Green Hornet Shakes Up the Superhero Genre
- Friday, January 14, 2011
DVD Release Date: May 3, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: January 14, 2011
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content)
Genre: Superhero Action-Comedy, Adaptation
Run Time: 119 min.
Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Tom Wilkinson, Edward James Olmos, David Harbour
Maybe it's me and I'm just burned out on the genre but, with few exceptions, Superhero movies have become rather rote—particularly in the origin stories (whether the hero's or subsequent sequel villains'). Other than an occasional "wow" stunt or sequence, they offer little surprises, entertainment, or anything worth remembering. So credit is due to The Green Hornet for trying to shake things up a bit, even if to mixed results.
An action-comedy in equal parts, The Green Hornet is like the goofy twin to The Dark Knight. Both have billionaire protagonists who don masks, drive cool tricked-out cars, and are in the pursuit of vigilante justice as a fascinated public isn't sure if they're good guys or bad—except one is the brooding Christian Bale while the other is that dork from Knocked Up.
I say "dork" with affection because Seth Rogen has miraculously risen to lead actor "carry the movie" status with one of the most unconventional personas we've seen. He's a schlub loser who ends up with the girl way out of his league. Here, he's that but transposed into a billionaire playboy. After all, if you're going to make Rogen your superhero you might as well tailor to his, er, strengths, a task accomplished in large part by having Rogen also co-write the screenplay and executive produce.
The end result is what one should expect: a superhero/fratboy hybrid (with more of the latter than former). An inspired approach, perhaps, but it doesn't fully work here for a variety of reasons—the first being the free-flowing profanity and base crudity (often sexual in nature) that we expect in R-rated raunch-fests. Superhero movies are generally soft PG-13's; this is definitely a hard version of the same rating, editing the f-word from Rogen's usual vocabulary but little else.
Then there's the actual hero, one who was originally conceived decades ago under a completely different context, which makes Rogen's spin on The Green Hornet both awkward and random. The actual process of coming up with the hero's moniker, for example, is in itself forced, as is Rogen's persona to this character.
Which speaks to the bigger problem: Seth Rogen. Whatever charm he's had in the past is all-but-lost now. Unless you're a die-hard fan, there's only so much of the same thing a person can take. As Britt Reid/a.k.a. The Green Hornet, Rogen is nothing more than Bruce Wayne in a state of arrested development. He's not awful, but we've seen this schtick before. There may still be a place for it, but it's not here.
The challenge is to somehow make legitimate the rise of a complete immoral dolt to the status of crime-fighting crusader. He may be a goof, but that's fine if we actually believe he can also take prisoners without the aid of any superpowers and be morally driven to do so. Except we don't believe it even as he does it.
Rogen never sells himself as a physical or mental match to all of the criminals he and Kato take down (mostly because it's just Kato doing it), and when he actually tries to emote sincere conviction and passion, well, we don't buy that either no matter how many times he says this is "cool" or "awesome."
There's also a bizarre "superpower that really isn't one" exhibited, first by Kato and eventually Reid. From their POV, there appears a red satellite schematic of sorts that allows (mostly) Kato to freeze time, pinpoint and identify target points, and then take baddies out one-by-one in Matrix-style balletic slow-motion.
There's no explanation for this ability when Kato uses it, nor when Reid does in the climactic fight scene. They're basically just "in a zone" as they take down all comers. Sure, Kato knows karate, but his ability to defy time, space and physics is something else, as is Reid's who doesn't even have the advantage of karate.
Honestly, the effect only exists as a visual flourish, one of a few that indie-director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) executes with style. But other than that, Gondry's unique sensibilities are mostly reigned-in by a studio that only wants to borrow his talents and a star who doesn't want to be stretched.
With this lack of creative ambition, even the usual scene-stealers—villains, cars, gadgets, women—are all upstaged for once (along with the hero) by the sidekick. As Kato, Jay Chou is a fun surprise. More than the sum of his Asian stereotype, Chou exhibits a natural ease and charisma throughout along with sly intelligence and wit (not to mention his command of the martial arts). While everyone else strains for laughs, Chou stands out by being cool.
Others don't fare as well, namely Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz's sadistic Chudnofsky who's given too little screen time, and Cameron Diaz who's just collecting an easy paycheck for doing her version of manic comedy. The very basis for her character Lenore is patently ridiculous in that she's a temp secretary at Reid's newly-inherited but struggling newspaper, and she just so happens to have majored in journalism and minored in criminology—the very two areas in which Reid needs counsel! And she's gorgeous! Which begs the question: with all that expertise and good looks, what's she doing slumming as a temp? Filling the requisite fantasy-girl role Rogen writes into all of his movies, apparently.
It'd be pointless to rehash the plot, which is why I haven't, though to be honest I must confess that the sum total of the movie's parts isn't quite as bad as I've deconstructed each to be. There's enough talent on display (and one fun early cameo) to offer the big-budget, nonsensical, Hollywood-style entertainment most people look for when they pop for a movie ticket, bucket of popcorn and 3D glasses. Unfortunately, it comes with a miscast lead hero, written by that miscast actor, and ultimately too crass and offensive to take the kids that would otherwise be the most entertained by its antics.
In the future, it'd probably be best if Rogen just dropped the superhero bit and stuck to being the one alter ego he's good at—Judd Apatow's.
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