The Green Hornet
What It Is
As a child, Britt Reid (Joshua Chandler Erenberg) tries hard to please his father (Tom Wilkinson). But dad’s not only distracted by running the biggest newspaper in Los Angeles, the Daily Sentinel, he’s also demanding, expecting his boy to be perfect: “Trying doesn’t matter,” he barks, “If you always fail.” When he goes on to pull the head off Britt’s favorite superhero action figure, the boy’s fate is re-set: he will now do his best to annoy his father.
It’s only a few minutes into The Green Hornet when a grown up Britt (played by Seth Rogen) learns his allergic dad has died of a bee sting, and now he’s on his own — supposed to run the paper and his daily affairs. Or, not quite on his own. He discovers among his father’s staff of servants the wondrous Kato (Chinese pop star Jay Chou). He’s good at everything, it seems, from designing electronics and exotic weapons to customizing cars and making coffee to confounding all comers with his superheroic martial arts skills.
During one drunken night’s outing, the newly bonded buddies save a couple of crime victims. Now they’ve found a calling: they’ll pretend to be bad but do good, confusing both cops and crooks — and perhaps viewers who are unfamiliar with the 1930s radio show characters or the 1940s movie serial or the 1960s TV show (which memorably starred Bruce Lee as Kato). If the conceit is silly, it also provides the self-designated crime-fighters a series of hurdles as they embark on their new adventure.
They soon come up with a catchy (if admittedly odd) moniker for Britt — the Green Hornet — but can’t find one for his “unnamed sidekick.” And so the duo proceeds to argue about whether they’re partners, and who gets credit for what, as well as the girl they both like, Britt’s resourceful and self-assured secretary Lenore (Cameron Diaz). Their crusades against villains — including the crooked DA (David Harbour) and crime lord Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) — ensure the film is also punctuated by action scenes, ranging from car chases and explosions to shootouts and fights.
All of this commotion is framed by the film’s social “message,” namely, mass media can be used not only to make money or sensationalize stories, but can also investigate and keep tabs on corrupt politicians. Here, the newspaper editor, Axford (Edward James Olmos) is consistently upright and mature, and so serves as a contrast to Britt and Kato’s self-indulgent shenanigans.
Why It’s Fun
The Green Hornet might easily have been a regular superhero movie, but director Michel Gondry is a quirky sort (his previous films include Be Kind Rewind with Jack Black and Mos Def, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with Jim Carrey), and so it’s more peculiar. For some viewers, the more roundabout rhythms will be refreshing, and for others, they will seem protracted.
Consider the fight scenes, stretched out via a strange tactic called “Kato Vision.” Here the screen goes red and then splits, with some combatants proceeding in time-lapse fast motion and others slow, indicating how Kato perceives the clash before and as it happens.
Or consider the film’s use of 3D, most spectacularly during an elaborate split-screen montage of activities, as six or so scenes are “popped out” one by one, highlighting their simultaneity and also their differences between preparations by villains and heroes.
The film’s buddy dynamic is more regular, and sometimes strained. It draws attention to the infamous inequity between the Green Hornet and Kato that bothered Bruce Lee and his fans, disappointed by the fabulous martial arts star’s reduction to an often dull supporting role. Here the banter between the boys lurches from jokes about their homosocial affection, their childish competition, and their emotional brotherhood, as both felt wronged by the tyrannical Daddy Reid.
Who’s Going To Love It
Seth Rogen fans may feel conflicted: he’s not flat-out goofy, as he has been in the Judd Apatow-style comedies, but he is weird. This means he may disappoint fans of usual comic book hero movies, where Superman or Batman or Spiderman finds his way through a daunting moral chaos to Do the Right Thing. Britt is less inclined.
Fans of big-budget comic book/super hero movies may be put off by the film’s rambling: Britt is quite slow on the uptake (sometimes humorously) and Kato is frustrated that he’s expected to act like an employee, when it’s clear he’s the brains and the muscle behind the team.
Still, the unusual combination of elements is rewarding: this is not a typical movie, and that in itself may please viewers in search of something new-ish.
What To Be Aware Of
The violence is sometimes brutal: Chudnofsky is especially fond of shooting victims at close range, so blood spurts and he can seem “scary” (this is a particular concern he voices more than once, as when he blows away the lesser villains played by James Franco and Eddie Furlong).
The Green Hornet’s “Hornet Gas” gun is deployed a few times, usually comically. The idea is that he will knock out his adversaries rather than kill them. When he does shoot one bad guy during a crisis, Kato is especially upset.
While Lenore appears to be capable and smart (she calls herself the “mastermind” of their operation, once she discovers they have one), she does spend much of the movie in the dark about the boys’ hijinks. She also wears especially tight outfits and some short shorts, very common costumes for girls in superhero movies, but tedious too.
As Kato and Britt compete over Lenore, they indulge in some crude gestures indicating sex.
The buddies fight in Britt’s living room, using whatever they come across (including furniture and a flat screen TV) to bash each other’s faces.
The film includes some language, including the s-word.
7 out of 10
The Green Hornet
Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Edward James Olmos, David Harbour, Tom Wilkinson, Cameron Diaz
Studio: Sony Pictures
US Premiere: January 14, 2011
UK Premiere: January 14, 2011