Seth Rogen as Britt Reid / The Green Hornet
Jay Chou as Kato
Cameron Diaz as Lenore Case
Tom Wilkinson as James Reid
Christoph Waltz as Chudnofsky
David Harbour as Scanlon
Edward James Olmos as Axford
Jamie Harris as Popeye
Chad Coleman as Chili
Edward Furlong as Tupper
Joshua Erenberg as Young Britt
Analeigh Tipton as Ana Lee
Taylor Cole as Limo Girl
Directed by Michel Gondry
After the death of his father, the esteemed publisher of the Daily Sentinel, millionaire playboy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) decides he wants to fight crime, though he can’t do anything if not for the abilities of his butler and driver Kato (Jay Chou), who not only is a martial arts expert but is also able to design and build all sorts of cool superhero gadgets.
It may be hard to believe that a superhero movie made by the producer of “The Fast and the Furious,” the director of “The Science of Sleep” and the writers of “The Pineapple Express” could possibly work, but it’s surprising how these three disparate elements blend together in entertaining and surprising ways for “The Green Hornet.”
Like so many other superhero movies, this is an origin story but rather than creating a period piece, as one might expect based on the character’s origins, Rogen and his co-writer Evan Goldberg set their updated take on the Green Hornet in modern-day L.A. and they imbue it with the type of comic timing they’ve done so well in the past, while also displaying a true understanding of what makes good comic book storytelling work.
Rogen’s Britt Reid is a rich spoiled brat with daddy issues, and his newspaper magnate father, played by Tom Wilkinson, refuses to support or encourage his son as we see in the film’s opening. 20 years later, Britt is doing everything he can to squander his father’s resources and earn that disapproval. In that sense, the movie is a bit like “Batman Begins” if Bruce Wayne were a millionaire who neither had the skills, the talent nor the dedication of getting either, instead relying on his trusty butler and chauffeur Kato to do all of the fighting and heavy lifting.
With that premise at its core, the film uses the first act to establish the contrast between Britt’s incompetence and Kato’s impressive talents fairly early on, then building upon that relationship to great effect. We haven’t really seen the dynamic between hero and “sidekick” in the superhero film genre–the relationship between Tony Stark and Rhodey in the first “Iron Man” movie may come the closest–so that aspect of “The Green Hornet” really sets it apart. It works especially well due to true superstar they found in Jay Chou, who has the type of charisma and personality that makes him fun to watch even in the non-action scenes – he’s more likely to be the next Jet Li than the next Tony Jaa.
Rogen and Chou make quite a formidable crimefighting team and the duo have a great rapport as they bat the snappy dialogue back and forth, their banter working similarly to Brian Bendis’ Marvel writing by creating a light, quick-paced tone that makes it easier to accept anything thrown at us whether it’s credible or not. The only time that adage falters is in a scene right out of “Kick-Ass” with the Green Hornet and Kato singing along to “Gangsta’s Paradise.”
Cameron Diaz acts as the “middle man” in their relationship, a role that reminds us how great she’s been in the past at using her good looks and sharp wit to introduce a love triangle into the mix. It’s actually quite a shame that the marketing is disguising how genuinely funny the movie is, maybe because they’re worried people will assume it’s not meant to be taken seriously.
Visually, the film looks fantastic; if you’re already a fan of Michel Gondry, you’re not going to be disappointed since there are a couple of sequences with visual motifs that could only have come from the mind of the innovative filmmaker. Still, other than a couple of sequences and a few of Gondry’s musical collaborators appearing on the ultra-hip soundtack, it’s easy to forget Gondry is behind the camera. In many ways, this is Gondry’s “Spider-Man” in that it shows that even an unapologetically eclectic filmmaker can direct a mainstream studio action movie. He elevates his visionary status with action scenes that play as well as any other action flick while maintaining their own identity via the innovative use of the duo’s vehicle, the Black Beauty, which is almost a character in itself.
Then there’s Christoph Waltz as Chudnofsky, a somewhat unhinged crime boss whose first appearance involves wiping out a younger drugdealer–a hilarious cameo we won’t spoil–trying to move in on his turf. The Oscar-winning actor seemingly relishes portraying a similar menacing character as his one in “Inglorious Basterds” while playing up the cartoonish side of the character. As fun as he is whenever on screen, the movie does hit a serious lull halfway through when the crimefighters go directly after Chudnosky, a plan that goes awry and elevates their petty squabbling into an all-out brawl that goes on for just a little too long. It’s really the only time the movie falters having established such a perfect comic tone up until that point. Fortunately, it recovers quite nicely by the end despite a convoluted reveal involving Britt’s father that’s only memorable for the inventive way Gondry illustrates it.
The Bottom Line:
A surprisingly funny and ingeniously clever take on superheroes and easily one of the coolest, “The Green Hornet” certainly sets the bar high for other superhero movies coming out this year.