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Non-Review Review: Green Lantern – Emerald Knights

In many ways, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights can be seen as a counterpart to the earlier Batman: Gotham Knight. Beyond the fact that both contain “knight” in the title, both animated films were released as promotional tie-ins to major motion pictures featuring the characters in question, and both are structured as vignettes rather than one continuous storyline. Don’t let that fool you. Unlike the incredibly uneven Gotham Knight, Emerald Knights is actually quite a worthy little movie.

Good to the Corps...

The difference between this film and the last episodic blockbuster tie-in are quite revealing. While Gotham Knight shipped its animation across multiple studios and styles, resulting in a rather uneven and disjointed feel, there’s a continuity to the clear crisp style that Emerald Knights uses. There’s a hint of anime throughout, and – while one can detect subtle shifts in art style between sections (Mogo Doesn’t Socialise, for example, seeming a bit more conventional, while Laira is a bit more kinetic) – it does fit together much smoother.

There’s also the fact that the film doesn’t even attempt to tie-in to the recent theatrical release of Green Lantern, and the fact that it doesn’t try to link each of the vignettes into a cohesive plotline. Gotham Knight suffered from trying to evoke the feeling of Christopher Nolan’s Gotham, while getting quite a bit wrong or inconsistent. (Where were Crispin Allen and Renee Montaya in Nolan’s film, and why were the Russian and Maroni at war?) Instead, Emerald Knights just uses the opportunity to tell a bunch of stories evoking various aspects of the Green Lantern mythos, instead of trying to tell one big story, or fit it into context with the live action film.

Fillon glows with enthusiasm...

And I think it does a really good job telling a bunch of Green Lantern stories, managing to reference a whole bunch of continuity from the eighties to the present day. Indeed, the movie was mostly written by experienced comic book veterans, with Dave Gibbons (artist on Watchmen, writer on Green Lantern Corps), Peter J. Tomasi (writer on Green Lantern Corps) and Geoff Johns (writer on Green Lantern) all contributing segments that draw from the rich comic book history of the intergalactic peace corp, with special emphasis reserved for the contributions by Alan Moore and Geoff Johns to the mythos. It’s not a bad choice, given how clever some of the former’s ideas were, and how the latter has really made the franchise second only to Batman among DC’s published characters.

Most of the segements are pretty much direct adaptations of classic stories, with the only “original” tales being the opening segment or the bridging sequences. Peter J. Tomasi adapts Killowog from his own tie-in to Blackest Night, keeping the story of the drill sergeant’s own trip through boot camp. There are a few cosmetic changes (the name of the drill sergeant is changed from Ermey to Deegan, preserving the same reference to Full Metal Jacket), but the story remains consistent, right down to the dialogue (the nickname Brillowog and the conversation about how the Corps is Killowog’s family now). Mogo Doesn’t Socialiseis a direct adaptation of Alan Moore’s short story, perhaps one of the most loved stories in the Green Lantern canon, with a twist that is still clever (even if most people know it by now).

Things are looking up for Green Lantern fans...

The Abin Sur section actually does a great job tying together Alan Moore’s Tygers and Geoff Johns’ subsequent run on the title. Johns work on Green Lantern has made the book one of DC’s best-selling titles, and arguably one of its most consistent, but the author has publicly acknowledged his debt to Moore. Here, there’s a retelling of the conversation between Abin Sur and a member of The Five Inversions, from Moore’s story, with the same apocalyptic references to the death of Abin Sur and the prophecy of “Blackest Night.” However, the story doesn’t tie the destruction of the Corps to any of Moore’s concepts, but to Johns’ superb Sinestro Corps War.

However, what sets the title apart from any multimedia adaptation of the Green Lantern mythos is the fact that the movie seems to understand the distinctions that exist between the character and more conventional superheroes. The very idea of our lead being one in a fraternity stretching back generations is quite a hook, and something that got lost in Martin Campbell’s big screen adventure and even in the earlier animated Green Lantern: First Flight. Here, the decision to relate the stories as some form of “oral history”of this legendary organisation, imbues the character and his supporting cast with a more expansive  sense of myth and legend.

I hope Arisia's red up on her Corps history...

There’s a rich spirituality that runs through the film. Hal quotes from the Book of Oa as if citing scripture, “Chapter One, Verse One.” Abin sur meditates on the idea that the rings are guided by some otherworldly force beyond the comprehension of either himself or Sinestro. “We wear destiny on our fingers,” he advises his old friend, and the very idea of being actively “chosen” by the ring requires utmost faith. Would you trust a green ring to decide the ultimate arbiter of good for an entire sector of space? The “first Lantern” is not the first character to wear the ring, but the first to assert his faith. “I choose to believe in the Guardians.” It’s a nice approach that isn’t too heavy-handed, but immediately distinguishes the character and his cast from virtually any other superhero.

The only other connecting theme appears to be the idea the Green Lantern Corps represent some sort of family bond. They can rely on one another, as Sinestro and his fellow Lanterns come to Laira’s aid, and it is twice suggested (in Killowog and Laira) that the Corps effectively replaces the member’s family, at least in their priority. When conflict emerges, the wearer must side with the Corps over their own blood. When I phrase it like that, it makes the institution sound almost like a large cult, but the undertones are a lot less sinister. It evokes the sort of “brothers in arms”approach we so frequently see in war films, the idea that the individual can be overwhelmed, but the group can withstand so much more.

It's not easy being green... but it is fun sometimes...

There are some weaknesses. Being an anthology, not all the segments are equal quality. The opening section, The First Lantern, was written by two of the script writers for the Green Lantern film, and you can easily deduce as much. There’s copious amounts of exposition and awkward voice-over, and not nearly enough action. On the other hand, Laira is a relatively thin story that only really works because it hits the core theme of family, and of one Lantern’s potentially divided loyalty. It does provide some of the best animation of the collection, so I suppose it justifies its inclusion.

The bridging sequences do feel a little bit weak. Between the recent film, Geoff Johns’ War of the Green Lanternsand this, it seems like Krona is emerging as one of the definitive Green Lantern baddies, which works quite well – the character never had that strong a selection before Johns got his hands on Sinestro. Still, the sequences are a little bit clunky and seem fairly bland. There’s little done to build up an atmosphere of impending doom or darkness, and Krona himself is a fairly generic threat. It does make for some exciting animation, though.

Even good friends sometimes need space...

The soundtrack, as composed by Christopher Drake actually works remarkably well, and suits the material perfectly. Not that the previous scores to the movies in this series have fallen short, but Drake’s music balances the scale and wonder with a sense of darkness. There’s a sense that something epic is unfolding, even when we’re just listening to the soothing sounds of Nathan Fillon’s voice. Not that there aren’t worse ways to spend your time.

Emerald Knights is a nice little film. it isn’t the best DC animation ever produced, but it does an excellent job capturing the spirit of its source material, and also provides an excuse to bring some well-loved stories to life in a very decent and respectful manner. Bruce Timm is reportedly working on a forthcoming Green Lantern animation series. On the basis of this, it might be well worth a look.

2 Responses

  1. It may have captured the spirit of the comic franchise, but it was not a mainstream animated release. We would have preferred a dedicated story, especially after Green Lantern First Flight.

    Here is our takes with lots o’ pics and a little wit if you are interested:

    http://fortresstakes.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/green-lantern-emerald-knights-2011/

    • I thought it was solid, I must confess. Looking forward to Year One and the (two!) Dark Knight Returns releases!

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