The Green Hornet looks and feels as if it were made by a bunch of (highly talented) 10-year-old boys. Taking any pleasure in the film depends on your willingness to let your inner-child run rampant and help you regress to your days of impish mischievousness; when you and your friends hurtled through your house dressed like superheroes, inventing outrageous scenarios and attacking one another with playful, violent glee. Penned by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who famously wrote the first draft of their surprisingly astute teen sex comedy Superbad at the age of 14) and directed by Michel Gondry (whose films are littered with nostalgic flashbacks to days of innocence and juvenilia), this modern take on the classic comic serial The Green Hornet is nothing like the adaptations that have come before it. Insulting to the legacy? Perhaps. But since when did reckless kids care about what the adults thought?
Britt Reid is like Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark before him: a chauvinistic bed-hopping billionaire playboy with pangs of conscience (minus the pangs of conscience). Oh sure, he doesn’t like the fact that Los Angeles is bursting at the seams with nasty drug dealers and gangsters – specifically the sharply-dressed crime-overlord Chudnofsky (a fun, sadly underutilised Christoph Waltz) – but he has no real intention to do anything about it. When his judgmental father (Tom Wilkinson) dies of a bee sting, Britt takes over his position as editor of newspaper The Daily Sentinel. He has mixed feelings about his dad’s death. On the one hand, he was a self-righteous jerk who chastised Britt for not living a meaningful life. On the other hand…actually, nope that’s it. Screw dad! Britt and his father’s mechanic Kato (the sweetly charming Jay Chou) decide to decapitate the head of Reid Sr.’s memorial statue (a sly wink to a classic Simpsons’ episode, and a hint at the film’s anarchic nature). After committing the deed, they witness – as all wannabe vigilantes ultimately do – a vicious mugging, and successfully intervene. Drunk on violence, self-worth, and, well, alcohol, the duo decide to become crime fighters, using The Daily Sentinel to publish stories to advance the legend of Britt (newly christened as The Green Hornet) and Kato (well, they’ll think of a cool superhero name for him later).
I love the wickedness of this film, both in regards to its cheekiness and bodaciality (as in, the act of being bodacious). It makes you want to drive cars fast and invent outrageous weaponry (a particular favourite of mine includes Chudnofsky’s double-gun). There is a wanton disregard for human life here; villains are dispatched brutally and efficiently in a variety of innovative ways. Batman may leave his arch-enemies alive for the authorities to arrest, but Britt and Kato have no qualms with actually killing their foes. Bad role models? When you played ‘Cops and Robbers’ as a kid, did you stop to read the criminals their rights? Hell no; you gunned them down where they stood. I’m not saying kids know best how to handle law enforcement, but there is a lot of cheeky fun to be had in a film that embraces that kind of silliness. And it’s not as if Gondry wants us to take it all that seriously; his camera lens bends and stretches to the whims of the time-stopping, gravity-defying and fabric-of-the-universe-tearing Kato. This is a cartoon, and thank goodness for that.
Of course, the joyous chaos produced by 10-year-old boys (at heart) with a multi-million dollar budget can cause some problems. Britt and Kato’s motives – much like the film’s plot – are loose and fluid, which is a polite way to say, unimportant, and disregarded almost immediately. Rogen’s Reid acts like an immature 10-year-old for much of the film; he hollers, howls, whinges, is desperate for affection and treats women – particularly his assistant (Cameron Diaz, in one of the most cursory female supporting roles in recent history) like dirt. Rogen has never had trouble being charming in earlier films, and when required he can play an incomparably awful human being (as he did in the brilliant Observe and Report). Here, he finds himself sandwiched between these two extremes, coming off sweet one moment and oppressively boorish the next. But hey, little kids do that all the time, so maybe it’s intentional. I hope audiences embrace The Green Hornet, so that we can see a second instalment of this tale. And with its success, perhaps Gondry and Rogen– already working on a long leash – will be given complete control and be able to take this bizarre new superhero property to its logical conclusion. Gondry can try out even more brazen stunts (he does feel mildly restrained here), and Rogen can refine his Britt Reid further, and perhaps commit to making him an unrepentant jerk (a’la the similarly misogynistic satirical spy Archer). It’s not my money. I say Gondry and Rogen use these million dollar budgets to make something really crazy. The Green Hornet is almost there.
The Green Hornet arrives on DVD and Blu-ray June 1, 2011.