Wednesday, July 29, 2009

When all seems lost in the war of light, don't look to Green Lantern: First Flight

Yesterday I had so much apparently unfounded confidence in this direct-to-DVD first animated outing devoted to Green Lantern that I bought it for $17 at HMV Kingsway and rushed my wife home to make her watch it with me. Total disinterest from her was no surprise, but I found myself wondering what went wrong that it also failed to impress ME. Apart from some questions about Sinestro's motives and some jokes, my wife only had this to say: I like my cartoons funnier. And while this story can't be a comedy, it was lacking in heart and feeling and emotion of ANY kind.
This review is 100% spoiler, so watch it first if you gotta, but if you're a die-hard fan you may be sorely disappointed. Or, if you're like me, you'll consider a career as a bile-spewing rage-fueled RED Lantern.
I'll say on a positive note first: these are pretty, well-animated pictures, splendid action sequences, and a very talented voice cast, all kicked in the ass by writing that made me want to tear Alan Burnett's writing hands off. Character development? What characters? he seems to be asking.
To begin: it was half correct to truncate the origin story and rush Hal into space as quick as you can: origin stories can be MURDEROUSLY dull. However, I think along the way he forgot to give Hal a motive or back-story. He's a pilot, yes, but that's all we find out about him. Along comes Abin Sur, the well-known poor slob Lantern who dies to give Hal his magic crime-fighting ring. This story has been told over and over for decades and this may be the worst version of it yet.
Why? No matter what, you should LIKE Abin and Hal, and they gave me no reason to. Because the dialouge NEVER indicates the criterion the ring uses to choose this mighty hero. Nobody says one of 4 key words: honesty, bravery, willpower, or imagination. I would have accepted ANY of these or all, as all have a history and all are true: a Green Lantern NEEDS these qualities. Abin says the Guardians will be along to explain it all to Hal, so I was patient: the GUARDIANS will explain later, just go with it.
Alas, long time readers may not recognize the Guardians when they show up, except that as the only blue bald old guys around they MUST be the Guardians of Oa, the bosses of these space cops.
They instantly explain nothing, and express at length an anti-human prejudice never before seen in the GLCorps, and for obvious reasons never previously expressed by the Guardians.
I'll try to explain: as 5 billion year old wise dudes, the Guardians are as far beyond prejudice as is possible for a living thing. They do not hate based on race. They do not say 'like hell' because they are beyond primitive religion. If anything, they reject emotion. They have no reason to doubt a human more than a Korugarian or a Bolovaxian because to a Guardian they are all like tiny children.
If you absolutely must waste time introducing some widespread anti-human prejudice into a Corps that never had it before, you HAVE to give such comments to someone like Salaak, with a history of distaste for humans. The viewer must not instantly hate the Guardians.
In the words of Tom Lehrer, 'There are those among us who do not like their fellow men and I say to you that I HATE people like that!'
Double the value of your movie with this introductory dialouge by me, free of charge:
Salaak mutters to Arisia 'Humans. Hunh. We'll NEVER get the smell out."
Guardian 1: Jordan of Earth. The ring Abin Sur bestowed on you will only operate for those with great strength of will. A Green Lantern is chosen above all else for his ability to withstand fear and for his total honesty.
Hal: Really? That's... stupid.
Guardian 1: (sighs at the others) You see?
Guardian 2: He's honest.
Guardian 3: (eyes flashing in a threatening manner) And brave. Foolishly so.
Ganthet: Leave it to us to determine what is wise, very young Lantern.
(Followed by some GODDAMN training!)
And scene.
Perhaps in keeping with their attitude, THESE Guardians make no attempt to train Hal, thus cleverly negating the need for Kilowog in the story, as he is the drill sergeant type. Not even a training montage?
No, they throw him into the field with Sinestro, who quickly demonstrates that he is a bad'un by beating on a bouncer and making a druggie o.d.
It should be noted that back home on Korugar, Sinestro is a Hitler-like figure of dread and awe to his people, but rather that show us THAT as in some comics, we've got a small man frustrated by his job rather than an obsessive despot. This smallifying was used in the FF live action movie on Dr. Doom, too. It's not impressive to make villains pettier! Why give us an alien Dirty Harry when the character was born as an evil purple Mao?
So, no proud tour of his 'orderly' but enslaved homeworld, no trial when Hal reports him to the Guardians, just back alley brawls with generic looking squidheads (beautifully animated, mind you), and framing Hal for his misdeeds. (Another dishonest act. See, Sinestro should be honest and brave and possesses great will and imagination- and also be a murdering control freak. He doesn't HIDE his actions- he'd be proud of them! He'd see the Guardians banishing him as a betrayal of his great work as a kill-a-ma-jig.)
I must credit the voice actor that Sinestro achieves any measure of viewer interest whatsoever.
And speaking of voice actors, let's just say that if you have John 'F-ing' Laroqette and he's only got, like, two lines as an unsympathetic Tomar-Re you've wasted a fine talent. Micheal Madsen is a good actor, too, he's famous for playing bad-ass punks who hate authority. So why wasn't he cast as Kanjar Ro the pirate? Why not give community-minded, voice of conformity and authority, gruff-but-softhearted, team-player, family man Kilowog of the comics to Kurtwood Smith or John Laroqette, as you had them on hand? I guess with this dialouge it wouldn't have mattered much- what we learn about Kilowog in this movie is he hates humans, apologizes insincerely, and is a 'comedy' glutton. This Kilowog-looking character whines his way though the least convincing 'Thanks for saving my life, you're a brave and bold Green Lantern, Hal' possible. Stupid.
No new viewer would understand what fans LIKE about Kilowog. In the comics he's Hal's tough big brother, the Thing to his Human Torch, a gruff but inspiring instructor, an awesome buddy you wish you had at your side in a fight... and a giant pig man.
Tricia Helfer is fine as a Boodika re-imagined visually as willowy Kryssma and helping Sinestro be a jerk for no clear reason. So Hal kills her- as he would NOT BLOODY LIKELY do in the comics.
I guess when GL's aren't selected for honesty or bravery you can get a bunch of bad apples like this. Except Ch'p, who isn't bad per se but managed to be annoying in just one sentence. For good or ill, that's all they gave him.
Why couldn't we see the Corps from the comics that WELCOMED Hal and give the audience a reason to LIKE these people?
Oh, and when Sinestro is NOT tried and NOT banished to Qward he goes there anyway. And Qward, unlike the comics, is in Sector 325 instead of Sector -1 of the Antimatter Universe. Why is this significant to anyone but a geek? Well, it isn't. But to a geek, this sounds like you've changed "Sinestro fought his way out of hell with a yellow ring cast from pure fear" to "Sinestro wandered down to the local pawn shop and got a yellow costume and a yellow ring and does bad things with a big yellow beach ball or something"
Then he attacks the Green Lantern Corps BY HIMSELF. And bests dozens of Lanterns, kills MANY more offscreen, and then beats TEN GUARDIANS- BY HIMSELF. But once Hal o.d.s on the so-called 'green element' or some crap, he beats Sinestro up and wins. But I've stopped caring over an hour ago.
That's it. What's the green element, I hear you asking? Oh, in the comics it's the living will of life itself. And the yellow? In the comics it's the manifestation of all fear in the universe.
In the movie? Well, it's two bastards apparently fighting over whether the colour green is more kick-ass than the colour yellow.
Somewhere while trimming this script the heart got trimmed out.
Joyless, with no sense of wonder or fun.
One and a half stars out of four, because the animators and actors deserve better.
The Daffy Duck cartoon 'The Green Loontern", though a parody, is actually more in keeping with the spirit of the GL comics in my opinion. Apparently, if you bought the two-disc version of this movie you can watch THAT little nugget of delight instead. In fact, I want to do that right now, for the sake of my soul.
So, to sum up: violent, pointless, meandering, heartless, well-animated, well-voiced, written so badly I look back with fondness on the empty-headed 'Superman:Doomsday'.
And I'm looking forward to 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies' because surely they won't be able to ruin that one... will they?
Maybe I shouldn't buy it on the first day next time.

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