Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Some thoughts on various aspects of the recent film The Green Hornet

1.) Michael Gondry: Despite what some of the reviews I’ve read may lead one to believe, this is not the worst movie ever made. It is, however, the worst Michael Gondry movie ever made. But then, Gondry’s filmography so far includes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind—great films, all. If Green Hornet ended up anywhere in the general ballpark of any of those, it would likely be the greatest superhero film ever made.

His directing credit aside, this isn’t really a Michael Gondry film. He wrote or co-wrote the three above, while all he did here was direct, and he reportedly didn’t have final cut of the movie…that belonged to writer, producer and star Seth Rogen.

Rogen and Gondry are two talents whose work I’ve enjoyed immensely, the latter’s a lot more than the former’s, but they are strange talents to mix. Not so much peanut butter and chocolate as wasabi and chocolate—a unique, interesting combination that piques your interest, excites you a little and, while ultimately not very good, it’s still something you’re glad you tried.

I’d really like to see an all-Gondry superhero movie—something probably impossible with this particular property, given that it’s been in some form of development for, I don’t know, 96 years now…?—but his little touches are nice, and I sort of enjoyed playing the little game of “Is this Gondry? Or Rogen? Or something left over from an earlier version?” with everything sort of cool that popped up in the movie.

2.) Seth Rogen: Even slimmed down and in occasionally doing some serious dramatic acting, action hero is well outside Rogen’s abilities. Rogen is apparently well aware of his limitations, however, which probably explains why he and co-writer Evan Goldberg (his Superbad and Pineapple Express co-writer) crafted a set of circumstances under which the “hero” of the film is of the sort that Rogen could play.

His Britt Reid is a hard-partying, womanizing rake of the filmic Tony Stark variety. Rogen doesn’t look as hot as Robert Downey Jr.? Maybe not, but his Britt is rich.

Rogen doesn’t look like he could beat all that many dude’s asses, or that he spent his entire life working out and training in martial arts, Bruce Wayne-style, does it? Well, that’s fine, because his Green Hornet becomes a hero on a lark with zero training, and does very little in the way of ass-beating anyway—he mostly just kicks guys in the face after Kato has beaten them unconscious or when Kato is holding them.

I thought it was kind of clever how Rogen and Goldberg tore apart the Green Hornet character and concept, and rebuilt it into something perfect for Rogen.

3.) Jay Chou: Of all the principal actors, Chou was the one I knew the least about—IMDB tells me he was in Curse of the Golden Flower, playing one of the princes, so I guess I saw him in a movie before, although I don’t recall his performance in particular from that film (I guess that’s what happens when you co-star with Gong Li, Chow Yun-Fat, a cast of hundreds, a cast of computer-generated hundreds more, and opulent costumes and sets).

I thought he did quite well, and was probably the most charismatic actor in the film, surprisingly enough. Kato, as presented here, is a pretty dynamite character—he’s basically brilliant at just about everything, and by a few twists of fate is stuck in the shadow of Britt Reid by day and The Green Hornet by night. Rogen and Goldberg make that a pretty big plot point, and the film shares more in common with the buddy cop movie formula than the superhero movie formula.

Chou holds up his scenes opposite Rogen and the other bigger stars just fine, and the action scenes featuring him are pretty spectacular. He sells it all well: He makes all the amazing things he’s given to do seem believable.

4.) Christoph Waltz: I was surprised by how funny Waltz’s performance turned out to be in this film, as almost every single review I read mentioned how disappointing his work in this film was compared to his performance in Inglourius Basterds.

He plays the villain Chudnofsky (The person I saw the film with asked if he was an original character or from the TV show or from the comics or radio, and I had no idea).

I enjoyed the character and his performance of him. I particularly liked the reversal at the beginning, in which James Franco tries to communicate to him how he’s not really all that scary and, when he has a big gun pointed at his head, how he could maybe be scarier.

It’s a neat scene, and while the question of whether or not Chudnofsky is sufficiently scary seemed to have been settled in it, I liked the way it was apparently gnawing at him, as later in the film he seems to take Franco’s advice to heart and, after being bested by the Green Hornet a few times, he starts to transition into being a supervillain.

In that way, he’s quite akin to this Green Hornet—both are characters that exist in “the real world,” but insist on acting like characters from a comic book or superhero movie, even though that seems incredibly impractical and pretty much everyone around them thinks it’s kind of insane.

5.) Cameron Diaz: Diaz does what she was apparently called in to do—be pretty, provide a female name to put on the poster, play a character that fills in a plot hole and gives the two male leads something else to fight over—and does fine at it, but it’s a nothing role, and she’s wasted in it.

It wouldn’t be too hard to write the character out of the film completely, really, and her presence is mostly uncomfortable. That plot hole I mentioned is that while Britt and Kato are very enthusiastic about playing superheroes and fighting crime, they know absolutely nothing about crime or the city, and so Diaz’s character—who applies for a job at Britt’s paper, noting her major in journalism and minor in criminology—works up a character profile for the Green Hornet in the name of research, which Britt and Kato then use as a road map to becoming scourges of the underworld.

It’s an okay idea, reinforcing the central gag of the characters’ career as crime-fighters—they have no idea what they’re doing—but the way it’s executed is sort of weak, and it seemed glaringly unrealistic to me. Not that the movie is all that realistic in the first place, but the way she extrapolated a huge plan from the Green Hornet’s first minor act of vandalism was a bigger suspension of disbelief for me than all the little things.

6.) Racial politics: The Green Hornet is a rich white dude with an Asian butler/chauffeur who works for him during the day and puts on a mask to serve as his sidekick at night, without so much as a costume or superhero identity. That might not have been a very big problem in the ‘30s and ‘40s, but it’s kind of hard to avoid dealing with at this point.

Refreshingly, it’s not even an issue in this movie. In fact, I don’t remember Britt or anyone else making even a joking allusion to Kato being Asian (The first issue of Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet series from Dynamite, which was adapted from Smith’s screenplay for the film, had the Green Hornet joking with Kato about his people supposedly being good at being math—you know, short people).

Kato just happens to be Asian in this, and is presented as Britt’s partner both in his civilian identity and in his superhero identity. Actually, Kato here is the Green Hornet. He literally does everything for Britt, whom he really only needs as money man, muse and friend.

7.) Sexual politics: Okay, this was sort of unexpected, but remember a while back when there was all that coverage of that goofy study about how today’s superheroes as seen in film are bad role models for boys, in part because of how they treat women?

Well, Britt Reid is another one of those heroes. Oddly, while his character grows up a little during the course of the film, he doesn’t grow up all that much.

The way he treats Cameron Diaz’s character is downright strange, particularly when later in the film she mentions suing him for sexual harassment after Incident #78 or so of Things He Does That Could Get Him Sued For Sexual Harassment.

I did like the fact that the Britt Reid character never actually “wins” her. Even when she’s brought into the fold of his and Kato’s superhero life, and when she becomes a third party, she never stops being somewhat repulsed by Britt.

Also, after seeing decades of film in which the schlubby, old or otherwise unattractive character gets a girl clearly out of his league by virtue of the actor playing the character also being the writer, producer or director, it was nice to see Seth Rogen’s character get shot down so hard.

Unfortunately, Kato doesn’t get the girl either, despite putting in a lot of effort. The Asian guy never gets the white girl in Hollywood!

8.) Violence: Chris Sims is right—the movie is extremely violent. Much of that violence lends itself to the cartoonish, but Green Hornet and Kato wreak an incredible amount of destruction throughout this film, destroying fleets of cars—many of them police cars—and taking dozens of lives. It’s fitting for their approach to crime-fighting—heroes who pose as villains—but it was certainly surprising, bordering on shocking, to see some of that violence. Like when Britt was kicking that one dude in the face after Kato was holding him down, or the way in which Kato disposes of the villain (Yow!).

I’m not complaining; it was one more way in which the film differentiated itself from a lot of other superhero films.

9.) My favorite parts: They’re both in the trailer, although not set-up quite that well in the trailer: Chou’s Kato using Bruce Lee’s one-inch punch and Chou’s Kato kicking Rogen’s Britt just so, sending him flying backwards through that tiny little window.

10.) The TV theme: I was a little surprised that the theme song of the 1966 TV show made such a tiny appearance, late in the film (it plays for a few seconds during the epilogue). That is a pretty great theme, and is probably right below “Bruce Lee” on a list of enduringly awesome things that series gave us.

On the other hand, Quentin Tarrantino and RZA used it to such great effect in Kill Bill, that maybe the makers of Green Hornet were a little gun-shy about using a song that is now identified with Kill Bill in the minds of most of their potential audience.

11.) Green Hornet II?: Given the troubled production and the thousands of years in development hell, the film seemed rather confident about the possibilities of the sequel.

Certainly the epilogue could simply be an optimistic ending, implying that Kato and the Green Hornet’s weird quest for extremely violent, half-assed justice would go on, but it promised a sequel just as surely as that shot at the end of 1989’s Batman, where we see Batman posing on a building, a Bat-signal shining in the sky.

The film did much better than expected—and, quality-wise, was much better than expected, I think—but I don’t know if that means it did well enough to earn a sequel.

I wouldn’t mind watching another Green Hornet with these characters and actors, but it’s not the sort of franchise that demands a sequel in the way that other comic book superhero movies do.

Like, you know how every time a Batman movie, you immediately started thinking about what villains they could use in the next one? Yeah, I don’t feel like that after seeing Green Hornet—I can’t think of a single Green Hornet villain. I don’t even know if he has villains.

If they do make another one, they should give Kato a villain to fight that knows kung fu; the fighting in here is pretty neat, but there's no really exciting kung fu battle, just Kato tearing people apart.

12.) I still want to see all those other Green Hornets: As I said at the beginning, I’d still kind of like to see an all-Gondry superhero film, and I can’t help wonder what this would have looked like had he worked with, say, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and a different star.

I was really excited when Stephen Chow was attached to direct and star as Kato, but that was a short time.

I was kind of excited when Jet Li was announced as being attached to play Kato at one point. (How is it that Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan were never attached at any point?)

Hell, I still wouldn’t mind seeing Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet. Thanks to Dynamite, I can at least read the script for that one, and imagine what a film version might have looked like.

1 comment:

Siskoid said...

I think Chou is the prince that gets Golden strapped to death by Chow Yun-Fat. Oh the indignity!