When Michel Gondry was hired to helm Columbia Pictures’ The Green Hornet I became immediately more enthusiastic about the project than I was before. Even after all the publicized production woes I was sure that his avant-garde aesthetic and bittersweet style of storytelling would put a fresh spin on the standard superhero flick. However sandwiched between the frat-house comedic sensibilities of Seth Rogen and the energetic guidance of explosion-savvy producer Neal Moritz there just wasn’t enough room for the artist to conjure his movie magic.
That’s why the film though not frustratingly formulaic feels incredibly manufactured: more a product of convenience for its stars and studio than a standalone piece of entertainment. Perhaps it’s just because superhero cinema is so commonplace today I’m beginning to feel jaded about movies like this but while watching the film I wondered whether or not Rogen and Co. consciously adhered to the tried-and-true checklist of the genre’s conventions. Tragic motives for fighting crime? Check. Maniacal villain? Check. Flipping SUV’s? Check? Predictable plot? Unfortunately check. Every element of the movie from jokes to pacing is easy to foresee but that doesn’t mean it’s not somewhat entertaining.
Rogen who co-wrote the picture with his longtime collaborator Evan Goldberg will continue to amuse audiences with his every-man persona even when miscast as a billionaire playboy turned masked vigilante. The Green Hornet doesn’t sound like anything he has written before; the limitations of language in a broad blockbuster result in less laughs than the raunchy R-rated comedies he’s best known for but the delivery of the dialogue is his best weapon against tonal conformity. Still post-modern humor is abundant throughout the film with plenty of pop-culture references that are good for a grin or two.
The biggest surprise came in the form of Jay Chou. A hugely successful pop singer in his native Taiwan (as well as other Chinese-speaking regions of the world) his charisma transcends language barriers in the iconic role of Kato created by the legendary Bruce Lee. Though technically the sidekick Chou displays more depth than Rogen ever has and outshines his co-star in nearly every creative department. Christoph Waltz as the violent villain Chudnofsky doesn’t generate the electricity he did in his career-defining role in Inglourious Basterds but had significantly lower-brow material to work with. He goes through the motions with a smile on his face that suggests he’s not quite sure how (or why) he got into this picture in the first place. On the other hand I’m sure that Cameron Diaz knew exactly why she was hired to portray Britt Reid’s sexy secretary Lenore Case. Between her performances in 2010’s Knight and Day and this Ms. Diaz has hit a new career low. The only difference is that her character was central to the story in the Tom Cruise summer vehicle; here she’s nothing more than eye-candy.
As stated before if I’ve got one regret above all regarding The Green Hornet it’s that director Gondry wasn’t allowed to make the movie his own. His stamp is present in only a handful of sequences where visually inventive special effects serve the story and in many cases enhance it. He makes the most of the adequate 3D conversion in these select scenes (including a revelatory summation of the events that lead to the films climax and the closing credits both which are very cool) whereas in the rest of the picture it’s just unnecessary. I had hoped his involvement meant that the narrative was going down an unconventional path but in the end his contributions to the film amount to little more than rainbow sprinkles atop a very vanilla piece of cinema.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
In this fourth installment of the durable Terminator series the year is 2018 and a nuclear holocaust has effectively ended civilization as we knew it. With Terminators snapping up what little remains of the human race a small group of survivors have gone underground in an effort to battle the controlling organization Skynet which shocked the world by triggering the apocalypse. Standing up against all odds is John Connor the one man who knew this was going to happen and Marcus Wright a death-row inmate who’s about to be executed when he’s given a new lease on life by Dr. Serena Kogan a scientist with big plans for this dead man walking. Though Connor is highly suspicious of Kogan’s creation he forms a precarious bond with the resuscitated Marcus as the two search for a way to infiltrate and conquer a very imposing enemy.
WHO’S IN IT?
Let’s start by stating who isn't in Terminator Salvation: Arnold Schwarzenegger star of the three previous installments is busy in Sacramento so except for his brief reappearance via the miracle of CGI this is a whole new ballgame. Taking on a beloved movie franchise — just as he did in 2005’s Batman Begins — Christian Bale steps into the adult shoes of John Connor who was previously portrayed in T2 and T3 by Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl respectively. As the one key link to the entire series Bale’s Connor is intensely serious and dedicated to the task at hand — even though he’s vastly outnumbered. As Marcus Wright Sam Worthington gets to play both sides of the coin as a hybrid of human and machine delivering the most unique and convincing performance yet seen in the series. Both Bale and Worthington carry on this legendary series in style but it’s Worthington who gets the big scenes bringing an ironic element of humanity to the whole enterprise. Also noteworthy: Helena Bonham Carter as the doctor who creates a modern version of Frankenstein’s Monster; Anton Yelchin as future time-traveler Kyle Reese Moon Bloodgood as Resistance warrior Blair Williams; and rapper Common as Connor’s second-in-command.
Director McG (Charlie’s Angels) tackles the daunting task of carrying on this series without its signature star and pulls it off with first-rate action set pieces flawless production values and a fascinating new wrinkle in Marcus Wright a character at odds with himself as well as John Connor. In the time-honored tradition of a classic cinematic showdown these are no ordinary heroes. They’re conflicted warriors faced with a task that is truly overwhelming in its scope.
With such a strong story the filmmakers probably didn’t have to resort to so many motorcycle flips explosions and truck and plane chases — not to mention a pulsating soundtrack that’s amped up so high you may need earplugs. But with so much excitement on the screen it doesn’t really matter. Action fans will be wetting their pants.
MEMORIES OF THE GOVERNATOR:
Arnold appears briefly (in the nude no less) in what appears to be a CGI pastiche of his classic character. But don’t blink or you’ll miss him.
Terminators won’t die and neither will its signature line. When Blair asks Connor what she should tell his men after he’s gone he replies in earnest: “I’ll be back!”
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
It will be movie theaters’ OWN salvation this summer.