The Green Hornet
By david roark
January 14, 2011
Though The Green Hornet, in some ways, seems uneven and never achieves the brilliance of Michel Gondry’s past accomplishments, it certainly improves upon the standards of the current superhero genre. Invoking old-fashioned crimefighting franchises, and even buddy-cop flicks of the 1980s, the film entertains through and through as a hilarious mishmash of slapstick, satire and over-the-top action. It betters the unfunny cynicism of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, as well as Jon Favreau’s self-absorbed, politically-jumbled Iron Man.
With a premise akin to those films, The Green Hornet deals with family issues and egotism. When underachieving playboy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) finds his newspaper tycoon father dead and inherits his media empire, he becomes overwhelmed by daddy problems and discontentment, leading him to try to make something of himself. So with Kato (Jay Chou), a technology and martial arts expert, as his superior sidekick and Black Beauty as his souped-up ride, Reid takes on the name Green Hornet and begins to fight crime on the streets of Los Angeles, including Russian crime lord Benjamin Chudnofsky, played riotously by Christoph Waltz.
The plot may appear hackneyed, because to some degree it is, but to criticize it for that seems to miss the point. Gondry, working from a script by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, purposefully spins a story similar to the likes of Nolan and Favreau, revealing how those hip filmmakers have deadened the genre by taking themselves too seriously. But The Green Hornet differentiates itself through Reid’s motivation. Whereas Bruce Wayne may seek justice, Reid unapologetically fights crime to receive glory and attention. As the new publisher of his father’s newspaper, he demands the Green Hornet make the headline of every paper, and Kato rightfully calls him an egomaniac. Satirizing the praise that surrounds the narcissistic superheroes of today like, say, Tony Stark, Gondry challenges us to revaluate why we extol these masked heroes and, perhaps, why they have grown so popular in culture.
Gondry’s spoof of the genre persists in the relationship between Reid and Kato. Made effective by amusing chemistry between Rogen and Chou, the mismatched duo exposes the marginalizing dynamics of ethnic sidekicks. Though others critics continue to mistake the disconnect as a misstep in the script, the satirical device surely makes itself apparent. The inferiority of the Green Hornet to Kato is so vivid that it’s ridiculous. Kato makes the tricked-out Black Beauty and other weapons. Kato does all the fighting. He, in fact, has the uncanny ability to stop time when his heart races. Kato gets the girl. Kato saves the day—twice. Gondry, intentionally, portrays Kato as the real genius behind The Green Hornet to make a point, which doesn’t just spread to the genre it criticizes but to the repressive society in which it exists.
But if Gondry’s satire doesn’t transcend, and it obviously hasn’t so far, his film still makes for fine entertainment on the surface, as well as a fresh take on the superhero genre. Evoking the kind of creative moves we saw in last year’s underrated Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the action sequences result in visual splendor. In an early scene where Kato rescues Reid and takes on an entire gang of criminals, Gondry plays with pacing, slowing down and speeding up the action, as Kato’s mind stops during the moment of crisis. Gondry’s innovative mixing of the real and surreal, something even more realized in The Science of Sleep, surpasses anything Nolan has done visually.
The Green Hornet finds its best moments, nevertheless, through its humor, which Gondry juxtaposes in various forms. After a quarrel between Reid and Kato, there’s a scene in which Kato is shown updating his resume, adding “sidekick” to his job list. The funniest moment, though, takes place early in the film when the duo goes out to fight crime: When riding in Black Beauty, they take turns singing and rapping Coolio’s famous hit, “Gangster’s Paradise.” Though overused and somewhat typecast, Seth Rogen still proves funny with his irreverent sense of humor. His physical comedy fits seamlessly with Reid’s obnoxious personality and partnership with Chou’s Kato, whose wit and subtlety contrast him. But Waltz eventually steals the show as Chudnofsky. The exaggerated, cartoonish villain, who always worries about looking fearful enough, goes through a midlife crisis and starts calling himself Bloodnofsky to compete with the Green Hornet.
Alas, moviegoers may not know what to do with all this fun and silliness. Like Ang Lee’s 2003 The Hulk, Gondry’s update to the genre may just be too original. Tainted by the empty, over-serious nihilism of today’s superhero movies, viewers and critics alike will surely dismiss The Green Hornet as a goofy, meaningless failure for Rogen and Gondry. But if they only give it a chance and find Gondry’s vision, they might just never look at The Dark Knight the same, maybe asking, why so serious?