Not strictly a comic book adaptation – Green Hornet originated as a radio series in 1936 (the film states that it was based on the radio series): a newspaper publisher who fights crime as a masked hero by night with assistant Kato. It has had a complicated multi-media life since then: two movie serials in 1940/1941; various comic book series, also starting in 1940, and published at various companies (Harvey Comics, Dell Comics, NOW Comics in the 1990s, and recently Dynamite Entertainment, adapting Kevin Smith’s script that wasn’t used into a maxi-series); some prose fiction books; and, most famously, the television series in 1966/1967 which starred Bruce Lee as Kato. I haven’t seen or heard any of this, and only know The Green Hornet TV show.
For you to enjoy this film, you have to like Seth Rogen. Not only is he the star (as Britt Reid/the Green Hornet), he is also the co-writer (which means he gives himself the best jokes and lines and lots of time in front of the camera) and a producer. I’m fairly immune to his charms, which means that a lot of the film passes me by, with Rogen doing his oafish stoner pop-culture riffing ad-libbing thing (and he and Jay Chou have absolutely no chemistry together, which is unfortunate when it’s a major part of the film). I find him rather irritating most of the time, but I think he’s supposed to be actually irritating here as the main character: he’s a rich boy who parties all the time until his father dies and then, by accident, becomes a costumed vigilante with absolutely no skills for it whatsoever.
In a strange way, the film has a lot in common with Kick-Ass: both have central characters who have no right putting on a costume and fighting crime because they are completely useless. They both have ‘sidekicks’ that do all the actual work (Kato in this case, Hit Girl in the other film). They both have a villainous character who decides he needs to be more glamorous to be a more successful villain – Green Hornet has a miscast Christoph Waltz as a Russian mobster getting the LA gangs under his command who has an odd name (Chudnofsky) and ends up believing that, like the Green Hornet, he should have a colourful attire and a better name; Kick-Ass has the Red Mist, son of a gangster, who puts on a costume to become a villain.
There are two good things in the film. First is when we see Kato take down a gang of criminals: the way the scene is shot is really cool, with the attempt to elongate time and showing the object of Kato’s attention by highlighting the image with a red targeting glow. It looks really good, even if it is an attempt to explain the stupid ‘time-dilating’ power that is the excuse for Kato’s superhuman ability to fight criminals with weapons. Similar to unnecessarily giving Jonah Hex the ability to temporarily revive the dead, it seems an unneeded explanation for cool fight scenes – I think it’s because Bruce Lee was so amazingly fast in his fights, it was felt important to justify the ability instead of simply superb martial art skills (which isn’t the case with Jay Chou, who plays Kato, because he’s a Taiwanese pop star – how different the film would have been if Stephen Chow of Kung Fu Hustle fame had been able to star and direct …) The second cool bit was a lovely multi-split screen effect: when a bounty is put on the Green Hornet’s head, we see his henchmen visit a nail parlour to explain this to the woman in charge, who gives knives to two Chinese women sitting there – the camera the splits to follow the two women separately, then splits again when they people they meet are followed as well, so by the end there are about a dozen separate screens exploring the threads as they spread out from the single inciting incident. It was a lovely piece of cinema and really well done, inventive and interesting. It was perhaps the only time I saw something of Michel Gondry in the film – the director behind Be Kind Rewind, The Science Of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is almost nowhere to be seen in the visual flavour of the film; even the exploding cars seem a slightly embarrassing nod towards the action genre.
Some of the weird things: was the fight between Kato and the Green Hornet supposed to be some sort of homage to The Pink Panther? Kato is the Hornet’s valet, compared with Cato, Inspector Clouseau’s man-servant, who would attack his master unawares (in order for Clouseau to improve his fighting skill). It could be just me. Another weird thing was the cameos/small roles. James Franco is uncredited as a gangster who gets killed by Chudnofsky very early on (perhaps a favour to Rogen after their time together on Pineapple Express); Edward Furlong has a small role as meth dealer; Edward James Olmos is the managing editor of the newspaper owned by the Hornet. But what was Cameron Diaz doing in this film? Her part of a secretary to Britt Reid on the newspaper is not sufficiently large for someone of her fame wattage. It’s the sort of role that an up-and-coming television starlet would take in her move into film, not for someone like Diaz. It makes no sense at all, and she’s barely used in the film.