When you think of a comic book hero, the first name that pops into your head probably isn’t Seth Rogen. In fact, many things about The Green Hornet aren’t exactly conventional. The script was penned by Rogen and pal Evan Goldberg, who also wrote Superbad, and directed by Michel Gondry of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame. This unconventional team is exactly what makes this film feel new and different from the Iron Man explosion fests of the world.
The Green Hornet was created way back in the 1930s and has evolved through several mediums, from the original radio series to comic books to TV to motion pictures. Here, Britt Reid is the spoiled son of emotionally distant newspaper king James Reid, played by Tom Wilkinson. He drinks, he parties with hot chicks, he trashes hotel rooms and generally behaves like an over-privileged brat. Rogen has said that he and Goldberg wanted the character to feel like a male version of Paris Hilton, and it definitely comes through in the film.
Like most comic book heroes, his simple life is forever altered by tragedy when his father dies, leaving Britt in charge of the empire. But, unlike the average hero, who feels the need to carry on his father’s legacy or go on a rage-fueled quest for vengeance, Britt continues to do exactly what he’s been doing: nothing. It’s not until he gets a less-than-adequate cup of coffee one morning that he starts down a path that will lead him to becoming a crime fighter. He teams up with genius martial arts expert and exceptionally overqualified barista Kato (Jay Chou) and the two start cleaning up the streets of L.A. in The Black Beauty, their suped up car that makes The Fast and the Furious look like Power Wheels.
Of course, they need a bad guy to fight and that’s where Chudnofsky, aka Bloodnofsky, comes in. Christoph Waltz knows how to play a charismatic villain, as we saw in Inglorious Basterds, and he brings a level of humor and insecurity to Chudnofsky that makes up for his relatively small screen time. Cameron Diaz is equally minimal as Lenore Case, the sort-of love interest for both Britt and Kato. Drawing on Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man, Diaz paints Lenore as an intelligent, pencil-skirt-wearing aspiring journalist with a specialty in criminology. Diaz is staring 40 square in the eyes and it’s nice to see her break from the dingy blonde dream girls she’s known for and take on a role where her character is supposed to look over 35.
In another break from the tradition of typical comic book adaptations, the laughs don’t all come from one-liners during a fight scene. Much of the humor comes from pairing a guy who has no clue what he’s doing with a guy who’s been kicking ass and taking names all his life. Rogen’s goofy approach (like wanting to nickname his character The Green Bee) is a nice contrast with Chou’s dry wit. Rogen has an uncanny ability to make every line feel organic, like the entire film was improvised and all the jokes naturally evolved from the situation. In fact, it feels like a parallel universe version of Pineapple Express with the comedic team and drug lord battle, but with more fight scenes and Batman-like gadgets.
Even the fight sequences in The Green Hornet are refreshing, utilizing Gondry’s skills with unconventional effects. Predator-like shots of Kato analyzing targeted fighters are blended with visually enhanced action that shoots for style instead of a bigger boom. Because of this, the film’s use of 3D feels more like an industry obligation than a necessity. While there is a lot of action, the fights are not the focus and the general vibe of actions sequences is more Scott Pilgrim than Spiderman, making the film just as fun in regular old 2D.
At the risk of sounding like a movie trailer, in a world where comic book movies feel like they were manufactured in a factory, it’s good to see a big-budget film start to veer from the formula. Much of the credit goes to Rogen, who brings his own comedic style. I’m still perplexed that a studio let a guy who usually plays stoned slackers play a major hero, but I’m glad they did. Those risks paid off in spades because The Green Hornet is a refreshing twist on a sometimes-hackneyed genre.
Read Chris Coffel’s review of The Green Hornet on the Trashwire Blog HERE.