Revisiting the Reviled – ‘The Green Hornet’ is the Failed Attempt at a Superhero Seth Rogen

GameStop, Inc.

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Before Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were writing and directing films, let alone writing and directing films that led to the hacking of a multinational corporation and inciting international incidents, they were just, mostly, writing vehicles for Seth Rogen. After Superbad and Pineapple Express were both critical and box office hits, the writing duo would undertake their greatest challenge – reviving The Green Hornet.

The Green Hornet debuted in 1936 as a radio drama broadcast out of Detroit, and would play as a radio drama for nearly two decades following its debut. In the ‘40s, The Green Hornet would be the subject of film serials and comic books. For September ’66 to March ’67, The Green Hornet ran as a television show on ABC, which is probably most famous for having Bruce Lee as Kato. There was even a crossover with the Adam West led Batman. Outside of a few comic book titles, The Green Hornet would be absent from the pop culture psyche for some time. There were numerous attempts to revive the character, including a brief stint in the ‘90s when George Clooney was cast as the titular role. With Rogen and Goldberg on board, their first attempt to revive Britt Reid and Kato came with Stephen Chow, director of Kung-Fu Hustle, at the helm and starring as Kato, but it was only a matter of time before that fell apart as well. Then French director Michel Gondry, who was at point in the ‘90s attached to the project in its infancy, came onboard. A veteran of music videos with a few features under his belt, Gondry appeals more to the art house crowd than to the masses seeking blockbuster thrills.

The story of The Green Hornet is about Britt Reid (Rogen) as the young heir to a media empire. A loud, obnoxious party boy with a trust fund, Britt’s exploits earn the scorn of his father James Reid (Tom Wilkinson). When his father suddenly dies, Britt’s world is thrown into upheaval. Secluded in a massive mansion, Britt strikes up a friendship with his father’s mechanic Kato (Jay Chou). After an evening of swapping unflattering stories of the late James Reid, the duo drunkenly go out and vandalize a statue of him. Before long, Britt is inspired to take on the mantle of masked vigilante and convinces Kato to assist him. Meanwhile, at The Daily Sentinel, the newspaper that Britt inherited from his father, Britt hires Lenore (Cameron Diaz) as his secretary, though she has degrees in criminology and journalism. Britt exploits Lenore’s knowledge in order to advance his career as a crime fighter. While the Green Hornet is making headlines at the paper he owns, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), a brutal crime lord, is out to stop the Green Hornet. Unleashing a deadly wave of violence, Chudnofsky has placed a bounty on the Green Hornet’s head, all of which is resolved in a violent battle of good vs. evil.

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In many regards, The Green Hornet earns its lackluster reputation. Without any way of keeping the character in the zeitgeist, Britt Reid’s forays into vigilantism feel remarkably like a Batman rip-off. Motivated by a fallen parent and with a fortune as his greatest weapon, there’s nothing here to differentiate itself from the Caped Crusader – it just comes across as Seth Rogen as the stoner Batman. There are other reason the film falters: Cameron Diaz is woefully miscast. She doesn’t have the chops to convey herself as a journalist or criminologist. In a brief cameo, and just like he was in The Interview, James Franco is out of place, playing the material to the wrong level and highlighting how wrong he is for the role. Sadly, no actor is wasted more than the great Christoph Waltz. His first role following his Oscar-winning role in Inglourious Basterds, Waltz is given material that just asks him to reprise his prior role. Waltz is never able to channel the charm or menace that he employed for Tarantino. It feels dangerously close to an SNL sketch.

But The Green Hornet could’ve been far worse. Michel Gondry sneaks in some great little moments of stylisitic action – Kato surveying the enemies lined up before them and following through on his attack is by far the coolest thing in this movie. But other than that, there’s very little that is identifiably Gondry. The film is much more in line with the filmography of Goldberg and Rogen than anything else by Gondry’s.

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There’s something admirable about Gondry, Rogen, and Goldberg attempting to get out of their comfort zone with The Green Hornet. It’s a failure, but an admirable failure. The film’s release was delayed in order to convert the film into 3-D, another one of the many post-Avatar 3-D conversion that left audiences feeling ripped-off for a couple extra bucks. More than anything, the Green Hornet is character that doesn’t fit into the modern world. Retaining the newspaper angle only reinforces the time gap between the character’s origins and the film’s modern setting. It misses mark as an action film, comedy, and media satire. Then again, that doesn’t sound too unfamiliar.

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