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.
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.)
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.
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.