The Green Hornet
Dir: Michel Gondry
What kind of a superhero movie would this be if the issue of responsibility wasn’t, at some point, halfheartedly brought up and then casually set aside? Rather than asking questions in the theater, I was just squirming in my seat as I watched Seth Rogen’s millionaire-hedonist playboy-cum-superhero, Britt Reid, struggle with the news that he was directly responsible for seven innocent peoples’ deaths. Squirming because this was already after we’ve witnessed him lay vast waste across the city of Los Angeles and after he’s savagely murdered several people who, I guess by virtue of them not being emotional plot points, were considered expendable. There’s no reason for any movie to shed crocodile tears, least of all a movie that never needed to set them up in the first place.
The premise is that Britt’s dad, a crusading newspaper tycoon type (Tom Wilkinson), dies, leaving him his media empire and a sudden sense of complete confusion as to what to do with himself. After a night out on the town with his chauffeur/martial arts expert/genius engineer sidekick, Kato (Jay Chou) leads to them saving a couple from some tweakers, they decide to become heroes to find some purpose in their lives. But here’s the thing, heroes always have to contend with villains appealing to their better nature, holding hostages and presenting them with ethical dilemmas. If they pose as supervillains but discreetly do good, they can avoid those scenarios, so they start small, vandalizing Britt’s father’s statue and making the paper run a story about it. Their profile grows when they start gesturing that they want more territory, targeting the town’s neurotic gang lord, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz).
Here’s how they begin their investigation into who’s in charge of the city’s seedy underbelly: they drive into South Central and assault the first group of loiterers they see. Literally! Questions don’t get them anywhere, Kato basically kills everybody and the last whimpering henchman gives them a name. They destroy a house and get into a car chase with the cops that leaves police cars flying into oncoming traffic and a huge trail of destruction behind them. The press raises their profile again and this leads to Britt crying over the seven people who were killed by Chudnofsky, presumed gang allies of the Green Hornet because they wore green. In a moment like this we can see what’s gone wrong with this movie, it has no cumulative sense of itself, playing as a callous over the top action piece and then trying to humanize what could only, in the standards of our real world, be a sociopath by injecting insistently implied emotional layers into a project that by its nature can not accommodate them. That’s not, for the record, because comic book movies can’t be “serious” or whatever, but because the way this movie has been conceived and executed isn’t. Basically, every so often, for brief instants at a time, The Green Hornet becomes repulsive.
But here’s the thing: it’s also really fun throughout. Waltz is amusing as a more flattened-out redo of his Hans Landa character, the action scenes achieve a cartoonish sort of kaleidoscopic motion that is dizzying and interesting, Gondry has several opportunities to do his neat animations and visual loop-de-loops, and a lot of the jokes are pretty solid – chuckle-worthy – and I find Rogen to be charming, even though his character frequently isn’t. So I’m sitting in my seat and I’m laughing and clapping my hands watching this, and then the Green Hornet just fires his car’s chain guns indiscriminately into oncoming traffic, hitting his target, but also peppering a bunch of commuters in the process. Cars are flying everywhere and then there’s this crash, and for a moment the cartoon curtain drops and it’s all realistic, the family overturning in the air and smashing into the concrete, the unarmed henchman getting his neck snapped or whatever, and then the film snaps back into play and it’s fun and silly again. How does Britt reconcile these things with his naively articulated desire to help? That little jolt of callous brutality – of the movie losing sight of itself – breaks the spirit for a while, and the only thing to do is to either carry it with you and let it spoil the whole thing, or momentarily excise it and ride the snake, then once it’s over snap back to reality and say, “Shit, that was pretty bad.”