The long-awaited, live-action adaptation of DC Comics' popular cosmic crusader the Green Lantern soars into theaters Friday. And the emerald-hued hero's big-screen debut is an entertaining effort infused with visual energy.
But a ridiculous adversary, smorgasbord of CGI and dearth of character development knocks "Lantern" behind "Thor" and "X-Men: First Class" in the race for 2011 cinematic superhero superiority. ("Captain America," you're up next.)
Cocky fighter pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is on a bit of a downward spiral. Memories of his father's death haunt him, while a risky maneuver during an aerial demonstration costs Hal his job and raises the ire of fellow pilot and former flame Carol Ferris (star-on-the-rise Blake Lively).
Worlds away, extraterrestrial warrior Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), member of an intergalactic peace-keeping force dubbed the Green Lantern Corps, sets his vessel toward Earth. Sur clings to life after being attacked by the fear-fueled, cloud-like space beast Parallax, and Sur's powerful ring has chosen a new bearer (don't worry, Frodo, you're off the hook). Sur's ship crashes on Earth, where the ring "selects" Hal to fill Sur's lofty role as celestial guardian. And the ring is no trinket. Powered by will, it enables its wearer to create weapons and objects, and grants the ability of flight.
Hal zips over to the planet Oa, home of the Corps and its founders, the Guardians of the Universe, a handful of terribly somber blue-skinned beings who seem like they would be much happier lawn bowling on Neptune. On Oa, Hal gets a crash course in ring combat from brutish Corps member Kilowog (voice of Michael Clarke Duncan) and lead lantern Sinestro (Mark Strong of "Sherlock Holmes"), while contemplating the philosophical musings of dutiful Corps member Tomar-Re (one of the film's most enjoyable characters, voiced by the always stellar Geoffrey Rush).
Back on Earth, the scientist son (Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond) of a U.S. senator (Tim Robbins) is suffering the nasty effects of exposure to Aban Sur's corpse and its Parallax-infected wound. (Think Rocky Dennis from "Mask" with telekinesis.) And Parallax itself is bearing down on Earth. Hal will need to get a quick grasp of his ring know-how in order to save his home planet and, of course, rescue the girl.
"Superman" meets "Star Trek" in this fun and vibrant take on the comic icon, though the colorful film feels a bit gluttonous in its feast of effects and action. The casting is inspired, with Lively, Strong and Sarsgaard all shining in their various roles. Lively seems to be a natural, while Strong and Sarsgaard project dignity and madness, respectively. Reynolds nails the humorous moments and certainly looks the part, but its hard not to still see the frat-friendly joker he's known to play.
Watching Green Lantern's array of creative ring machinations come alive is a real treat, from a Gatling gun to an enormous racetrack. But story and characters suffer beneath the spectacle of it all, and the back-and-forth between worlds proves dizzying. To compound matters is the poorly designed Parallax, which looks like a cross between a giant octopus and the gunk that gets stuck in your vacuum cleaner.
"Green Lantern" is reminiscent of 2008's "The Incredible Hulk," another superhero flick that boasted a strong cast but went overboard on visual stimuli. Still, the filmmaking team deserves credit for ably adapting a difficult character, and "Lantern" is worthy of your box-office green. Don't bother with the unnecessary and ineffective 3-D, though.