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What a bunch of poozers: A review of Green Lantern: Emerald Knights

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, the latest foray in Warner Brothers’ collection of straight-to-DVD animated movies, is a tired collection of military cliches interspersed with some impressive fight scenes. Words like honor, sacrifice and bravery get batted around like a well-used hacky sack at a Grateful Dead concert, but to little effect, other than to remind you that there’s a big screen, live-action movie starring Ryan Reynolds that will be coming out in theaters any day now.

Hal Jordan

The film opens with a rather jarring sequence that I actually feel compelled to call attention to since it veers so far away from the tone and treatment of the rest of the film. In it, a generic Green Lantern is heading out on patrol when she is attacked and killed by a group of flying shadow monsters. That’s fine in and of itself, except that the movie takes loving care to show her being dismembered by the monsters, with her feet, then hands, midsection and then head rather gruesomely ripped from her body. The fact that there’s no blood or entrails doesn’t make this sequence any less disturbing. In fact, I’d argue it makes it even more disturbing. And I should note at this point that the film is rated PG. Way to do your job, MPAA.

But I digress. It seems the shadow monsters are working for the Lantern’s ancient enemy Krona, who apparently is planning to attack the guardians’ home planet of Oa any day now, once he can get out of his anti-matter universe or wherever it is he’s trapped. A call to arms is raised, and as the Green Lanterns gather and prepare for battle, our hero Hal Jordan starts telling the youngest and newest recruit, Arisia, some of his favorite stories about the Corps and its various members.

Green Lantern attacks

So what we have then is an anthology film, collecting various stories from the comics — some well known, some not so well known — all designed with one purpose: to hammer home again and again how utterly awesome the Green Lanterns are. At times this movie feels more like a recruitment film than a superhero cartoon.

We learn about the very first Green Lantern, Avra, and his selfless courage despite humble beginnings; about Killowog’s tough-as-nails instruction; and about Laira, who receives a decidedly unwelcome homecoming when she returns to her warrior-proud planet on a peacekeeping mission.

Avra

We are also treated to adaptations of two Alan Moore stories, both originally written way back when DC and Moore were bestest buddies. The first and best known, Mogo Doesn’t Socialize, is a rather faithful adaptation, though it adds more backstory than necessary and spoils the big revelation way too soon. I did, however, smile to realize that “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was providing the voice of Mogo’s “nemesis,” Bolphunga the Unrelenting.

The other adaptation is Moore’s “Tygers,” which is turned from a tight, nasty allegory about the dangers of second-guessing yourself into a rather muddled mess, with lots of dialogue between Abin Sur and Sinestro (who plays a supporting role here by the way; this film seeming to take place before his eventual betrayal) about destiny versus free will. I suspect that this is largely due not so much to Kevin O’Neill’s admittedly grotesque illustrations as it is to the fact that it puts Abin Sur in a rather weak light, and makes him seem susceptible to deception, which would be untoward in a film that’s devoted to selling you on the Green Lantern franchise as strongly as possible.

The Guardians are blinded by the light

Like a number of recent DCU films, the animation here varies between stylish and proficient to sloppy and cheap. The fight sequences are, as I said before, extremely well choreographed and rendered, and are easily the highlight of the film. Elsewhere, though, it’s obvious the staff relied on CGI and a few other computer tricks to keep costs down and animate the less kicky-punchy sequences, but only serve to create a “something’s not right here” tone within the mind of the viewer. I will note that, while the look of the film is consistent overall, certain segments, like the Mogo chapter, seem to harken to back to ’70s animation, particularly the Heavy Metal film or a few Ralph Bakashi projects. If intended, it’s an homage that I greatly appreciated.

Green Lanterns attack

But the film’s real flaw is not the animation or its episodic structure. It’s the utter reliance on war movie tropes that were tired back when John Wayne was doing them. Every cliche in the military handbook is trotted out here: the nervous recruit eager to prove herself; the soldier who must choose between family and doing the right thing; the tough, sadistic drill sergeant who actually has a heart of gold; the neophyte who refuses to back down against overwhelming odds; and on and on and on.

The film constantly reminds us how being a Green Lantern is all about sacrifice and bravery, to the point where I expected to see Killowog turn around at some point, remind us that they’re looking for a few good men and suggest we contact our local recruiter. The most egregious effort in this direction is easily a supplemental documentary where Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns and some people with PhDs talk about how Green Lantern shows us what it means to be truly brave and how without him (and, by implication, the rest of the DC universe) we’d all be selfish, petty bastards with no understanding of nobility or the higher good. This isn’t implicit stuff; they actually come out and say this several times, interspersed with images of George Washington, King Arthur and, yes, John F. Kennedy, just in case we didn’t get the point already.

Well, so what? What’s wrong with tales about sacrifice and bravery? Aren’t these important ideals we should strive toward and admire, even when they’re presented in a cartoon? What’s my problem, anyway?

Well first off, all of the Hal’s talk of bravery and what it means to be a Lantern strikes me as a very lazy way to inject a bit of heightened melodrama and unearned grandeur. But then there’s also the issue of spelling everything out. A few weeks ago in one of our What Are You Reading? columns, I criticized Action Comics #900 for its insistence on making sure every story mattered, either by infusing it with unneeded political and social allusions (“torn from today’s headlines” as it were) or by overstating as loudly and explicitly as possible the mythological allusions and general awesomeness of their characters. It’s the old “if we tell you this enough times maybe you’ll believe it” school of storytelling, and Green Lantern: Emerald Knights buys into it 100 percent, to its detriment.

Overstuffed with melodrama and false piety, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights is short on character development, plot and any sort of emotional investment. Some Green Lantern fans, even those who serious groove on the mythology and details of the character and universe, may be disappointed to find Hal basically taking the role of a narrator here, though perhaps they’ll enjoy seeing various supporting characters thrown in the spotlight. Others will enjoy the film as a basic action, superhero film — the fight sequences are, as I said, the best thing about the film. Whether those fans pay any heed to the militaristic platitudes presented throughout the movie doesn’t make them any less prominent, however, or any less of a problem.

Emerald Knights aplenty

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Comments

14 Comments

I saw this at WonderCon and have to agree. It was dull and loud and repetitious. The DC animated features are generally very good, but this one wasn’t.

Hardly likely to make a dent over here in the UK, as none of the other DC feature animations have been released over here officially. Bit like Godzilla movies on DVD…

Simon DelMonte

June 3, 2011 at 12:55 pm

You don’t once mention what sort of work Nathan Filion did. A review of an animated film, even a bad one, should talk about the voice acting, especially that of the lead.

I agree, a review of an animated film should comment on the voice work. But this reviewer has his own agenda as well as apparently some kind of grudge against DC animated films. I know, I know, I shouldn’t even bother reading it but it’s like that line from “Go” about the Family Circus – I can’t help myself, I just know the review is there waiting to suck. The reviewer obviously does not enjoy the DC animated films in general, it would be nice to see one of them reviewed by someone who is able to approach the film with a degree of objectivity.

Yeah, he definitely has a grudge. Like that time he called “Crisis on Two Earths” a “fun, action-packed superhero cartoon.” Or that time he said “Batman: Under the Red Hood” was an “enjoyable, well-done superhero film.” And of the first Green Lantern animated film, he said “Despite plodding in well-worn footsteps, First Flight manages to be a fun, diverting adventure.”

Obviously he hates them all.

I didn’t say he hated all the films, and for that matter I haven’t liked all the films either. But to me, his reviews frequently sound like he would rather not be watching them at all, and he goes off on tangents that seem unrelated to the film in question while ignoring aspects (like voice acting, in this instance) that should probably be touched upon.

But hey YMMV I guess. Didn’t realize you guys were “besties”.

I’m “besties” with all the Robot 6 contributors.

You said he had a grudge against the DC animated films, and that isn’t true, as I pointed out above. Chris has reviewed pretty much all of them since they started, both here and when we were at Blog@Newsarama, and his reviews have run the gamut from good to great to “nice try” to terrible. If you don’t agree with his reviews, that’s fine, but don’t claim he has some sort of bias when it isn’t there.

No mention of Nathan Fillion, the guy who SHOULD’VE been the live-action, big screen GL??

Anyhow, apparently another weak DCAU movie… Big shock. While a few of them have been decent enough, not one of them has been worth buying (thank goodness for Netflix and the local library) or seeing more than once.

I knew when I wrote this review I was going to hear about not mentioning the voice work. I did consider mentioning Fillion and the rest of the cast in detail, but I thought it made for an awkward transition and didn’t really have much to do with what I thought was the biggest problem with the film.

Fillion was fine as Jordan, but he didn’t really have anything to do beyond saying “Let me tell you this story …” Same with Jason Isaccs, Henry Rollins and the rest of the actors. They were fine, but not really stellar, and I don’t feel like talking about the voice work unless it was either stellar or awful. If I don’t say anything, it was just fine.

@JK – Fair enough. “Grudge” probably wasn’t the correct word to use – I didn’t intend to say that I thought the reviewer had an axe to grind against the DCAU or anything. But his reviews, even some of his positive ones, to me convey the feeling that he would rather be doing almost anything else besides watching the films; I just get the sense that he is starting from a point where he generally doesn’t care for them.

@The Patent Dragon – pretty much all DCU animated film now available on Region 2 encoding in UK at quite affordable pricing too. I’ve recently picked up Batman Under the Red Hood for under £6 on amazon uk full region 2 eurpean format. Worth a look as they’ve got superman/batman public enemies, apocoplyse, GL first flight and others.

Gilo

Chris is way, WAY too kind to those supplements with Didio, Johns, and the slumming PhDs. Holy hell. They are absolutely embarrassing and encapsulate all the offensive qualities of DC publishing strategies this past decade in a nice hour-long-or-so package. I almost wish people were reviewing those extras instead of the movie as they are orders-of-magnitude more interesting and revealing.

I picked up the movie today mostly to support the DCAU line (the few gems are worth it…Year One looks good so far, except perhaps for a few of the voices…namely Batman) and hey, I’ve been surprised before (First Flight was surprisingly decent and re-watchable). The movie itself is fine, nothing great, a bit dull and silly in parts, with the highlight being Mogo, of course. I didn’t find the military movie cliches as obnoxious as Chris did, they were sort of expected and easily dismissed.

But man, once I played those extras was I taken aback. It is essentially what Chris describes, a bunch of overgrown man-children waxing pretentiously pseudo-philosophical about how DAMN IMPORTANT Green Lantern is, but much, much worse. Not only is the overwrought tone and literal self-congratulation embarrassing and risible, it is borderline offensive when one considers that, unless this is some type of elaborate practical joke, they expect us to take them seriously in their unearned gravitas and self-importance. DiDio and Johns (and, to a lesser extent, Morrison) elaborate on the process behind the production of all the execrable, regressive DC comics and events of the past few years, which is actually fascinating as a study in hubris and fanboy-made-creator mentality. At the risk of advocating self-torture, I recommend watching simply to gain a clearer understanding of the type of “creative leadership” that is guiding DC, especially in light of September’s gimmicky stunt that promises a “brand new direction” under the same editorial voice that is in place right now.

I am forced to ask a question Have any of you read a a DC comic in your life? All of the DCU animated movies are a bridge between now and the bronze age of comics, they do a very good job in squeezing a whole bunch of story into a very short movie, so please I ask you, as someone who has been reading dc comics for over 35 years, please keep all this in mind. thank-you

Read the review and wish I had those minutes back. Not even sure why I read it. I am a fan of Green Lantern since I was a kid. I liked this movie a lot and keep it on my iPod. Funny thing was I was looking up stuff about Avra to see more info and found this.

So what if it uses cliche moments from other movies. Some of the most successful war movies are cliche ridden. I picked up DCUO and just before and since I have picked up a few of these movies to see more into the DCU and have only found one disappointing but that was a situation that was kinda on my fault.

The stories in this movie were cool to see for a new comer to the fuller existance of the DCU and something about the story of Avra is actually kind of inspiring. Real or not isn’t that what heroes are supposed to do?

Have fun kids.

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