Friday, December 17, 2010

Meanwhile at the Movies... Green Hornet early review!

The Green Hornet, most famous for it’s 1960’s TV show featuring Bruce Lee, gets the Hollywood movie treatment, but my knowledge (and I’d wager most of Amerca’s) on the history and details of this property are pretty fuzzy. It started out as a radio serial, then a TV show, but the show never got any rotation that I’m aware of, either in the 1970’s TV syndication, or post 1980’s via cable. Nor did it exist as a comic book or other property, so I’m not really aware of too many people anxious for a big budget film treatment, but regardless, Green Hornet is on it’s way to movie screens in January, and I had a chance to catch an early screening.
I should note, movie is being released in 3D, and I’m not sure, but I think it’s another 3D retrofit… I don’t think this was created with 3D in mind, and in fact, the version I saw was 2D. So, keep that in mind, but from what I noticed, there wasn’t much in the movie created for 3D effect, except for the minor 3D gotcha moment or two.

So, how was the movie?

First off, as you likely know if you’re around the movie/comic websites, or Comic-Con etc, this is a bit of a reimagining, and not a straight adaptation of the source material. With Seth Rogan in the lead, a notable comedic actor usually attached to subversive anti-hero type roles, and Michel Gondry, the offbeat French director of such films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Be Kind Rewind, Science of Sleep) directing. Also, Stephen Chow was at one time attached to direct and play Kato, then just play Kato, and then was no longer involved at all. Plus there was also some talk of reshoots or at least a rescheduling of some sort, leading to speculation the studio wasn’t too keen on the final product, with speculation (again) being, that it was perhaps too much of a skewed take on a superhero film for mainstream audiences (especially in light of the woeful performance of comic book movies that weren’t big budget made-for-the-masses adaptations in 2010 - not that this is really a comic book movie per se).

Now, I don’t know if the film was ultimately meddled with, or if it remains true to the Rogan/Gondry vision, but, being familiar with the creative flourishes of Gondry’s past works, Green Hornet plays pretty much like you’d expect a big budget Hollywood PG13-type superhero movie that aims to be different from the traditional comic book blockbusters. That is to say, it feels much more like a Seth Rogan film, with off color humor and antics, with Gondry supplying a visually solid foundation, that only occasionally takes to unique approach. Overall though, Green Hornet the movie is more of a character study than action film, and the combination of Rogan and Gondry bring enough of their styles to make that work.
The story itself is nothing fresh or original, borrowing elements from Iron Man and Batman most notably, mixed with a modern crime film sensibility. The main villain here is really just a generic crime lord, but in this case played subtly by last years breakout supporting actor and villain, Christoph Waltz, of Inglorious Basterds fame. In fact, the whole role is built around the fact that Christoph, or Chudnofsky in the film, is just that, a pretty forgetful kingpin, coming to terms with the fact that he may need to up his game, while Rogan and his mechanic, Kato, begin their heroes journey as the Green Hornet, posing as villains in the LA scene, but acting as heroes, thus ultimately setting the two on the path to an inevitable series of confrontations.

So it’s the typical super hero origin story, with Rogan in the role, as actor, of Downey Jr. - playing against type for what’s normally an A list alpha male role, and, as character, Tony Stark/Bruce Wayne - wealthy playboy with limitless cash and toys, to use for his own heroic ends. And GH does relatively well mining that Tony Stark/Downey Jr territory, as does the film, with Rogan a capable comedic actor with plenty of charisma in his own boyish, buffoonish way. Where it really shines, is where it difers from that template, and that is in the partnership that is formed with Kato, the estate’s mechanic and coffee maker, who’s really a jack of all trades that excels in particular at kung-fu, and mechanical design. And, with the original TV series being remembered almost entirely for this role, as portrayed by the legendary Bruce Lee, it’s here both in terms of the story, and casting, where Kato is again key. Because Rogan’s Britt Reid is nothing without his partner Kato, and the role of Kato, or the Green Hornet film itself, is nothing without a star turning performance form it’s Kato, and I must say, Jay Chou is amazing here in the role. He’s quiet cool, connects with the audience, and truly shines. You want your very own Kato to be "shon-di" or "brothers" with, and all the cool cars and toys that go with it. The only downside to Chou being, you don’t get the sense that he’s a bad ass martial artist, just that his character is in the film. So that’s either a credit to the filmmakers for making it mostly work on screen, or a failure on their part for not showcasing his skill more. I’m not saying the fight sequences with Kato are bad, there are plenty of them, but they’re just mostly reliant on post production gimmickry, that ultimately works fairly well (to both explain and illustrate his superhuman fight abailities), but the direction or editing keep things a bit murky whenever action ramps up in general, and Kato’s skills are lost to this somewhat too.
And besides the fairly unoriginal plot (that is, perhaps, the weakest part of the film), there are plenty of action scenes throughout, and they’re mostly cool, but they often felt like more noise and motion than actual substance. Like, “Okay, here’s a big car chase! Now if we flip over 3 vehicles, it’ll look cool!!” Those two things are what keep this Green Hornet from being a truly great film. As it stands though, it’s a lot of fun, with a good cast, that’s a lot of fun to watch, regardless. It’s just not a new classic in the genre like Iron Man, or The Incredibles. So yes, it is better than you’re likely expecting... and while the action can be a bit detached, Gondry and Chou imbue the whole thing with a cool factor that’s just fun to ride with!


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