Review | The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet is a far better movie than it has any right to be. Right? Maybe not. Michel Gondry is one of the most energizing filmmakers working today, able to turn even the most mundane material into something eye-catching and thought-provoking. So even an action-comedy, in his capable hands… it really ought to be a thing of beauty.

And wouldn’t you know it, The Green Hornet is just that.

The everyman superhero series has its roots in a 1930s radio drama. The character has changed a great deal over the years, but most treatments of the Green Hornet follow the exploits of Britt Reid, a newspaper publisher who moonlights as a masked vigilante with his partner Kato. Gondry’s treatment is basically that. His Reid (Seth Rogen) is a self-possessed party boy, the son of a major newspaper publisher who is living the high life mooching off the success of his father (Tom Wilkinson). Kato (Jay Chou) works for dear old dad as a mechanic and fetcher-of-coffee, but his real skills like in martial arts and performing feats of technological wizardry.

The events that bring these two characters together are fairly predictable. The senior Reid dies suddenly after being stung by a bee — or was he??? — leaving the already directionless Britt with no one to kick him in the ass anymore. Kato, fired along with the rest of his father’s staff after the untimely death, is brought back because he makes Britt’s coffee… and it’s some damn good coffee. They drink together one evening, go out in masks to pull a little prank and end up saving a couple from a gang of muggers. Thus, the Green Hornet is born.

There’s a bit more depth to the story than that, stemming from a subplot dealing with Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), the seemingly unassuming but in actuality unhinged criminal kingpin of Los Angeles. Politics and Britt’s father are drawn into the mix. Lessons are learned and everyone is happy in the end. Spoiler alert? Not a chance. You’ve seen this story before. No question.

Credit Gondry for the bulk of the film’s success as a work of pure entertainment. If you want to engage in a thoughtful post-screening discussion, go watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This is Gondry’s Tango & Cash. It is meant to please on a very visceral level and he executes it flawlessly. Just in terms of the raw presentation, you can feel his touch in just about every scene. There’s quirk in abundance, from unusual camera angles and edits to artful use of slow motion and jaw-dropping visual effects – “Kato Vision” is stunning, there’s no better word for describing it. It’s a video game moment rendered in the real. The story beats might be familiar, but you’ll be swept away for the full two hours by the form it all takes.

Gondry also elicits some top-notch performances from his two leads. Sort of. There’s not a whole lot of meat to the story. Remember, Tango & Cash. The relationship between Britt and Kato is deep enough to make you care when they are tested, but they’re both basically playing one-note characters who manage to earn themselves another note by the time the credits roll. Good for them. The director gets exactly what he needs out of both characters. From Rogen, it’s an unlikable, egomaniacal lout who you’d nonetheless like to party with. And from Chou, it’s the ever-humble confidante who sees his friend’s many flaws and chooses to overlook them because deep down, he knows the guy is a generally good dude who’s led an overly pampered existence.

You’ve seen it all before, but Gondry manages to capture an honest budding friendship amidst all of the goofy action-comedy stylings. If you’re the sort of filmgoer who absolutely must find some formal element to digress on, the Britt/Kato relationship is your way in.

Less impressive is Waltz, though to be fair this is a tough moment for him. Coming off of Inglourious Basterds with a performance that is going to be just about impossible to top, the only way to go is down. It’s also quite evident, as Spinoff editor Josh Wigler observed after last night’s screening, that the role was originally written for Nicolas Cage. Something feels “off” about Waltz’s performance, a feeling that the character and the actor simply aren’t a good fit for one another. You can see some of his Inglourious Jew Hunter pop up now and again, but a different kind of crazy is required for this character and Waltz doesn’t fully sell it.

Cameron Diaz is similarly puzzling. Her performance is fine, nothing offensive about it. She’s really there as a function of the story though, helping to push the plot forward at key moments for our relatively hapless heroes. It doesn’t detract from the experience at all; she serves her purpose and then disappears for another half hour while Stuff happens. As with Waltz though, something about her just feels… off.

These are minor observations. There’s so much to like about this movie. Like Edward James Olmos bringing his game as a doppelganger of William Adama (what’s up, Battlestar Galactica fans?!). Or an amazing cameo that occurs during the opening scenes of the film. No spoilers here. Or the incredible amount of gratuitous action which would surely amount to millions of dollars in property damage and tens of innocent lives lost (not that we’re given time to dwell on such things). Or a climactic showdown featuring men with guns, a rocket launcher or two, half of a car – a still-functioning half – and a sushi USB drive. If you reach the climax and ask yourself (light spoiler) why they can’t just go find another computer, then you’re missing the point.

So yes, Gondry has delivered an action-comedy that climbs as high as the best examples available in the genre, if not higher. In The Green Hornet he turned a so-so collection of story beats and run-of-the-mill characters into an incredible ride and a fantastically entertaining movie. If this is what happens when you give Gondry an action-driven tale to tell… well… I hope the Michael Bays and James Camerons of the world are taking notes. This is what a 21st century blockbuster ought to look like.

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Comments

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for giving this a good review, I saw it a few weeks ago at a free screening and thought it was excellent! I’m tired of hearing all the negativity about it because it’s a Seth Rogen movie. Gondry did an amazing job in this role, it’s surprising to know that he was originally gonna be the director in 1997 when they first started to get this movie made. This is the type of movie that deserves to be #1 in the box office instead of crap like “Little Fockers.”

  • Anonymous

    I hope this movie is good, I really don’t think much of Seth Rogan but I love Gondry so I’ll be seeing it.

  • Guest

    Would’t touch this piece of cheese with a 29foot pole

  • Twave74

    How much money did they pay for that review?

  • Anonymous

    God I hate the internet. Someone has a differing opinion than you (about something you’ve NEVER seen), so obviously they were paid off.

  • Krakenattack

    And did Nicolas Cage pass this up due to Season Of The Witch filming issues? I’m sure he’s kicking himself now.

  • Roninb

    Cool! A superhero film that doesn’t need to take itself too seriously! Now that’s ENTERTAINMENT!

  • Paul

    Can’t stand Seth Rogen so won’t be seeing this.

  • Jschultz

    I was wary of this based on early previews and Seth Rogan being the star. But the later previews and all the positive reviews I’m seeing is making me excited to see the film.

  • Shaun

    I’ll probably go see this. I think that you mean “self-obessed”, not “self-possessed”, right?

    One thing that bothers me: in all the previews I’ve seen of this film, it sure looks like Kato should be the hero of the piece. He is the character who possesses the fighting skills, technical know-how, and overall abilities that make this a “superhero” film. When the character started in the 1930s, it may have been necessary to make the white guy the hero. In the 21st century, not so much. So, I’ll be interested to see how the filmmakers handle this racial elephant in the room.

  • Jeff Frost

    Well, from what I understand, he can’t stand you, either. No big loss.

  • saintsaucey

    Kato/Bruce Lee was always the star of the series. Maybe not in the radio show (was it a radio show) but certainly in the tv series.

  • Wgkaris

    I will have to read a few more reviews before I invest money for this. I can’t take Seth Rogan as a superhero. He is just too goofy for this part. Would you want to see him as Superman?

  • Motyrreb

    Rogen in this part was a mistake. I’m a little disappointed that there is so much comedy…echoes of the 1960s Batman. Still, I’m glad to see a Green Hornet film made so I’ll see it because I’m a Hornet fan.

  • Paul

    Keep your snark to yourself buddy. Your comment is a personal attack and off topic.

  • loserface

    I’ve been supporting this film from Day One, so I am so happy to see it’s getting such good buzz, despite the people who want it fail for being comedic.

  • http://welcometohereafter.com Bry

    It’s always frustrating to hear of people immediately going with their knee-jerk “I don’t like [actor] so I’m not seeing this” response, or just blindly assuming something will be terrible based on one single element. How many people didn’t see the incredible “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” solely based on some misplaced anti-Michael Cera backlash? Too many.

    I hope this movie turns out to be as good as the review suggests. I’ve yet to be disappointed with Gondry’s work, so I’ll check this out for sure.

  • Tenebrae99

    Um, huh? Green Hornet isn’t a superhero in the Superman sense. He’s much closer to Batman or even The Shadow. No powers or body armor, just gadgets, money, and a sidekick who kicks butt. I don’t think even Rogan would cast Rogan as Superman.

    I’ll admit I was in the hater group, especially once Stephen Chow left (he was originally supposed to write, direct, and play Kato). And the trailers didn’t help. But there’s been so much word that this is MUCH better than the trailers/commercials make it look that I’m gonna give it a shot.

  • http://twitter.com/geminibros Adam Rosenberg

    I agree with you completely. Scott Pilgrim was one of the top movies of last year and it was criminally underseen. Part of that definitely has to do with opening against The Expendables, but I think Cera overload drove a lot of people away as well.

  • Jay

    I don’t understand how this movie is being excused for it’s flaws and boosted as an “action comedy” while the same of us “geeks” attacked Tron: Legacy mercilessly. Tron was a phenomenal movie that made me feel like a kid again. Green Hornet looks bad, I’ll still probably see it so that I know what I’m talking about, but the same community destroys one movie randomly and lauds another. Two totally different categories for these.

  • Wgkaris

    I agree with you about Tron, and the original “The Green Hornet” was never portrayed as being a comedy. I just watched part of the Green Hornet Marathon on Syfy last night. It was not light comedy. The Campy Batman series will forever haunt the serious superhero movie.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll be honest. I almost didn’t watch Scott Pilgrim vs the World specifically because I don’t like Cera, but he did good. His Cera-isms weren’t particularly distracting there.

  • Zorro

    Caught it at a preview; the audience loved it. The “doofus hero/ supercompetent sidekick” thing reminds me of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    To be fair, Cera nearly ruined Scott Pilgrim for me, so my complaints were valid.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    And yours wasn’t a personal attack? (also, it was on topic, as he was talking about Seth Rogen, just like you were)

  • Batcave4

    I am just excited that they made the film. I want to be entertained. I watched the SF marathon. It was great and I think this film will take it to the next level.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/ClassicGreenHornet Atomic Kommie Comics

    “…it sure looks like Kato should be the hero of the piece. He is the character who possesses the fighting skills, technical know-how, and overall abilities that make this a “superhero” film.”

    In the 1940s radio show, movie serials and comics, Kato was clearly shown to be the scientific genius behind the gas gun and Black Beauty as well as occasional backup. The Hornet was the planner, “front” man when dealing with criminals, and did most of the hand-to-hand combat.

    The tv series ignored Kato’s science skills and played up his driving and martial arts.

  • Anonymous

    seeing it