The Green Hornet
With The Green Hornet, Seth Rogen tries to fuse the comic book hero movie with the stoner comedy sensibilities he started his career with. And like a stoner comedy, at times it’s really silly and stupid. It’s also a hell of a fun ride.
Rogen, like a lot of guys his age, loves the comic books; it’s only natural that he’d want to play a comic book hero. But let’s be honest: how can a guy with his build get cast in most of those roles? The great thing about the Green Hornet is that he’s basically a riff on a hardboiled detective, and those guys can get downright paunchy. Even better, the Green Hornet isn’t the most famous comic book hero in the world, so a movie has a lot of leeway in playing with the basic concept without having half the population up in arms over how it’s destroying the character.
The best-known previous incarnation has to be the television series, starring Van Williams and Bruce Lee. Though it was produced at the same time as the ultra-camp Adam West version of Batman, it was actually treated more like an action noir series. There was even a pair of crossover episodes, where the Hornet and Kato stuck out as incredibly dark against the garishly bright Gotham City backgrounds. And it’s from this version that the current movie takes most of it’s inspiration; in the series, the outfits and the iconic styling of their car, Black Beauty, were contemporary. But there’s basically no reason in 2010 for Kato to wear an old-style chauffeur’s uniform, the Hornet to wear a fedora, or for them both to tool around in a 1966 Imperial Crown except for the homage. Well, that and the fact that they look really, really cool
The major departure is that Britt Reid (Rogen), is the son of the idealistic newspaper magnate. Britt himself is a socialite in the vein of Paris Hilton. But when his father dies — his mother had already died when he was a child — Britt has to take the helm of the Daily Standard, whose fortunes have been flagging lately along with the rest of the industry, to the annoyance of his father’s old advisor (Edward James Olmos). Back at the mansion, Britt bonds with his father’s old mechanic, Kato (Jay Chou), who turns out to be a whiz with all sorts of technology. Growing up orphaned and homeless in Shanghai, he’s conveniently also a martial arts expert.
The two go out one night to vandalize Britt’s father’s graveside statue, and along the way end up saving a young couple from a rather brutal mugging. Thrilled with the experience, they decide to clean up the crime in Los Angeles. Of course, they can expect some push-back from the city’s single remaining kingpin, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), who brandishes an inferiority complex, a custom double-barreled pistol and a truly excellent watch. But to help navigate the criminal underworld they enlist the unwitting help of Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), a new hire at the Standard, with a background in journalism and criminology.
From there, well, things play out more or less as expected. It may ring a little false that Britt is basically an egomaniacal schmuck while Kato does the lion’s share of the work, but I think a lot can be forgiven in what amounts to an origin story. And as time goes on Britt does become more capable on his own; the movie doesn’t feel unfinished on its own, but it nicely sets up a potential sequel. So yes, the dynamic is different than the usual one in other versions of the character, but it’s not at all a bad one.
The movie is presented in 3-D, but to be honest I have a hard time picking out anything that even used the effect, beyond an interesting 13-way split-screen clip. If you can see it in 2-D, save yourself the surcharge. You won’t miss anything at all.
All told, Rogen as a writer is successful in grafting his comedic sensibilities onto this basic frame. He brings up the farce and the slapstick, and there are a few lowbrow moments that weren’t exactly my speed, but it never really overwhelms the solid comic-book movie base. It delivers the goods, looks great doing it, and it’s really fun to watch. Would that we could say the same about more comic-book movies.
Worth it: yes.
Bechdel test: fail.