"Let's roll, Kato." -- Green Hornet
For many years, The Green Hornet has been the punch line of an in-joke in our family. Based on the trailers and the few featurettes, and that awful Carl's Jr. commercial, I was expecting the Seth Rogen version of the Green Hornet to be just the same, a stale punchline stuck on an overused comedy routine.
Unfortunately, my expectations were met.
I've been a fan of The Green Hornet ever since I first saw episodes of the TV show as a boy back in the 1960s. Over the years I've found and listened to most of the original radio shows, read several prose short story collections featuring the Hornet. I made sure to sample every single comic book incarnation.
To me, the Hornet is a classic tale of legacy heroes, family obligation, the fight for justice and a moral tale of how two once disparate cultures can combine to deliver something that is greater than the sum of the parts.
As much as I admire the concept of Green Hornet, many years ago when my wife and ran a comics retail business, we had a regular customer whose only verbal interaction was to walk up and ask "Got any Green Hornet?" regular as clockwork, once a month. The phrase became our family catch phrase whenever the kids started incessantly asking for the same thing over and over.
I silently asked for the same thing over and over for many years, a decent Green Hornet movie. Each mention of a movie project filled me with hope, which was dashed each time I heard the various concepts getting bandied around. The one that eventually made it to the big screen was not what I was hoping for.
I have a dislike of Seth Rogen's style of comedy and could not see how it would fit with the mythos of the Hornet.
When we sat down in the audience at the Alamo Drafthouse in South Austin to watch the press screener, I made an attempt to put all this baggage and history behind me. I was willing to be entertained.
The opening of the movie hooked me, the morphing of the Paramount logo into the hornet buzz effect was cool, and I hoped we might get an equally cool opening credit sequence featuring the Hornet's signature theme (Rimsky- Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble Bee.") Instead we got simple lettering superimposed on an unnecessary flashback scene.
That should have been my warning, because if the movie had a rhythm and theme, that was it, the setup promising something cool followed by disappointment when it never materialized.
The first 15 minutes of the movie worked pretty well in setting up a movie that played along with the tropes of many superhero stories, from the unexpected death of parents, inherited wealth and the arrival of the tech savvy sidekick.
But then it lost its way. This movie could not decide if this was a spoof, a buddy movie, a plot driven thriller, or a straight out adventure movie. Consequently it failed to be any of them.
Where movies such as True Lies and Knight & Day worked as spoofs of the spy genre, while acknowledging and overplaying the absurdities of the genre, the characters stayed focused in that world. Green Hornet fails largely due to Rogen's performance, where he spends time metaphorically smirking and winking at the audience as if to say "Look how silly all this is."
We got it. You think the Green Hornet is a lame incompetent, while Kato is a badass dude. But don't beat us over the head with it. Show some character growth.
As much as Rogen's disrespectful performance as both playboy Britt Reid and his alter ego The Green Hornet annoyed me, Jay Chou as Kato was a joy to watch. I'd have been happy watching a movie just about Kato. He is the real hero here, in action, character and performance.
If I sit through this movie again it will be just to watch Chou in action. His martial arts scenes are cool and have a new visual style that mixes fluidity, balance and sudden violence in a way that is almost balletic. It can't be easy to create a new way to show kung fu, yet these were some of the most original moves I've seen since The Matrix.
Unfortunately, again, many of the fight scenes are compromised by the deliberately pathetic fighting moves of Rogen's character. I know he isn't meant to be a fighter at the start. But how many times can you watch someone kick a bad guy in the nuts? Once is funny, twice is smirk worthy; but in every fight scene it's boring. There must have been a better way to contrast the two leads' fighting experience and styles.
While we are on the positives, the redesign of the Black Beauty, the Green Hornet's car, is perfect, keeping the look and lines of the car from the TV show with a touch of modern styling, firepower and gadgets. The downside is that we don't get to see it in action often enough. The origin of the Beauty is tied to an undeveloped subplot about Hornet's father's love for cars. He has a garage of exotic machinery that rivals Tony Stark's in Iron Man.
This was the missed opportunity of the movie. The central mythos of the Hornet involves a legacy passed through the Reid family from generation to generation. The Hornet is a direct descendant of The Lone Ranger. But this aspect is ignored in the movie (with one exception, in Britt Reid's pool house). Having his father be revealed as a precursor to the Hornet would have explained some of the many plot jumps.
The plot, such as it is, makes assumptions, inconsistent transitions and links. Many of them seem to be there to make sure they check all the boxes of the Hornet mythos rather than serve the story.
Rather than develop a story that is derived from and respectful to the Hornet's history, it feels like Rogan and the producers shoe horned Hornet onto an existing action-comedy idea they had lying around.
That iconic theme got some screen time, almost at the end, in a scene where Kato drives off camera in the Black Beauty after pulling off a neat trick to re-establish Britt Reid's cover. That would have been a perfect way to end the movie, but the cool moment was devalued by an obviously tacked on end scene that reduced cool to dumb frat boy comedy.
The press screener was in 3D, a pointless addition that was only really effective with the animated credit sequence that was clearly the only part designed for 3D display. If you want to see this piece of pop-corn goofy hero movie, save your dollars and just see the regular non-3D print.
So, have I "Got any Green Hornet?" Yes. In my comics library, on CD, and thanks to the SyFy Channel's recent marathon of the classic TV show, on the DVR. Those are the versions I'll stay with, thanks.