I’m a tough sell for this. I’ve read all the Hal Jordan Green Lantern comics (and a lot of the Kyle Rayner ones), from the Silver Age beginning up until the mid-90s, but the character never really clicked with me. Whether you want to cast it as “magic wishing ring” or “space policeman”, there’s something about the concept trying to be full of power and legend and cosmic scope that turns me off. I’m reading superhero comics for their characters, not for multitudes of aliens, all in the same uniform.
So I was trying, when I started Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, to keep an open mind. And I’m glad I did, because I think it helped, and I now better appreciate why the Green Lantern Corps is appealing. It didn’t surprise me that the disc started up with a lengthy trailer for the Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern movie, opening in two weeks — Warner these days is really about the cross-promotion. But I did my best to forget that and focus just on this animated feature. After all, it stars Nathan Fillion, a favorite, as Earth Lantern Jordan.
Since they’ve already done the animated origin story (in 2009’s Green Lantern: First Flight), this film is more of an anthology, exposing the viewer to the GL Corps and some of its members through a variety of story types.
The movie jumps right into the action, with an opening sequence where Ardakkien Tral fights off some solar shadow monsters. (Note: name spelling approximate. The character isn’t in the credits, which are minimal, and I couldn’t find mention of her in the comic book-related GL Corps websites I visited.) Next, the Corps assemble to ascertain the threat that Krona represents to them. Sinestro (Jason Isaacs), Jordan, and the young Arisia (Elisabeth Moss) are briefed along with many others by the Guardians. As the Corps prepare for battle, including the safekeeping of the Oan library and evacuating the planet, the other Lanterns tell Arisia stories about their group’s history in battle.
The movie’s segments are credited as follows:
- “The First Lantern”, written by Michael Green & Marc Guggenheim, directed by Christopher Berkeley
- “Kilowog”, based on “New Blood” by Peter J. Tomasi & Chris Samnee, written by Peter J. Tomasi, directed by Lauren Montgomery
- “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize”, based on “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize” illustrated by Dave Gibbons, written by Dave Gibbons, directed by Jay Oliva
- “Abin Sur”, based on “Tygers” illustrated by Kevin O’Neill, written by Geoff Johns, directed by Christopher Berkeley
- “Emerald Knights”, story by Alan Burnett & Geoff Johns, screenplay by Alan Burnett & Todd Casey, directed by Lauren Montgomery
- “Laira”, based on “What Price Honor?” by Ruben Diaz & Travis Charest, written by Eddie Berganza, directed by Jay Oliva
“New Blood” was first printed in Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #3 (2009), and “What Price Honor?” is from Green Lantern Corps Quarterly #6 (1993). The two stories listed only with illustration credits were written by Alan Moore, who’s had quite the public falling-out with DC and doesn’t want them using his name in any way. “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize” first appeared in Green Lantern #188 (1985), and “Tygers” is from Green Lantern Corps Annual #2 (1986). Both can be easily found in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore. “New Blood” was recently reprinted in Green Lantern Super Spectacular #1, out now. (Note that that comic was advertised as containing “Tygers” but it apparently does not.)
Nathan Fillion does a great job as the voice of an experienced warrior focused on what’s important but without losing his humanity. The first segment, about the founding of the Green Lanterns, didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but it’s full of nifty pictures, and it’s neat to hear Fillion narrating it. Given the structures of both the GL Corps and the film, it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s lots of fighting, flying, and laser beams from the rings. After all, they want to encourage Arisia by telling her of the great threats the GLC has faced in the past and how they won their battles through determination and willpower (the basis of the magic rings).
The Kilowog segment shows how the tough guy instructor, voiced by Henry Rollins, went through his own boot camp as a trainee. Laira (Kelly Hu) is a Lantern new to me, but intriguing, a fighter at odds with her culture and her family history. Kilowog’s story draws from most military stories you’ve seen, but in contrast, this is a martial arts tale.
Mogo’s a favorite story, all the more powerful in animated form, and Fillion’s vaguely amused tone at Bolphunga the Unrelenting (Roddy Piper) and his attempts to find Mogo is well done. The Abin Sur story features the voice of Arnold Vosloo in a team-up with Sinestro that ponders how much of life is destiny. Finally, we see the entire Green Lantern Corps face down Krona and his shadow demons. (Never do they explain why Arisa’s strapless white bustier costume is so different from every other Green Lantern uniform, something that made sense in the comics but not here.)
Do I Want More?
There isn’t much in-depth character development, with little room for it; the appeal comes from the fantasy of the space fighters and what they can do, either on their own or as a community. Characters go beyond what they imagine they’re capable of and risk sacrificing themselves for the greater good. There’s a lot of warrior glorification here, noble battle against faceless enemies and all that, so maybe not a movie for those troubled by those implications.
Visually, the film is outstanding, with plenty of impressive sights and art styles that are consistent and watchable. This movie is more science fiction than superheroes, and as such, it has potential to interest any number of genre fans. Overall, I enjoyed it. I don’t know that I’d need to watch it again, and instead of making me want more Green Lantern (either from the upcoming movie or the comics), it satiated my tastes, but it’s not a bad hour and a half of pretty popcorn.
The Blu-ray comes with a second disc that holds the DVD and digital copy versions of the film only. There is a two-disc DVD Special Edition, but it is exclusive to Wal-Mart; other shoppers are stuck with a bare-bones DVD. (The only extras on that are listed as the two sneak peeks for All-Star Superman and Batman: Year One). I’m not sure any of the extra features are must-haves, though.
When it comes to superhero movies, I most appreciate featurettes that provide history on the comic source material and compare the way the stories and characters are changed between the two media. That obviously couldn’t be done here, for two reasons that immediately suggest themselves: first, that that material is probably being saved for the Green Lantern movie DVD, and second, that a third of their story material here was provided by someone who doesn’t want his name used at all. Instead, we get:
“Only the Bravest: The Tale of the Green Lantern Corps” (32 minutes) — Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns (both clearly now in California, judging from the sunny scenery they’re shot against), Dr. Benjamin Karney (UCLA Psychology professor — and it’s freaking me out that his last name anagrams to Rayner), Michael Green and Marc Guggenheim (movie writers), and Phil Cousineau (author of a book about heroism) talk about bravery and how the GL Corps reflects it. Johns makes the interesting point that Hal Jordan is exactly the same character whether he’s in or out of costume (which might explain why I can’t appreciate him as a superhero, since there’s little transformation involved). Other than that, I was ready to turn this off 10 minutes in, since it reminded me of the kind of academic papers fans write, where they stretch mightily to find ways to make their favorites significant. (Although if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have heard Johns talking about why Kyle Rayner was a failure and why he was chosen.) I appreciate them trying something different here, but I can’t call it successful.
“Why Green Lantern Matters: The Talent of Geoff Johns” (17 minutes) — That seems excessively fawning, as a title, but it’s true that he’s the one responsible for Green Lantern now being a franchise. He and DiDio talk about what they wanted to achieve by reinventing the series and rebuilding the mythology as “Lord of the Rings” meets “Star Wars”. Grant Morrison shows up to help talk about this history of Hal Jordan. They bring up the rainbow Lanterns and “Blackest Night” about 12 1/2 minutes in, and then the last few minutes are about the soon-to-be-released film.
A 10-minute sneak peek of the next DC animated film, Batman: Year One, which is mostly voices over comic panels and layout sketches, assembled into a kind of motion comic. In that way, it might be misleading, since the actual animated work isn’t shown, although they do discuss how they tried to keep the look the same.
Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery, co-directors, Dan DiDio, and Bruce Timm talk about Frank Miller’s comic as inspiration and the aim to make a very faithful adaptation. Plus, Bryan Cranston, who will playing the real main character of Lieutenant Gordon, participates, as does the immensely talented voice director Andrea Romano. Batman is voiced by Ben McKenzie (Southland), who seems too young to me, but KC reminded me that this is an origin story about a twenty-something-year-old. Catwoman is Eliza Dushku, which surprises me, while Essen (a fellow detective) is Katee Sackhoff. (Those two should get the fanboys going.) Overall, this does its job in reminding me of how significant the original comic was and gets me excited to see the next movie.
There’s a similar look at All-Star Superman, the previous animated DC DVD, plus two cartoon excerpts from Batman: The Brave and the Bold (the full “Revenge of the Reach” episode, in which the Green Lantern Corps help Batman fight alien invaders, and the short intro to “The Siege of Starro”). Abin Sur and Laira each get three-minute narrated “From Comic Book to Screen” character histories in which the camera plays across comic panels. And I still can’t read the digital comic (Green Lantern #1) on-screen.
There is an audio commentary by Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns, but it’s about their work more than the movie, so I didn’t listen more than ten minutes — my attention wandered a lot. If you liked their comic run, you’ll likely enjoy hearing them talk about their aims and achievements. (The studio provided a review copy.)