The Green Hornet
DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by Michel Gondry
Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz, Edward James Olmos, Tom Wilkinson
Release date: May 3, 2011
Since the release of X-Men back in 2000 studios have been snapping up comic book properties like new release day at Golden Apple Comics with an eye towards turning them into big screen blockbuster franchises. Over the past decade the business of making movies based on superhero comics has become a virtual bloodsport and the major casualties are usually those adapted from material no one has ever really heard of, or at least the characters who aren’t considered to be in the “mainstream”.
If you don’t believe me just ask the people responsible for making The Shadow (1994) and The Phantom (1996). Even Dick Tracy (1990), despite packing a metric ton of star power (for the early ’90s), was barely able to break even at the box office. But those characters came from a different and substantially less cynical era, a time when Stan “The Man” Lee was still being referred to as Stanley Leiber and names like Chris Claremont, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis, Garth Ennis, Ed Brubaker, and Steve Bissette were decades away from prominence in the comics industry. Superhero comics first emerged during the Great Depression, a period in American history when the need for escapist delights were stronger than they ever were or ever would be.
So it makes sense that it took almost twenty years, three movie studios, and a revolving door line-up of directors, writers, and actors to bring The Green Hornet to the screen. The name has cult value but barely a fraction of the box office drawing power of superheroes like Batman and Wolverine, even though the character has been around since 1936 pre-dating practically every classic comic book hero and heroine.
Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) has devoted his life to non-stop partying, putting nightly notches on his bedpost, and squandering vast sums of money belonging to his father James (Tom Wilkinson), a crusading Los Angeles newspaper publisher, a lifestyle that has its origins in an incident from Britt’s childhood when his father scolded him for getting into fights at school and then snapping the head off of his favorite action figure. Having spent his entire life getting back at dear ol’ Dad by being the biggest screw-up he can possibly be, Britt’s world is thrown into turmoil when his father turns up dead one day from an allergic reaction to a bee sting. This leaves the feckless playboy in charge of the Reid family publishing empire””led by the Los Angeles Sentinel, the newspaper his father used to wage a print war against the criminal scum that had overtaken his fair city, including the drug lord Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz). But Britt wants no part of the legacy of a man he didn’t have much love for; he just wants to wake up in the morning with his specially-made cup of coffee. One morning he wakes up and finds no perfect cup of joe by his bedside. In dealing with the death of his father Britt angrily dismissed the entire staff of the Reid household, including the mysterious person who always made his coffee: an individual named Kato (Jay Chou).
Britt summons Kato back to the house and rehires him, and the two begin to form a friendship. Britt discovers that Kato did more than just fix up his morning coffee with a foam leaf in the center; Kato was also his father’s mechanic and is a highly-skilled martial artist and technological wizard. One night the two of them get drunk and decide to go to the cemetery where the elder Reid is buried and deface the bronze statue erected in his honor. During their inebriated escapade Britt spots a young couple getting harassed by a group of thugs and without thinking steps in to help, which isn’t the best course of action for someone not trained in the fine art of asskickery, so he calls for Kato’s help and the criminals are quickly defeated. The impromptu fight gives Britt an inspiration: with the vast Reid fortune and a fancy array of vehicles and weaponry at their disposal Kato and him should team up and become superheroes. Britt reasons that they can accomplish this by posing as criminals in order to best infiltrate the city’s seedy underbelly. They begin their campaign against villainy by returning to the Sentinel and rallying the reluctant staff, headed by longtime editor Mike Axford (Edward James Olmos), into painting their new superheroic personas (Britt calling himself the Green Hornet, after everyone shoots down his first suggestion….the Green Bee) as Public Enemy Number 1. After an awkward beginning Britt and Kato’s nocturnal activities soon bring them to the attention of Chudnofsky, who’s bent on eliminating his new competitors and consolidating all crime in the City of Angels into one massive underworld empire with himself as the big boss.
I wish I could say that the inspired teaming of Seth Rogen, filmmaker Michel Gondry, and a comic property that was slowly slipping into obscurity as the gods of the DC Universe and the Mighty Marvel Bullpen duked it out for big screen supremacy made for a great time at the cinema, but it was not to be. However they did give it the old college try. The Green Hornet turns out to be a moderately entertaining effort, but much like cotton candy the movie will doubtlessly evaporate from your memory not long after you see it. I’ll give credit to Gondry, Rogen, and co-writer Evan Goldberg where it’s due for attempting to give the musty property a hip, modernistic makeover right down to its unusual but hardly original take on the traditional superhero origin tale. The end result resembles a frequently po-faced parody of the “dark” superhero trend started by Tim Burton’s first Batman movie in 1989 that’s good for an occasional laugh and does build to a decent Grand Guignol finale where the movie begins to show more of the promise it ultimately could not live up to.
Created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker originally for a radio show that later spun off into a mini-multimedia empire that included various comic book series, film serials, and a short-lived TV series that brought the late martial arts master and Chinese movie star Bruce Lee to American shores for the first time, the long journey to bring the masked crimefighter and his faithful sidekick Kato to theater screens finally started gaining some real momentum in 2008 when rising comedy star Rogen signed on to both star in and co-write the movie with Goldberg, his friend and writing partner on Superbad and Pineapple Express. Stephen Chow, the writer and director (and also star) of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, was initially approached for the directing job but the usual “creative differences” caused him to drop out of the project. Michel Gondry, the eccentric, imaginative director of many music videos and films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep and an early candidate to direct the movie back in the late 1990’s, (when George Clooney and Jason Scott Lee were being courted to star and Gondry was co-writing the script with Robocop and Starship Troopers writer Edward Neumeier) once more found himself in the director’s chair for The Green Hornet.
Unfortunately Gondy’s trademark visual flights of fancy are bound and gagged at the behest of Rogen and Goldberg’s slight story, a leisurely-paced tale that in terms of tone often strays close to Pineapple Express territory, no surprise when you consider the two films share a writing team. Much like their first two produced screenplays, the centerpiece of Rogen and Goldberg’s script for The Green Hornet is the growing friendship between Britt and Kato. Not content with following the bog-standard traditional hero/sidekick relationship, the Hornet and Kato are friends and equals in every area of their crime-fighting mission. Sometimes Kato is more of a hero than Britt, the callous playboy who gets overjoyed to be playing the masked avenger of the night but too often has to have his ass bailed out in a fight by his more capable partner. The movie that comes to my mind when I think of this movie’s take on the Hornet/Kato partnership is John Carpenter’s 1986 cult classic Big Trouble in Little China, with Britt as the Jack Burton-esque blowhard who can kick a little ass when possible but prefers to be a big talker instead, and Kato as the Wang Chi-reminiscent Kato, the true hero of the movie. Fortunately Rogen and Chou’s performances are more than adequate to the suit the material and the two have a great chemistry that serves to be the heart and soul of The Green Hornet, which is good for the movie since that’s one of the very few good things it has going for it.
Damn, I haven’t even yet mentioned in this review the fact that Cameron Diaz is in this movie, but her presence in The Green Hornet is motivated by the very mercenary tendencies that brought several of her more prominent castmates here, including Tom Wilkinson and Edward James Olmos. Wilkinson shows up to make a few brief speeches before his plot-motivating death but his presence makes little impact besides that, and Olmos just looks tired and in mourning for the end of Battlestar Galactica. David Harbour (Quantum of Solace) shows up a few times as a Los Angeles district attorney whose presence in the movie brings to mind Roger Ebert’s Law of Unnecessary Characters. James Franco and Edward Furlong (looking like he had finally just been spit out of the Hollywood Child Star Shitstorm Machine) contribute amusing cameos as two thugs who run afoul of Chudnofsky. Speaking of which, Christoph Waltz is the real winner of the cast as the crime boss with a midlife crisis. It’s exactly the kind of flick a recent Oscar-winner would find themselves sucked into following their big win but Waltz manages to maintain his integrity and have a ball at the same time putting a unique on what could have been a run-of-the-mill action movie baddie.
Other than some decent action scenes, including the fight scenes involving Kato where he gets to use his “Kato Vision” and Gondry gets to indulge himself visually, and some good laughs here and there I couldn’t find much else to enjoy about The Green Hornet. In the end it’s a lack of focus that keeps this movie from achieving success. The tone is all over the place and while I’m sure Rogen and Goldberg had a grand time writing the script they sucked most of the fun and potential out of the story in the process. Gondry does a fine, restrained job in the director’s chair”¦but who the fuck wants a restrained Michel Gondry anyway? This is a strictly for-hire gig that will not further the careers of anyone involved, and that’s a damn shame.
In any case Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has done a handsome job with the DVD presentation. The audio and video quality are top-notch with a smooth 2.35:1 widescreen picture and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack that packs a punch where it counts. French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Descriptive Video Services audio tracks and English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are also included.
The bonus features include an audio commentary track with Gondry, Rogen, Goldberg, and producer Neil Moritz that is actually more entertaining than the movie itself. The commentary is funny, insightful, and often brutally honest, and there’s not a single wasted moment.
There are two featurettes on offer here: “Writing The Green Hornet” (11 minutes) and “Black Beauty: Rebirth of Cool” (7 minutes). The former tracks the complicated development of the script through a combination of interviews with Rogen and Goldberg and raw video footage, while the latter focuses on the design and construction of the tricked-out supercar employed by Britt and Kato in their war on crime with an interview with picture car coordinator Dennis McCarthy.
The package closes out with a 7-minute-long gag reel that offers a few good laughs and little else.
With the talent involved in this movie, The Green Hornet should have been a winner. As it stands it’s a bit of smug, dry, passable entertainment that deserved to get tossed into theaters in the dead of winter. But at least now that a Green Hornet movie has been made I won’t have to read about one being perennially in development, that is until the inevitable reboot. Jesus Christ just kill me now. Recommended if there’s nothing else left at the nearest Redbox.