Reynolds finds ring, loses smirk

Midway through Green Lantern, there’s a brief glimpse of the superhero movie this could have been.

Canadian boy plays the straight man almost too well in this cosmic cuckoo’s nest.

Canadian boy plays the straight man almost too well in this cosmic cuckoo’s nest.

Green Lantern

Two stars (out of four)

Rated: PG

Midway through Green Lantern, there’s a brief glimpse of the superhero movie this could have been.

It’s the scene where the title avenger, played by Canada’s Ryan Reynolds, slides his ridiculous toy ring onto his middle finger, which it seems he’s about to raise.

No such luck.

No rigid digits are extended at this emerald excess, which just goes to show you what can happen when you let computers read comic books.

They force humans to do the craziest things, like pouncing around the universe with what looks like outcasts from the Star Wars cantina, or maybe the Emerald City of Oz.

Reynolds plays the straight man almost too well in this cosmic cuckoo’s nest, which in fairness is exactly what serious fanboys of the various Green Lantern incarnations want. (Many were aghast to learn of earlier plans of a parody version starring Jack Black.)

Regular moviegoers, however, the ones who appreciate a ripping good action yarn with a few laughs, may yearn — or yawn — for more.

Reynolds keeps his natural cynicism in check, for the most part, and while I wish he’d been allowed to crack wise more often, that’s not what’s on offer from journeyman director Martin Campbell and his committee of screenwriters.

After mixed results with reviving Zorro (The Mask of Zorro and its anemic sequel) and super results in twice reinventing the 007 franchise (GoldenEye and Casino Royale), Campbell seems unsure of what to do with one of the most shopworn figures from the DC Comics stable.

Go campy, as per Zorro, or macho, as per Bond? He seems to have split the difference.

He’s allowed his art director, costume designer and special-effects people to go on a bilious bender, to the point where even the action clothing is digitally applied. Green Lantern is the visual equivalent of being dumped into a vat of green Jell-O, in 3-D, yet.

Meanwhile, Campbell and Reynolds get down to the serious task of making a real man out of Hal Jordan, the cocky test pilot whom we meet as he’s busting up billion-dollar jet prototypes just for the hell of it. Oh, and also to impress Carol Ferris (Blake Lively, not so), who has the combo role of corporate scold, frustrated pilot and occasional bedmate for Jordan.

A buffed-up Reynolds proves an inspired hire, for an enterprise that frequently dives into the absurd. His Hal Jordan manages to keep the requisite straight face when he meets a dying purple alien, who hands him a Crackerjack toy and the advice: “The ring chose you.”

Chose him for what? Well, it involves digital green Spandex and a tour of the outer cosmos, whereupon Jordan confers with a gaggle of emerald-obsessed interplanetary cops who call themselves the Green Lantern Corps.

They’re ruled by a circle of tall-foreheaded Einsteins called the Guardians, one of whose number has gone rogue and turned into a planet-eating smoke entity called Parallax, who eats fear for breakfast.

Jordan will have to fight Parallax to save Earth — you were expecting anything less? — but first he has to be booted into shape by an upright talking fish (an unrecognizable Geoffrey Rush), a not-so-jolly green giant (Michael Clarke Duncan) and a bald martinet who looks like Clark Gable in a Vulcan version of Gone with the Wind.

This last creature is named Sinestro, played with impressive authority by Mark Strong, a character whom Green Lantern fans know is more than meets the green eye.

A big problem with this movie is that it’s more intent on establishing a franchise than telling a stand-alone story, forcing us to consume gobs of tedious exposition and various red-green herrings while we wait for the main course. The time wasters include Peter Sarsgaard’s Hector Hammond, a wacky scientist turned evil Parallax wannabe, who departs from the holy comic text in the way he acquires his super powers and facial deformities.

We also have to pound the shoe leather common to every superhero origin saga, wherein Jordan dithers over his motives while learning what he can do with his ring-bestowed powers. Whatever he imagines, the ring can conjure up — which in Jordan’s case is a Boy’s Own collection of green machine guns, catapults and racing cars, the latter of which is part of a Hot Wheels promotional tie-in.

And when the time comes for the big bout, what do all those jabbering Green Lantern Corps freaks and Guardians do? Let’s just say you really find out who your friends are when a giant angry cloud threatens to gobble your planet.

Of course, it must be stated again that for those who love this kind of cartoonish action, Green Lantern will be right in their tree fort, especially for those who haven’t yet reached puberty.

It’s more Saturday-morning cartoon than Friday-evening date movie, which may please parents who will be enjoined to take their kids to this.

And Reynolds definitely shows promise in the role, if future installments can scrape away some of the digital green goo and deliver a more satisfying story, an admittedly hard thing to do with a franchise as loopy as this one.

It’s not easy being green, as a certain wise frog once observed.

Peter Howell is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic.