Monday, June 20, 2011

Green Lantern First Flight (2009) direct-to-dvd Animation review

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: Encompasses all aspects that made the comics such a hit, extremely smooth animation, excellent voice acting, decent level of art detail, well developed villian, unique musical score,

The Bad: Rushed origin story, bland main character, short running time

Current Availability Status: on DVD and Blu Ray

With the Green Lantern Live action movie hitting cinemas and being met with less than enthusiastic reviews, it is high time we revisit "the other" Green Lantern origin story.

"Green Lantern: First Flight" is a direct to video animated feature from Warner Bros based on DC's Green Lantern characters. It presents a re-telling of the origin of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, his recruitment into the Green Lantern Corp and subsequent first mission. Along the way he meets a variety of unique characters including Sinestro, a senior Green Lantern enforcer with a hidden agenda.

For an origin story, Green Lantern First Flight seems to be geared specifically toward the long time fans of the Green Lantern comic series. As soon as it gets the chance, it is bye bye earth, hello space faring adventures in a dangerous galaxy. Any fan of the comics would know that the more interesting and unique aspects of the Green Lantern mythos lie in the space adventures so First flight wastes no time over the actual origin tale and jumps straight into the think of things. How Hal Jordan got the Green Lantern ring is over and done with in the first 5 minutes. By the next 5 minutes he is already in full control of his powers and being brought before the Green Lantern council of guardians and on his way to becoming a full fledged member.

Running at a mere 77 minutes, This show tries to cram too much into too short a time. It has to believably develop the character of Hal Jordan, play out the plot involving Sinestro and the mysterious Yellow Lantern, AND familiarise the audience with the sometimes complicated mythos and backstory of side characters and the Green Lantern Corp itself. More time could have been devoted to letting the suspense and intrigue play out so that the whole "cop drama in space" feel can be fully appreciated. Sadly, the component that is hit hardest by the short running time is character development.

As the main character in his own origin movie, Hal Jordan is possibly the most under-developed character in the whole show. The only thing that sets him apart from the rest is his creativity with the power ring(and mind you, the things he makes with that ring are really cool and adds a little humor here and there.) Other than that, there is never any sense of Hal's story as a journey from "zero to hero". Sinestro on the other hand is given a refreshing take as a villain. His motives no longer come across as anything purely sinister. He is a soldier fed up with the indecisiveness of his superiors, the bureaucracy of the Corp and their unwillingness to take drastic action against criminals. With his Machiavellian philosophy acting as a perfect foil to Hal Jordan, Sinestro is a very well developed character overall; his motives leading very logically into his actions without the blakc and white simplicity of good and evil. Side characters like Kilowog and the Guardians are so much more interesting than main character Hal, punctuated by top notch acting all the way that lends to the believability and realism of the show.

Aside from a rather bland hero and a short running time, Green Lantern First Flight still manages to be highly entertaining. After the first 15 minutes or so, The story starts to shares a number of elements similar to "The Recruit". New guy gets recruited into a law enforcement organization, though there are those that do not quite trust him. What was thought to be a run-of-the-mill mission soon turns out to be something a lot deeper, encompassing betrayal, hostile takeover, and a bit of philosophical sparring. Accompanying the epic space action is a unique musical score that is quite different in feel from the other superhero animated features. This one uses an interesting mix of traditional instruments and electronic synthetic sounds, like a mixture of Star Trek with John William's influence.

What would stand out most of all is the gorgeous animation. The same high frame rate is applied here again, as with previous DC animated features. Characters movements are very fluid with none of the typical short cuts seen often, especially in japanese anime. The level of detail in the art has also been taken up a notch. One or two of the fight scenes could have been staged a little better though. The director, Lauren Montgomery, is good at what she does, except fight scenes which lack a sense of tension thanks to unimaginative shot angles in the storyboarding.

Character designs in Green Lantern are not as angular as previous DC animation styles. The men characters are more realistically proportioned, no longer overly muscle bound, and The Women characters bear a very feminine "European anime" look like in Totally Spies and Martin Mystery. The alien characters here are also something new for DC animation. They actually LOOK ALIEN, and not like humans wearing makeup and prosthetics like in the Justice league animated series. Most of the designs are really original though one or two look like they were ripped off from Ben 10.

A word of warning though. This film EARNS its NC16 rating. A little swearing in the dialog, some innuendo here and there and lots of violence. There are a couple of scenes that some people may find disturbing like a guy getting imploded and sucked out into space through a tiny hole for example. Definitely not for kids(and kids wont appreciate the complex story anyway).

All in all, Green Lantern: First flight is really a gem. A pity it was so short though, which seriously affected some character development and pacing issues. It plays out more true to the cosmic spanning feel of the comics than the live action Green Lantern movie does yet it is, to a certain extent, accessible for newcomers to the franchise.

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Go For it: if you want to see a Green Lanter origin story that encompasses the cosmic level action of the comics instead of the rather dull and cliched earth-based superheroics
Avoid it: if aliens worlds, different races, and Star Wars style of locales in the spirity of solid science fiction put you off immediately.

Entertainment: A
Story: B+
Characters: B+
Animation: A-
Art: A-
Voice work (English): A
Music: A
Replay Value: B+
"Brains": B-

Friday, June 17, 2011

Green Lantern (2011) movie review

Overall verdict: 6.5/10

The Good: Incredible acting, timely humor, likable main character, very true to the comic book look and feel, unique visual designs, mostly great special effects, clever references to other superhero films

The Bad: some scenes of inconsistent special effects, erratic pacing, underdeveloped side characters, lack of story focus, deviates from the comics in terms of story and characterisation.

Current Availability Status: In Theatres June 17

In Brightest day, In Blackest night, someone did not do Green Lantern Right!
With critically acclaimed, Green Lantern centered events like "Blackest Night" rocking the comic book world, expectations were sky high concerning the live action movie adaptation. It could have been the one non-Batman DC movie to be a major hit and the launch of a multi billion dollar franchise that would eventually lead to a much anticipated "Justice League" film. Perhaps the comics did too good a job of elevating the Green Lantern tale to epic proportions. For compared to that, and even compared to your standard superhero blockbuster, the live action adaptation of DC's favorite Emerald space man is an utter mess.

Ryan Reynolds effortlessly slips into the role of Hal Jordan, a hot headed, daredevil test pilot with a witty mouth. Other than the fact that he crashed a plane and was almost fired from his job, he seems to have a pretty good life judging by his hot girlfriend in bed and his expensive looking sports car. In another part of the galaxy, an ancient evil named after a visual displacement error (Parallax) escapes from imprisonment and seeks revenge upon the intergalactic peacekeeping force known as the Green Lantern corp. One member, Abin Sur, survives the initial attack and crashes on earth. Near death, he bids his power ring to seek a successor who is supposed to be able "to overcome any fear". That successor so happens to be Hal Jordan. Like any good wannabe superhero, Hal goes from disbelief to confusion, to rejection of his heroic calling and then to acceptance and embracing of his duty as quickly as he is spirited off to the alien world of Oa, then back to earth, space, then earth again.

The first mistake Green Lantern makes is that it feels like two different stories pasted together. On one hand you have the set up for this galactic scale conflict between an alien peacekeeping legion and an immensely powerful cosmic entity. On the other hand, you have a run of the mill earth based superhero origin tale complete with tacked on cheesy romance subplot, underdeveloped villain and too much dialogue. The producers chose to go with the latter since recent superhero movies that were comparatively more grounded in reality, such as Iron Man or Dark knight, did better than their less realistic counterparts. But any fan of the comics would tell you that Green Lantern is anything BUT down to earth; the galaxy spanning adventure is what sets it apart from most other superhero stories. The producers failed to realise that.

Then in perhaps the biggest misstep short of giving a romantic Victorian drama film to Michael Bay, they decided to have Martin Campbell be the director. Campbell's resume includes only spy thrillers like Goldeneye and realistic adventures like Zorro shot on physical sets; hardly the kind of guy you would want directing a visual effects laden, green screen shot space epic. Much less so a space epic written by FOUR different writers. Too many chefs spoil the broth. Too many chefs who are ill suited for the sci/fi superhero space genre make turd soup. Thanks to this, the movie cannot seem to decide what it wants to be. It embraces the out-of-this-world, comic book look of the aliens and the CGI sets but never the comic book "feel". Sadly, some of the special effects are painfully erratic with CGI scenes alternating between awesome and obviously cartoony. Thankfully the Hans Zimmer inspired score by James Newton Howard delivers space age electronic tunes with a militaristic beat which complement the sci/fi action perfectly. However, everything seems to screech to a standstill during the more conversation heavy or romantic scenes, even the music stops.

The pacing of the whole thing feels like a race car in a city road. The moment you hit a good adrenaline pumping speed, you got to pull over at the next red light. At least Ryan Reynold's enthusiasm and timely humor saves the conversations from being completely boring. Many scenes seem to be an intended homage to previous superhero movies. Hal invoking catch phrases like "by the power of Greyskull" to reacharge his power ring seems to be a reference to that scene in Spiderman where Peter Parker was learning to shoot web. There is even a very clever homage to the balcony scene in the old Christopher Reeve Superman movie but with a humorous twist. The writing however makes the Hal Jordan character likable, but not easy to relate to despite Reynold's stellar performance. Same goes for the other characters like Sinestro, Hector Hammond and even Hal's love interest Carol. There is a certain sense of disconnection between the characters and the audience relating to them.

Green Lantern is no doubt entertaining as a mediocre summer blockbuster, but serves as a bad case of the right movie given to the wrong people to do. It does the comic books little justice by providing only a cosmetic resemblence but few of the intrinsic elements that made them such a hit in recent years. This film is more intent on following pre-established trends than blazing new ones. Instead of getting "Star Trek with superpowers" we get a poor man's Iron Man with green energy suit instead of armor. What could have been a shining beacon among comic book blockbusters is instead reduced to just another lamp that flickers in the face of sky high expectations caused by over publicity and the critical acclaim the comics have been getting.

So much for the power of Green Lantern's light.

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Go For it: if you are interested in seeing Ryan Reynold's best role to date or have not read a Green Lantern comic book and would like a bite sized teaser.
Avoid it: if you are expecting the epic level of action and story development showcased in recent Green Lantern comic book storylines

Entertainment: B+
Story: C-
Acting: A
Characters: B
Music: B+
Replay value: B
"Brains": C

Thursday, June 2, 2011

X-Men First Class (2011) review

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: Great cast chemistry, believable character drama, top notch special effects, ample character development with equal focus on main characters, well shot action sequences, numerous references to previous x-men films,

The Bad: minor plot holes, pace too brisk at times, "tacked on" cheesy romance subplot, detracts a lot from comic book origins, look and feel of film does not match the intended 1960s time frame of the story

Current Availability Status: In Theatres Island wide 2 June

X-citing, X-travagent and X-tremely entertaining, X-men First Class explodes into theatres with a coming of age tale that digs deeper than your usual special effects laden blockbuster. Here is a rare creature, a prequel that may easily be one of the few that can hold their own against their original films. If the insipid X-men Origins Wolverine left a bad taste in the mouth, X-men First Class returns to the roots of what made the original X-men such a hit in the comic book world. Roaring adventure tales with lovable characters; epic in scope yet filled with heart and spirit.

One complaint against the otherwise excellent X-Men films by Bryan Singer was that it was less of an "X-men" film and more like a Wolverine film guest starring the X-men. First Class corrects that mistake and delivers a true ensemble film that gives ample development to all its main characters. Ironic that for the film which perfectly captures the team dynamic and chemistry of "X-men", it is not based on any one particular X-men comic title, not even the similarly named series "X-men: First Class"(the comic).

The movie works purely as a prequel set largely during the 1960s Cuban missile crisis. Before becoming Magneto the master of magnetism, Erik Lensherr was a bitter mutant seeking vengeance against the Nazi officer, Sebastian Shaw, who tortured him and killed his mother. Before he was professor X, telepathic Charles Xavier was a suave, wavy haired University graduate who, along with his adopted shape shifting sister, Raven, are put to work by the CIA to track down the infamous leader of the Hellfire club who so happens to be the Sebastian Shaw Erik is seeking. A fateful turn of events brings these unlikely individuals together and the discovery of Shaw's plans of nuclear war inspires the establishment of a team of mutant agents to end this crisis. Together, Xavier, Erik and Raven recruit a team of young adult mutants, each with their own powers, quirks and insecurities about their place in the world.

As the film moves along its brisk pace, the motivations, perspectives and unique personalities of each character are adequately fleshed out within a limited period of time. Themes of racism, alienation, extremist idealism and discovering one's calling in life, all themes inherent in the X-men comics and past movies, are explored. Tragic turn of events inevitably lead to questioning of one's allegiance and most courses of action that the characters take come very naturally, their reasons implied through dialogue and subtle cues . Audiences more used to explicit exposition and explanation for characters' motivations might feel that some of the characters' actions made little sense. Rest assured, it is all implied within the narrative but never feel at the forefront due to the film's pace.

Already at a whopping 131 minutes, X-men First Class does feel rushed only because it tries too hard to develop all the main characters. While each of them do undergo significant changes and growth by the end, this comes at the price of underdeveloped villains and a story that hops all over the world with no sense of a time frame. This leads to some avoidable plot holes especially in the middle and later parts of the film. And on the subject of time, this movie is meant to be set in the 1960s. However, aside from some old computers and archival footage of President Kennedy, nothing else feels like it fit in that era. The look of the various locales, the way the characters speak, even the clothing have an obvious 2000s feel.

Not that there is anything wrong with how the characters speak. The writers bring a snappy rhythm and youthful beat to the dialogue, enhanced many fold by the excellent performances and impeccable chemistry of the actors. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender who play Charles and Erik respectively manage to channel the nuances of the roles previously played Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellen. As a result, their characters feel familiar for the long time fans yet fresh to newcomers to the franchise. The only black mark on the script is the mandatory romantic subplot involving Raven, Hank and Erik which felt like it was put in there as an afterthought.

After two disappointing X-men movies, "evolution leaps forward". Compared to the other X-men films, X-men First Class out shines both X-men 3 and X-men Origins: Wolverine. One could regard this movie as almost on par with the first, delivering pure entertainment in the action but never forgetting its heart in the characters. It is easily accessible to new audiences while those who have watched the previous X-men movies will thrill at the many connections and references made. With a sequel already being planned, the X-men movie franchise is finally getting the jump start it needs.

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Go For it: if you like an epic summer blockbuster with heart and unencumbered by comic book continuity or if you had been a fan of the first two X-men films, were disappointed in the 3rd or the wolverine film, and would like your "faith" in the franchise restored.
Avoid it: if complete adherence to the comic book is your top priority or if anyone other than Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier or Ian Mckellen as Magneto is near sacrilegious to you.

Entertainment: A
Story: B+
Acting: A
Characters: A
Music: B-
Replay value: A-
"Brains": B-