Film Review: The Green Hornet (2011)

Superheroes who are assumed to be criminals are not a new conceit of the genre. Batman and Spider-Man are consistently pursued by the Gotham and New York City police force, respectively. The Green Hornet, a character originating from the 1930s-era radio serials, is no exception. However, as reinterpreted by writer/star Seth Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg, The Green Hornet is more than a vigilante in a misunderstanding with the law; he is a high profile criminal. There are some people who will find The Green Hornet a funny and enjoyable film. I am not one of these people. I think Rogen and Goldberg became so obsessed with producing flashy action sequences, they betrayed the basic expectations of the superhero genre. If the heroes are shown causing more violence, chaos, destruction, and death than the villains, who are we expected to root for?

Seth Rogen stars as rich playboy Britt Reid, the son of the only independent newspaper owner in Los Angeles. When his father dies unexpectedly, he is left in charge of the paper. Britt had a horrible relationship with his father and decides to vandalize his father’s memorial statue with his new driver/coffee maker/mechanic Kato (Jay Chou) under disguise in the night. They unexpectedly get involved in a fight with a street gang when Britt sees the gang attack a couple on the street. After that, Britt is convinced he must become a superhero, with Kato as his sidekick. Only his intention is to rise through the ranks of gangs in LA through large crime before somehow--never explained--taking them all down and transforming into the good guy.

Visually, the film is just fine. The 3D is clear and used to enhance some great visual effects regarding Kato’s abilities. Kato is a Kung-Fu expert who believes that time slows down when he goes into fight mode. Whenever he encounters bad guys, he sees their weapons and any immediate threats pop up in bright red so he knows what order to tackle the threats. He then jumps into action, moving faster than anyone else onscreen to take down all the bad guys while Britt occasionally kicks someone. It’s a great visual conceit that serves the action sequences well.

Also important in the visual scheme is Britt and Kato’s legion of cars, all called Black Beauty. When not fighting hand to hand or making idiotic threats as meth labs and chop shops, Britt has Kato drive him around town in an endlessly weaponized car. This is where I begin to have problems with the film. The car is essential to the action, but it is also the means by which The Green Hornet and his unnamed sidekick level buildings, destroy police cars, and murder other criminals. I don’t see the heroism in hiding behind a car that has gladiatorial wheels, door, hood, trunk, and roof guns, and all sorts of intimidation effects with lights and sound. Even if their intentions actually are the best, Britt and Kato are shown fighting--and possibly killing--the police more often than they are shown taking down gangs in LA with the abilities of Black Beauty.

I think it's particularly sad that The Green Hornet decides to cross this line of good and evil more often than not. I wouldn't mind it if, say, for the first thirty minutes or so of The Green Hornet's rise to prominence through The Daily Sentinel that Britt stupidly follows his "become a bad guy to be the real good guy" plan. Maybe he could then realize what he's actually doing, take a step back, and rethink how he wants to define himself as a hero. The problem is, even by the very last moments of the film, The Green Hornet is still a supervillain. Black Beauty is still firing at police and destroying public and private property. There is no growth or change in the rise of the hero. It's flat and mind-numbing.

The humor that could have been the savior of the film casts too wide a net to be consistently funny. There are slapstick moments, musical gags, puns, face-pulling, and misunderstandings. If there was any room to breathe or some consistency in the tone of the jokes, it would be a very funny film. As it stands, The Green Hornet is very hit and miss with the humor.

There are people who will really enjoy themselves at The Green Hornet. Both my brother and one of his close friends had a good time, while I was less than impressed. If you don't mind mindless action and heroes that aren't even close to being heroic in their actions, you'll probably enjoy yourself. If not, it's probably best to wait for the DVD to satiate your curiosity.

Rating: 4/10

Thoughts? Love to hear them.