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Edited by Robert Beach
One of the more bizarre powerhouse talents in Hollywood today is Seth Rogen. Rogen’s a relatively recent star, but he’s been around for a while, making his way through smaller roles before joining forces with Judd Apatow for Knocked Up and parlaying that success into a more substantive career.
He didn’t really break big as a face of comedy till 2014 with Neighbors, though he took a big step forward with the 2013 comedy This is the End. Still, 2014 was the year Rogen became a name film journalists and bloggers starting talking about, first with the narrative of his R-rated comedy Neighbors beating the PG-13 tentpole of Amazing Spider-Man 2 and then with the “controversy” surrounding he and James Franco’s comedy The Interview.
First things first: the only reason anyone even remotely knows who the Green Hornet comes from two connections to much more popular things. The original Green Hornet radio program spun out of the much more popular Lone Ranger program of the same era.
Lone Ranger has been one of the most popular and enduring early superheroes. He’s still getting movies and comics made about him now. Whether consciously or not, everyone is at least passingly familiar with him conceptually.
That popularity is what prompted his creators to attempt a spin-off revolving around the Ranger’s descendant as a modern masked man fighting crime in the present with a weaponized car, domino mask, gas gun, and a martial arts sidekick. The character never took off, save for a brief television show in the mid-'60s with Adam West's Batman series.
A lot of that nondescriptness bleeds over into Rogen’s version of the character. Make no mistake, this is Rogen’s Green Hornet. Rogen wrote the screenplay as well as stars. The basic set-up of the film is a great example of why Green Hornet can seem like a perfect superhero property to structure-fixated executives.
Rogen plays Britt Reid, a spoiled rich party boy living off his father’s money and name who’s catalyzed to go out and try to clean up his city after the mysterious death of his father. Jay Chou plays Kato, Rogen’s mechanic/martial arts master while Christoph Waltz fills the role of bad guy. Cameron Diaz is also in the movie as a character of the film who has no idea what to do, and that about rounds out the actual characters on hand.
See, because the Green Hornet predates Batman, his entire heroic set-up is incredibly simplistic and stripped down. It allows the film to alternate between checking off Green Hornet mythos boxes and superhero cliché boxes.
The Rogen’s drunken party boy act ends up a transparent attempt to recreate Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, which had taken the world by storm the last two years. And the dead parent millionaire set-up is drawn most heavily from Batman. Weirdly enough, the timing is a big part of why the film doesn’t really work at all and was probably doomed to failure from the start.
If they had tried to do the same thing to fill up a Green Hornet skeleton with superhero clichés of today, it would’ve fit much better. As it stands, Green Hornet was pretty much the last attempt to mimic the superhero style of the mid-2000s, the weird amalgam of action clichés and bizarrely overstated campiness that formed in the wake of X-Men, Spider-Man, and Batman Begins.
Iron Man and Dark Knight had already started to change things. Later the same year Green Hornet came out, we’d get Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and X-Men: First Class to cement how different superhero films would be in the new decade.
The other big problem the film has is really Seth Rogen himself. Rogen can be a funny talent, but he needs to be deployed correctly. Lovable frat douche is not a card in his deck. His antics far too often come off as simply obnoxious and self-centered rather than actually funny or endearing.
This is part of why Rogen languished in comedy for a time and why Neighbors was the movie that really elevated him for a lot of folks. Rogen’s dopey demeanor and schlubby looks are infinitely better suited to playing the straight man in a comedy rather than the whacky wild card. Turning Green Hornet in 120 minutes of Rogen acting the fool as poor Jay Chou struggles to act off him ends up a deeply unfunny, and honestly, it’s pretty uncomfortable experience.
One of the jokes of the Green Hornet is that Kato is the obvious superhero of the two. He’s the one who can build supercars out of nothing and has crazy martial arts training, but Rogen ends up the front man of the team because he’s the one with a newspaper he can tell to print stories about how awesome he is.
Speaking of Jay Chou, he’s the real tragedy of this movie as he’s a genuinely great martial artists and a pretty damn good actor who’s just completely wasted here. The film keeps throwing Kato into the sidekick bin and pushing him to the side for Rogen to bumble through more unfunny comedic bits you start to want Kato to leave and take the whole movie with him. Cameron Diaz is in a similar situation.
She’s brought in out of nowhere to be the woman both men lust over and consequently breaks up their bromance with the joke being she’s not really interested in either of them (Spoilers I guess?). That’s a decent idea, but it doesn’t stop both guys from being creepy, possessive, and slanderous about her. And the fact that her whole role in the film is to be ogled at by these two is incredibly unpleasant.
Not even Christoph Waltz managed to be good in this movie, and he won 2 Oscars in 4 years. Waltz played the film’s villain and was another interesting idea gone horribly wrong. He’s framed as an aging mobster who consolidated all LA crime under him, but he is going through a mid-life identity crisis over the fact that he’s too plain and out of date to be intimidating.
If I had to describe Green Hornet in one word, it would be "tragedy." The film’s launch actually kicked off a ton of new comics from Dynamite, all of which were thoroughly fun and engaging takes on the character. All of them could’ve easily been adapted to the big screen rather than the unfortunate product we had. What’s more, producers have been trying to get a Green Hornet movie made since the dawn of the superhero blockbuster, and the fact this is the one we got is just a shame.
The combination of Rogen’s presence and the now shockingly outdated superhero tropes of the 2000s come together in the worst way to produce the dullest take on this hero imaginable. This is the only superhero film Jay Chou or Christoph Waltz have ever done, which is robbing the world of the best conceivable pair of Batman supporting actors imaginable. Maybe the way this film has faded from recent memory will lead to a reboot in the future. I wouldn’t bet on it. This seems like one superhero franchise that won’t be getting a resurrection any time soon.