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Posts Tagged ‘The Green Hornet’

We appear to have reached an interesting point in the evolution of the superhero picture as a distinct genre in its own right. This kind of movie now seems to be enough of a fixture for film-makers to be able to start playing with its conventions without worrying about the audience not getting the joke. To be fair, this has been happening for a quite a while – most notably in 2008’s Hancock – but I was reminded of it while watching Michel Gondry’s The Green Hornet.

In the UK, at least, the Green Hornet’s name-recognition factor probably rates around the same as that of characters like Archie the Jungle Robot or Captain Hurricane, which is to say he’s incredibly obscure. To be strictly accurate, the Hornet isn’t really a superhero at all, originally appearing as a masked vigilante in a pulp-derived radio show in the mid-1930s (and thus predating the first true superheroes). Still, these days he tends to get lumped in with them and Gondry’s movie is no exception to this.

Oafish slacker Britt Reid (Seth Rogan) finds his life changes forever when his newspaper-publisher father (Tom Wilkinson, sort-of slumming it) dies, leaving him in charge of the family company. Now an oafish millionaire, Britt takes to spending time with his employee Kato (Jay Chou), but when a prank takes an unexpected turn the two find themselves unexpectedly becoming vigilantes – a role Britt is keen to pursue further, adopting the persona of faux-villain the Green Hornet and enlisting Kato as his accomplice. After all, they make the perfect team – Kato bringing his coffee-making skills, and also expertise in weapon design, vehicle construction, and spectacular martial arts to the partnership, while Britt brings… Britt brings… well, basically he just shouts a lot and falls over. Little does Britt realise that his activities as the Hornet are causing some turmoil to local crime boss Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), only exacerbating the mid-life crisis the poor man’s already going through. Sure enough, a show-down between the two is soon on the cards…

As you can probably tell, The Green Hornet functions at least partly as a comedy, which is a brave way to go with an established and indeed venerable character. A few years ago, plans to do a comedy version of the DC character Green Lantern starring Jack Black were rapidly abandoned when they were met with bared fangs from the fanbase – so either the Hornet’s fanbase just doesn’t care or there aren’t enough of them to be worth cultivating.

It’s the comedy element that makes this film distinctive, anyway. It’s not what I’d describe as a mainstream comedy – it’s a little more oddball and deadpan than that in places, as one might expect with Gondry on the case. I found Waltz’s performance particular droll, as he experiments with various increasingly absurd gimmicks and catchphrases in an attempt to be a more interesting criminal. Elsewhere things are a tad more conventional, as Cameron Diaz shows up to deploy her comedic skills in the usual charming way, and Seth Rogan… well, shouts and falls over a lot. (Also in the cast, James Franco is uncredited, Edward Furlong is unrecognisable, and Bruce Lee – whose association with a previous version of The Green Hornet may be the only reason the character’s endured – is given due reverence.)

That said, this isn’t a pure comedy by any means, and in places the film does make a grab at moments of genuine gravity and emotion not entirely unlike some of those in The Dark Knight (a brave move, given that that film has set the gold standard for superhero movies). As a result the tone is extremely choppy in places, as the clashing styles bang into one another. The script, overall, does the job, although some of the storytelling just isn’t up to scratch (characters have dialogue like ‘As you know, I was your father’s most trusted employee for thirty-five years…’ So why are you telling him that, other than for the audience’s benefit?). It improves as it goes on, and the cheerfully destructive climax picked me up and swept me along by virtue of its sheer energy and bravado.

The Green Hornet isn’t what you’d call a truly great movie, and some elements of it definitely work better than others, but on the whole I was rather entertained by it. If there’s a place amongst superhero comics for more left-field fare, as well as the big-name characters, then hopefully the same is true for superhero movies too. Anyone interested in funding my expressionist rom-com adaptation of Squirrel Girl?

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