The Review: 2011 is shaping up to be a year of sequels, remakes and re-imaginings. There are half a dozen major comic book properties clogging up our multiplexes this summer, and the fact that this one is escaping in the middle of winter and was originally a radio serial is no obstacle to its box office aspirations. The Green Hornet is one of those properties that you may be aware of, rather than having an innate familiarity with, with the most famous incarnation being the TV series that gave Bruce Lee his first taste of fame. The principle is always pretty simple – masked vigilantes fight crime with unconventional methods and a cool black car. It’s been in development for an astonishing seventeen years, and during that time George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Jake Gyllenhall, Jet Li and Stephen Chou were all considered to appear in front of the camera, and Kevin Smith, Christopher McQuarrie and Michel Gondry were all at one stage attached behind it. Gondry would have originally made this his feature film debut back in 1997, and the Hollywood merry-go-round was spinning so long that ten years later, he stepped on and ended up being the person to shepherd it to the screen.
Gondry’s had a very varied career in that ten year gap; an all-time classic in the shape of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, but some of his other work could best be described as ramshackle, including the well-intentioned but terminally shabby Be Kind Rewind. He undoubtedly has an extensive visual box of tricks, which he’s put to use over the past twenty years in a variety of formats, but he has proven that he’s better with the visuals, and sometimes if the actors aren’t of the highest calibre then he may struggle to get the best from them. But in all the other areas that counts, Gondry delivers in the Green Hornet – there’s plenty of clean action sequences and Gondry uses his tricks to give many of them a unique spin, the pacing is well handled and Gondry handles the shifts in tone well.
Being a comic book movie in nature, The Green Hornet doesn’t demand Shakespearean theatrics, but there is a good, talented cast here – in places. Christoph Waltz seems to have won himself a rent-a-bad-guy career following his Oscar winning turn for Tarantino, and does what he can with a neurotic bad guy role, but shows he can still flip between humour and malice at will. Jay Chou may not have been the first name on most people’s lists of potential Katoes, and he does struggle with English in a few places (a fact that the script willingly acknowledges), but he’s got just about enough winning charisma to see him through in the role; sadly I don’t think it will have the same effect on his career as it did on Bruce Lee’s. Which brings us to Cameron Diaz. You may read other reviews which feel that Diaz’s role serves no purpose, although the script casts her as the criminologist unwittingly feeding ideas to the leads, but she does actually have a crucial role.
Y’see, whenever Seth Rogen isn’t looking unbelievably gormless enough, or just comes over as a partially raging mysoginst instead of a complete and total one, Diaz is there as a foil, allowing Rogen’s Britt Reed to sink to yet another new low. Rogen has lifted a lot of comedies he’s been in previously, but here he sucks the good will out like a vacuum, and the movie generally works better when he’s not talking. The odd thing is that, given that he and writing partner Evan Goldberg wrote the script, he’s pretty much done this to himself. The general story is in keeping with the Green Hornet mythology established since the original radio days, which calls for Reid to be at odds with both the good and the bad guys. The main problem is that Rogen and Goldberg have chosen to achieve this by making Britt Reid a complete and utter arse, who every time he’s given a choice chooses to continue being an arse, and the only character traits he develops across the vast majority of the running time don’t do him any favours. So there’s a lead character who it’s very hard to root for, but if you can find yourself at least tolerating him then you should actually have a pretty good time with this.
Why see it at the cinema: Satisfying action, Gondry’s off the wall visual stylings and a decent amount of laughs make this a good package if you’re looking for a Saturday night at the multiplex with a big bag of popcorn.
Why see it in 3D: Here the arguments are less compelling. It’s a conversion job, and while it’s not as bad as the execrable Clash Of The Titans remake from last year, it lacks the depth of field to look convincingly 3D for long periods or any real stand out in-your-face moments.
The Score: 7/10