Sat
Jan 15 2011 12:12pm
Review: The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet is not a very good movie. Although, save one approximately fifteen minute stretch where Seth Rogen, playing the title character, devolves into horrific, appalling stupidity, it avoids being truly bad. Its problems are largely with Rogen, who is a very talented comic actor who I usually enjoy greatly, but who should not write for himself (he co-scripted with Evan Goldberg, his collaborator on the similarly uneven and frustrating Pineapple Express).

Where The Green Hornet is at its best is in the way Rogen’s Britt Reid interacts with Jay Chou’s Kato; due to political correctness, Kato is now less Reid’s manservant and more of his bro. Their first handful of scenes, where the two get drunk and mourn Reid’s deceased father (Tom Wilkinson), seem almost improvised. This has always been Rogen’s greatest strength: scenes displaying the rapport shared by young men of similar interests.

The movie has a number of compellingly weird touches, such as Christoph Waltz’s villain being largely motivated by intensely neurotic insecurity rather than the standard-issue megalomania, and the fact that, Kato’s genius at gadget-making and dazzling martial-arts ability, neither he nor the Green Hornet have the slightest idea what they’re doing. Sometimes these touches work, sometimes they don’t, just like the movie is only intermittently successful.

It’s a little disappointing that Michel Gondry directed this picture. As a visual stylist, Gondry is entirely singular: there has never been another like him, there is no one like him, and there will never be another. His music videos represent a high point in the entire history of the form. His features have been largely inconsistent, with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind being the only unqualified classic, but all have been recognizably his, on a visual level. The Green Hornet is not, even in the handful of “Kato-vision” sequences in which Kato sizes up and, with blinding speed, defeats multiple opponents (which recall a similar trope in Jet Li’s Romeo Must Die, a movie almost ten years old). Aside from a light, whimsical tone which seems largely derived from Rogen and Goldberg’s script, there is very little Michel Gondry in The Green Hornet, which is really too bad.

The worst thing, though, is the horrible post-production conversion to 3D, which actually delayed The Green Hornet’s release date by months, and makes me wonder, with shocked horror, just how bad the 3D looked back last fall, because my God. It looks dreadful. If the projection hadn’t had to be so dark for the stupid 3D, it might have been possible to see whether the action scenes actually were as mediocre as they looked. I’ll leave it at that, because if I go on any longer I’ll start calling for Los Angeles to be nuked from orbit so we can reconstitute a new movie industry without this insane compulsion to convert every movie to 3D when it always looks terrible.

Despite all of these complaints, The Green Hornet still has some entertainment to offer, but it can wait until DVD, if only because one has control over the brightness settings on one’s own TV, and can fast-forward through some of Seth Rogen’s more unfortunate scenes. There have been better superhero movies, and there have been worse, which is, regrettably, the faint praise with which this movie must be damned.


Danny Bowes is a playwright, filmmaker and blogger. He is also a contributor to nytheatre.com and Premiere.com.

16 comments
Jamie (Mithril Wisdom)
1. Jamie (Mithril Wisdom)
I was worried that The Green Hornet would be a flop, though given a lot of Rogen's movies I'm not entirely surprised. I've not seen him really break much new ground, and his portrayal of Reid sounds like his portrayal of almost every other character he's played.

I'll take your advice and wait for this one on DVD, and even then I'll wait until it goes in the bargain bin.
Jamie (Mithril Wisdom)
2. Brydon
Yep. This movie had some great moments and ideas. But it really "didn't know why it wanted to be".
Jamie (Mithril Wisdom)
3. TheAdlerian
I watched the Green Hornet series on SciFi the other day and was shocked at the seriousness and quality of the show for the era. Had they trusted why people liked it then maybe they would have a success today.

Now, the have a crap film and no franchise. I can't figure out why filmmakers are allowed to waste money like this.
Jamie (Mithril Wisdom)
4. YarnGuy
The pairing of Rogen and Gondry notwithstanding, hopes were low for this film almost from the start, based on the horrible first trailer. But it's sad to read all the negative reviews. Rogen and Goldberg's script for SUPERBAD was one of the best comedy screenplays of the last 10 years (IMHO), and they didn't do too, too badly with PINEAPPLE. Just where did this project go off the rails?
Jamie (Mithril Wisdom)
5. Heelbiter
"due to political correctness, Kato is now less Reid’s manservant and more of his bro"

As opposed to, say, a change in times and a growing sense that spiteful, racist stereotypes are and should be a thing of the past? I really pity the way ultra-privileged folks are so oppressed by political correctness. Truly, it's the new White Man's Burden.
Jamie (Mithril Wisdom)
6. Gerry__Quinn
Heelbiter@5:

What makes you think the reviewer was criticising political correctness? Just the fact of him using the expression? Is is politically incorrect to say 'politically correct'?

Actually, he indicated that he liked the results in this instance! Whether he feels that is usually or often the case is not something it appears possible to determine from this review...
Jamie (Mithril Wisdom)
7. rebusrex
In truth I was a little confused by the "political correctness" phrase to but I think people use it in different ways such as a begrudged acceptance that accepted entitlement have changed, a synonym for politeness, a suggestion of some sort of cultural brainwashing...

That being said, I have to confess that all of my experience was with the television show where it seemed like Kato is always fated to be more interesting than the Green Hornet so I never could figure out the Hornet's dramatic purpose.
Jamie (Mithril Wisdom)
8. goodfellow_puck
I agree 110% with Heelbiter, as does my roommate. When I read the "political correctness" line it pissed me off. I couldn't have said it better, Heelbiter.

@Gerry_Quinn: What makes the reviewer wrong was not that he "was criticizing PC" but that he SAID PC instead of what Heelbiter said. Kato no longer being a manservant is not due to it being PC, but because Hollywood was (and still is) RACIST and they needed to correct that!

I don't see where he said he liked Kato one way or the other, either. Just references to Gondry's filming choices. He completely looks over the actor/character and quite frankly, Kato was the ONLY part of the film that looked good at all to me. Kato is Batman without the money, and having to endure Seth Rogen to fill that gap is...buh. No thanks.
Danny Bowes
9. DannyBowes
To clarify, I wasn't complaining about PC. It actually did some good, to wit the attempts to undo the damage done by racism that you all point out. Apologies for the poor choice of words.
Jamie (Mithril Wisdom)
10. rebusrex
To DannyBowes, no need for apologies.... I think people were just seeking clarification of what you meant or if you meant to use "political correctness" or "pc" without understanding that those are pejorative terms.
Getting back to the original topic, it is kind of interesting how the original Green Hornet was so much about the Green Hornet but, by the time of the television show, the character of interest was Kato which launched Bruce Lee's career while Van William's career languished.
Lindsey Turnbow
12. Obi
... well, I liked the movie. But I also saw it in 2D because 3D movies give me headaches.
Jamie (Mithril Wisdom)
13. John C. Bunnell
Not all the reviews are sharply negative; see particularly Peter David for a more positive take on the film, including pointers to many nods toward prior Hornet canon. I saw it in 2D this past weekend, and while I wouldn't call it a classic, I found it mostly watchable and distinctly interesting in some respects.

In particular, I think the script does something genuinely and intriguingly clever: it almost explicitly gives us a Britt Reid that is the exact antithesis of Bruce Wayne/Batman, and takes that idea about as far as one can and still have a genuine superhero movie at the end of the process.

Consider: Bruce/Batman is defined by his Batman persona and his pursuit of personal and social justice/revenge. Britt Reid, in this version of Hornet mythology, is what Batman would be if Bruce's "millionaire playboy" persona were the dominant personality and his costumed crimefighting were an afterthought or hobby. This film's Black Beauty is in some ways a fairly direct counterpart to the Nolan films' Batmobile (and Britt here uses it pretty much as playboy-Bruce might). I also think there may be useful parallels to be drawn between the two villains in this Hornet movie and the two lead villains in The Dark Knight (to say any more would get us into spoiler territory).

This does lead into the film's biggest problem: Rogen's playboy-Britt is callous and clueless enough that there are points where he almost loses the audience's sympathy by acting too much like a genuine jerk. For me, at least, Rogen never actually quite crosses that line, and the combination of the film's fast pace and the overall character arc keep me rooting for him, if narrowly, but I suspect that there are viewers who will balk at certain moments.

All of which suggests that it's the second film -- assuming we get a sequel -- that will really define the Hornet franchise. If Rogen and company have simply had parody/satire in mind, I'm not sure the series has legs. But if their second script retains the light tone of this feature while genuinely advancing Britt Reid's character arc, they may have created one of the best new superhero franchises we've seen. At this point, it's way too early to guess which way they'll go, but I know what I'm hoping for.
Jamie (Mithril Wisdom)
14. goodfellow_puck
@John C. Bunnell: Yeah, I gotta say Rogen's Reid looked like a complete jerk and idiot in the trailer alone. I was completely turned off. Kato looked awesome and seemed to be the beginning and end of brains in this "duo." What reason is there for Reid, then? What reason is there for someone with Kato's abilities to pander to Reid? Because Hollywood still thinks US audiences won't go to a film with an Asian lead? Annoying, to say the least.

@DannyBowes: Thanks for clarifying your intent. It's appreciated.
Joe Romano
15. Drunes
Concerning the original TV series: I'm not sure if this is true or merely urban legend, but because of Bruce Lee's popularity, the original TV series was known as The Kato Show in Hong Kong rather than The Green Hornet.
[da ve]
17. slickhop
@DannyBowes: Yeah, thanks for footnoting the "political correctness" thing. I had sort of written you off as a jackass until the clarification. I know it it doesn't mean this to everyone, but a lot of people use that phrase to minimize the concerns of marginalized people in a variety of ways.

I'm sort of bummed the movie is getting a number of lackluster reviews. Green Hornet seemed like an opportunity to make a different kind of superhero movie than we've been seeing the last couple years. Seth Rogen being involved didn't really give me too much hope, but still.

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