Selling a superhero movie in 2011 is a difficult thing. We’ve seen every household name, every spinoff character and cult icon get their turns on screen. We’ve seen a slew of successful satires jabbing at the genre’s inflated biceps. It seems we’ve seen it all.
In the trailer for “The Green Hornet,” we’re asked to believe there’s still some gas left in the tank.
The first thing the trailer shows us is a skinny Seth Rogen as Britt Reid, getting rowdy at his penthouse with some babes, throwing down Red Bull-vodkas and tossing air conditioners out the window. He’s the spoiled heir to a media empire, one his father (Tom Wilkinson) worked hard to build.
“I spent my nights writing about corruption,” Dad laments as Reid parties on. “And you do nothing.”
But things get serious when Dad dies and Reid meets up with a former employee named Kato (Jay Chou), whom we’re led to believe knows a secret or two about Pops. Kato is the straight-man to Rogen’s dainty playboy naivete, and he’s got guns too.
“The city needs our help. We could be heroes,” Reid declares while images of nifty gadgets and exploding cars swarm the screen. “Here’s what will make us different.”
What makes Reid and Kato so special is that they stick it to the criminals while posing as criminals themselves. Like Batman, they dish out justice under the masquerade of criminality. Despite the similarities, the trailer doesn’t indicate that the film will tread the murky waters of modern morality which “The Dark Knight” did so well. But it does sell some Batmanly concepts. Reid is an inverted Bruce Wayne, a genuine playboy playing a hero instead of vice versa. Plus, like Wayne, he’s rich and it always helps to have a juicy trust fund to provide an endless supply of artillery and gadgetry.
Beyond Batman, there are scraps of every superhero film formula in this trailer and the producers don’t seem shy about admitting it. When Cameron Diaz shows up to provide the libido injection, or when the heavily accented villain (Christoph Waltz) declares “I want the head of the Green Hornet and I want it tonight,” it feels more like a checklist than a plot.
Perhaps the trailer’s only distinct transgression is the debut of Rogen as a blockbuster protagonist (Jake Gyllenhaal was among the other candidates). The trailer leaves us questioning whether he’s breaching his typecast by portraying a genuine leading man or bringing his comic humility to an otherwise exaggerated and overblown plot. The latter seems a more likely option.
There are moments when the trailer insinuates an attempt to re-create some of the magic of “Pineapple Express,” a film that relished in the humor of two hapless potheads being thrust into an outrageously cliche action plot. It worked because the two characters (Rogen and James Franco) were perpetually reacting to the implausibility of their circumstance, winking at the overdriven testosterone we’ve become accustomed to in Hollywood action flicks.
But part of what fails in the trailer for “The Green Hornet” is the inability to identify that satire. The film sells itself as an action-comedy but in the trailer, both the humor and the action fall flat. If the cliches don’t serve the satire, then why are they there?
Does “The Green Hornet” earn our $10?
The title character goes back to the 1930s and for that reason, fans of the hero genre or the Hornet in particular might go for the sake of assessing the rendition. But will the average movie-goer buy into it? No, because the trailer indicates that the film will fail to commit to either side of the satire, in-limbo between two genres and getting the benefit of neither.
“The Green Hornet” hits theaters on January 14th, 2011.