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January 16, 2011


Movie Review – The Green Hornet (2011)


The Green Hornet is fun at first, but turns tedious in a long middle section. After the first act sets the stage, the movie flails around in search of a plot, merely marking off the minutes until the big action finale.

The Green Hornet made his debut in radio in 1936, appearing since in multivarious movie serials, comic books, and the 1960s TV series starring Bruce Lee as the Hornet’s sidekick Kato. The Hornet is the crime-fighting alter ego of Britt Reid, playboy owner of Los Angeles newspaper The Daily Sentinel. Reid’s persona in this incarnation has been tailored to fit comic actor Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, Observe and Report), who also co-wrote. Kato, whose ethnicity and role in the Reid household have changed many times over the years, has been promoted to full partner- and voice of intelligence and reason in the relationship. He is played by Taiwanese popstar and actor Jay Chou (Initial D, Curse of the Golden Flower).

The first act works. Britt’s a bit of a fool, but he’s likable; he’s a wastrel, but with a father like that, well, let’s just say there’s blame to go around. Kato’s supercoolness is given its proper due. The decision to go into crime-fighting is reckless and impulsive, but their hearts are in the right place: it feels good to help people. The film keeps a light tone and throws in some appealing quirkiness. There’s fun had with gadgets and Kato’s remarkable fighting proficiency.

Once events are set in motion, however, the story collapses, and the sense of fun goes with it. It’s one thing that the heroes don’t have a plan and don’t know what to do after the Hornet makes a name for himself, but the writing doesn’t either. The writing also isn’t adept enough to pull off the tricky balancing act of making the crime-lord villain (played by Christoph Waltz) simultaneously vicious and comical. A purposeless killing spree serves only to banish any lingering doubts that the movie is suitable for family viewing.

The Green Hornet is near enough to being good to count as a significant disappointment. Of the missed opportunities, one of the biggest is Britt’s smart, sexy secretary Lenore (Cameron Diaz). The plot sets her up to be the unwitting brains of the Hornet’s operation by having Britt direct her to research the mysterious new player in the criminal underworld and predict his next move. It’s one of the highlights of the set-up, yet the film ultimately reduces her to a passive object of desire to be fought over by Britt and Kato. While it’s refreshing that she has no interest in either of them and basically just wants them to cut it out, Lenore’s part in the story might so easily- and to the film’s great advantage- have been so much more than that.

There are some bright spots in the overlong action sequence that effectively constitutes the film’s third act. Oddly enough Kato’s fights are not among them, but a scene where Britt attempts with mixed success to emulate his partner’s fighting tactics is. The best use of setting and props comes when Britt is running from the villain and his goons through a warehouse space filled with the giant rolls of paper that feed the newspaper’s presses.

2 stars


Director Michel Gondry made the entirely charming Be Kind Rewind, a love letter to movies and community.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Doc
    Jan 16 2011

    The hornet’s buzz that heralded the radio show gave promise of a fast-paced adventure with a sting at the end. Sadly, the writers and the director failed to understand that winning formula. A few good comic sketches and a couple of clever special effects scenes are not enough to remake the Hornet for a new century.

  2. Helen
    Jan 18 2011

    It would have been fun if they had incorporated the hornet’s buzz in some way. There’s a couple of nods to the TV show and Bruce Lee, but the offhand references stopped there (at least as far as a non-Hornet aficionado could tell).

  3. Jan 19 2011

    @Helen, having read your review I am surprised that you liked the movie as much as you have; even 2 stars, I hear, is generous .

  4. Helen
    Jan 19 2011

    2 stars is my “eh” rating, so it’s not a ringing endorsement. The take on the characters, with the inversion of the traditional hero/sidekick dynamic, is good and so is the casting. The plotting is inept.

  5. Ken
    Jan 20 2011

    From where I sit, most of the comic book superhero flicks that have come out the past few years (and they do keep coming) rate about two stars. There are a few exceptions, but it mostly seems like the writers really aren’t trying to come up with an engaging plot. They seem to think the built in audience will pay to see the title character. Evidently, this formula’s return on investment is right where Hollywood wants it.

  6. Helen
    Jan 21 2011

    All too true. One good thing about the current commercial formula is that it includes casting top-flight actors. However, even the best actors need a script that gives them something to work with. The recent Incredible Hulk movie with Edward Norton is the poster child for the “good casting/nothing script” problem.

  7. Jan 22 2011

    Personally, I’m glad that Mark Ruffalo is playing The Hulk in the latest installment, “The Avengers”. Eric Bana and Edward Norton are excellent actors but the lackluster screenplay in the first movie and the lack of one in the second film made the movies suck so casting excellent actors might be the straw that brakes the camel’s back. If unknowns would play the title role in Hulk movies, maybe they’d “feel” like better films.

    But the only occasion where the casting and the screenplay were equally perfect is in “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight”. And now that Tom Hardy and Ann Hathaway are going to co-star in “The Dark Knight Rises”, I am salivating.