Review: The Green Hornet is Just the Right Amount of Excitement
by Jeremy Kirk
January 15, 2011
Seth Rogen's Britt Reid in The Green Hornet is not a likable character. He's entitled. He's spoiled. He goes through life without the slightest care for his actions or any long-term sensibilities of where he might be going. In essence, he's Bruce Wayne whose parents were not killed when he was a boy. This isn't the first inclination we see for this character in the new film. In the opening shot, Britt is a small boy riding in the back of a chauffeured car, his favorite toy, a 12-inch superhero complete with cape and mask, hanging out the window as if to make the figure fly through the air. He's a boy who dreams, who may have it in his mind that he wishes to do something with his life, something good.
But then the movie jumps ahead 20 years, and we are introduced to someone older, someone coddled who hasn't taken it upon himself to become even the slightest glimpse of that superhero he had dangling out the window. Rogen's character doesn't take anything seriously, so, when his father, a notable newspaper publisher with penchant for making enemies, is found dead, it seems somewhat aberrant for Britt to want to become a superhero. He sort of falls into, anyway.
With his father's everyman, Kato, played by Jay Chou, Britt, through inadvertent actions that start as an act of destruction, becomes The Green Hornet. He's a masked hero who fights crime but comes off as a villain in order to get closer to the higher rungs of the criminal underworld ladder. All along the way, you never get a sense Britt is taking any of this seriously. Not even bullets or people being crushed under large objects can seem to snap him into any sense of reality.
And that is probably where Michel Gondry's film, written by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, both shines and falters at the same time. On one hand, we have a comic book action movie, one that is incredibly entertaining from start to finish. When Kato fights, Gondry turns on all the style and hyper kinetic reality he can muster to make the battling as slick and entertaining as possible. It doesn't matter that it comes off as wholly unrealistic. It's fun, and comic book movies, especially of the superhero variety, are supposed to first and foremost be that very thing.
Much of what is found in The Green Hornet feels a bit like by-the-numbers superhero storytelling. A hero and possibly a sidekick fight crime. We have montages showing them busting skulls and racing the Black Beauty, their 1964 Chrysler Imperial decked out with machine guns and missiles, away from criminals and police alike. These montages are littered with newspaper headlines about this mysterious new character in town, something so cliche it's been parodied ad nauseum. Even the main villain of the piece, Chudnofsky, played with all the immoral sophistication Christoph Waltz can bring out, seems a bit familiar. For much of the film Chudnofsky sits in a room contemplating and becoming agitated at the Green Hornet's deeds. We even see him kill of a few of his own henchmen, something I thought went the way of the Dodo when the Joker shot Bob in the 1989 Batman.
Commonplace storytelling aside, though, Gondry's look and the sheer fun that's being splashed across the screen is anything but leaden. Each of the characters in the film seems to have a nice sense of their surroundings. Chudnofsky is always concerned whether he looks "scary" enough. His third-act morphing into what he feels is a typical, comic book supervillain brings out some of the biggest laughs of the film. Self-referentialism abounds in what is probably the film's best examples of its comedy. The idea of Kato filling out his resume and including all of his action-heavy skills might not seem that imaginative on paper, but, when executed, it can't help but bring up a few laughs from the crowd.
Then we have Rogen, probably the biggest drawback to the whole thing, truth be told. Constantly throwing out comedic jabs just to see what sticks might work in out-and-out comedies like Superbad or Knocked Up. Here it just seems to get in the way of what actually works with The Green Hornet. Once Cameron Diaz steps in to build some kind of odd love triangle with Britt and Kato, Rogen's comedic timing and verbal sparring becomes an all-around distraction. The idea of the love triangle is enough to make you check out anyway. It's completely unnecessary. Her character isn't. She serves some sort of necessity to the overall narrative, but just because you have a female in a film doesn't mean the males of the film have to vie for her affection.
Gondry's direction is spot-on for the most part even if it never attains the level of quirk or eccentricity you might expect from the man who directed Eternal Sunshine or The Science of Sleep. One particular scene that utilizes multiple split screens is ingenious and probably should have been used more than just the one time. The execution on it may have been too time-consuming, though, so we'll let it pass for this one time. Gondry's action never misses anything. He holds his camera back allowing Chou or whoever is at the center of the violence to be seen. The car chases, and there are many, are handled equally effectively boosting the excitement level but never having to resort to shaky cam or extreme closeups to get the point across.
The Green Hornet is a superhero movie; it is also a comic book movie, and it does what so many comic book movies try to do. It comes off as exciting and as entertaining as it can possibly be. Granted, there is probably a better film, maybe even a darker film, that could've been made. And a PG-13 rating means characters walk away from standing in front of a machine gun unharmed and fast edits on the more gruesome deaths, which are very distracting. Nonetheless, the film, though not as perfect as it might have been, is as fun, fresh, and as thrilling as the Billy May Green Hornet theme. If you can just hear it over Rogen's banal discourse.
Jeremy's Rating: 7 out of 10