The Green Hornet Movie Review: Seth Rogen and Michael Gondry Give Us a Slacker Green Hornet
There’s been some question as to what kind of a film the Michael Gondry / Seth Rogen version of The Green Hornet was going to be. First you heard they were playing it straight. Then you heard comedy. IMDB’s current description (12/21/10) is “By night, debonair newspaper publisher Britt Reid fights crime as a masked superhero known as The Green Hornet. At his side is martial arts expert Kato.”
That’s not accurate. Seth Rogen’s Britt Reid is anything but debonair. This Green Hornet is a slacker piss-take on superheroes that happens to have a heavy body count. It’s also very, very funny.
You may not realize it, but the Green Hornet is a very old property. The radio version dates back to 1936. Yes, this is a masked hero older than Batman. The radio show ran from 1936 to 1952. It was actually a spin-off of sorts from the Lone Ranger. The Green Hornet’s father Dan Reid was the nephew of the Lone Ranger that appeared in the radio version of the Lone Ranger (to the best of my knowledge that character didn’t transfer to the TV version of the Lone Ranger). In 1966, a TV version of the Green Hornet was launched by the producer of the camp Batman TV show.
That version is known for Bruce Lee playing the Hornet’s sidekick and chauffer, Kato.
Why am I bringing up the history of this proud franchise? Because if you’re a big fan of the radio version or the TV version, that is to say a Green Hornet purist, DO NOT SEE THIS FILM. For a purist, this is a desecration on par with Frank Miller’s Spirit film. Unlike The Spirit, the Green Hornet is extremely enjoyable if you aren’t married to the mythos.
Kept in Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s script are a few key elements. Britt Reid is still a newspaper publisher and the Green Hornet. Kato drives the Black Beauty (and this is more the ’60s kung fu Kato and supercar Black Beauty). Lenore Case is still Reid’s Secretary. The Green Hornet is still assumed to be a criminal by the police. And past these elements, things skew wildly.
This Britt Reid is something of a male Paris Hilton. A none too bright party animal. Kato is indisputably the brains of the duo. The creation of the Hornet has more to do with working out some daddy issues than wanting to protect the public. In fact, as a hero, Reid is almost completely useless.
Adding spice to the mix is Christoph Waltz as the Russian crimelord of Los Angeles. You may recall Waltz’s multiple-award-winning performance as Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds. Waltz has a singular talent for being deadpan and delivering understated punch lines and straight lines while being simultaneously menacing. Which is to say he effortlessly chews the scenery with a straight face. Waltz is going to find himself competing for roles with Christopher Walken. Waltz is a bit more menacing and even more deadpan than Walken and this time out plays a gangster who has emerging doubts that his reputation is slipping. The steps he takes to try and fix this are simultaneously brutal and funny. Waltz has few peers where reaction shots are involved.
Really, this is where the Green Hornet separates itself from other films in the action/comedy landscape. Seldom have I seen films go from slapstick and slapstick violence to people getting killed in a serious fight scene in such a quick and seamless manner. That’s really hard to pull off, so give the cast some props. If Marvel really wanted to do the Garth Ennis “Welcome Back, Frank” version of the Punisher, they should give Gondry a serious look. He’s pulled off something similar, if not nearly as dark, with this film.
Also refreshing is the willingness of Rogen, Goldberg and Gondry not to redeem their hero. Britt Reid is a spoiled dipstick when the movie starts and he’s a spoiled dipstick when movie ends. Every time they enter into a clichéd buddy movie scene, laughter breaks out before you can start groaning, largely because everyone stays in character without some silly character-building moment of clarity.
Very highly recommended if you’re looking for something along the lines of “5 people died and I laughed” to put in the words of somebody I went to undergraduate with. If you’re a fan of the earlier incarnations, proceed with caution. Much like you don’t want to think about Mission: Impossible the television series when watching one of the Tom Cruise films, you need to be able to separate this film from the previous versions to enjoy it.