On their respective half-cocked pilgrimages to upend, reinvent, and poke fun at the superhero genre, the makers Kick-Ass and, to a lesser extent, Super seemed less interested in the quality and consistency of their visual forms, and far more concerned with the high degree of physical and emotional violence perpetrated and inflicted on their characters. Drenched in crude gallows humor, grim psychology, and extended, gruesome action sequences, both films nevertheless essentially leaned on the same narrative structures that the films they were, in one way or another, mocking. They had funny, interesting, and even exhilarating moments spurred, in both cases, by their female leads, but neither had the unique ideas and formal intelligence that went into Unbreakable, Hancock, or Michel Gondry’s The Green Hornet, of which only Unbreakable can be said to have fully succeeded in reinventing the genre.
To be fair, James Gunn and Matthew Vaughn were ultimately less fixated on the pitfalls of logic, reason, and physics that comic-book movies are all too happy to ignore than they were on the fanboy contingency’s presumed state of obsessive, adolescent psychology. Kick-Ass‘s hero is a four-eyed poindexter dealing with puberty and high school, while Super‘s is a gloomy, separated psychopath with carnal desire for his much younger, female sidekick. Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is also a bit of a man-child, initially creating his masked alter ego, the Green Hornet, out of a need for anonymity while playing a prank. Having defied his newspaper-tycoon father (Tom Wilkinson) since the day the old man broke his favorite action figure, Britt is shocked by the news of his father’s passing, but gets in a bigger huff over the shitty state of his morning cappuccino. One of his first demands as the new head of his father’s fortune is to rehire Kato (Jay Chou), Britt’s father’s handyman, confidant, and designer of the Reid family’s cappuccino machine. Britt’s an unconscionable brat to Kato’s measured mechanical genius, but the two hit it off and decide to dress up for a night of innocent pranking, namely cutting off the head of the statue that towers behind Britt’s father’s tombstone.
The night of friendly mischief takes an inevitable turn, however, and the boys find themselves cracking numerous skulls in defense of a nice couple walking home. Britt’s pumped, having reclaimed his boyhood fantasies, and recruits Kato to design his weapons, customize his car, and take on the role of his sidekick. As was true of Batman Begins, the script, penned by Rogen and his regular writing partner, Evan Goldberg, casts social corruption in two separate guises: that of the realistic (David Harbour’s power-hungry district attorney, Scanlon) and the tremendously eccentric (Christoph Waltz’s elderly crime boss, Chudnofsky), but only Scanlon really could be called an atypical nemesis. Britt uses his newspaper, and his father’s trusted editor (Edward James Olmos), to build up the notoriety of the Hornet, in an attempt to draw out Scanlon and Chudnofsky, but the aged gangster is too busy fretting over his wardrobe, his alter ego name (Bloodnofsky wins out), and the right catchphrase to worry all that much about the Hornet, until Britt and Kato accidentally murder his favorite henchman.
Less exuberant in imagery than most of Gondry’s work, save for a lively sequence which visualizes Britt’s memory and though process, The Green Hornet is nothing if not the triumph of the auteur over the genre, but is Gondry the auteur or is Rogen? Separated from Apatow, Rogen has indulged in some well-intentioned clunkers (Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Monsters vs. Aliens), some solid big-studio projects (Paul, Kung Fu Panda), and more importantly, two risky dark comedies (Observe and Report, Pineapple Express). The Green Hornet is the admittedly imperfect progeny of the latter two categories and part of the film’s uneven narrative and its uncanny allure is that Rogen and Gondry’s presences are both felt so strongly throughout the film. The active camera, flourishes of effects, gadgets, and staging of action sequences are all Gondry, but as the film’s co-scripter, the meat of the narrative, the crux of the characters, and the heart-on-sleeve camaraderie are Rogen to a T.
The result is eccentric, messy, and not without its wrong-headed decisions, but I can’t say that I was ever bored or not intrigued by what the odd pairing yielded, which puts the film more in line with Paul and Pineapple Express than any of Gondry’s films, to be honest. Rogen, trimmed down and dressed to impress, accentuates the over-privileged side of Britt and the character genuinely comes off as immature, over-confident, and largely unlikable, a boy bogged down and protected by his wealth unlike Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark. Britt isn’t a genius, nor is he all that humble and giving, and the lack of these admirable traits allows for Goldberg and Rogen to toy with the concept of the love interest, embodied here by Cameron Diaz as Britt’s newly hired secretary. Diaz’s Lenore is wooed separately by Britt and Kato, but she consistently dismantles their advances in high comic fashion, cutting off an essential masculine facet of the superhero allure. Diaz has always seemed more liberated and prone to blossom in comedy, and here she gives a solid straight-woman performance to the dueling machismos (intellect vs. capital) of Britt and Kato.
The Green Hornet fails to bring all its themes to a reasonable ending, and also miscalculates the use of some of its positives (namely Rogen’s off-kilter charm and Gondry’s visual bravado), and honestly, auteurs have rarely found comfort in the confines of the superhero world; Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton, and Brian Singer are noteworthy exceptions, but the master remains Guillermo del Toro with his immensely entertaining Hellboy films. Gondry’s experiment isn’t as radical as Richard Lester’s sub-Godardian, deconstructionist Superman III, which opens on a Tati homage, but it’s obvious that the suit and cape are not a perfect fit for the Be Kind Rewind helmer. Still, The Green Hornet is weird, funny, and somewhat poignant in its eschewing of the super hero image whereas Super and Kick-Ass are cynical, cruel, and borderline hypocritical in terms of their views on and use of violence.
A few weeks ago, Thor opened and hopes that director Kenneth Branagh had found something juicy and Shakesperean in the grand familial tensions of the Marvel property were dashed upon the first sight of Chris Hemsworth tossing his magic hammer like a football to show off for a crowd of well-wishers. Branagh’s admirable abilities were wasted on a flavorless, utterly forgettable product, and if the worst thing you can say about The Green Hornet is that it seems too ambitious, that its makers’ colliding personas overwhelm the mechanics of the story, than I can only say this: It sure beats the alternatives.
Michel Gondry's usually bold color scheme has been pared down here, with an emphasis on greens, blacks, and browns. Nevertheless, Sony's impressive 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer maintains a beautiful level of color saturation throughout; the black levels are especially admirable, seeing as a great deal of the action takes place at night. Textures and skin tones are beautifully preserved and clarity is at optimum levels. There are some fleeting moments of softness, but they are often so quick that you won't even notice them. The audio mix is equally wonderful, striking an admirable balance between dialogue, James Newton Howard's by-the-books score, and some choice soundtrack cuts (the White Stripes' "Blue Orchid," Coolio's "Gangster's Paradise"). Effects are handled very well, with Chudnofsky's attempt to bury Kato and Britt alive being a perfect show-off scene, along with the extended climax. Overall, this is one of the strongest of Sony's recent releases.
The smattering of making-of featurettes, which range in topics from Gondry's direction to the casting of Jay Chou to the recreation of the Hornet's 1965 Imperial, nicknamed the Black Beauty, is enjoyable but not nearly as lively, fun, and candid as the audio commentary featuring Seth Rogen, Gondry, Evan Goldberg, and producer Neal Moritz. The group discusses casting decisions, the genesis of the project, mistakes, the use of visual effects, stunts, and writing with verve and great humility. You get a genuine sense of their excitement with the project, especially Gondry, who was attached to the property over a decade ago with Mark Wahlberg in the titular role. The deleted scenes are largely a waste of time, but the gag reel is very funny throughout. Also included: a PS3 theme, previews, and a Cutting Room feature that can be used while viewing the film.
The Green Hornet marginally succeeds where Kick-Ass and Super have failed miserably in perverting superhero stereotypes and boasts an expectedly excellent transfer from Sony.