Film Review – The Green Hornet
When I read that The Green Hornet (2011) was set for a big screen adaptation, two things stuck out at me like a pair of sore thumbs. The first,was that the movie was going to be co-written and starring Seth Rogen. If you remember, this was the guy who played the chubby slob in The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005), the chubby slob who got a girl pregnant in Knocked Up (2007), and the chubby slob who liked to get high in Pineapple Express (2008). Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy, I think he’s really funny, but when I think about butt-kicking superheroes, his name isn’t the first to come to mind. The second big surprise for me was that the film was going to be directed by Michel Gondry. This is the eccentric director of such films as the very good Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), The Science of Sleep (2006), and Be Kind Rewind (2008). Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy, I think he’s a very talented and creative director, but when it comes to big budget action pictures, his name isn’t the first to come to mind. So, does the film work with these two unlikely collaborators?
The answer to the question is yes and no. Certainly, I came into the film with lowered expectations, as the trailer really didn’t give me much to be excited about, but I did find myself enjoying the film for what it was. Take, for example, Seth Rogen, who plays Britt Reid, the son of a wealthy businessman (Tom Wilkinson). Britt has spent his entire life living off the riches of his father’s success, and during the early stages of the film we see him drinking, partying, and getting in to trouble, all to the dismay of his father. Although he has a different name in the film, essentially this is Seth Rogen playing Seth Rogen. Yes, he is his usual comedic and sharp-witted self, and I laughed with the many one-liners he spits out, but he doesn’t do much in terms of playing an actual character. When his father unexpectedly passes away and leaves his entire empire to him, Britt does the one thing he believes he should do to make something of his life: put on a mask and start fighting crime as the superhero known as The Green Hornet. Wouldn’t you do the same thing if you were put in the same position?
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on the psychology of superheroes, but I was always under the impression that a well-developed one needed to have a reason to become their alter ego. Peter Parker became Spider-Man because of the guilt he felt over not stopping the criminal that ultimately killed his uncle; Bruce Wayne became Batman because of his obsessive need to rid Gotham City of the evil that killed his parents; so on and so forth. This film never really explains why Britt Reid desires to be The Green Hornet. Yes, he gets to have cool gadgets and do cool things and beat up bad guys, but why? Because of an obsessive need to gain the approval of his recently deceased father? Perhaps the television or radio show explained this, but the film doesn’t, which is its one major flaw. Perhaps I’m nitpicking here, but being the rich heir to a business empire, couldn’t Britt just use his money to help stop crime? Maybe, but I know what you’re thinking: “he wouldn’t be able to wear the awesome costume!”
Technically, the film is unlike much of Michel Gondry’s work, but at the same time, he does allow for his creative touch to leak its way into it. The film is very slick and glossy, and the action scenes are packed with quick cuts and loud explosions—this is the kind of routine stuff that you would expect from a film like this. However, Gondry does have some cinematic details added that would normally go unnoticed by the majority of audiences, and if you’re aware of his previous films, you’ll see this. For example, there is a scene where the villain of the film, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) orders the word be spread around that he wants The Green Hornet dead. The camera follows one person, to another, and then another, each person suddenly becoming separated from one another with a split screen. What starts out as one single person suddenly becomes a dozen at the same time, and if you look closely, this technique is done with very little to no cuts: pure Gondry. There are a ton of these nice, little creative details that he sprinkles throughout the movie, and if you’re paying attention, it’s actually somewhat rewarding to spot them.
Another aspect of the film that I admired was the inventiveness and know-how of The Green Hornet’s sidekick Kato, played by Jay Chou in the role made famous by Bruce Lee. Like described in the film, Kato is a human Swiss Army Knife. He is brilliantly technical, humbly grounded, a master martial artist, and knows how to make one mean cup of coffee. Kato used to work for Britt’s father, and through his mechanical expertise, the two become host to a number of mean gadgets and machinery, including a gas gun that instantly puts its victim to sleep and a car with so many utilities that it would even make James Bond proud. During the fight scenes, which are very athletic, Gondry plays with time in a way that highlights Kato’s badassness. Kato has the ability to predict the movements of his opponents, and acts so fast that everyone else seems to go in slow motion. In the trailer, these scenes didn’t have much appeal, but when seen within the whole of the film, I found myself pleasantly surprised at how well they are executed. This isn’t on the level of, say, The Matrix (1999), or anything like that, but is entertaining nonetheless.
The plot is really not much to speak of, and involves Chudnofsky’s attempt to take control of the local drug trade, The Green Hornet’s crusade to prevent it, and Britt’s use of his father’s newspaper to control the media’s perception of the fedora-wearing vigilante. What people will be going into the film for are its entertainment value and action scenes, and I feel that it has just enough to appease them on that. Seth Rogen and Jay Chou do a good job of being somewhat of a comedic odd couple, and Gondry’s direction allows the film to have good pacing and well-shot action scenes. Unfortunately, Cameron Diaz appears in an almost non-role as Britt’s secretary, who has very little to do with anything in the film. On the other hand, look out for Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, who does a very good job of playing arguably the geekiest villain in recent years. Carrying a split-barreled handgun, Chudnofsky spends much of his time complaining that no one is scared of him. He’s so obsessed with being an intimidating bad guy that he changes his name to “Blood”nofsky halfway through and dons a bright red leather outfit. Oooo, scary.
In the end, this was a pretty enjoyable film. Perhaps not good enough for multiple viewings, but certainly entertaining while it lasted.
Final Grade: B-