Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
I promise one and only one pun in this review. The Green Hornet lacks any sting. There. Now that I have that out of my system, let’s proceed with the actual review. Word of warning, though I promised no more puns, I can’t say the same about spoilers.
SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!
Standing out in the rain (really southern California, WTF?) waiting to get in the theater, I had no idea what to expect from this film. I knew little of the franchise, other than the bit of trivia that Bruce Lee played Kato in a short lived television series. Checking up on some Green Hornet history courtesy of Wikipedia was enlightening. The Green Hornet was created as a radio program back in the 1930’s and has seen nearly as many different adaptations as Batman or Superman in film serials in the 40’s, the aforementioned TV show in the 60’s, and in comic books up to present day.
And yet there were no Green Hornet masks to be seen on the faces of fans attending the screening, no Green Hornet t-shirts or other paraphernalia. No heated debates over who was the best actor to portray the Green Hornet, or which iconic villain was liable to show up onscreen. I bring all this up because The Green Hornet (2011) is a mixed bag of a film with departures from its source material that are frequent and significant, yet no one is likely to care. The Green Hornet may be as venerable as Batman or Superman, but he’s never been as popular, relevant or iconic as the Dark Knight or the Man of Steel (or a good deal many other superheroes).
The Green Hornet opens with a brief introduction to Britt Reid as a child. Chubby and clutching a superhero action figure, he is escorted by a butler/driver into his father’s office at The Daily Sentinel where we promptly receive some exposition while Britt receives a scathing lecture on “acting out” at school. The fact that he was trying to defend a girl from bullies doesn’t matter to his strict father (Tom Wilkinson), who insists Britt must stop his childish attempts for attention, even if they are motivated by the recent death of his mother.
Flash forward 20 years and we’re introduced to a very different Britt Reid (Seth Rogen), a spoiled, rich manchild who suffers from a surplus of money and a dearth of ambition or responsibility. After a brief montage of Britt’s wild partying and hedonistic living, we’re treated to another lecture from his father. We get glimpses of an Edward R. Murrow type under the strict father exterior, a man devoted to the integrity and duty of journalism. Britt’s response is simple and not wholly unexpected: pure resentment.
And so comes the first unexpected turn, the first deviation not only from the source material, but from most masked superhero stories in general. When Britt’s father is found dead, presumably from an allergic reaction to a bee sting (SPOILER ALERT: it wasn’t an accident), Britt’s resentment is not supplanted by guilt or rage or any desire to change his life for the better. Rather, he retreats to the company of Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and newly met Kato, his father’s “mechanic.” After getting drunk and talking Kato into going out and “doing something crazy,” Britt proceeds to cut the head off of a newly erected bronze statue of his father at his gravesite. While there, Britt witnesses a couple getting assaulted and mugged by a group of thugs. Deciding to intervene, Britt is easily overmatched and sure to be beaten senseless, if not for the quick actions and martial arts expertise of Kato.
Upon seeing their vandalism, but not their heroics reported on the nightly news, Britt experiences an epiphany. Together he and Kato will become masked vigilantes who will fight the criminal organizations and gangs that plague Los Angeles, but unlike virtually every superhero to grace the pages of comics, Britt and Kato won’t style themselves as heroes. They’ll pose as criminals themselves, thereby gaining an advantage, or at least denying other criminals the ability to exploit their inherent good nature.
As I said earlier, this deviation from the source material (and others throughout the film) likely won’t cause the kind of uproar, for example, Tim Burton’s proposed Superman Lives project might have. There just isn’t the same level of fandom for the Green Hornet as there is for other fictional heroes. The problem with The Green Hornet isn’t that the deviations are poor choices, but that they’re poorly executed.
To wit, the fact the Seth Rogen took on the lead role as well as some of the writing duties for The Green Hornet was likely met with raised eyebrows by many (I know mine was), and at least opens up the possibility that the film will be funnier than previous incarnations (I imagine). That is not to say that Rogen can’t be an action hero. In fact, there are moments in the film where Rogen displays the (dare I say) gravitas necessary for a serious action role. But more often than not Rogen’s Britt Reid is more Seth Rogen than Britt Reid, if you catch my meaning. And that’s okay too. There’s nothing wrong with action/comedies, and no reason The Green Hornet can’t be an action/comedy. The problem is that in either case, it’s generally required for the hero to be likeable. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, but in most cases the audience should like the hero; they should want to cheer for him/her.
Seth Rogen’s Britt Reid is introduced as an ignorant, arrogant asshole, but (and this is key) he lacks any of the charm that might redeem his character, such as was on display in copious amounts by RDJ Jr. as the rather similar Tony Stark. Whereas Stark’s blatant flirting with Pepper Potts in Iron Man was, again, charming and even endearing, Reid’s repeated attempts at much the same with assistant Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) come off as pathetic. Is this by design? I would understand if Rogen’s Reid were some sort of intentional counterpoint to the successful millionaire playboy, a bumbling anti-Bruce Wayne/Tony Stark type, but few of his antics actually come off as funny. Plus, it’s not like Reid *never* gets the girl, as we see him bed several beautiful women in the film’s first act.
I don’t begrudge The Green Hornet for trying something different, but there’s a reason the “death resulting in guilt leading to attempts at redemption via being a superhero” motif works so well. Iron Man. Spider-Man. The Punisher. Daredevil. Batman. Hey classic lit buffs! Is this a holdover from some classic work? The only thing that comes to mind is (maybe) the 12 labors of Hercules from Greek mythology. I welcome theories. Anywho, it’s not the decision that was made, but how it was handled.
I do begrudge the way most of the fight scenes were choreographed. The Green Hornet features the same (for lack of a better description) “double-speed/half-speed” style that was perhaps first popularized by Zack Snyder in 300:
and later in Watchmen:
Alright Hollywood filmmakers, this little trick is starting to get old. Fast.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Rogen’s Britt Reid is his inconsistency. After inheriting his father’s newspaper and deciding upon his new hobby as a vigilante, he orders the journalists working for the The Daily Sentinel to sensationalize his burgeoning alter-ego, even christening him as The Green Hornet. He perverts his father’s life-work with willful disregard for journalistic integrity, constantly clamouring for greater and more dramatic coverage of The Green Hornet’s exploits. Then, when crooked L.A. district attorney Scanlon (David Harbour) attempts to bribe, then pressure Reid into ceasing coverage of The Green Hornet and downplaying the violence in L.A., in order to help his upcoming reelection campaign, Reid is full of righteous indignation and wounded honor. Is the audience supposed to forget that Reid has been doing that very thing for much of the movie? I suppose Reid’s motivation is noble, while Scanlon’s is more sinister, yet both are, by any standard, self-serving. I would be more sympathetic to Reid, were I convinced he actually cared about fighting crime and helping people. Unfortunately, Reid seems to care more about the thrill of it, about being a bad ass, about chasing tail than actually fighting crime.
And all that crime he is fighting? It’s headed up by Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), a crime lord with a confidence problem and an oddly double-barreled pistol. I kept thinking of Waltz’s quiet, intimidating performance as Hans Landa, the Jew Hunter from Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. And not in a good way.I couldn’t find an extended clip from the film’s opening scene, but here’s a brief snippet:
Whereas Waltz absolutely nails it in Basterds as a terrifying villain, in The Green Hornet he comes off as a less-talented actor’s attempt at impersonating Waltz from Basterds. It was especially confounding to me, and even my girlfriend (who had never seen Basterds) thought he was toothless. Unfortunately, it feels like Waltz is wasted in the role.
Ultimately, The Green Hornet prompts speculation about geek demigod Kevin Smith’s attempt to bring the character to the big screen 5-6 years ago, which was confined to developmental Hell in 2006. There’s no guarantee that Smith would have done a better job, but it’s hard to conceive of him doing much worse than The Green Hornet‘s muddled mediocrity.