That the 1966 television adaptation of radio’s beloved “Green Hornet” was billed as The Kato Show in Hong Kong, pretty much sums up this 2011 Green Hornet. It’s about fighting evil, walking away from explosions, and having cool one-liners, sure, but the real drama is the conflict going on between Seth Rogen’s playboy “hero” and pop-star Jay Chou’s deadly serious “sidekick.” Any bad guys that get taken down aren’t so much defeated as they’re ground up between the egos of the Green Hornet and Kato.
It’s very smartly written, I’m saying. The majority of superhero movies get so interested in being grand and epic, in having the whole world hang in the balance of this or that impossible feat, that there’s not enough focus left over for the characters. Not so this time around. These heroes are real, fumblers and bumblers and petty just like us, not boy scouts we could never live up to. However, very unlike us, they do get to drive Black Beauty, a car so gadget-laden that James Bond’s Q would have to blush. And, yes, thanks to cutaways and effects, Chou is able to channel a bit of Bruce Lee into his Kato, just as Seth Rogen is able to channel Seth Rogen, and Cameron Diaz still has that Mary smile. We’d have it no other way.
Also, this time in keeping with the other superhero movies, the hero never really has proper definition, never really comes into his own, until his very presence spawns, of course, a cartoonish arch-nemesis. It’s what Shyamalan was telling us in Unbreakable. It’s what Joker’s been telling Bats for years. And so it is here, except now it’s not all grim and dark. It’s — as the trailer suggests, and in spite of how cheap human life is this time around — funny. Very funny. There were times the audience was laughing so hard I couldn’t hear the actors. However, all that laughter is a setup, it’s distraction: the real story, the one that sneaks in and works on our hearts and our minds, is how discovering your own sense of (yes) integrity can inform your “secret” life and somehow save the city. Underneath all that, though, Green Hornet is just a simple “fill these shoes, son”-story, a coming-of-age-twenty-years-late thing. And we kind of love it for being so simple and so fun, without pretending otherwise.