For better and worse, these are boom times for cinematic superherodom, for Bat-, Spider-, Iron-, Super-, Watch-, and X-Men—not to mention the occasional Catwoman or Hellboy. But despite the screen-time lavished on the cape-and-tights contingent, Hollywood has been somewhat leery of their fedora-ed forbears, those unfortunate masked vigilantes from before the Age of Lycra. The Shadow was released in 1994, featuring an Alec Baldwin whose primary endowment was a nose that elongated, Pinocchio-like, whenever it sniffed evil lurking in the hearts of men. Frank Miller's dispiriting take on The Spirit a couple of years ago could easily have laid the subgenre to rest for a generation. Yet hope springs eternal, and here we find ourselves, amid buzz for The Green Hornet.
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Seth Rogen co-wrote the screenplay with writing partner Evan Goldberg, and stars, improbably, as the titular hero. Direction is supplied by the always-interesting—and occasionally transcendent—Michel Gondry, who becomes the second Frenchman to tackle the subject in the last five years. (A thin-but-energetic short starring the wonderfully named stuntman/martial artist Manu Lanzi was directed by the still-more-wonderfully-named Aurélien Poitrimoult in 2006.)
Given the unlikely talents involved, it is perhaps little surprise that the The Green Hornet is a pastiche of action and comedy, pulp drama and bromance. At its best, the film is sly and irreverent, enlivening an exhausted genre like an Apatowian Iron Man. At its worst, it's an ungainly hybrid, suffering not only from the flaws common to 3-D action movies (yes, the filmmakers will eventually find occasion to hurl a pickup truck into a bus), but from its own conflicting impulses and ambitions as well.