It would be easy to make a list of all the things that The Green Hornet does wrong. It’s a film that tries to cram too much plot into too short a timeframe. It has trouble balancing its action with its comedy, occasionally unsure of what is needed at a given moment. And it certainly features one of the least interesting and arguably least likable protagonists in recent memory. But for all its faults, it gets one very important thing right:
It’s a whole lot of fun.
Co-written by star Seth Rogen, Hornet serves as a sort of origin story for a comic re-imagining of the masked hero that first debuted in a 1930s radio show by following Britt Reid (Rogen), the wealthy but perpetually disappointing son of newspaper mogul James Reid (Tom Wilkinson). When his father dies, Britt inherits his empire and becomes acquainted with Kato (Jay Chou), his father’s coffee maker who has a hidden talent for being able to do anything and everything that is awesome.
After Reid and Kato accidentally stop a mugging, Reid decides that they should team up to pose as villains while fighting crime across Los Angeles. Reid takes the lead under the alias of The Green Hornet (he’s the only one to get a nickname), while Kato manages most of the actual combat and outfits the duo’s super car, the Black Beauty.
What follows is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a superhero movie as told by Seth Rogen. The comedy comes first, and while Rogen can be something of an annoyance (at this point, you either love him or can’t stand him), Jay Chou’s turn as Kato is wonderfully rewarding. He combats Rogen’s growing megalomania with such deadpan delivery that, for a relative newcomer, he seems like a natural. Working off their chemistry, the film comes off a lot more Rush Hour than Batman and Robin.
Also adding to the mayhem is Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) as Los Angeles crime lord Chudnofsky. Chudnofsky controls all the crime in the city, but is hopelessly insecure about his un-menacing appearance and difficult to pronounce name. Waltz is completely aware of the tone that this role needs, and his soft speech and overindulgent catch phrases are delivered with expert care. With this being his first major American role since Basterds, he proves his abilities were no fluke, even if the subject matter here is much lighter.
While Rogen and the rest of the cast seem to be at home with the material, the one piece that doesn’t seem to fit upon first glance is the director, Michel Gondry. Gondry, known the visual flair he brought to films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and The Science of Sleep, puts away the eye candy (for the most part) and focuses on making extremely coherent, enjoyable action sequences. Plenty of dramatic directors have trouble shooting action scenes (look no further than Mark Forster’s bumbling direction in Quantum of Solace), but Gondry makes sure that all fight scenes and set pieces are easy to follow and exciting. On top of that, and maybe because he couldn’t help himself, he throws in ‘Kato-vision,’ where time seems to slow down around Kato while the marital artist still punches and kicks at regular speed. The Green Hornet may not feel like a Gondry film, but he certainly leaves a few fingerprints here and there.
It’s no secret that since The Dark Knight, many superhero movies have tried to take a stab at creating deeper, meaningful works about what it really means to be a masked avenger. Perhaps what makes The Green Hornet fun is that it avoids this depth with a sort of glee, content to let us sit back and enjoy our popcorn for a couple hours. And sometimes, really, that’s all we need.
The Green Hornet has plenty of problems, but if you’re willing to take the good with the bad it’s a fun and funny escape: B-