Green Lantern: First Flight, DC's latest animated movie, finally provides a cartoon showcase for Hal Jordan, and it doesn't disappoint. Featuring everything from intergalactic corruption to giant baseball-bat constructions, this is Green Lantern like you've never seen him before.
Considering the sheer volume of animation Bruce Timm and company have put out featuring the DC characters over the past seventeen years, it's frankly astonishing how little of it has involved Hal Jordan, with only Justice League: New Frontier and the briefest of cameos in Justice League Unlimited to his credit. Much like Wonder Woman, whose heretofore neglected origin provided the basis for the last DC animated movie, there's a lot of unexplored territory when it comes to Hal Jordan.
Thankfully, screenwriters Alan Burnett and Michael Allen make the most of this, and does not rely on the familiar beats of the Green Lantern origin story. Within the first ten minutes, Hal Jordan has received his ring from his dying predecessor Abin Sur, accepted his role as the Green Lantern, and decided to head out into space to better understand his new duties. What happens next is a story that, while far from perfect, is hugely refreshing in both its originality and its frequent craziness.
Brought before the immortal Guardians of the Universe so that they might assess his worthiness to serve in the Green Lantern Corps, Hal Jordan faces more than his fair share of anti-human prejudices. On the verge of losing his ring before he even really gets to use it, Jordan is saved by the legendary Green Lantern Sinestro, who says he could be of use in hunting down the murderers of Abin Sur.
After a sequence on an alien planet that feels vaguely like a cross between the Denzel Washington corrupt cop movie Training Day and the Mos Eisley cantina scene from Star Wars, Sinestro and Jordan trace Abin Sur's death back to Kanjar Ro, once a fairly unremarkable warlord who recently acquired the fabled yellow element, a power source that could potentially overthrow the Guardians and the green element that powers their corps. But, as is inevitable in both superhero and cop movies, there's a crooked officer in the force, and it's only a matter of time before Hal Jordan finds himself on the wrong side of a conspiracy.
Although Green Lantern: First Flight does end with the customary massive fight between the superhero and the supervillain, a surprising amount of the film really does play more like a cop drama than a superhero movie. The Green Lanterns eat lousy food in a precinct substation, Sinestro is reprimanded by his superiors for his overly violent interrogation techniques, and so on. This makes a welcome change from the familiar story beats of the average superhero movie, and it's this narrative freshness that goes a long way towards making up for the film's flaws.
Chief among those flaws is the often tedious exposition (Hal Jordan at one point even asks whether he should be taking notes). DC Comics in particular has a number of heroes whose backstories revolve around complicated power hierarchies and fantastic elements, which can make it difficult to elegantly explain the setup to those unfamiliar with the characters. Wonder Woman got around the problem of clunky exposition with a lot of knowing humor, as Nathan Fillion's Steve Trevor's one-liners acknowledged the more ridiculous parts of the Wonder Woman mythos. Hal Jordan is too much the straightforward hero to play that role in Green Lantern: First Flight, and the weirdly catty Guardians are more strange than amusing. The first section of the movie, which features the most sustained deliberations between the Guardians, is easily the weakest part.
Still, once Sinestro takes over, Green Lantern: First Flight shifts into high gear and only rarely falters. Much of that is due to Victor Garber's performance, which ably captures the character's slide from potential ally to fascist antihero to all-out villain. Equal parts calculating, menacing, and charming, Garber is the standout of Green Lantern: First Flight.
Beyond Garber's Sinestro, voice director Andrea Romano has once again assembled a cast that is solid throughout, from Christopher Meloni's Hal Jordan to Tricia Helfer's Boodika to Kurtwood Smith's Kanjar Ro. Admittedly, it's a bit odd to hear Michael Madsen as Kilowog after Dennis Haysbert so perfected the character on Justice League. Alan Burnett and Michael Allen's script wisely makes the most of the recasting by tweaking Kilowog's character, making him a gruffer interpretation of the characters whose respect Jordan must really work to earn.
Director Lauren Montgomery follows up strongly on her impressive work in Wonder Woman. Green Lantern constructs are perhaps the most memorable visual element of the film, and Montgomery does not disappoint with Hal Jordan's giant green fly swatter, gold club, and so forth. Featuring a menagerie of aliens in the cast, the film's character design is a huge asset, with the four-legged Weaponers of Qward proving particularly memorable.
Still, much like the rest of Green Lantern: First Flight, the direction has its flaws. There are a couple reaction shots that drag on far, far too long for no apparent reason, and much as these are minor faults it's hard to figure why they weren't edited down. The bigger problem is the film's CGI. Although the CGI has come a long way from the notoriously bad inserts seen on Justice League, they still remain jarringly different from the rest of the animation, and it's hard to see such elements (particularly when they play a fairly major role in the film's climax) as anything but a liability.
Green Lantern: First Flight might be a slight step down from Wonder Woman, but it's still a hugely entertaining film that dares to do something different with the superhero genre. Throw in the DC animated movie's giddy use of PG-13 language (the films have gotten better about this since Superman: Doomsday, but there's something still delightfully wrong about Sinestro telling Hal Jordan that, "I own your ass") and gleefully grotesque ways in which the film kills off characters, and Green Lantern: First Flight is definitely some good fun, even if it's decidedly not old-fashioned.