Ever since “X-Men” hit theaters in 2000 the movie going public has been living in the age of the super hero. They’ve taken over the box office, with virtually every major hero from comic books either in theaters or having an adaptation in the works. Needless to say the better known super heroes are starting to run low and studios are turning towards properties that are lesser known. Some such as “Iron Man” have paid off handsomely, others like “Daredevil” have not. “The Green Hornet” is not strictly speaking a comic book movie, for though it has been a comic books it actually originated as a radio show in the 1930s. It was resurrected in the 1960s as the TV that introduced Bruce Lee to American audiences, but virtually nothing has been done with the character since then. As a result it’s a name that rings a bell in the cultural consciousness but at this point not many audience members know much about beyond that name. That puts it in the situation where a writer or director could move outside of the established formula a little bit since there won’t be a rabid fan-base to complain. That’s what lead to Seth Rogen co-writing and staring in this more comedic twist on super hero movies.
In “The Green Hornet” Rogen plays Britt Reid. Britt is the heir to an independent but fairly successful Los Angeles newspaper. Never able to impress his rather severe father (played by Tom Wilkinson) he opted to just party it up rather than even bother trying to do something with himself, as it never seemed to be enough. However when his father dies Britt finds himself in charge of a newspaper that he doesn’t know how to run. Still lacking direction in life he encounters his father’s brilliant car mechanic Kato (played by Jay Chou.) The two bond over both the loss of Britt’s father and what a jerk the guy could be. On a night out they end up, almost by accident, helping some people who are being mugged. This gives Britt an jolt and sense of purpose that he’s never had before, and with Kato at his side he resolves to take justice to the streets as the Green Hornet.
The best way to sum up the tone of “The Green Hornet” is by way of a comparison to a better known masked vigilante. It’s well known that to cover his activities as Batman, Bruce Wayne pretends to be a happy go lucky playboy, wooing high profile beauties and hosting extravagant parties. However Bruce Wayne really only does that to maintain an image and in reality he’s a much darker and tortured character. Britt Reid is Bruce Wayne if Bruce Wayne truly was that wild playboy he only pretended to be and was still fighting crime on the side. Truthfully “The Green Hornet” plays much more like a 1980s buddy cop movie in the mold of “48 Hours” or “Lethal Weapon” than a super hero movie. Britt and Kato are able to bond quickly at first but they have a way of pushing each others buttons. This lends itself to comedic moments such as Kato’s aggravation at the fact that Britt is getting all the credit as the Green Hornet when it’s the much more skilled Kato who’s doing most of the fighting. Having the sidekick be the more skilled fighter is just one of many fun twists on the genre that the movie pulls out. Another is the very self aware explanation that Britt gives for why they should pretend to be bad guys. Even something as basic as the romantic sub-plot is turned on its head by the simple fact that Lenore (played by Cameron Diaz) has less than zero romantic interest in Britt at any point in the film.
The cast of “The Green Hornet” are all on board with the less serious and more relaxed feel of the film, compared to other super hero movies. Rogen has a heavy dose of the lovable loser he’s known for but he’s also able to energize the character when needed. Britt is never a great fighter in terms of skill but he makes up for it in enthusiasm and that helps sell the character. Chou as Kato is occasionally hard to understand when he speaks but he handles all of the nimble martial arts effortlessly. His chemistry with Rogen is very brotherly, in the love-hate way that brothers often are. Christoph Waltz (winner of last year’s Oscar for his role in “Inglourious Basterds”) takes on the slightly unhinged villain Chudnofsky. He plays the character as quiet yet ferocious and also extremely out of touch. Chudnofsky wants to be intimidating and cool but really doesn’t know how to pull it off. In the hands of a lesser actor this would neuter the character but Waltz is able to keep this aspect and still have the character be a worthy villain for the piece. Cameron Diaz feels slightly out of place as Lenore, Britt’s secretary, but never to the point that it kills a scene or the film overall.
Director Michel Gondry shows some unexpected talent when it comes to shooting the action scenes. Gondry is best known for more cerebral films such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and at first seems like an odd choice for this film. In truth it was actually meant to be his feature film debut when he was first hired in 1997, however that iteration of the movie never got off the ground and Gondry moved onto other things at the time. Now back in the director chair he brings some fun tricks to the fight scenes, especially the first one, and the car chases. Black Beauty, the Green Hornet’s car, really is the other major star of the film and Gondry films it like a star. Thankfully he never went in for the current trend of tight handheld photography that makes so many modern action movies difficult to follow if not nauseating.
Though “The Green Hornet” has quite a bit of fun to offer it’s also a bit meandering and unfocused at times. As mentioned it takes more cues from buddy cop movies than super hero films. The marriage of these two genres seems like a natural but results in some up and down pacing. The buddy cop part of the film wants Kato and Britt to be annoyed with each other as much as possible, but the super hero part of the film needs them to be working as a credible team in order for the action scenes to happen. The balance isn’t quite there and there are points where the pacing drags. This is particularly true in the first part of the film leading up to Britt’s creation of the Green Hornet persona. However when the film finds its sweet spot it’s quite a fun bit of entertainment.
“The Green Hornet” is frankly much lighter fair than most super hero movies that are coming out these days. That said the genre was about do for a hero whose adventures lent themselves to some good laughs as well as some good action. While pacing issues keep it from reaching its true potential this film is likely to surprise many with just how much fun it is. And one final note the film is being shown in 3D, but was post-converted and wasn’t shot in the format. Thankfully though this is one of the better post-conversion jobs and while it doesn’t add much to the movie it doesn’t look terrible either ala “The Last Airbender.”
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5