Ryan Reynolds as the title role in "Green Lantern." (Warner Bros. Pictures )
"Green Lantern" is both off the wall and out of this world — literally. More science-fiction space opera than superhero epic, it works in fits and starts as its disparate parts go in and out of effectiveness, but the professionalism of the production make it watchable in a comic book kind of way.
The film's wacky premise comes from the 1959 rebooting of the earlier comic book that floated the notion of a huge intergalactic legion of way-powerful Green Lanterns, each with his very own lantern — think upscale lava lamp — and each being the protector of a particular corner of the universe.
But though the Lanterns and their potent matching rings have been around for eons, a member of the human race has never been tapped to join the corps. And when hotshot test pilot Hal "Call Me Irresponsible" Jordan gets the nod, there is a lot of scratching of heads both on Earth and elsewhere.
That mirrored the response in Hollywood when charming leading man Ryan Reynolds was tapped for the role. How would he look in the computer-generated, form-fitting Lantern uniform, and would he have the gravitas to take on the dread Parallax, the evilest entity that ever lived?
As it turns out, Reynolds can handle most of what the script by Greg Berlanti & Michael Green & Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg throws at him. The problem is, not all of that stuff is worth doing.
Not surprisingly, Reynolds is on target for the early Hal Jordan. The cocky but charming test pilot for Ferris Aircraft — who has a who-cares relationship with gorgeous old flame Carol Ferris (a capable Blake Lively) — is so nonchalant he oversleeps on the morning of his biggest flight.
Also effective, thanks to production design by Grant Major and visual effects that looked perfectly fine in 2-D, are the film's first glimpses of the planet Oa, the home base of the Lanterns and their supervisors. Those would be the older-than-dirt Guardians of the Universe, who first figured how to harness the force that energizes the Lanterns, the power of will. (Had Leni Riefenstahl not gotten there first, "Triumph of the Will" would have made a heck of a subtitle here.)
It's from Oa that Lantern Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) takes off to battle Parallax. Things do not work out well, and after a crash landing on Earth, his ring, which always chooses who it goes to next, selects Hal. No one is more surprised than the man himself to be suddenly reciting a sacred oath ("Let those who worship evil's might beware my power — Green Lantern's light!") that sounds like it might have come from the back of a cereal box.
"Green Lantern's" biggest problem, never completely overcome, is that there is a serious tonal shift between the devil-may-care Hal Jordan of the opening sections and the dead serious savior of the universe of the finale. The film tries to bridge that gap with unnecessary characters and extraneous plotting, including tedious sections involving other Lanterns, who tend to look like refugees from "Star Wars'" Mos Eisley Cantina, but it is to no avail.
Though he is nothing if not game, star Reynolds is not at his best either in these sections, where among other things he learns how to control his ring-linked ability to create anything his mind can imagine. Michael Fassbender as the future Magneto in "X-Men: First Class" has set the bar quite high for superhero ambivalence this summer, and Reynolds inevitably falls short.
"Green Lantern" does have the advantage of good villains, starting with Parallax, an amorphous blob of endless iniquity that thrives on terror and has an affinity for yellow, the color (in case you didn't know) of fear.
Evil's man on Earth is scientist Hector Hammond, played by Peter Sarsgaard. Contact with Parallax turns him into a kind of creepy Quasimodo with beady yellow eyes and a huge misshapen head who wreaks havoc wherever he goes. Always an adventurous, convincing actor, Sarsgaard does this role right.
Given its ups and downs, "Green Lantern" is fortunate to have Martin Campbell ("The Mask of Zorro," "Casino Royale") as director. Though this is not Campbell's finest hour, his proficiency counts for a lot in so far-fetched a venture. With a sequel in the works (a clip is shown during the closing credits), let's hope everyone ups their game the next time around.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Playing: In general release