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Green Lantern

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Ryan Reynolds might be the reigning champion at playing glib, cavalier hotshots. His condescending snark, often delivered in a soft voice to mask the brutality, almost always makes me laugh, even in movies that aren’t necessarily very good. Because of that — and, let’s be honest, also because of his good looks and supernatural physical fitness — he’s the perfect candidate to play a superhero, especially if it’s the kind who starts out cocky and reckless and has to learn that with great power comes great responsibility.

As far as I know without having read the comic books, that scenario works for Green Lantern. At any rate, it works in the “Green Lantern” movie, a shiny, expensive-looking, somewhat goofy production that marks the 70-year-old character’s big-screen debut. Directed by Martin Campbell (“Casino Royale,” “The Mask of Zorro”), the film wears its nerdy heart on its sleeve, which is endearing, and often falls just short of hitting the mark, which isn’t. But a sufficient number of elements work well enough — and some work very well indeed — that I came away smiling.

Reynolds plays Hal Jordan, a cheeky test pilot whose father was also a test pilot, up until the time his plane exploded with him in it. Hal feels like a coward for occasionally being unsettled by memories of his father’s accident, having convinced himself that real men are never afraid of anything, ever. He works with Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), a fellow pilot, longtime friend, and former lover, for a government-contracted aeronautics company owned by Carol’s father.

Meanwhile, of course, the ancient race of immortals known as the Guardians are chillin’ back on their planet, called Oa, when they receive word that a handful of Green Lanterns have been killed. The Guardians long ago divided the universe into 3,600 sectors and appointed someone to watch over each one. Each of these supervisors has a ring that harnesses the most powerful force in existence, which of course is the power of will, which of course is manifested in green light. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. An enemy representing the most powerful evil force in existence — fear, which is yellow — had to be imprisoned on a desolate planet, but has now been released after, um, some explorers accidentally fell into his cave. (If I were a Guardian, I would have made it harder for the most powerful evil force in existence to get out.) This thing, a multi-tentacled monster, is called Parallax, and now it has killed some of the aforementioned Green Lanterns.

Among the victims is Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), who crashes on Earth just before he dies and whose ring chooses his successor. The ring always chooses, and the ring is never wrong. The ring is like the Sorting Hat. Abin Sur’s ring chooses Hal Jordan; ergo, Hal Jordan is the new Green Lantern for whatever sector Earth is in.

Like many origin stories, this one dwells so much on laying out the particulars of the hero’s new powers and responsibilities that it overlooks the need to give him a good enemy to fight. (Parallax is ominous but too abstract to be very scary.) We almost get one in Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a dweeby, stringy-haired scientist who examines an alien corpse and is thereby exposed to some of Parallax’s evil yellow bizness. Hector becomes physically monstrous and develops psychic and telekinetic powers, but it’s really Sarsgaard’s repulsively weaselly performance that makes it work as well as it does.

There’s a lot of “almost” here. There arises a standard superhero scenario, with civilians endangered by some menace that requires our hero to save the day, and you think, “Ah, OK, here we go!” And the sequence turns out to be … OK. There’s the matter of Hal Jordan being trained to use his new powers by fellow Lanterns like Sinestro (Mark Strong), Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan), and Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush). The training sequence is … eh, not bad. There’s a showdown involving Hal Jordan, Hector Hammond, Hector’s senator father (Tim Robbins) and a government scientist (Angela Bassett) that offers action and danger and is … all right.

Much of the film is set in outer space and on the Guardians’ planet, and while there seems to have been some hesitance to fully embrace those hardcore sci-fi/fantasy elements (lest casual moviegoers be turned off), they haven’t gotten the short shrift, either. If that’s the kind of stuff that makes Green Lantern distinct from other superheroes, so be it. I mean, we just had one six weeks ago where the superhero was a Norse god — an actual Norse god! When it comes to comic book adventures, there’s a fine line between silly and awesome, and sometimes no line at all. “Green Lantern” may walk that line less successfully than some of its counterparts, but it’s still good-natured and high-spirited fun. It deserves a chance.

B- (1 hr., 54 min.; PG-13, a little profanity, the usual superhero action violence.)

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