Original US release date: January 14, 2011
Production budget: $120,000,000
Worldwide gross: $227,817,248
The Green Hornet was director Michel Gondry and co-writers Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg’s take on a character first created for a radio serial in 1936. Most modern audiences had little to no significant exposure to the character before the release of this film, but many claimed to hate the movie for not being “true to the source”, anyway. Granted, it was an unexpected approach (until it was announced that Rogen was starring in the title role. Then, what else could one expect?), given that the character had never been associated with comedy – much less Rogen’s brand of comedy – at any point in his existence. But few people actually cared about that; most just wanted an excuse to bash Rogen and feel better about themselves. But was the film really that bad?
Britt Reid (Rogen) grew up a spoiled rich kid with an unsympathetic father (Tom Wilkinson), who had no patience for Britt’s desire to help people if it didn’t involve making money or if it did involve the risk of failure. When Britt’s father passes away, Britt inherits everything and finally finds the freedom to live his life as he sees fit. Along with one of his father’s former employees, Kato, Britt sets out to fight crime, but he approaches it from a different angle: he attempts to infiltrate the crime world and take them by surprise by convincing them that he and Kato are among their kind.
Speaking objectively (which is what I’m here to do), the film is a mixed bag. Having the heroes deliberately intend to gain a reputation as criminals is certainly a twist on the superhero genre. Even more, the script is flipped by the obvious fact that Britt – who dubs himself “The Green Hornet” – is completely incompetent and in way over his head, whereas Kato is the only reason that the duo meets with any semblance of success. Despite Britt’s greatest wishes and total delusions, the Green Hornet is the sidekick and Kato is the hero.
All of this is great for freshening the genre up, but I can understand how the three or four people out there who were actually Green Hornet fans from the genesis of the character onward would be upset by this presentation. I have always said that creative liberties with established properties are absolutely fine as long as the heart of the original is retained. And that’s certainly not the case, here, if we’re being honest. But only fans of the original should truly be upset by this. If one never knew or had any allegiance to that version, what difference do the changes make? So, to most people whining about the changes, I call BS. They didn’t actually care; they just wanted to feel important and knowledgeable on the Internet.
These changes obviously lend themselves to the opportunity for comedy. And the comedy isn’t that bad. It’s not an all-time classic, but I chuckled fairly regularly. It’s Rogen’s style, but without all the drug references, and when he abandons that stuff, he’s at his best. His delivery is exceptional and he knows how to play earnest stupidity. Britt is the exact same character Rogen plays in all of his films, but it works for him, so I’m not going to fight it. He and Goldberg essentially approached the film as “Seth Rogen tries to become a superhero”. And it’s fine.
Jay Chou as Kato is the standout performer in the movie. His action scenes are truly exceptional, due both to his own efforts and those of the creative minds behind them. The action, in general, is actually above average for a lower-tier action film (a “lower-tier” action film that cost $120,000,000 to produce, which was way too much for this untested, long-dormant license). It’s all creatively conceived and beautifully executed, with Gondry going out of his way to ensure it feels different from other films.
Besides Britt and Kato, the other characters are hit-and-miss. Cameron Diaz does fine as Lenore, the assistant to the crime-fighting duo. She’s much smarter than either of them and has absolutely no desire to be The Girlfriend, fiercely and refreshingly rebuking Britt’s advances at every turn. The villain(s?) don’t fare as well. Christoph Waltz is a tremendous talent but his mob boss baddie Chudnofsky is bland and uninteresting. The only scene featuring the character that didn’t make me want to move along to the next is his introduction, in which he confronts a new boss on the scene (James Franco, in a delectable, scene-stealing performance) after he moves in on Chudnofsky’s turf. After that, he devolves into clichéd, standard fare for mob bosses. Britt’s father isn’t much better, as the a-hole father who just doesn’t understand his kid. It’s a trope, but at least that one has significantly less screen time than Chudnofsky.
The Green Hornet is an average action film. Some of it is pretty good, some of it leaves much to be desired, and it all kind of evens out. I appreciate what Gondry, Rogen, and Goldberg were going for but it ultimately needed a more interesting story and villain to stand out as truly memorable and be something that audiences would crave more of. Trying to lean solely on strong action beats and moderately amusing dialogue left us with an experience that isn’t entirely a waste of time, but not something that many will wish to revisit.
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