Monday, January 24, 2011

Year of the Superhero - Green Hornet



Review


Michel Gondry's trying to do several things at once in Green Hornet. There's the bromance comedy aspect, with Britt and Kato becoming friends and enacting wacky, alcohol-fueled, reasonably illegal hijinks. There's the superhero aspect, with Britt and Kato going out in costumes stopping criminals and saving people. (I'll get into the superhero aspect further down the page. Some interesting things are happening with it.) There's a serious aspect too, about integrity and legacies and power. Sadly, the mashup of all these elements means there's not enough time in the film to make it solidly one or the other, and so the movie's getting panned by most reviewers.

While I can see what the reviewers are getting at about the plot and the writing, I don't think the acting's terrible and the 3D? Whoever says the 3D is terrible must have had different glasses than I did. I thought it was plenty crisp, and since it was used for depth and to highlight certain, important elements of some scenes, rather than only the odd "flying object" gag, I was pleased with it.

Back to the acting… I think Seth Rogan (playing Britt) was well cast, although Jay Chou (playing Kato) had a better sense of comic timing. Rogan's great at playing the typical bromance lead, with the drinking, and the girls, and the stupidity. Chou is all about the small movements and the beats, which lets him largely upstage his costar. The rest of the cast holds their own nicely, though I wonder what some of them were doing in the film. Surely their talents qualified them for bigger things?

The acting's the main thing that sold the story for me. If the acting had been poorer, the movie would've fallen to pieces. As it is Green Hornet is not a great movie. I can't really even call it a good one. But it's entertaining enough and I've seen way worse films, so I'll give it 3/5.

About the Superheroes

beware: spoilers below

Green Hornet is a self-aware superhero film. It's not the first that's blatantly referred to the tropes—I'd say any superhero movie made in the last ten years qualifies, at the very least—but it goes further, somehow. This is a clever directing decision on Gondry's part, and I think it stems from the premise of the story. A playboy deciding to fight crime by posing as a criminal? How do you update that for the modern age? Easy. You make the would-be hero aware of the dangers inherent in being a hero.

Of course, that opens up a whole can of worms. If you're aware of comics and comic book films, then you're going to be aware of the cool guns and weapons and costumes and naming conventions that come with the role of superhero. If you're aware of them and have money to throw around, why not have stuff that's just as good? And that's exactly what Britt does. I get the sense that he wouldn't have the cool toys if he didn't know that heroes were expected to have them. 

Another aspect of the superhero send-up nature of this movie is that Kato is the trained fighter and the true brains behind the operation, and yet he's nominally the sidekick. There's even something that's being called "Kato vision" by reviewers that could be construed as an actual superpower. Kato shows up at the last moment to rescue Britt on several occasions, after Britt gets himself into trouble. This is something I can see Batman doing for Robin or Iron Man doing for War Machine. Kato also states outright at one point that Britt is less able to do hero stuff than Kato is. And there's a riff on sidekick names.

And now it's time to cover Chudnovsky, the villain of the piece. Chudnovsky is an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. He wants to control all crime in LA, but he constantly worries that he's past his prime, no longer threatening enough to keep his empire going. I haven't run across this motivation for a villain before. Usually they're drunk with power and craving more, or have a vendetta, or are being evil because they can, and that's as deep into their psyche as we ever get. Chudnovsky acts like he's got something to prove and as a result comes across as more realistic than most superhero movie villains I've come across. Most of them have a level of glitz, y'know? And then Chudnovsky decides to rebrand himself as Bloodnovsky and buy into a certain level of the expected glitz, and it flops because he just doesn't get it. I feel for the guy.

Like I said in the review portion, this isn't the greatest superhero film of all time. Not in the slightest. But it's certainly not the worst, either. (Hello, Electra.) It's best viewed not how it's being sold, as a bromance/action/comedy, but as a send-up of superhero flicks. The director and writers and actors are aware that they're making a slightly offbeat, cheeseball movie with superheroes in, and they're playing to that while playing it straight at the same time.

That said, you can safely wait for the DVD. Save your money for Thor or Captain America.


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