It’s no secret that I know very little about comic books. One of the things I’ve been trying to do as I’ve progressed with this series (the contents page for which you can find by clicking these words) is familiarize myself with the stories these movies are adapted from. I’ve learnt a lot, so far. What I learned from Wonder Woman, the last of them, was that it’s possible to cram a fairly comprehensive origin story into just 75 minutes. I was expecting something similar from Green Lantern: First Flight, which, given the title, I think was a reasonable expectation. And I did get a bit of that. I just got it all in the first few minutes.
Another thing I’ve learned is that very few superhero properties trust an audience to accept their world at face value. Not so with Green Lantern: First Flight, which is odd, considering it has some of the more ludicrous fantasy trappings I’ve yet encountered. It’s an interplanetary police-procedural that incorporates colour-coded elemental energies, extra-terrestrial guardians, and magic rings, yet it spends almost no time at all on exposition. First Flight might be depth-averse and almost entirely devoid of character development, but it has the guts to treat its gonzo universe as though we’ve always lived there.
And that’s perfectly welcome, if you ask me. It takes all of about ten minutes for Hal Jordan (Christopher Maloni) to stumble upon a crashed spaceship and its half-dead alien pilot, and from there he’s whisked abruptly into space and given the lowdown on “Green Lanterns” – intergalactic patrolmen who thwart evildoers with their mystic jewellery. And it just so happens that the pilot Hal met gave him such an accoutrement; an endorsement that the elder council of the Green Lantern Corps are initially mistrustful of. Luckily, Hal’s taken under the wing of the veteran Sinestro (Victor Garber), and together they set out to track down the murderer of Hal’s predecessor.
What follows is a tale of double- and triple-crossing institutional corruption – Training Day in space, essentially. Lauren Montgomery again directs, and Bruce Timm again leads the production, but the writing duties have been handed to Alan Burnett, who’s a hell of an economic storyteller. The ideological schism between the naïve rookie and the uncompromising lifer is established quickly and shoulders the majority of what little characterization exists; it’s sharp and focused, but the obvious drawback is that there’s no emotional component to the action. Does that matter? I suppose so, but in an introductory story like this, which adroitly establishes a framework for possible sequels, it isn’t the worst thing in the world.
What matters much more, for the purposes of this movie, are the several rousing set-pieces that employ some creative staging and a decent helping of brutality. Zapping space lasers don’t have quite the same chunky satisfaction of Wonder Woman’s hacking and slashing, but the setting – and the conceit of the magic rings, which seem limited only by one’s imagination – keeps the action creative. The mechanics of these sequences couldn’t sustain a proper feature, but at a lean 77-minutes, First Flight only requires minimal propulsion.
Not that there isn’t resistance here and there. This movie is superior to the uneven Batman: Gotham Knight, a little more rounded than Superman: Doomsday, and more fun than Justice League: New Frontier, but it lacks the latter’s textual ambition, and can’t hold a candle to Wonder Woman, which is the superior picture in every way. And while I appreciate the movie’s blasé presentation of its absurdities, Hal’s reaction to the existence of a spacefaring peace corps is a little too nonchalant. His shoulder-shrugging attitude helps the audience get a handle on the material, but it doesn’t help them at the end of the movie when none of their initial questions have been satisfactorily answered.
Still, it is what it is. This is a fun, well-acted and coolly-directed sci-fi action romp that was perfectly comprehensible for me, as someone who had precisely zero knowledge of the mythology going in. And that’s quite a feat. It’s far from perfect, but you can do an awful lot worse.
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