While I have seen the new big-time Green Lantern film as of last night, I cannot speak publicly about it just yet. What I can tell you, however, is that the new animated feature film Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, which debuts in stores this week, has no connection to the live-action movie, so feel free to pick it up today and enjoy the more fascinating aspects of the storied history and diversity of the Green Lantern Corps.
The film is structured like a 'clip' episode of your favorite sitcom – a thin main story interspersed with flashbacks to tell tales of a handful of various alien Lanterns, allowing a multitude of writers to pitch in on the project. The individual stories are very cool and fun to see, but putting them all together doesn't really make for a movie that feels like a movie. So the only way to look at this effort is as a series of shorts. Let's break it down.
"Emerald Knights" is that thin main story from director Lauren Montgomery, featuring an extremely green GL in Arisia (voiced by Elisabeth Moss) being overwhelmed by this new universe as Hal Jordan (Nathan Fillion) tells her about legendary Lanterns and the rest of the Corps station themselves around a sun they know to be a gateway for the anti-matter villain Krona and his impending attempt to destroy Oa. While the final fight with the massively-scaled Krona is pretty interestingly done – really bringing home his sheer size in a way that gave me flashbacks to Unicron in the original Transformers animated movie – it's mainly just a meet-and-greet mixer for the Lanterns up until that point. Fillion is charming and smooth as always as Hal, and he made me forget for a while that I consider him the least interesting Green Lantern of all time. The dickishness of Hal is nowhere to be seen, as he's just a nice guy with a friendly smirk helping the new girl out.
"The First Lantern" is, fittingly, the first story Hal tells, focusing on the origins of the rings, and how the first Lantern to be given a ring was not technically the first Lantern. The fourth ring was the first to actually choose its bearer, doing so with an unexpected lowly scribe named Avra, who rose to become the shining example of overcoming great fear in the face of insurmountable odds. Michael Green and Marc Guggenheim, two of the four(!) writers for the live-action Green Lantern film, team with director Christopher Berkeley to bring us this fairly simplistic tale made up mostly of Fillion's narration.
"Laira" is the best of all the shorts, hands down. Based on a Ruben Diaz/Travis Charest comic entitled "What Price Honor?," writer Eddie Berganza and director Jay Oliva take the basic tenets of a martial arts film – a just warrior returning to her home to fight the shame and dishonor that has fallen upon her family – and craft a heartwrenching saga out of it. Kelly Hu brings a great gravitas to the voice of Laira Omoto, the unwavering soldier who strives for what is right in spite of her love for her corrupted father Kentor. Their climactic battle is amazingly choreographed and underscored in a tragically beautiful way as memories of her happy childhood with him circle their deadly struggle against each other. Plus, not only do they bust out an appearance from Galius Zed (the GL who is just a giant head), but they work a German suplex into the final battle, and any fight scene that includes a suplex is automatically worth its salt.
Speaking of suplexes, Oliva scores again with his perfect casting of Roddy Piper as Bolphunga the Unrelenting in "Mogo Doesn't Socialize," written by Dave Gibbons and based on Alan Moore's original comic story of the same name, which Gibbons had illustrated. Everyone loves a good Mogo story (and everyone is also heartbroken that they've just killed off Mogo in the comics, but I digress), because you can't not be fascinated by a living, sentient planet that is also a Green Lantern. Bolphunga is just a brute who is out to be the best warrior in existence, so he flies to Mogo to try and beat him up, not realizing that Mogo is a living world and not just some tough guy to behead. Thus, Bolphunga is driven crazy by his attempts to find somebody to fight, and nobody does 'going nuts' better than "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.
"Kilowog" is one I thought I'd enjoy more than I did, given that I love that big bastard from Bolovax Vik. However, this one isn't about how badass Kilowog is, but rather about his time as a rookie in training under the harsh drill sergeant Deegan. Peter J. Tomasi wrote this chapter for director Montgomery, based on his "New Blood" story with Chris Samnee, and it's a decent story about learning to put the Corps and the lives of others over your own, hammering home what it means to be a GL, but I don't like the idea that some other guy was saying 'poozer' before Kilowog did. Complete nitpick, of course. The big Vik does get some badass moments, though, earning his stripes pretty quickly. One thing I'm still undecided on is Henry Rollins as his voice. As much as I love how awesome Rollins is generally, and as much as I can understand why they'd put a hardass like Rollins in the roll of a hardass like Kilowog, the voice doesn't always work. The gravel is fine, but the necessary bass and depth for a bastard that big feels like it's missing sometimes. Then again, occasionally big dudes have higher voices, so add that to the nitpick pile.
This brings us to "Abin Sur," directed by Berkeley and written by Geoff Johns from a story called "Tygers" by Kevin O'Neill. Since Johns is writing it, of course, this is the one where the current spectrum of Lanterns are most directly referred to, as it focuses on Sur and his pal Sinestro tracking down an angry escaped villain by the name of Atrocitus. No, there's no Red Lantern action yet, because this is set in a time before Sinestro even went yellow. In fact, this whole film has an interesting take on Sinestro. With Jason Isaacs as his voice, he's the most affable version of "Space Hitler" that I've ever seen. He's droll, he makes jokes, he pays compliments and he's charming in a reserved way. To take this one step further, for some reason the illustration on Abin Sur gives him the Hitler-esque upper-lip.
Not sure why that's the case, but there it is. Regardless, making Sinestro seem like a guy you'd like to be friends with helps underscore the gutwrenching turn that GL fans already know is in his future. The relationship between Sinestro and Sur is warm and cordial, to the point where Sur shrugs off Atrocitus' portents of doom simply because he implicated Sinestro in a future betrayal. Such is Sur's trust. Such is Sur's tragedy.
Overall, Green Lantern fans are sure to enjoy Emerald Knights as a cool portrayal of the more fun Lanterns that don't need to center around the planet Earth. If the live-action film makes any new fans, GL: EK will serve as a neat history lesson that should make it easier to get a sense of the legends of the Corps than digging around for back issues would be for the uninitiated. It's inconsistent, but not painfully so. At its worst, GL: EK is still decent. At its best, it's amazing.