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 Gondry would have originally made this his feature film debut back in 1997, and the Hollywood merry-go-round was spinning so long that ten years later, he stepped on and ended up being the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
The Review: Yuen Woo-Ping is a name that should be well known to any lovers of Western movies from the last ten years or so, his choreography being key to the fighting styles of The Matrix movies, as well as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kill Bill. He’s had a much longer career, starting out as an actor and then working steadily as a director up until the mid-Nineties. This is his return to directing after a long break, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that he’s chosen a sweeping historical epic, packed with opportunities to show off the fighting styles he’s become so well known for.
The movie itself falls so neatly into three acts that it’s almost like watching three separate short movies with the same characters, stitched together one after the other. The first is effectively a war movie, with large scale battles and multiple fights taking place on screen, but the second narrows the focus to a single character, Su Can (Vincent Zhao), the general from the first part, and the family conflicts and dangers represented by his former ally and adopted brother Yuan (Xan Zhou), now bent on revenge. Su almost dies at Yuan’s hand, but unbeknown to all but his wife is saved by a reclusive doctor (Michelle Yeoh) and, when he discovers the “God of Wushu” in the nearby countryside, vows to improve his skills to return and confront Yuan once more.
The twists and turns in the narrative structure will feel familiar to anyone who took in Crouching Tiger and its contemporaries in the last decade, with high drama and personal loss being recurrent themes. There is certainly a slightly lighter feel to this, especially around the mid-section, with the God of Wushu sequences being shot in 3D and consequently having an otherworldly feel to them. The consequence of this is that some of the dramatic weight of the rest of the drama feels lost in the process, the whole movie feeling just slightly more lightweight as a consequence, but there’s enough to keep the interest and Yuen doesn’t let the pace flag. The money certainly feels like it’s up there on screen, the first two acts both being sufficient in scope to justify your continued interest.
The final act is when things take a turn for the truly strange. There are a number of familiar faces to Western audiences in the movie, not only Michelle Yeoh but also Jay Chow as the God of Wushu (soon to be seen alongside Seth Rogen in The Green Hornet), and even David Carradine, in one of his last roles as the master of a wrestling arena surrounded by tigers. So if historical martial arts epics with 3D fantasy sequences which culminate in fights with wrestlers above a pit of tigers are your thing, then True Legend is well worth your time. If that last sentence has sent you running for the hills, then I probably can’t blame you, but in this slight curiosity of a movie its the martial arts, as ever, that make it worth the effort.
Why see it at the cinema: Epic vistas, sweeping camera moves, and a large screen allowing you to capture all of the bone-crunching action. The early sequences are packed with detail and will benefit from the size of the cinema screen.
Why see (bits of) it in 3D: As entertaining as anything in the movie was the fact that most people at the screening I went to didn’t realise that the whole movie wasn’t in 3D – there was much embarrassed guffawing when the “put on your glasses” logo appeared before the first fantasy sequence. (That maybe doesn’t say much for other 3D movies, that people couldn’t tell, of course.) The sparing use of 3D and the manner of it’s use actually makes it more effective and complements those sequences well, although to offset the brightness issues of 3D, those sequences have been made very bright – expect to lose sight for a day or two if you inadvertently take off your glasses during these sequences.
The Score: 7/10