The Green Hornet has always been on the B-list of the classic heroes hierarchy. His radio show was second fiddle to the Lone Ranger (A distant relative of the green one you know) and the tv series was always the poor cousin of Batman. In a continuation of that tradition here is The Green Hornet’s big screen debut which wisely sidestepped out of the way of all the big summer movies by being released in the Winter. A good idea too, it would have likely been destroyed if it had released alongside any of last summers movies. Is it bad film though?…
So for this modern update of The Green Hornet the Hollywood studios made the smart safe choice of getting avant-garde music video and occasional movie director Michel Gondry to helm the film whilst hiring stoner comedy chubster Seth Rogen to play the titular character. OK so that’s neither smart or safe but credit should be given to them for daring to think differently with their choices. And honestly neither of them cause an issue for the film. Gondry clearly is having a blast sending up the traditional masked crimefighter movie tropes as does Seth Rogen. Half the films humour is based on either embracing or mocking the genre cliches. To add to that Gondry is clearly taking the piss with the 3D effect they were roped into using. Sometimes you can see it being used in a genuinely inventive manner during Katos fights, and at one point there is a gratuitous shot of a pair of beer bottle tops spinning through the air in slow motion. I don’t doubt for a second that this was a fun film for the crew to work on.
Now onto Kato played by Asian pop and multimedia megastar Jay Chou. He spends around 75% of the film stealing the show an doing nothing but awesome things and the other 25% struggling with the English language. With the exception of swimming there is nothing Kato can’t do better than everyone else in the world. If it wasn’t for Kato Rogen’s Britt Reid would be dead in 2 seconds. Although to be fair he probably wouldn’t have attempted crime fighting if it wasn’t for Kato’s coffee making and car modding skills.
Their first trip out to fight crime involves Reid cutting the head off a statue of his dead father, Reid running away from muggers and then Kato going all Ninja Terminator on the thugs taking them all out single handedly. The following morning the news is all over Reid’s Hornet for cutting the head off the statue and chasing off some thugs while in true sidekick fashion Kato is ignored. A trend that runs through the entirety of the film to the point where Kato is referred as probably being just some hired thug. He doesn’t even get a sidekick name. It’s that sort of poking fun at the tropes of the hero-sidekick relationship that help provide the film with a lot of it’s fun.
The story is pretty straight forward. Aside from Britt’s desire to use his money, standing as the head of a newspaper, and Kato’s insane skills to become a hero there is of course a villain that need defeating in the form of insecure mob boss Chudnofsky (Christopher Waltz). Right from the first scene he is in you’ll like this villain. It’s a bit of a issue with introducing a villain to make sure he’s not so badass that you like him more than the hero. That’s pretty much what happens here with Chudnofsky. In his introductory scene he not only manages to be cool, intimidating and awesome but even makes sure to kill James Franco in the process. He is paranoid that he’s no longer scary to the average thug or cop out in LA and over the course of the film attempts to make a new man of himself, eventually taking on the guise of Bloodnofsky by wearing red and having a cool threatening last words for his victims. Also he has a gun that can fire 2 bullets at once which he thinks is pretty cool. Also it’s worth keeping an eye out for one of his henchmen in the form of Edward Furlong. He’s only in the film briefly but he’s playing a role that probably wasn’t too much of a stretch for him.
The story rockets along at a decent pace. A lot of the dialogue is the usual Set Rogen brand rambling argument based humour but it doesn’t grate too much. Cameron Diaz is just kind of there, she provides a role within the film but could have easily not been there. Britt has a pretty straight forward character arc to go on. His father was a cruel and abusive dick who treated Reid as a burden as a child and a waste of space as an adult and as such Britt wants to prove his worth after his fathers death. If there’s one thin even Michel Gondry’s idiosyncratic style can’t pull off is making me believe that Seth Rogen could be a playboy party animal of any kind. Especially not one women find attractive. I could buy it maybe if he was attracting some cubs though cos Rogen is clearly a bear.
Visually the film is pretty excellent. There’s some nice little lighting cues, such as the ones in the image at the top of this page, that recall a 60s tv show style of lighting and Dutch angles. When Kato goes all martial arts savant on us everything in the scene becomes a visual representation of his brains inner workings. Weapons and targets glow red, cars multiply to provide a series of platforms for him to traverse and everyone moves a lot slower than he does. Britt Reid gets a chance to do some of this towards the end and for a moment he even looks cool, not for long though.
This is a film that grabs movie cliche and embraces it. At the same time it’s quite unfocused with it’s storytelling perhaps spending too much time focusing on Britt Reid and Kato’s bickering. There should have been a fair bit more of Chudnofsky too. He get’s only a few scenes to shine and spends the first half of the film sat in a chair proving why he’s intimidating. Having more of him going off the rails in a manner similar to DiAmico in Kick-Ass would have benefited this film a fair bit. Action scenes are varied and fun and by the end of it all you’ll likely want to add the Black Beauty to your fantasy movie car garage along side Burton’s Batmobile and Bullit’s Ford Mustang GT. I mean, it has guns inside it’s doors!
Overall the film isn’t the most astounding piece of comic book action cinema but for what it is it’s an enjoyable ride. I can’t see many people outright hating the film for any legitimate reasons but as it does have Seth Rogen in it I can see some people having a lower tolerance for it. Jay Chou is some sort of superstar waiting to happen. Right now his fame is largely confined to Asia, although you may recognise him from the Initial D movie or Curse OF The Golden Flower, but I reckon given some time to work on his English his plans for world domination will spread overseas before too long. I would certainly be up for a sequel to this provided Gondry was involved again and given free reign to really go nuts. it’s a decent but flawed film but one that you likely won’t regret watching. It’s idiosyncratic nature may grate for some but if you’re a fan of Rogen, Gondry or even Chou you’ll find plenty to enjoy here.