Somewhere along his path to stardom we all took Seth Rogen and mentally typecast him as a geek. Yet more often than not, the kinds of characters Seth Rogen has played are actually in the vein of lovable bullies (Freaks & Geeks), or metal heads (40 Year-Old Virgin), or big, goofy lugs (everything else). In The Green Hornet he puts all of that to good use, playing a superhero born out of a confused party boy’s desire for revenge. Seth may have slimmed down into superhero shape for his stint as a masked crime-fighter, but the story of Britt Reid is very much that of the neglected, dim-witted fat kid who buoyed his self-esteem in high-school by delivering vicious wedgies to nerds, and only now finally finds an outlet for his frustration with life that accomplishes something good.
In that sense Green Hornet separates itself from the superhero pack by avoiding all the clichés of masked vigilantes trying to live up to, in one way or another, the ideals of truth, justice, and the American way. Sure, like so many other heroes Britt Reid begins his career after the death of his father, but he sets out to fight crime not to live up to some parent’s expectations, but to erase them. Britt’s decision to become The Green Hornet is a selfish act born primarily out of vandalism, resentment, and adrenaline. In another movie Britt would be the kind of character audiences loathe, but you won’t, because he’s played with effortless charm by Rogen. Instead he comes off a lot like the superhero version of Adam Sandler’s Barry Egan in Punch Drunk Love, a guy defeated by life who decides to put his anger to good use in spite of his overbearing family and, admittedly, a complete lack of ability.
The truth is that Britt lacks the wit to accomplish much on his own, but he succeeds as a superhero in large part because he finds himself befriended by someone who’s every bit as brilliant and skilled as he isn’t. Early on in the film Britt calls Kato (Jay Chou) a human Swiss army knife, and that’s exactly what he is. Kato’s obsessed with gadgets and technology, he has a knack for producing the right tool at the right time. Whether that’s a trunk-mounted gun turret to blast away at bad guys or a parachute-mounted record player to lighten the mood as they float across the sky, Kato has everything under control. When gadgets won’t suffice, he’s a human killing machine capable of destroying whole armies using only his bare hands.
Since it’s his partner that has all the answers Britt should probably just be along for the ride, but Kato seems happy to let him take the lead, and Britt’s ego won’t let him do anything else. Together they form a perfect on screen duo and it’s their pitch-perfect chemistry drives the film. You’ll be able to figure out pretty early on if this movie’s going to work for you, by whether or not you bop your head along to the beat the first time they hit the streets in Black Beauty singing a duet to the tune of Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise”.
More important than the story being told here, though, is how much fun the film seems to be having in telling it. Michel Gondry is best known for whimsical arthouse fare, but tasked with directing a superhero movie, he finds a way to put his own stamp on an established genre without dodging the blockbuster movie style Sony’s bean counters were probably hoping for. The movie’s packed with fun gadgets and crazy visual effects, some of which are so outside the box that in another film they might seem strange. Here though, most of them work brilliantly because Gondry’s movie never takes itself too seriously. When reality gets in the way of having fun with the moment, The Green Hornet is more than happy to ignore it. Gondry’s vision is a perfect fit with the comedic tone of the script, written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Their film is as much a comedy as it is an action movie, actually it’s better than that, it’s one of the all too rare modern movies which manages to be both.
For an in depth analysis of Green Hornet's 3D go here.