring from a newly deceased Green Lantern that flies onto his finger — and there’s a chilling scene early on in which Sinestro manages to get a chunk of yellow element wedged into the Green Lantern battery, thereby killing its power and with it immediately eliminating the super-powers of all the Green Lanterns, including the ones who were flying through space at the time, which means they all get killed instantly and their rings, which evidently have a built-in homing device that flies them back to the Guardians’ home base when their wearer dies (though in that case how did Hal get Abin Sur’s ring directly from him in the first reel?): the shot of all the Green Lantern rings flying back to the Guardians’ headquarters and making a clattering noise as they all fall to the floor, signaling the simultaneous demises of their owners, is the most genuinely frightening moment in this film.

Apparently Warners and DC are planning a live-action version of Green Lantern for 2011, but despite the TV-tackiness of the animation on this one, it is quite imaginatively staged and plotted with the kinds of virtuoso effects that will be far more difficult, even with CGI, to duplicate in a film with live actors. Interestingly, the listing for Green Lantern as a character marks his film debut as 1978 — relatively late in the day for a major character from the DC stable — and contains a long and pretty convoluted account of his exploits in the comic-book characters and some of the bizarre story arcs DC’s writers conjured up for him. This Green Lantern movie has the preposterousness typical of superhero plots in general, and one can’t help but ache for how much better it would have been animated by Disney in the 1930’s or Warners in the 1940’s, but at least it’s fun and it’s spared the labored pretentiousness of most of the big-budget live-action superhero movies clogging up theatres today.