Friday, January 14, 2011

The Green Hornet

When it came to The Green Hornet, I was more curious than anything else. What would a buddy-cop action superhero comedy written by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg and directed by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) look like? Don't let its troubled production history fool you - this is actually a really enjoyable movie. I've been calling it this year's The A-Team; the plot makes very little sense at times and the physics are ridiculous, but it's a lot of fun to watch.

The Green Hornet
Director: Michel Gondry
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz

The opening scene is a good representation of the tone we get in the rest of the film. A young Britt Reid has his favorite superhero toy's head ripped off by his father, an overbearing news magnate played by Tom Wilkinson. While not subtle in the least, the message is clear: this is not going to be your typical superhero movie. Turns out that promise is only partly true; The Green Hornet plays on the conventions of the superhero film that we all recognize but succeeds in separating itself enough from the pack that it stands as its own relatively unique project. Ten years after Bryan Singer's X-Men and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man helped usher nerd culture to the mainstream, it's impressive that any superhero movie can feel even remotely fresh.

As to be expected from a script co-written by Rogen and Goldberg, the characters here feel especially self-aware. Nowhere is this more evident in the case of the main villain, a character named Chudnofsky underplayed by Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz (in a role originally played by Nic Cage). Chudnofsky is not your normal Los Angeles gangster: he's constantly worried about his reputation and how scary he appears to his fellow members of the underworld. He carries around a gun with two barrels ("very difficult to make") and seems to take criticism of his clothing choices to heart. He's a likeable villain, someone with enough little character moments to overshadow the lack of originality in his evil plan. (At one point, he wants to change his name to "Bloodnofsky" because he thinks it sounds scarier.)

A high profile cameo in the early minutes of the movie adds to the humor of the villainous portrayals. He comments about the furniture in his lair ("I've got sh*tloads of glass everywhere...I have a see-through piano!") and seems totally aware of both the ridiculousness of his surroundings and the expectations of how a movie villain is supposed to dress and behave. This is easily one of the most entertaining scenes in the film.

The rest of the movie hints at a deeper understanding of the genre and its conventions, but seems to stick just a little too close to the formulaic nature of an origin story instead of truly mining new ground. Long sections of the film that feel as if we've seen similar content before are almost enough to make us question the flashes of creativity which with Gondry peppers the movie - almost. If you're even loosely familiar with Gondry's filmography (which includes Eternal Sunshine, The Science of Sleep, Be Kind Rewind, etc.), then you're aware of the man's distinct visual style. That gets lost through most of The Green Hornet, but the occasions in which those touches make it on screen are pretty spectacular. Kato's fight sequences turn the character into an almost Terminator-like character (complete with red eyes), with Gondry opting for POV vision that highlights bad guys' weapons in red but puts martial arts on full display. Perhaps the most "Gondry-esque" scene plays out near the end of the film, in a lengthy exposition scene that would be unbearable if not for his unique approach.

Seth Rogen dropped a lot of weight for this movie, and looks good as a result. He never shows much of a physical presence as the masked hero (or is it anti-hero?) Britt Reid, but he doesn't have to: he can hide behind the toys designed by his coffee maker/mechanic Kato (played by Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou). A gas gun and the infamous Black Beauty are utilized to their full potential, though some could make the argument that the latter is a bit overused. They seem to form a friendship fairly quickly, but there's no conceivable reason as to why Kato would want to be friends with Britt in the beginning - he's kind of a douche who only finds his calling as the Hornet after what essentially is a lucky break during a drunken night out with Kato. In real life, Chou's language barrier hinders the banter of the characters; it's clear Rogen, who cut his teeth in improv comedy, wishes he could have someone who could keep up with him in that area, and the film is written as if Chou has those abilities even though he's clearly lacking. 

Regardless, the characters' friendship progresses and the rest of the movie is spent meandering through ganglands with them as they dispense vigilante justice however they wish. This pisses off Chudnofsky, who is watching the Hornet rack up massive media attention while he gets left in the dust. Since Britt's father died (under suspicious circumstances - guess if THAT will come back as a plot point), Britt now controls a huge media empire and devotes all the resources of the newspaper to giving coverage to the Green Hornet. Britt and Kato know nothing about journalism or the criminal life they're trying to infiltrate, so they enlist the help of the unwitting Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz in a forgettable part), a secretary who basically uses her "minor in criminology" to inform the guys' decisions as the film progresses. Like I said - much of this film makes very little sense.

For me, the most surprising aspect of this movie was how great the 3D looked. This is some of the best post-converted 3D we've seen, and this film stands as a beacon that this process can be completed with successful results if done correctly. Much has been made of the rise of 3D, and many of the complaints surround dark picture quality and murky visuals. There's none of that to be found here, since Gondry and company have somehow cracked the code: the image is crisp, and even scenes set in the dark pop and have nice contrast. And I don't think I can rave about this enough: the final credits sequence looks phenomenal. Even if you absolutely hate the film, go to sleep and wake up for the end credits because that's nearly worth the price of admission.

I'm not sure how many people are truly anticipating The Green Hornet, considering it's based on a character popularized on the radio in the 1930's and in an almost forgotten TV series playing second fiddle to Adam West's "Batman." But if you're willing to excuse many of the logical flaws and a preposterous climax involving a car riding in an elevator, I think you'll find a few things to like about this film. Until next time...

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