It would seem that the general movie-going public is starting to suffer from something I’ve coined Acute Seth Rogen Fatigue Syndrome. Whether they’re tired of watching him play basic variations of the same character, or they’re just sick of his goofy laugh, the Point Grey Secondary grad seems to be wearing out his welcome with an increasingly vocal portion of movie-lovers. And so it was that the Vancouver export’s latest offering, The Green Hornet, took a beating from critics. Just don’t count me among the critical concensus.
Now, Hornet is by no means a perfect movie. The plot is admittedly something of a mess, and the 3D adds little to the experience other than an extra $4 to the ticket price. I find myself willing to forgive these flaws, because plot be damned, this movie is a ton of fun. Obviously “fun” is a subjective measure of quality for any film, but between Rogen’s comedic timing and the inventive visual style of indie darling director Michel Gondry, you’d be hard pressed to not have a good time with The Green Hornet.
Though the movie is based on the classic radio serials of the 1930s, its titular hero has little in common with previous incarnations of the character. Rogen’s Britt Reid is an insufferable whiner, a rich kid with a stuck-up sense of entitlement. When his media mogul father passes away, Britt decides to wise up and make something of himself by indulging his most childish fantasy: to clean up the crime-riddled streets of Los Angeles as a costumed vigilante. He’s assisted in his fight against crime by his father’s auto-mechanic/barista, Kato (Jay Chou), a man for whom time stands still when it comes to doling out bad-guy beatdowns. The Kato-Vision fight sequences offer the movie’s best 3D moments, and give Gondry the opportunity to go wild with stretched-out, slowed-down visuals.
That Britt never grows out of being a jerk, or really goes through any form of change as a character at all could be viewed as a flaw, but it adds to the movie’s charm. These heroes are hardly heroic, and the film is at its best when subverting the audience’s expectations of the superhero genre. There is no better example of this than Christoph Waltz’s villainous Chudnofsky, lord of the L.A. crime world. Waltz, who famously stole the show as a devious Nazi in Inglourious Basterds, plays Chudnofsky as a criminal going through a midlife crisis, desperate to seem edgy in an underworld that’s quickly leaving him behind. (Bizarre side-note: Nicolas Cage was originally slated to play Chudnofsky, but was dropped from the film for insisting on using a Jamaican accent.)
It’s Gondry’s dynamic visuals that take center stage, however. A notable sequence at the start of the third act follows the word on the street after Chudnofsky puts out a hit on the Hornet. The camera splits and splits into dozens of tracking shots, tracing each hired hitman and splitting again every time they pass the word onto someone else. It’s a mesmerizing sequence, the technical difficulty of which doesn’t quite hit you until after its over. While this isn’t the visual smorgasbord that Gondry’s previous efforts might imply, his fingerprints are all over the screen, from Kato’s Q-style gadgets to the film’s pervasive sense of wonder.
Really though, your enjoyment of the film leans largely on how you feel about Rogen as a comedian. If you like his style, the movie will keep you laughing and offers enough slick action to entertain. If you don’t, you’ll likely leave the theatre feeling ripped off and annoyed. As a Vancouver boy with more in common with Rogen’s screen persona than I might like to admit, his humour speaks to me. It’s no great cinematic achievement, but among the stuffy Oscar bait and shameful release dumps populating January cinemas, The Green Hornet delivers a much needed blast of summer fun.