EMERALD KNIGHTS Has Few Bright Spots

GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS is the latest animated feature from Warner Premiere and the DC Universe gang. When they announced it, I thought this would be a great story that featured Hal Jordan of Earth leading the Green Lantern Corps in a mighty battle against Evil with a capital E.

This is not that story. Instead, what we have here is a disjointed hodge-podge of stories about other Green Lanterns, with Hal Jordan serving as the bridge in the framing scenes.

This is going to get a little detailed and somewhat spoilery. You’ve been warned. Overview first:

GLEK (how’s that for an acronym? Reminds me of a certain monkey…) Anyhoo, GLEK opens with a GL on her way back to Oa, when she gets attacked by Shadow Demons coming out of a vortex in Oa’s sun. They dispatch the GL in a pretty gruesome fashion, and we’re into the opening title.

Which is a pretty muddy graphic married to a pretty decent musical sting by Christopher Drake.

Then we’re introduced to Arisia (voiced by Elisabeth Moss), who’s late to the briefing by the Guardians. Ganthet and the others are telling the Lanterns about Krona, whom the Guardians imprisoned in an anti-matter dimension and is now using the sun’s energy to create a portal to escape. This is a Very Bad Thing. It’s so much a Very Bad Thing, that the Guardians have already removed the Book of Oa and the Library and are preparing for an evacuation of Oa.

(Got to give them props for priorities. Get the books out first. The Lanterns? Well, everyone has a ring…)

Speaking of rings, the Guardians tell everyone to re-charge before the Battery goes away, too. (I’d love knowing that my only power source to stay alive will not be available when I’m going into battle…). So, while a small group of GLs go to the sun to establish “observation outposts” to monitor Krona’s progress,  we have a line of Green Lanterns standing in the hall to recharge.

That’s when we find out that Arisia has been a GL for just 3 days, and before that she was a physics student (which will play a factor later). She’s not quite sure what she’s doing as a Lantern, which gives Hal Jordan (wasting the talents of Nathan Fillion) the opportunity to play All-Knowing Narrator and tell her about the First Lantern, who also wasn’t sure why he was chosen:

THE FIRST LANTERN

The first story in the set is about Avra, one of the first four chosen to wear a ring. This is right after the Guardians saw how much chaos was in the universe and decided something must be done about it. So they make four rings that incorporate the color of Will as their power source. This incorporates Geoff Johns’ whole “color spectrum” concept from re-vamping the GL universe, and explains why the rings are green.

Avra was the fourth to be chosen, and it’s a surprise to everyone because he’s a scribe. The secretary taking notes at the first selection ceremony. So, now he’s a Green Lantern, and the Guardians send the four out to Do Something about the chaos.

(If they had the wherewithal to make four rings, why didn’t they make four hundred? But I digress…)

There are lots of grand battles with lots of spaceships, and the new Lanterns are not quite sure how to handle it. Four against So Many?

There are really big ‘splosions, and the Lanterns are holding their own, except when they don’t and have to retreat. And just as they’re all ready to give up (wait for it…), the one who never should have been a Lantern in the first place, is the one to speak up and say “We have to take a stand”. It’s very Braveheart of him, right? So he goes out and starts fighting – really hard this time, because – well, maybe the first round they weren’t trying hard enough?

Which might be the case, because this time, in a moment involving a great big anime yell and camera move, Avra generates the first construct – a mighty sword. And then they figure out just how to use the rings. With constructs that cause even bigger ‘splosions.

And every now and again, we hear Hal Jordan’s voice narrating. He tells Arisia that the constructs were a complete surprise to everyone, even the Guardians. And that’s why the fourth to be chosen is considered the First Lantern.

There’s also a montage that seems to imply that Hal Jordan got the ring that originally belonged to Avra (well, of course he does…).

And then we’re back in Battery Hall listening to partial recitations of the oath. Arisia meets Killowog (a badly miscast Henry Rollins), who intimidates her before she goes out the door with Hal on their way to the sun. “Is he really that bad?” she asks, which lets Hal chuckle and tell her another story about a drill instructor that was much worse:

KILLOWOG

This is the story of how Killowog left his pregnant wife and — wait, pregnant wife? — and became a Poozer under the Hard-Nosed Drill Instructor Deegan (Wade Williams). In the same class with Tomar-Re, Killowog goes through the usual set of humiliating treatment and abusive behavior that you expect from any DI.

Deegan takes the four recruits to various planets where they face various trials without the rings, leading to the inevitable Confrontation between Master and Student, when the student is going to teach the master the moral of the story. Instead, Killowog gets his head handed to him (which was fun to watch, as Deegan’s about a third the size).

Of course, in the middle of this, there’s an emergency, and Deegan & Co. are the closest starship — er, Lanterns in the area to go stop it. Deegan hands rings back to everyone, but drops Killowog’s ring on the ground, leaving Killowog with the long close-up as he Thinks Really Hard while the others go to the fight.

So the Khundians are attacking this planet, see, and Deegan is the only thing standing in the way. Because the recruits are just using their rings to provide shelter for the civilians. Thus, setting up Deegan’s Last Stand and providing the opportunity for Killowog to sing “Here I come to save the daaaayyy!”

He doesn’t, really. But that was in my head.

It’s a predictable ending you can see coming from about twelve parsecs, but I won’t spoil it for you.

And then we’re back in the observation platforms, where the Lanterns are keeping watch over the sun to see just when Big Bad Krona is going to pop out.

And we’re introduced to Laira (voiced by Kelly Hu), a character from the 1990s run, who ended up being a Red Lantern in the books.

For whatever reason, she’s not in the thong uniform, but dressed a little more modestly. Oh, right. This is PG-13.

Laira – floating in lotus position in the middle of the room – makes some Jedi-sounding statements and causes Arisia to ask “Who’s that?” and Hal tells her (because it’s his job in this movie) “Oh, that’s Laira. And she’s got a story of her own.”

And rather than letting Laira tell her own story, Hal tells Laira’s story (with Laira still in the room):

LAIRA

The Guardians send Laira on her first solo mission – back to her home world Jade, where someone has decided that the only way to achieve peace is to attack and destroy everyone else first.

So, she confronts sister Ree’Yu (Scooby-Doo‘s Grey Delisle) and brother Rubyn (who looks an awful lot like a mechanical Wolverine) and then finds out it’s — nope, spoiler stuff. Suffice to say, this one is chock full of symbolism and predictable stuff. It’s territory that’s been mined elsewhere with far better execution. Moving on…

Back to the observation platform, where Krona is giving the Lanterns more time to swap tall tales, a comment is made about Laira not being very sociable, and that leads to:

MOGO DOESN’T SOCIALIZE

One of the better stories of the set, this one focuses on Bolphunga (former pro wrestler Roddy Piper), who’s just enough like Lobo to be a likeable Ugly Mean Guy. Bolphunga’s out for a fight to prove he’s the Ultimate Bad Boy, with weapons that look like medieval axes and swords, only they crackle with energy, making them alien weapons, right? And he gets told about Mogo.

You know about Mogo, don’t you?

Bolphunga spends months on the planet, looking for Mogo. Calling him out. Threatening him. Taunting him. Finally, he’s had enough and plants explosives all over the planet. You know what happens next, right? Of course you do. At least, this story has fun with the reveal.

(Now remember that whole thing about Arisia being a physics student? This is another piece of that puzzle.)

At this point in the movie, Sinestro gets to tell a story about Abin Sur:

ABIN SUR

Abin Sur is chasing the escaped convict Atrocitus, who can see the future and can make predictions. And of course, Abin has waited to re-charge his battery, so he’s almost out of power. Which means Atrocitus almost gets away, except for getting caught by Sinestro, who came by to help.

Sinestro has the best Eater Eggy line of the movie right here: “If I had a power ring for every time I’ve heard that, I’d have my own corps.”

Atrocitus breaks free, tries to break Abin Sur’s power battery, which could destroy the entire city. Abin recovers the battery and we hear the entire oath for the first and only time in the movie.

At the end of this one, Atrocitus makes a Big Prediction about Sinestro’s downfall and the fall of the Corps, which Abin Sur dismisses as pure poppycock.

Right? Because Sinestro is the greatest Green Lantern that ever lived. Right?

And now, it’s time for Krona to break free using the sun as a portal, and we get lots of Green Lanterns firing their rings at Shadow Demons while Krona looks like Jafar turning into a genie…

(watch for a Boodikka cameo here, by the way)

And just when it looks like there’s no hope, the physics student who’s been a GL for 3 days pulls a Wesley Crusher out of her hat. Nope. Not going to tell you. But it almost deserves a face-palm. Almost.

Firstly, I can’t stand the whole “frame” structure of a story. I didn’t like it in Greg Cox’s KHAN trilogy, either. But the Powers That Be obviously think that the audience has to see the one or two familiar characters in some kind of story that has nothing to do with the actual stories being told.

I could have done without the Krona story. Because it’s just a plot device to frame the flashback stories. Don’t tell me you’re about to tell a story. Just tell me the story you really want to tell. The use of Hal Jordan to narrate the stories of other Green Lanterns is just a waste of Nathan Fillion’s talent. He’s not Hal Jordan in this movie. He’s the Narrator.

Either that, or tell me the Krona story. Because that’s an anti-matter alien despot bent on revenge against the Guardians, and he’s using a freakin’ sun to power his escape! That’s such a great concept that could have been the mind-blowing epic story that’s implied in the title EMERALD KNIGHTS. But that’s not the movie we got.

Overall, the animation is clunky. It has too much anime influence without fully realizing what makes anime such a distinctive style.

Jason Isaacs is a pretty bland Sinestro. None of the depth brought by Victor Garber. And Henry Rollins, while a talented performer, is the worst casting choice for Killowog I’ve heard so far. Where’s the voice of granite and crushed glass? Part of what makes Killowog such a great character is the dichotomy between his packaging and what’s inside. He’s all bluster and noise, covering up a fierce loyalty and resolve to do Good. I don’t get that from Rollins’ performance. It’s just another voice.

Another bit that bugged me throughout the whole movie was the fact that most of the bad guys in each story had some kind of yellow on their persons. Uniforms, decorative pieces, armor…  the impurity that leaves the rings ineffective against things yellow seemed to fly out the window in this one.

Speaking of Boodikka, her presence reminds me that between her and Sinestro still being in green (and Boodikka being alive, of course), this had to take place somewhere in the middle of First Flight. Does somebody want to go through that story again and figure out just exactly where?

Nice surprise to hear Tony Amendola as Laira’s father.

You’ll see influences from other movies all over the place: Return of the Jedi, The Clone Wars, the Borg, Shakespeare (sort of), Kung Fu movies…

The last release from DC Animated was ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, and as I shared then, it wasn’t spectacular. This one’s in the same boat. It tries to be another BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS, but it misses the mark. And it leaves me with lowered expectations for BATMAN: YEAR ONE.

The stories themselves are done pretty well, and they’d be fine as stand-alone shorts. Mostly. I could never see “Laira” again and be perfectly fine. It’s the worst of the bunch. No motivation for about half of what we see, and everything looks like it got lifted from a Bruce Lee movie.

Is it good? It’s OK. It’s PG-13 for a reason, and I wouldn’t recommend watching it with the kids unless you screen it first to see if your younglings can hack it.

The Special Features include:

– a really interesting examination on the nature of bravery

– commentary by Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns about the importance of GL in the DCU

– previews of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN and BATMAN: YEAR ONE

– snippets on Abin Sur and Laira

– a couple of cartoon selections from Bruce Timm

 

GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS is out June 7th.

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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