Michel Gondry | 119 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13
Based on a radio serial that spawned film serials, a famous TV series, and, eventually, comic books, The Green Hornet is a ‘superhero’ saga with a difference. For one thing, technically he’s just a vigilante — no superpowers here — and for another, as noted, it didn’t originate as a comic book. But that’s the milieu the character slots into these days, and so this attempted revival plays in that ballpark.
In this version, rich-kid playboy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) used to want to be a hero, until his domineering newspaper-magnate father (Tom Wilkinson) crushed his spirit. After daddy dearest drops dead, Britt and chaffeur/coffeemaker Kato (Jay Chou) accidentally save a couple from a mugging and decide to fight crime, using Britt’s newly-inherited newspaper, in particular the research skills of secretary Lenore (Cameron Diaz), to help their cause. But LA crime kingpin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) is not impressed with this new threat…
Produced, co-written by and starring Rogen, and directed by quirky Frenchman Michel Gondry, anyone familiar with their CVs will find “a superhero movie made by Seth Rogen and Michel Gondry” to be a pretty adequate summation of The Green Hornet. To clarify, it’s pretty comical, sometimes in that man-child frat-boy way, sometimes with a leftfield quirkiness. The combination makes it unique in the world of superhero movies, but hasn’t gone down well with critics or many viewers.
Well, screw them — The Green Hornet is brilliant. If you’re after the po-faced angsty worthiness of Christopher Nolan’s Bat-trilogy or the Spider-Man reboot, or even the X-Men films, then you need not apply. This has more in common, tonally, with Kick-Ass, or even Iron Man with the comedy bits dialled up further. That said, those two films were quite popular, so why isn’t this one?
For one, apparently Seth Rogen is doing his usual Seth Rogen schtick. That may be the case, but I’ve never actually seen a Rogen film, so I’m not over-familiar with his MO. His style isn’t top of my list of “how to do good comedy”, but it’s diluted enough here that it largely didn’t bother me. A couple of sections indulge it a little too much, but c’est la vie — it doesn’t ruin the whole film.
Another may be the film’s irreverence. That’s not to say something like Kick-Ass doesn’t have its share of genre disrespect, but while it allows its heroes to be comical it takes its villain seriously (so too Iron Man, actually). In The Green Hornet, everyone’s somewhere on the comic spectrum: Waltz’s villain is obsessed with being perceived as scary, in the end re-christening himself “Bloodnofsky”, dressing in red leather and coming up with an elaborate catchphrase to reel off before killing people. Waltz is, depending on your point of view, subtly ridiculous or phoning it in. It’s not as memorable a creation as his Inglourious Basterds Nazi, but you can rely on Waltz for a quality comic adversary.
Then there’s Gondry’s direction, which is often as idiosyncratic as you’d expect. He’s at his peak during the action sequences, which explode in an array of effects and slow-motion to create multiple memorably unique fights and chases. Highlights are the first time Kato unveils his martial arts prowess, and the crazy car-driven climax. Chou and the tricked-out car, Black Beauty, are undoubtedly the stars of these bits — indeed, the film has an overall good line in making Kato the brains behind the operation. I imagine this is subverting the depiction of the Asian sidekick from previous versions, considering when they were made, but as I’ve never seen any I can’t comment fairly.
I imagine those who are enamoured of previous versions were also less keen on this one. There’s probably too much Rogen-esque comedy and Gondry-esque oddness for anyone used to a classic character from a previous era. I can’t blame them for being less-than-pleased by someone trampling all over something they love. For those of us without a previous attachment to the characters, however — and, crucially, with an open enough mind to accept a ‘superhero’ movie that brings a different perspective and style to an arguably-overworked sub-genre — this incarnation of The Green Hornet is a fine piece of entertainment. In fact, I’m tempted to say it’s one of the best superhero movies of the current generation.
The UK TV premiere of The Green Hornet is on Channel 5 tonight at 9pm.
It merited an honourable mention on my list of The Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2014, which can be read in full here.