Shunted to a January release slot, beset by stories of poor preview screenings and reshoots, and generally surrounded by negative buzz for many months, we’d wager that most of you are expecting to read a review here that says The Green Hornet is the first outright bomb of the year.
But here’s the thing: it isn’t.
It’s muddled, certainly, and it struggles with an identity crisis it never comfortably resolves. But for around two-thirds of its admittedly bloated two hour running time, The Green Hornet is an enjoyable splash of Hollywood fun, and a welcome entry into the superhero genre.
The film is quick to put its foundation blocks in place. Seth Rogen (who co-wrote the script) is Britt Reid, the hard-partying layabout son of disapproving newspaper proprietor James (played by Tom Wilkinson). Yet, Britt’s life turns around suddenly when his father dies, leaving him in charge of the newspaper (with the help of the underused Edward James Olmos), and suddenly having to work out what to do next. The answer lies in the form of mechanic Kato and his quite brilliant DIY coffee machine. And once the pair meet, via a couple of plot stops, a crime fighting team is forged.
To an extent, it’s a crime fighting team that steps in slightly familiar waters to Kick-Ass. For here, the protagonist is no superpowered freak, rather an unlikely human being who, through assorted circumstances, ends up fighting crime. Albeit backed by a large budget, which is where the Kick-Ass analogy falls apart.
Still, Rogen has quite a bit of fun with the role, here, tempering the excesses of his comedy schtick, although not to the point where you’re ever in any doubt who you’re watching. The action is primarily carried by Jay Chou’s Kato, meanwhile, and it’s generally very good to watch. Director Michel Gondry is, wisely, no fan of over-heavy edits, and he stages quality action scenes, holding his shots long enough for you to appreciate and enjoy what’s going on.
In fact, there’s a strong argument that Gondry is the real star of the show here. On paper an unlikely choice to helm a $100m blockbuster, the director (currently mostly appreciated for the wonderful Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind) does find the space to put his stamp on the film. Anyone who wants to see the difference between a standard Hollywood hack job, and a genuinely visually strong director making a superhero movie, should take a look. It’s far from Gondry’s best, but he takes every chance to inject some coherent visual flair into the proceedings, not least a terrific flashback-y scene, the kind of which Michael Bay’s computers couldn’t think about matching.
The film is hobbled slightly, though, by Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s script. The Green Hornet, even in its previous guises, has always struggled a little to balance its comedy with its action and drama, and the screenplay here fails to convincingly tackle the obstacle. It’s not a bad script (far from it, in fact), but surprisingly, it’s the comedy that rarely sparks into life, with many of the lines and asides landing flat.
There’s also the aforementioned bloat. One action scene in the middle of the film in particular feels like it goes on too long for little reason, while the number of potential endpoints for the film begin to rival Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King by the time the credits roll. The third act on the whole is the only part where the film really feels like it’s going through the motions at times.
With regards the supporting cast, Jay Chou certainly holds his own, while Cameron Diaz does her best with what little she’s given. The same can be said of the tonally-uneven villain of the piece, Christoph Waltz’s Chudnofsky. Waltz was a late replacement for Nicolas Cage here, and while he does make some immediate impact (in a suitably sinister opening), the script does feel like it was penned around the madness of The Cage in full flow. Waltz certainly does the sinister side of the character justice, but the comedic elements really fall a little flat. That said, the idea of Nicolas Cage playing Chudnofsky with a Jamaican accent, as was apparently the actor’s wish, is unlikely to have been much better (even if it would have kept YouTube fed for years).
We should also note that the 3D is a waste of space.
Yet, all those grumbles taken into account, the positives corner still wins out here. Gondry stages some terrific sequences, Rogen and Chou make a solid double ace, and for once, it really does feel like every cent of the $100m has made it to the screen (not least in some Crank-influenced action near the end).
The end result? The Green Hornet‘s got problems, but it also feels like a perfectly entertaining summer blockbuster, just one that’s happened to land in the middle of January.
The prospect of a sequel, with a more even villain, is really quite a pleasant one.
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