GREEN HORNET is a lot of fun

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We caught a screening of GREEN HORNET last night, and despite all the dire forebodings of a superhero movie starring Seth Rogen , it was charming, very funny, and worthy of repeated viewings.

As I tweeted last night, the mix of Rogen, director Michel Gondry and scripters Rogen and Evan Goldberg (SUPERBAD) should have aroused no worry whatsoever as long as they were allowed to play to their considerable strengths — which mostly involve comedy. And in fact GREEN HORNET is an action comedy — quite goofy in spots, visually inventive in others, but always putting its characters first. It has the deliberately awkward mise-en-scene of all Gondry films, but way more propulsive action.

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It also does many things that every other superhero movie does, and that makes it refreshing. For instance, it’s very clear that Kato is the brains, muscle, and hero of the piece. Played by Asian superstar Jay Chou, I would rather see a sequel about Kato. Also, Britt Reid does not successfully romance the girl, Lenore, played by Cameron Diaz. I had low expectations, given the Diaz casting, but Lenore holds her own.

As the villain, Cristolph Waltz is great, of course, and he even has a character arc that is really a character arc instead of being a cypher. (The arc does extend from an absurd premise, but this IS a comedy.)

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If GREEN HORNET reminded me of anything, it’s a live action Wallace and Gromit movie — and yes that is high praise. It has the same central character dynamic — a clueless hero who relies on his long suffering “assistant”. Kato even makes Britt breakfast, just like Gromit.

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Not that there isn’t an unevenness of tone in the film. In an interview Rogen states “We kind of wanted to dance on the line between being a comic-book movie and commenting on a comic-book movie,” and anyone trying to unite two opposites like that is bound to slip up. It’s likely that the studio at some point held the mistaken notion that a film starring Seth Rogen and directed by Michel Gondry would somehow be an action blockbuster along the lines of Michael Bay. When they realized this was not possible they moved HORNET to the January slot of death, where I think it will do pretty well. But there are still some clues that no one knew quite what to make of it.

For instance, whenever Waltz, playing a Russian crime lord named Chudnofsky, is on the screen, the James Newton Howard pipes up with the same kind of urgent danger music that is required in every action movie. The music is absent in most other scenes; someone must have thought it was necessary in the villain scene because without it we’d be watching some kind of deadpan comedy and Chudnofsky wouldn’t be perceived as a threat. People who didn’t see the edge of danger in Waltz beneath the comedy just weren’t looking. After a while the jarring danger music became part of the joke for me, anyway.”

Rogen is a comedian but he’s also a boy, and all boys love shooting gas guns and driving big cars and blowing things up, and Rogen throws himself into the mayhem with such glee that he has no problem selling it. GREEN HORNET is kind of the third movie in a trilogy of adventure films written by Rogen and Goldberg. In SUPERBAD, originally written when they were very young, we see the world through young eyes, as a world of unknown wonders and dangers. In PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, the heroes are old enough to find their own adventure, but for whatever reason I found that film least satisfying because the humor and the extreme violence were jarring. In GREEN HORNET, the violence has been tamped down, and the heroes are playing on a larger scale.

The script is infinitely improved by the direction of Gondry, who is, as always, inventive, whimsical, and willing to let the characters take center stage. And he’s also a boy who loves to blow things up — the level of destruction to home and office sets and property takes similar scenes in ETERNAL SUNSHINE and BE KIND REWIND to big budget heights.

It’s a beautifully shot movie, marred only by the idiotic decision to show it in 3D which adds absolutely nothing to it and makes it, in fact, harder to follow. I can’t wait to see it on my home TV!

Other than that? Yeah, GREEN HORNET: Thumbs up.

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Comments

  1. Finally – the world realizes that KATO is the brains of the outfit!
    Seriously, good to start the year off with a “win”. Very encouraging.

  2. I’ve been wanting to see this, but dreading it at the same time. You pushed me into the “wanting to see this” column. I just have to figure out what’s cheaper: a matinee or the senior citizen discount. Oh, yes, I’m old and, one day, far, far in the future, you will be, too.

  3. The Beat says:

    Save $7 and see the non 3D version if it is showing that way!

  4. Will wait for it on iTunes, but really looking forward to it.

  5. Here’s the link for the 2D edition:
    http://www.fandango.com/thegreenhornet_113174/movieoverview

    In NYC, that means the AMC near Penn Station and the Regal in Times Square. AMC offers $6 tickets for screenings before Noon.

  6. Chris Hero says:

    I badly want to see this movie. I was kinda waffling for a while because I can’t stand Seth Rogen, but Michael Gondry has sucked me in. I’m very glad to read Jay Chou is the star and Rogen is more the comic sidekick. I think that sounds much better than I initially feared.

  7. I always saw the Green Hornet/Kato relationship as one similar to that of Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin. The Hornet is the imposing figure, but he leaves the leg work and kung fu to Kato.

    Now in the 60’s TV series, GH also had brains and the tough guy attitude and could certainly throw a punch where necessary, but still Kato was the muscle.

    (And interestingly, Van Williams caught onto this before the producers of the show did. He continually fought for Bruce Lee to have more screen time. Which they didn’t give him. Bums.)

    I was really on the fence about seeing this, but now…yeah, I’ll give it a try. But I’m going to see it 2-D if I can. This one just doesn’t scream “3-D” for me.

    Lance Roger Axt
    The AudioComics Company

  8. I’ll wait for a Tuesday as a local theatre has all movies for $6 then, including 3D

  9. Wraith says:

    Because of this review, I will not be seeing this movie in the theater. I’ll wait to watch it on cable. This review finally confirmed my fears about this movie being a comedy that makes fun of the source material. And while all for giving Kato equal due, I don’t think that he it shouldn’t be at the expense of the Hornet. I don’t like it that the Hornet is basically being treated as a joke/idiot while Kato is the cool competent one.

  10. I just want to know, is that Chris Hero the wrestler that posted a comment? If it is, big admirer of your work.

    Oh, and I’ll be seeing the film Friday.

  11. R.J. Ryan says:

    All I want is a killer Gondry-Rogen collaboration, with both working with a lot of resources. There’s a million other places we can see the stories with the straight-laced version of GH.

    Have you guys seen the documentary Gondry just made about his aunt (The Thorn In the Heart)? This guy is really peaking as a filmmaker. Can’t wait to see this, but not because of the source material.

  12. My local theater usually offers non 3-D showings of the movie, which is what I would choose to see anyway. In my cranky old man voice, I’ll say that 3-D encourages a lack of imagination from the viewers. A good movie, comic, or book doesn’t need a gimmick to come alive for the viewer or reader. And, while, I’m at it…get off of my lawn, you punks!

  13. Yeah! I’ll wait for the radio adaptation! Movies and comics encourage a lack of imagination… makes kids lazy!

    (And movies have always been about gimmicks… ever since Edison panicked theater crowds by having a train appear to be headed off the screen into the audience in 1902.)

    Kinda ironic… the Batman movie played straight a television character played for laughs, while the Green Hornet movie takes a a character played straight on television and plays it for laughs on screen.

    Sure, the GH fans will complain, but how many of them exist?

  14. It’s interesting to see the snark directed at Green Hornet fans … I suppose much of the hand-wringing over the Green Lantern movie will be voiced by the same people. And the same people who probably cried in anguish over THE SPIRIT …

  15. @Rich: …ummm…you did see THE SPIRIT, right? Anguish doesn’t even cover it.

    Lance Roger Axt
    The AudioComics Company

  16. Bruce Lee was so good that even though he was severely limited by TV execs, he was still able to convey the economy of motion, pinpoint accuracy and whip snap speed of a true martial arts master. Attributes that countered the overdrawn, wide open flailing of his onscreen peers. KATO was a pinhole peek into the promise of his talent.

  17. Lance:

    Yes, I saw the SPIRIT … though I’m trying to forget. If only the Men In Black were stationed at theaters nationwide with their little memory flashers.

    “You will not remember a visit by two men in black … you did not see a room full of shiny weapons … you love and cherish each other for the rest of your lives, and you did not see Frank Miller eviserate the Spirit.”

  18. Tony, Everett True may just agree with you.

  19. There’s a name from my past. I sometimes think about reviving that strip and then I realize I don’t have to. I am Everett True.

  20. Kat Kan says:

    Ahem. I am a Green Hornet fan. I was a fan before the TV series, because my dad used to tell us kids about the Green Hornet radio shows he listened to when he was a kid. And to my kid self, watching the TV series, I didn’t think that it took the story as seriously as the radio show did. And I did think that Kato should have been the real star, but then again I’m half-Japanese. I have a set of old record albums with some of the original radio episodes; I have some of the old comics. And while I was at first very worried about Seth Rogen playing Britt Reid, clips that I have seen and interviews that I have seen and read have convinced me to give the movie a try. (I really would have liked to see Kevin Smith’s script filmed, but …)

  21. skyhawk says:

    I’ll wait for Netflix.

  22. Kate Fitzsimons says:

    Is it a Gondry thing that the main character has to have a huge, seemingly out of character, tantrum in the middle of the movie? Because otherwise the film was pretty good, and that part seemed jarring and out of character

  23. I want to watch it again and again, the movie is awesome

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