- Vancouver, British Columbia - The Green Hornet started off as a radio series in 1936 which was about a superhero and his Chinese sidekick who fought crime by disguising themselves as criminals. That aspect was the biggest distinction between this duo as opposed to most other heroes who would operate as vigilantes or work in cooperation with the law. The character saw many mediums spanning from comic books to film serials to a TV series in the 60s that actually crossed over with Batman on a few occasions. That was my introduction to the characters (in reruns,) and I wouldn't hear from them again this movie was in pre-production.
The film has actually been in the works for a long time. It was actually supposed to be Michel Gondry's first feature film originally, but it found itself in development hell where it sat for about a decade. Since then, Gondry went to direct a number of feature films including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind, staying away from action films and focusing on cerebral drama and comedy.
Meanwhile, just a few short years ago, a pudgy 20-something funny man from Vancouver became a star, thanks to Judd Apatow. Seth Rogan hit the A-list super fast through several successful comedies including The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad, which he and his writing partner Evan Goldberg co-wrote. But the life of a comedic actor is often a short one and Rogan decided it was time to expand. He and Goldberg picked the Green Hornet project back up and started to co-write it and become the executive producers with Rogan to star. He became slim for the role and became serious about becoming an action star. Stephen Chow was to direct and play Kato, but he dropped out due to creative differences. Micheal Gondry took back the director's chair and Asian popstar/actor Jay Chou would become the new Kato.
Sometimes I like to give a brief history lesson of a film before I review it because it shows how much work and politics it takes to make a big theatrical release. There is a lot of build up on the Hollywood end of things and many careers rely on projects like this.
The Green Hornet is a curiously uneven film all in all. Mostly it seems like a buddy comedy film, focusing much on the banter-filled relationship between Kato and Britt Reid as they try to find their niche in life as crime fighters. Reid just inherited his father's newspaper company and is using that to promote his costumed alter-ego as a new powerful super villain in town. Plus there is a bad guy and a love interest that they fight over and all that stuff.
Michel Gondry is one of my favorite directors and has impressed me with his artistic visual style that shines in his music videos and most of his feature films up until this point. Despite his name being a huge draw for me, I felt he was sadly underused. The driving voice of the film was Rogen and his screenplay and it gave very little room to Gondry to be much more than just a hired gun to get the job done. Fortunately, there were scenes where he got to play around and do something that would remind me who was in the director's chair. Even then though, it felt a little too brief and somewhat out of place considering the visual style of the majority of the film.
While Rogan worked out and got himself to look the part, his portrayal of the title character didn't feel like a big stretch for him. If his intention was to be an underachieving goof ball, he certainly succeeded. Though, I've seen that character before in Knocked Up. Seems like a strange choice for a super hero especially when they put him beside a character like Kato. This was perhaps what was most uneven about the movie. With a film so centered around the friendship between two crime fighters, it makes sense that they balance each other out. However, the central conflict was the problem that they were entirely uneven. Kato was essentially the brain and the brawn of the operation, leaving Britt's character to spectate and get frustrated about how little he's contributing. It can be frustrating waiting for him to catch up to Kato and the audience.
Jay Chou really stole the show. He gives Kato a level head and confidence that make him the likeable hero of the story. He also could make a great action star in the future. His fight sequences were remarkably entertaining and physically impressive.
I do see the flaws of the film and have trouble getting past the idea that the movie could have been so much more, but I also remember leaving the theatre feeling quite entertained. It's important to acknowledge this. I could dwell on what could have been or I could take the movie for what it turned out to be. It is a very funny film. The chemistry between the actors was present throughout giving the dialogue a sharp edge to it. There was plenty of action both in combat and in car chases. The amount of carnage inflicted through the film reached comedic heights near the end.
Meanwhile, the actual story wasn't half bad either. The characters had motivations and real life issues that they were dealing with and it was interesting seeing that in a movie that almost tries to sell itself as shallow. Reid deals with the universal issue or seeking fatherly approval and takes a typical tactic, which is to completely rebel and underachieve. Even then, the villain Benjamin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) had a realistic issue of feeling outdated in a world that is changing. It could have been handled a bit more seriously, but the idea was universal.
I don't imagine this movie will take anyone's careers to new heights. Gondry will likely return as the master of his niche. Rogan will still be a comedic writer and actor. Christoph Waltz will be searching for his next post-Oscar hit. Cameron Diaz will still be seeking memorable female roles in Hollywood. The biggest change that will likely come from this is now Jay Chou is a blip on North America's entertainment radar. For a film that was supposed to be a breakthrough for many people involved, I don't feel that it achieved this. However, it's a perfect film for teenaged boys, who I imagine was their primary demographic. People have been walking out of the cinema having enjoyed themselves. In that sense, the movie wasn't a failure at all.
Rating: 3.5/5 Sour Grapes
NB: In case you're wondering about the 3D aspect... it's not worth the extra money.