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Green Lantern: Film Review

12:00 AM PDT 6/15/2011 by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line

Muscular, well-cast launch of a proposed new franchise can't help but replay a lot of familiar notes.

The latest superhero movie, Warner Bros.' reinterpretation of the comic book character, stars Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively and Peter Sarsgaard.

At least for some members of the public, Green Lantern will prompt the question of how many more comics-based superheroes with awesome powers and responsibilities we really need. Dramatically tart in certain scenes but more often just spinning its wheels doing variations on similar moments from previous episodes in the lives of likewise endowed relatives in the DC and Marvel universes, Warner Bros.' attempt to launch a major new fantasy action hero franchise serves up all the requisite elements with enough self-deprecating humor to suggest it doesn't take itself too seriously. But familiarity may begin to breed creeping signs of contempt, if not in immediate negative box office results then in a general fatigue with such enterprises that's bound to set in sooner or later.

Known to multiple generations of comic book fans through various incarnations that have sprung up since 1940, Green Lantern possesses powers that would be the envy of many another hero, including virtually infinite strength to unleash and ward off destruction, as well as the ability to propel himself quickly into the deep reaches of space and back. He's also accoutered in a uniform distinctly less cool than Batman's and less emblematic than Superman's, a skin-tight green affair with a matching mask that, here at least, he can remove simply by wishing it away when his girlfriend prefers to look him in the eyes without laughing. Simply put, it's an outfit you really can't get away with unless you're as good looking as Ryan Reynolds.

Not uncharacteristically, the future Green Lantern suffered a terrible tragedy in his youth; his beloved test pilot father went up in flames before his very eyes. Courting the same fate himself, little Hal Jordan also grew up to become a dauntless airman, a mad daredevil whose abiding policy with both plane crashes and with women is to be able to walk away from them. Twice burned in this regard has been Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), a fellow flier and aviation heiress who nonetheless has eyes only for the reckless cad.

But it's for his apparent lack of fear that Hal is chosen by the guardians of an ancient and very distant civilization to join the ultra-elite Green Lantern Corps., a group so exclusive that no human has ever before been invited into it. The script by the quartet of Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldberg is heavy on exposition, for the benefit of the uncomprehending Hal as well as for the audience, which cannot be expected to know much about this second-tier DC figure.

In fact, the backdrop is not uninteresting. The universe, according to this gospel, is made up of 3,600 sectors, with the oldest and most advanced is to be found on Oa, an intergalactic outpost where wrinkled, Yoda-like sages have long reigned over a select group of diverse aliens dedicated to boldly repulsing evil wherever it asserts itself.

But when a renegade Corps leader decides to embrace fear and become the arch-villain Parallax (the boom-boxy voice of Clancy Brown), humanity is alerted by the arrival on Earth of emissary Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), a purple-skinned fellow who, before expiring, passes off his green ring and empowering lantern to the unsuspecting Hal. He's a reluctant hero, to be sure, who, after a rough training mission to Oa, is only convinced to take up the cause against the imminent Parallax by the immensely impressed Carol.

Not quite doing for an untested superhero what he did for James Bond in Casino Royale, director Martin Campbell seems to most relish the amusing character of Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a brilliant nerdy scientist enlisted by the government to examine Abin Sur's corpse. Thrilled by the privilege, he is unwittingly contaminated by the exposure and quickly transformed into a mind-reading Elephant Man lookalike with a zealous propensity for the dark side and a score to settle with his bigshot politician dad (Tim Robbins). Sarsgaard has great fun with the role in a performance that increasingly seems like a sly imitation of John Malkovich at his most arch.

But the real threat is Parallax, who eventually attacks Earth in the visually disarming form of a billowing, shape-changing, fire-breathing, octopus-like brown cloud. Faced with such an opponent, Hal packs away his misgivings once and for all to embrace his new powers and cleverly lure Parallax to the one place that might doom him.

To be sure, there is enough going on here to keep fans' 3D glasses glued to their heads: In Oa, there is a whole new planet to explore (even if parts of it disconcertingly resemble a darker version of the ugly set for How the Grinch Stole Christmas), the actors are mostly well cast and effective enough and the action comes on frequently, if not always convincingly; the hero's way of rescuing a large outdoor gathering from an out-of-control helicopter looks hokey and Carol's last-second saving the day in a climactic emergency is flat-out ridiculous.

Now more than ever resembling the circa 1965 Warren Beatty, Reynolds passes muster as a bad boy with greatness thrust upon him and future installments, should they follow, will not need to indulge his prolonged vacillations about accepting his new role in life. And speaking of sequels, an end credits insert plainly reveals which noble character becomes a villain in the next episode.