One of the essential pleasures of a superhero is that he possesses boldly defined powers. Superman is the space-age Hercules, Spider-Man uses his web to catapult himself through the air, and each of the X-Men (and X-Women) comes with a flashy metamorphic gimmick. So what of Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), the top-gun fighter pilot–turned–intergalactic crime fighter of Green Lantern? Well, he can fly, he's pretty damn strong, and in a handful of scenes he turns images from his mind into tactile objects made entirely of green light. When a helicopter is about to crash into a fancy outdoor ball, he saves the day by converting the chopper into a vintage car and rolling it down a green-light runway. (It seems like a lot of effort; Superman would have just swatted the thing away with his fist.) Hal, however, doesn't use this pictogram ability that often, so there remains something a little vague about him. Mostly, he stands around in his shiny, pulsating, emerald-green muscle suit, all dressed up with no place to go.
The Green Lantern character dates back to the 1940s and has been revived in comic-book series several times since (first in 1959, most recently in 2005). But even with all of that history, the genially lightweight, F/X-driven Green Lantern is less a vital origin story than a superhero pastiche. Hal, thanks to his hot-dogging fearlessness, gets chosen by a magic ring to become the first earthling member of the Green Lantern Corps, an army of warriors who police the universe. Reynolds, as always, is easy on the eyes, and he's the soul of likability. He tricks up his perpetually unfazed, what's the big deal? presence into a loose-limbed superhero style, and at times he's just about as kitschy a straight arrow as Sam J. Jones was in 1980's Flash Gordon. But Green Lantern could have used more of that film's knowingly cheesy grandeur.
Hal's antagonist is Parallax, a tentacled glob of floating malevolence who comes off as a rather abstract beastie; there's not much urgency to their showdown. On Earth, the spirit of Parallax takes over Hector Hammond, a milquetoast professor, and turns him into a bulgy-headed vengeful nerd. But even with the gifted Peter Sarsgaard seething in the role, he's a fairly innocuous villain. Blake Lively, as Hal's love interest, is sweetly sexy eye candy. Darting between Earth and the rest of the cosmos, Green Lantern can be fun as spectacle (which is why kids may go for it), yet the whole movie is eye candy, and not much more. Reynolds makes Hal a perfectly functional comic-book hero, but there's a big difference between functional and super. C+