Sunday, 23 January 2011

Film Review: The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet

Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz
Directed by: Michael Gondry
Screenplay by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

3 stars out of 5

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Britt Reid (Rogen) is the party loving son of the biggest and best newspaper editor in town. With little to live for other than parties, he finds himself drifting upon his father’s sudden death. A chance encounter with a whizz mechanic named Kato (Chou) leads to a drunken stunt ending in a fight with some thugs; the two friends are inspired to become costumed vigilantes as a result. The twist? They pose as criminals. All too soon, they become embroiled in a gang war with the villainous Chudnofsky (Waltz), and uncover corruption at the highest level…

‘The Green Hornet’ is a silly film. No, scratch that. It is an incredibly silly film. I don’t know how faithful it is to the original incarnation, but what we have here is a stoner buddy movie spliced with a much less ethical spin on the Adam West version of ‘Batman’. Sprinkle just a touch of French Surrealism to taste, and you have the final film. Of course, silly is by no means a bad thing, if you like that sort of thing. However, it is a slightly awkward blend of genres, and the combination doesn’t always work.

It must be said that it does feel very much like a classic, Silver Age comic book – or perhaps the view many non-comic readers have of comic books even today – and that is to be admired. In fact, in some ways it feels almost like a parody of Batman: an incredibly wealthy playboy moonlighting as a vigilante, with a ridiculously tricked out car and very, very competent sidekick/butler figure. However, where Bruce Wayne poses as the irresponsible playboy, Britt Reid is an irresponsible playboy, for much of the film at least. His life as the Green Hornet is the direct result of a drunken prank, and he carries it on largely due to boredom and the fact that he thinks it’s cool, rather than any innate desire to improve the lives of the citizens of Los Angeles. In some ways, this is quite refreshing; few comic book films (few comic books, in fact) have such a sense of fun, the Iron Man films aside. On the other hand, it can make him a little unlikeable at times, especially when you see the havoc he causes on his faux crime sprees, conducted with little regard for innocent lives and a great deal of excitement on his part. There is a similar issue with Kato, the formidable sidekick, but he does compensate by being almost unbelievably awesome in practically every possible way. Highly skilled at kung-fu, a brilliant mechanic, talented artist, snappy dresser…he is really the hero here, although he does have a similar lack of concern for the havoc he and Reid cause, but if he were the main character, it would be a very dull film indeed, with little in the way of real conflict.

I do not mean to harp on about the ethical issues of their crusade – I don’t write for the Daily Mail, after all – but it did leave a slightly sour taste in my mouth, which would doubtless surprise anyone who had seen me giggling through ‘Kick-Ass’ a few months ago. I fully admit that it is more a product of my dislike for Seth Rogen’s brand of comedy; in different hands I would probably barely have noticed it. And now I will leave the issue aside for the rest of the review.

The plot is a by the numbers blend of comic book and buddy movie, really. Unlikely duo discover a shared bond, everything goes brilliantly, they fall out, they make up just in time for the big finale, while fighting crime and taking names in suitable origin story fashion. It makes as much sense as it is supposed to, and while it may be heavily weighted with clich├ęs, there is little to truly criticise without getting mean spirited. Do not expect too much though. The script is good without ever being truly memorable – I laughed constantly, but can’t remember more than a couple of lines – and as you may expect, the villain gets the best lines. Of course, you might expect nothing less from Christoph Waltz, after his fantastic turn in ‘Inglourious Basterds’; he also gives the best performance in the film, although he is hardly up against stiff competition. Rogen and Chou are perfectly fine, although Rogen seems little different from ‘Knocked Up’, but they never reach higher than that. Cameron Diaz, as Reid’s secretary, is utterly wasted in the role, getting to do little of interest. You can’t help but get the impression that she’s there for the money.

The action scenes are more inventive, making full use of each and every one of the Black Beauty’s gadgets (the Green Hornet’s impressive car, and strong contender for star of the show). Many of them strain the laws of physics (I’m fairly sure that the car is undriveable by the end of the film), but that misses the point a little. They are still enjoyable, shifting from high octane action to Benny Hill style chases in the blink of an eye.

Somewhat surprisingly, there seems no obvious plot hook for a sequel – it won’t be too hard to cook up a suitable plot, I’m sure, but the film stands proud as an individual. I am not convinced a sequel will be commissioned; perfectly enjoyable, if never especially great, I don’t predict a massive hit. With a less fanatical fanbase to boost the sales figures, I can’t see this doing great business.

That would be a shame. There are far better films, and certainly more intelligent films, but there are worse ways to kill a few hours. It definitely wasn’t worth the price I had to pay to get in, ramped up due to the (rarely if ever noticeable) use of 3D. I’m not sure if it was simply more subtly used than is the norm, or whether they didn’t bother doing anything with it. Either way, the price is hardly the fault of the film, or anybody involved in the making of it – I simply object to paying extra money for something so unnecessary.

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