Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hollywood Interlude: The Green Hornet

Although I don’t often discuss Hollywood films on this blog, I do go see Hollywood films fairly often. (I am an equal opportunity film lover.) One of the reasons I started my blog was because I didn’t really see my point of view represented in the other Bollywood writings on the Internet and one of the reasons I don’t write about Hollywood very often is that there are plenty of people who I agree with writing about Hollywood.

Not in this case, though.

The Green Hornet was released on Friday to dismal reviews and a lot of bad buzz [pun intended] about thwarted expectations. However, I went to see it and it seemed to me exactly as advertised – a Seth Rogen penned action-comedy directed by Michel Gondry and with some beautiful fight scenes from Jay Chou. Now, I understand where that might not appeal to some folks but for me, it was like honey.

Before it was a film,
The Green Hornet originated as a radio serial in the 1930s and told the stories of masked vigilante The Green Hornet and his Asian driver/valet/sidekick. What separates The Green Hornet from other superheroes is that a) he has no superpowers and b) everybody thinks he’s a criminal. (You can read a nice write-up on the full backstory of the film here.) And what separates The Green Hornet from other recent superhero films is that it reveals the contemporary American superhero myths as the middle-class male fantasies that they are and not in a flattering way.

Two superheroes and two superhero film franchises that serve as good counterparts to The Green Hornet are Iron Man and Batman. The three are all wealthy men but where Iron Man and Batman are lone geniuses tinkering away in their labs by themselves, The Green Hornet relies on the genius of Kato, his driver. The alter egos of Iron Man and Batman are both successful businessmen; The Green Hornet is a lazy socialite who owns a media empire – a combination of Paris Hilton and Perez Hilton, for all intents and purposes. Where Iron Man and Batman represent the idealized version of the Self Made Man, The Green Hornet says that the Self Made Man is actually made by behind-the-scenes (Asian and female) labor and rich white male cultural advantage. And full credit goes to Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Michel Gondry for keeping all the nasty subtext in there.

The relationship between Kato and Britt (the man behind The Green Hornet) is just swimming in toxic subtext that is fully laid out on the table. Kato’s barely submerged rage at the unfairness of having to be a servant; Britt’s jealously of Kato’s talents; the icky racist overtones; everything is there and dealt with and in the tradition of Seth Rogen-Evan Goldberg comedies, the real story is the creation of a deep friendship between the two male leads despite all their differences.

One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen about the film is that Seth Rogen as Britt is unlikable. I would argue that maybe the reason so many fanboys are finding him unlikable is that they are used to identifying with the rich, white guy as their
wish fulfillment character and that is really not the intention of the script here. Britt is an obnoxious jerk with a handful of redeeming qualities and that is exactly how the film plays it. The closest the audience has to a point-of-view character is Cameron Diaz as Britt’s book smart secretary, who, in a nice subversion of the female role in these kinds of films, is the unwitting brains behind The Green Hornet’s operation and nobody’s love interest.

And a word on Cameron Diaz’s character – I liked her, even if Cameron Diaz isn’t really the world’s greatest actress. And I really liked that she was nobody’s love interest and was valued for her brains. Where some critics saw the role as insignificant, as a Feminist, I really prefer a minor female role like this where she is just part of the team to a lead role where the male hero has to rescue her and her characterization is reduced to: in love with hero. Give me this kind of role over a kidnapped and beaten girlfriend with more lines anyday.

If the bromance is all Seth Rogen-Evan Goldberg, the other part of what made
The Green Hornet so appealing is director Michel Gondry’s delight in the mechanics of how things work. I appreciated the montage scenes of Kato working on auto parts and enjoyed the scenes that took place at the newspaper. The American myth of the Self Made Man may have been thrown out but Gondry plays up the idea that hard work is its own reward. Kato and Britt aren’t interested in justice and revenge as much as they are in just doing something meaningful.

Unfortunately, meaningful work isn’t really a sexy theme and I suspect that
The Green Hornet would have done better at the box office if it had starred some pretty boy with six pack abs and been written and directed by that closet misogynist Kevin Smith. Audiences wanted Batman with a touch of humor and instead got a nice little film about two men becoming friends and discovering the value of meaningful work.

Being used to Bollywood films, I would have loved to see an extra half-hour of backstory and an item song in that last restaurant scene before the final fight (and an intermission) but overall, I think
The Green Hornet is one of Nathan Rabin’s secret successes. Obviously, it’s not the greatest film ever made but certainly not deserving the massive bad buzz.


Danny Bowes said...

As one of the people who wrote less-than-flattering reviews of The Green Hornet, I can say that it wasn't the politics of having the white guy be an idiot whose Asian sidekick and female secretary do all the heavy lifting. All that's awesome, I'm all for it. For me, it was that Rogen overdid it a smidge on the meatheadedness, and even then really only for that 15 minute stretch around when he fires Kato.

Disagreement about the quality of the movie aside, this is a great post. You do an excellent job advocating this picture.

Filmi Girl said...

@danny Thanks for the comment. :) I know that the politics weren't the only reason people weren't liking the film but I did get that vibe from some of the fanboy reviews I read.

The comedy was pretty silly - and either you find Seth Rogen in a diaper hilarious or you don't - but reading this post: that says Iron Man and Batman were better takes on the rich guy hero made me think that maybe the fanboys didn't understand what the film was trying to do as much as they think it did.

morpheus said...

The best aspect of the Green Hornet was the romance between Kato (Jay) and Britt Reid (Seth), it was fun to watch them fall in love. Though they both make a feeble attempt at wooing Lenore Case (a critically underused Miss Diaz) their hearts belonged to each other. It was sweet.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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