The Green Hornet deserves better. Before Batman, there was the masked vigilante known as the Green Hornet. His 1936 radio show was created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. The show’s success led to film serials, comic books, and the more well known (and short-lived) 1966 cult TV series. I’ve known about it for years considering my parents were fans who only watched it for Bruce Lee. Like everyone else, I know the Green Hornet’s sidekick Kato is clearly the star of the show. When a movie was announced, my mom wanted to see it with my brother and I. Although the movie was bad when I saw it in theaters, I didn’t fully understand it until I watched the series 11 years later. The Green Hornet was cheaply made, formulaic, and an obvious Batman clone that even included a crossover. Yet it’s also a good ol’ fashion detective show with a classy performance from Van Williams and plenty of awesome martial arts action from Bruce Lee. The movie is more concerned with being meta, having crude jokes, tonal shifts, and surreal filmmaking from Eternal Sunshine director Michel Gondry.
I knew something was up when comedian Seth Rogen was cast as Daily Sentinel newspaper publisher Britt Reid aka the Green Hornet. George Clooney ironically turned down the role for Batman & Robin and several other a-listers were considered before he was cast. Although Rogen is technically the first comedian to slim down for a superhero role, he’s just not the charming ladies man Britt is supposed to be. This Britt is a spoiled rich kid who gets jealous of Kato’s many talents. Kato was equally hard to cast since no one can ever live up to Bruce Lee. Jason Scott Lee was also ironically considered before the role went to Taiwanese singer Jay Chou in his American film debut. The movie seriously plays up Kato’s skills by making him a near superhuman martial arts expert who builds the Black Beauty, constructs the Hornet gun, draws, and makes a mean cup of coffee. The Black Beauty is just as cool with several more weapons hidden inside. It can be funny when the movie points out certain aspects of the show like Kato’s lack of a superhero name.
We also see Britt’s stern father played by Tom Wilkinson before he dies. The Green Hornet and Kato pose as criminals like the show, but the former can barely be taken seriously. The rest of the cast feels just as out of character. Cameron Diaz is Reid’s attractive secretary Lenore Case who’s a lot more knowledgeable about journalism, but doesn’t return her bosses desperate advances. Edward James Olmos plays a much older, much less bumbling Mike Axford who ends up inheriting the company. The biggest slap in the face is making the trusted District Attorney Frank Scanlon a bad guy. David Harbour plays him in his first of many superhero related movie roles. The biggest saving grace is Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as the memorable Russian gangster Chudnofsky. His motivations are mostly not being taken seriously as a threat. James Franco cameos as a gangster just to point it out. Chudnofsky meets a brutal demise and the vigilante duo continue crime fighting after recreating the episode “Bad Bet on a 459-Silent.” None of it is enough to save the movie from mistreating its source material. 2011 just wasn’t the year for green superheroes (*cough* Green Lantern). The Green Hornet stings.