This muscular, well-cast launch of a proposed franchise can't help but replay a lot of familiar notes.
At least for some members of the public, Green Lantern will prompt the question of how many more superheroes with awesome powers 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 might 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.
Known to comic book fans through incarnations that have sprung up since 1940, Green Lantern possesses powers that would be the envy of many other heroes, 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 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 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.
Hal is soon chosen by the guardians of an ancient and 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.
The backdrop is, in fact, not uninteresting. The universe, according to this gospel, is made up of 3,600 sectors, with the oldest and most advanced found on Oa, an intergalactic outpost where wrinkled, Yoda-like sages reign over a group of diverse aliens dedicated to 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 Hal. He's a reluctant hero, to be sure, who, after a training mission to Oa, is only persuaded 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 transformed into a mind-reading Elephant Man lookalike with a propensity for the dark side. Sarsgaard has great fun in a performance that seems like a sly imitation of John Malkovich at his most arch.
But the real threat is Parallax, who attacks Earth in the visually disarming form of a billowing, shape-changing, fire-breathing, octopus-like cloud. Hal packs away his misgivings once and for all to embrace his new powers.
To be sure, there is enough going on to keep fans' 3D glasses glued to their heads: In Oa, there is a whole new planet to explore, 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.
Release date Friday, June 17 (Warner Bros.)
Cast Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard
Director Martin Campbell
Screenwriters Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Goldberg
Producers Donald De Line, Greg Berlanti
PG-13 rating, 115 minutes