Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Green Hornet/The Tourist

People who tend to become superheroes usually fall into one of three categories; nerds (like Spiderman), dark, gritty individuals who have suffered personal tragedy (like Batman) and aliens from another world (like Superman). It is not often that a frat boy who spends most of his time partying and doing stupid things because they think it’s cool becomes a superhero. Well Seth Rogen seems keen to change this with his portrayal of Britt Reid, a rich frat boy who spends his youth partying and witling away his father’s considerable fortune, before inheriting his wealth and turning vigilante, mostly by accident.

Thus he becomes the Green Hornet, possibly the least capable superhero ever to have donned a mask (well maybe apart from Kick Ass, but that was the whole point). If not for his martial arts expert, coffee making genius, weapons designer and mechanical maestro Chinese sidekick, the Green Hornet would have been dead within a week of starting his new job. Still it’s nice to have a superhero who is most certainly human; without the power to sling webs, or have a utility belt that means he can do anything. Although that does raise the question of what makes him terribly super. A mask does not a superhero make. If anything his sidekick is much more of a superhero, given that he can slow time, but then the film isn’t really about him is it.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed I’m reviewing The Green Hornet today. I know! A film review! Stop the presses! Two film reviews actually, because I’ll find some way of segwaying onto The Tourist once I’m done with the Green Hornet.

The astute reader will have noticed from my previous reviews of films that I really don’t like action films and with that in mind allow me to say that The Green Hornet is a very good action film. There is lots of the fun explosions and car chases and absurd fight scenes, just as you might expect from an action film, however it is actually held together by a decent story and some well rounded, if a little unsophisticated characters. Both of these elements are given enough time to be developed so that they form a competent support for the action.

I’ve said on a number of occasions that there is nothing wrong with a film being more than an hour and a half long. If you needed any proof of this assertion, watch The Green Hornet. Were it only an hour and a half, rather than two hours I would most likely be slamming it as a typical action film in which the plot is simple a very thin window-dressing. As it is I’m giving it a cautiously positive review. The luxury of time allows the film to have all the high energy, very expensive and usually gratuitous action sequences that define the genre, as well as dedicating plenty of time to develop the characters of both the protagonists and the antagonists, and giving the plot enough to meat to carry it all along.

While the protagonist were mostly fairly dull caricatures who were predictable and rather bland (although somewhat amusing), the antagonist stood out for me as a really interesting and well thought out character. I love my villains to have an element of the crazies about them – in turn I really hate villains who are just evil for evil’s sake – and Chudnofsky (played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz) was a fantastic psychopath. In fact I’d love to have seen a lot more attention paid to the villain, because frankly the protagonists got a little dull after a while. I suppose that, as with many superheroes (especially Batman), the villains are often more interesting that the heroes.

Some of you might be wondering why I’ve insisted on calling The Green Hornet an action film, rather than a superhero film. I went into the film expecting and hoping to see a superhero film focusing on the character of the superhero and his attempts to thwart the efforts of some criminal or other. Instead I got a rather fun but not particularly serious action film in which the heroes wore masks. I suppose this is why I was somewhat disappointed with the film. As a big fan of superhero films I was expecting the wrong thing. Superhero films are character studies of the hero in question, usually from their genesis, through their initial errors and to their eventual victory and coming of age as the hero. There were only the vague trappings of this in the Green Hornet; a thin veneer of character development masking a fun, but unsophisticated action film.

If you want a superhero movie than I suggest waiting for Thor to come out, because that looks like it might be a bit better in terms of actually being a superhero film. In the meantime re-watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, because that’s how it’s done. If you want an action film then go watch the Green Hornet; it’s exactly how a good action film should be. 2 hours of really good, clean fun that actually works as a film. Do not, however watch The Tourist if you want an action film. Do watch The Tourist is you want a really stylish, slow-boiling, slightly Noir thriller.

Set in Venice, The Tourist follows a woman (Angelina Jolie) following mysterious instructions from a former lover and wanted criminal trying to shake off the police sting operation on her and a gang of Russians lead by the English Gangster from whom he stole several billion pounds so that they can be reunited. Part of this evasion is to try to convince the police that someone else is actually the man they want. That someone else is an American tourist (Jonny Depp), who, inevitably falls in love with the woman. And I’m sure most of you can guess what the big twist was.

Luck Number Slevin this film is not, but I don’t think it was trying to be. The twist is fairly obvious, but the way in which the story is told is a real strong point. I mentioned stylish a while ago and that really is the word. The Tourist is beautifully filmed in a really majestic setting (I really need to go back to Venice some day; my 11 year old self was too young to appreciate it). The story is told so well that it makes up for some of the writing deficiencies.

There are writing deficiencies though. For example it is made pretty obvious that Depp’s character has fallen in love with Jolie’s, so we don’t need to have him say it to no-one in particular. Less is more when it comes to films like this; the more you can show visually, the better. Jonny Depp was an interesting pick for the male Protagonist as well, although I can hardly blame him for trying to associate his name with something other than the train wreck that is the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. His style of acting is not exactly suited to the role and Captain Jack Sparrow did make the odd unwelcome appearance. That being said Jolie does a fantastic job, as she usually does.

There’s really very little else to say about The Tourist. It’s a victory of style over substance. There’s really not much to the film or the characters, but all of that can be overlooked because it’s just executed so well. Usually I’d be criticising the lack of deep characterisation and the somewhat predictable plot, but there’s just enough of both of these for the film to work.

So if you want a strong story with a focus on characters, go watch a Christopher Nolan film, because neither of these films will satisfy your desires. If, however, you fancy the best action film made in recent years, go watch The Green Hornet; it’s a lot of fun. If you’re looking for something a bit more reserved with some fantastic examples of good film making, go see The Tourist.

But if you want to enjoy some really good stories from the comfort of your own home for absolutely free, then you should try listening to some podcasts. You don’t even have to go to the effort of reading these stories because they’re wonderfully narrated to you. If you’re a fan of Sci-fi, Fantasy or Horror stories (or even if you’re not) then check out Escape Pod, Pod Castle and Pseudopod for weekly short story podcasts. You will not regret it.

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