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Feeling the Hornet's Sting: A Green Hornet Movie Review

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The Green Hornet is easily one of the more interesting hero properties ever to come about.  The property started as a radio series in 1936 that spawned two movie serials in the 1940s.  There is the 1960s television show that lasted for one season and became popular in hindsight when their Kato (Bruce Lee) exploded onto the scene as the first crossover martial arts movie star. 

The character's life in comics is even shorter.  Before the recent Dynamite revival, multiple companies had attempted to publish a Green Hornet book.  Never with a major company, the longest any lasted was about 40 issues, and they went away with only slightly less fanfare than they arrived with.  So why is this character still around?  First off, it's a known name.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, even though people know the name, most know very little about the character, leaving him pretty open to interpretation and fun.  That's where this movie does it right.

Instead of trying to reconcile the entire past history of the character into this movie, as some comics have tried in the past, this movie starts fresh.  This is the first Britt Reid.  There is no legacy of the Green Hornet to live up to (nor the connection to the Lone Ranger), so everyone starts fresh.  Britt starts off as a spoiled rich kid, whose only worries seem to be getting drunk, bedding women, and having fantastic coffee in the morning.  Even when his father dies he doesn't accept any more responsibility.  From this point on, it's almost accidental that he joins forces with Kato and takes on the mantle of the Green Hornet. 

There's no revenge or greater calling here.  These two guys go out for a drunken night of vandalism, save some people from muggers, and decide it'll be fun to keep doing it.  Lucky for Britt that Kato can pretty much do anything, including building cars, kicking ass, and making coffee.  From there it's a pretty standard story about a couple of vigilantes trying to end crime and corruption in the city.  There's the twist that they'll pose as villains, with Britt using his inherited media empire to force feed that idea on the public, but even that doesn't go as far as you might think.

The biggest question coming into this movie was whether or not Seth Rogen could play a viable superhero.  While he probably can't, the good news is that with this movie he doesn't have to.  Played more as a comedy that makes fun of superhero movie stereotypes, Rogen doesn't have to pull off the grim and mean that is asked of Christian Bale.  He can just be a drunk spoiled kid, which is right up his alley. 

And besides, everyone knows that the success of a Green Hornet movie is based solely on how good Kato is.  Thankfully, Jay Chou nails the role.  Smart, charming, funny, and physically capable of handling his fight scenes, Chou steals the show.  Just like the Green Hornet cannot exist without Kato, this movie wouldn't work without Chou.  (Special note to anyone who was a fan of Chou before the movie: they even give him a chance to do some singing here in a pretty funny scene on their first night out on patrol.)  The rest of the cast handles themselves well.  Cameron Diaz may be slightly underused, but she has enough scenes to show off that it doesn't feel like she was tacted on for no reason.  And Christopher Waltz plays the villain Chudnofsky as a man so concerned with being scary he asks everyone what he needs to do, right before killing them.

The movie's decision to go for more camp and humor was a good one.  You can tell that Rogen wrote the main role specifically for him, as not many could pull off some of the completely inappropriate lines he throws out there.  The movie isn't so funny that it'll leave you doubled over in laughter, but there are enough chuckles to take away from the campiness of some scenes.  Remember that this is a movie that wants to make fun of superhero conventions without traversing completely into farce territory.  The one bad part about the making of the movie is that it seems to waste the considerable talents of director Michel Gondry, who may have only been there to point the camera in the right direction.  After watching this you'd be hard pressed to believe it was the same director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

In the end, The Green Hornet isn't a movie that's going to win any awards or blow critics away with it's inventiveness.  But it isn't supposed to.  It's a fun (and sometimes funny) movie that's a good way to suspend disbelief and laugh for a couple hours.  In cinemas dominated by the thought-provoking and serious Black Swan and True Grit, that isn't such a bad thing either.

A couple final notes:

1) For not being an R-rated movie, there is a ton of killing here.  Not a lot of blood per sey, but these guys kill a lot of people.  Just a warning for those who may want to take younger children.

2) This is more of a pet peeve, but while it was nice for the makers to not force Diaz's Lenore Chase down audiences' throats as a love interest, early in the film it's teased that she will end up with Kato.  This does not happen.  As a Chinese male, I'm still waiting for the first instance of an Asian man hooking up with a caucasian women in the main stream media.

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