| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES The universe has probably never been safer if the proliferation of comic book superheroes on the big screen is any indication.
Marvel adventures "Thor" and "X-Men: First Class" have sold nearly $800 million worth of tickets combined at the worldwide box office in recent weeks, and "Captain America" is getting ready for a July 22 release across North America.
Stepping into the breach Friday is "Green Lantern," starring Ryan Reynolds as the ring-wielding intergalactic space cop immortalized in D.C. comic books.
The $150 million Warner Bros. picture tells the story of Earth's first member of the Green Lantern Corps and his maiden task -- to beat back and defeat mega-villain Parallax, a planet-killing entity that thrives on fear.
Blake Lively co-stars as his love interest, while Peter Sarsgaard and Mark Strong are on board as villains.
The film's director, Martin Campbell, who rebooted the James Bond franchise with the gritty "Casino Royale," acknowledges that the "Green Lantern" is a lesser-known member of the D.C. comics pantheon, but so what?
"We had a little bit more work to do," Campbell told reporters recently. "It wasn't in as many people's consciousness as Superman or Batman may have been."
But "Iron Man was a second-tier (Marvel comics) character that turned out very well," he points out. "Whether a superhero is second-tier or first-tier is irrelevant ... The movie has to stand alone."
Early "Green Lantern" reviews were overwhelmingly negative. The New York Observer said the film was "a dumb, pointless, ugly, moronic and incomprehensible jumble of botched effects, technical blunders and cluttered chaos."
In slightly more measured tones, Variety said the "visually lavish sci-fi adventure" was "a highly unstable alloy of the serious, the goofy and the downright derivative."
Still, bullish sources at Warner Bros. expect the film to gross at least $50 million during its first three days of release in the United States and Canada. That would put it in the same range as "X-Men: First Class," which opened to $55 million earlier this month and has grossed $104 million to date.
The critics were generally kind to Reynolds, who was last seen by a handful of people trying to escape a coffin in "Buried." He seemed a natural choice to play a character less riven by internal demons than recent movie superheroes have tended to be.
As hot-shot fighter pilot Hal Jordan, the 34-year-old Canadian actor -- who has a fear of flying -- lent a casual wisecracking charm to a guy given the modest challenge of saving the universe.
"A lot of the current iterations of superheroes are a little bit darker and serious in tone," Reynolds told reporters in a recent interview. "This is a bit of a throwback. There's a lot of fun in the character."
So much fun that there is inevitable talk of a sequel. Indeed, viewers who sit through the credits at the end will learn which character becomes a villain in the next episode.
Lively joked she'd like to play the villain next. Strong, who co-stars as Green Lantern Corps leader Sinestro, said he played up certain personality traits that might eventually push his character to the dark side -- as happened in the comics.
Those little teasers hint at the degree of thought that may have gone toward a second installment, even before the opening credits roll on the first.
But if a sequel does not get the green light, Reynolds will get a fresh crack at fanboy glory in yet another obscure comic-book adaptation headed to the big screen. He is attached to reprise the villainous role of Deadpool in a spin-off of the "X-Men: Wolverine" spin-off.
(Editing by Dean Goodman and Steve Gorman)