Thursday, August 13, 2009

Review: Green Lantern: First Flight

Green Lantern has to be one of my favorite characters, design-wise. Unfortunately, he's not a character I care much about. It's a shame, really, because I like sci-fi and outer space, but he never grabbed me in the way of say, Spiderman. So it's no surprise that his first solo feature, Green Lantern: First Flight, left me cold.

I was hoping that the creators would have turned me into a Hal Jordan fan, making him a first-tier character instead of a supporting one. He's always been good as part of the Justice League, visually speaking. But it's not really Hal's fault, this time out; the movie as a whole suffers from a trend in recent animated superhero movies (DC and Marvel; witness the blah-fest of the Iron Man and Dr. Strange cartoons. The latter should have been Ditko-esque and...STRANGE. At least they got the Iron Man live-action movie right.), where the animation is great, the music is orchestral and sophisticated, but the acting is featureless and flat. Sure, the early cartoons may have been poorly animated and a bit campy, but they were FUN. I reject the claim that the voices were "over-acted" because of the nature of the genre; these aren't heroes, but SUPER-heroes. So the acting SHOULD be a bit over-the-top. Instead, in the attempt to make something more "sophisticated," we get under-acting. In the attempt to be "grown-up," this trend just silences the inner child, the spirit of adventure.

(This is something that I hope doesn't happen with the remake of Clash of the Titans. I am not a fan of camp per se, but for God's sakes, let's have a little fun with our adventure! It's been said that the original was outdated in its stop-motion effects, was too campy, etc. The original, to me, was perfect; and as a big mythology fan, I found the atmosphere to be fitting for such stories. As I've been saying, all the improved effects and explosions don't replace story and style. Realism has its place, but so does a stylized approach in mythology and superhero stories.)

Green Lantern: First Flight could have been a great vehicle for epic heroism. The creators DO respect the idea of heroism; witness the quote of the day: "If we have learned anything, it is that great evil can arise from the most unexpected sources...but, most thankfully, so can great heroism." The story is perfect for "space opera": intergalactic power struggles on various planets with an assorted menagerie of alien warriors and heroes. While simplistic, there was even room for a subtle suggestion of political allegory, with the Oans representing the impotence and incompetency of "democratic" committe decisions, the machinations of Sinestro providing the dangers of tyranny for the Lanterns to rise against, and Hal Jordon as the fearless individual standing against the tyrant AND the status quo of the herd. Instead, we get passionless acting posing as "sophisticated." All the explosions don't liven things up, but cover up the boredom of the acting, leaving me with the feeling that "these people couldn't POSSIBLY do these things!" There's a certain detached weariness, no sense of adventure. It's a "naturalist" approach to a "romantic" theme; magic rings, explosions, and space adventures are ok, as long as the dialogue is realistic, because "real people don't talk like that." Meh. They just didn't seem to care that much, as if to say, "eh. Space. Rings. Been there, done it." (Christopher Meloni is criminally underused as GL; his work as both Elliot Stabler on Law and Order:SVU and to his comedic work shows that he has the gravitas to pull off intensity and fun required for a good superhero character.) Now, If I found a dying alien who gave me a powerful ring and went on adventures in space, I doubt I'd be so "cool" and "sophisticated." I'd be like a kid in a candy store, slack-jawed in awe, yet rising to the challenge. So by the end of the movie, the climax fizzles out. But it's a climax that COULD have been; the Guardians in defeat, Sinestro in triumph, only to see a green glow growing on the horizon, with the re-emergence of Hal Jordon would have been a spine-tingling fuel for heroism with the right development; but the movie is so understated the rest of the time that the emotional setup doesn't justify the payoff.

That is where the flaw of Hal Jordon comes in. A "Man Without Fear" is kind of like a man without awe. He's boring because of the lack of emotional peaks and valleys, the straight man. Kyle Radner, while I hated his costume, brought a sense of fun to the comic because he wasn't fearless, which fed his imagination, and ours. An artist with a ring that can do anything and an imagination that runs away from him is more ripe for dramatic potential. At any rate, I hope the creators of the live-action version of Green Lantern learn from the mistakes of this film. (I'm not sure about Ryan Reynolds as GL; if he's Hal Jordon, well, he'd make a better flash, but if he's Kyle Radnor, I could see it. Let's find out...)

Interestingly, though, when watching the first of the features on the disc, it almost seems that DC knew this, because the documentary on the upcoming Superman/Batman: Public Enemies looks to the opposite of everything I just said. From the art by Ed McGuinness in the comics,
to the epic-ess of the story, to the roster of heroes and villains that rivals the Superfriends, this promises to be ALIVE. (It seems they even read my mind; the word "juicy" came to mind at one point in GL:FF, seeing all the green energy, and a commentator used the word "juicy" to describe the new one!). Even the acting looks promising; voice director Andrea Romano brought back Tim Daly and others from some of the better recent cartoons, and they were laughing like villains are known to laugh and such (the presence of "Dr. Cox" in the cast suggests good times, as well.)

(Unfortunately, the trailer for the Blackest Night video didn't grab me; seems like a lame attempt to rival the excellence of the guilty pleasure that was Marvel Zombies.)

With that out of the way, I'm going to watch Wonder Woman next. It's gotten good reviews; hopefully it will live up to its Amazonian heritage. If I find something good to say, I'll say it...if not, just assume that the lack of review is for the same reasons stated above.

But all this makes me realize how much I miss the Justice League Unlimited, a cartoon that got it right. It really did feel...unlimited.