Green Lantern: Beware My Power is available on Blu-ray and digital on July 26, 2022.
DC Comics have filled the ranks of the Green Lantern Corps with a large and diverse roster of humans and aliens serving as intergalactic peacekeepers, but adaptations have mostly centered on the Silver Age Green Lantern Hal Jordan. Green Lantern: Beware My Power, the latest film in DC’s Tomorrowverse animated movie continuity, aims to formally pass the mantle to Marine Corps veteran John Stewart (Aldis Hodge) — a natural choice given the character has been part of comics canon since the ‘70s and was a core member of the Justice League animated series. Unfortunately, the film fails to live up to its own lofty ambitions, delivering a muddy moral message and a story bogged down by far too many other characters.
Jeff Wamester, who also directed the Tommorowverse film Justice Society: World War II, introduces Stewart as a sniper struggling with PTSD after his time in Afghanistan. He initially thinks he’s losing his mind when he encounters a dying alien in a crashed spaceship — a riff on Hal’s classic origin story — and is granted the immense power of a Green Lantern ring. Unable to connect him with the Green Lantern headquarters on Oa, the helpful ring sends John to the Justice League headquarters for more information on what his new job means.
This triggers the first of many sequences in the film where the heroes initially fight to show off their powers and relative strengths before realizing this is all a big misunderstanding. Wamester and writers Ernie Altbacker and John Semper seem to assume viewers have a knowledge of DC characters that extends well beyond the current DC animated film continuity, introducing Martian Manhunter (Ike Amadi), Vixen (Keesha Sharp), and Green Arrow (Jimmi Simpson) with relatively little explanation before sending John and Green Arrow into space to investigate what happened to Hal Jordan (Nolan North) and why his boss Ganthet (Jason J. Lewis) needed to hand-deliver John’s ring.
The investigation, which starts out satisfyingly twisty, puts them into the middle of a war between the planets Thanagar and Rann, a retelling of a 2005 event by Dave Gibbons. This isn’t the only extremely dense comics event that the writers are trying to jam into a film that clocks in at less than 90 minutes and also seems to be setting the stage for a future meta-gene-focused plot. The overstuffed story does a disservice to John, stealing his spotlight in favor of introducing a constant stream of new characters that have to awkwardly recite their backstories. Powerful comics villains are reduced to nameless minions for the assembled heroes to fight or are dispatched far too easily so that the plot can swiftly move onto the next phase of the rapidly escalating stakes.
Woven throughout is a clumsily executed philosophical question about what it means for a soldier to become a superhero. Superhero comics and media have spent decades grappling with the ethics of killing, but Green Lantern: Beware My Power adds nothing to that debate, basically concluding you probably shouldn’t kill people but it’s OK if you really have no other choice.
John Stewart was one of DC’s first Black heroes and the handling of that aspect of the character is even worse. When Green Arrow — who spends much of the film mentoring John based on his time spent with Hal — explains that a Green Lantern power ring won’t work on the color yellow, John replies “I’ve been up against that kind of barrier my whole life.” It’s an extremely awkward way to address racism, made even sillier by the fact that the restriction never winds up posing a problem for John. It’s also bizarre that Green Arrow seems to know more about what a power ring is capable of than the former Green Lantern Sinestro, who should really know better.
All that said, there are some good ideas here. The writers understand that space opera is the best genre for a Green Lantern story, even if they don’t give that story enough time to breathe. In what feels like a nod to fans of the Justice League series, the film introduces John to both of his love interests from the show — Vixen and Hawkgirl (Jamie Gray Hyder). Thanagarians take on the role of Klingons here, which makes for some funny conflicts with the much more laidback Green Arrow as Hawkgirl constantly picks fights and opines on the value of an honorable death. The facial expressions and fights are well animated, filled with creative uses of constructs.
Unfortunately that’s not enough to make up for the groan-inducing dialogue and generally sloppy and cluttered narrative. While there are nods to the plots of the Justice League series, Beware My Power doesn’t offer the same tight writing. It also failed to learn from the strong Green Lantern: The Animated Series, which did a much better job at explaining the dense mythology behind the Green Lantern Corps.