The origins of The Green Hornet date back to 1930s radio serials created by George W. Trendle. The Lone Ranger was another Trendle creation, and with the Green Hornet he aimed to bring the iconic character into a modern setting. To this day, the franchise is best known for its shortest-lived incarnation: a 1960s TV show cancelled after its first season which is renowned for introducing the world to Bruce Lee and his unparalleled martial arts prowess. And now, decades on, we have 2011’s The Green Hornet. However, this first big-screen feature film incarnation of the character isn’t overly interested in the character’s history – rather, it’s interested in providing a fun time. The basic premise behind the franchise is retained, but the script – penned by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg – simply tweaks the average superhero story in order to suit Rogen’s usual screen persona. Purists will likely cry over the changes, but those wanting an enjoyable romp should be pleased by this stylish, glossy blockbuster.

After being raised by his harsh newspaper magnate of a father (Wilkinson), Britt Reid (Rogen) has become a lazy, spoiled playboy who parties hard but is incapable of getting his life in order. When his father dies of an allergic reaction to a bee sting, Britt inherits his father’s newspaper business but has no idea how to run it. However, he soon finds comfort in a skilled associate named Kato (Chou). It isn’t long before Britt and Kato are involved in an act of accidental valour. Labelling himself the Green Hornet, Britt decides to take to the superhero game, relying on Kato’s ingenious inventions and martial arts skills to see him through. Additionally, Britt’s idea is to fight crime by using his newspaper to trick the general public into perceiving his mysterious alter ego as a notorious criminal. However, their behaviour disturbs oversensitive crime kingpin Chudnofsky (Waltz), who is unenthusiastic about the notion of handing Los Angeles over to a pair of amateur crime fighters.

Despite its humble origins, Hollywood has been trying to turn The Green Hornet into a modern blockbuster franchise since the ’90s, with people like Kevin Smith, Jet Li, and George Clooney all having been attached one at stage. It’s doubtful anyone imagined the script would ultimately be written as an action-comedy by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who also scripted The Pineapple Express and Superbad. While action-comedies are normally welcome, perhaps the main fault of The Green Hornet is that as a comedy it’s rather lacklustre. There are only a few hearty laughs to be had, and some of the tonal changes are jarring. For instance, light-hearted laughs are followed by a long, awkward, uncomfortable set-piece spotlighting an over-the-top brawl between Kato and Britt. In all likelihood, the film would have fared better as a straight action flick with a few one-liners. After all, the action aspect is much more enjoyable. Also, the film is unavoidably mainstream and in no way daring, rendering it somewhat unremarkable.

Curiously, the directorial duties for The Green Hornet were handed to French filmmaker Michel Gondry, who is best known for whimsical art-house films (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindThe Science of Sleep). It was an unconventional decision, yet it paid off – Gondry’s filmmaking style is a huge asset. Gondry managed to put his own distinctive visual stamp on the established superhero genre without eschewing the studio-favourite blockbuster demeanour. The Green Hornet is packed with fun gadgets and exceptional visual effects, while the action set-pieces were handled with exceptional skill and top-notch visual flair. The film’s most “Gondry-esque” aspect is the use of “Kato-Vision”, which allows the audience to see Kato’s mind’s eye during the fights. Slow and fast motion is used simultaneously, and we see Kato zeroing in on critical attack points as he swiftly charts out his strategy. Furthermore, in one scene there is an astonishingly creative use of split-screens and picture-in-picture which reinvigorates the art of montage. Unfortunately, The Green Hornet was converted to 3-D in post-production, but the only plausible explanation for the 3-D release is greed. Any gain to the viewer is negligible, but the increase in revenue from surcharges is quite significant.

Rogen may have co-written the script with himself in mind as Britt Reid, but the actor is miscast. A star of limited acting range, Rogen never tried to step outside of his comfort zone – there is no attempt to bring out a character; instead, the Green Hornet is simply Seth Rogen in a mask without the hard-to-nail necessity of charm. Luckily, Jay Chou fares better as Kato. His English is rough, but he has charisma. Despite the role of Kato demanding more physicality than acting ability, Chou has an amiable screen presence, which is important. Unfortunately, he and Rogen do not share much chemistry. There is some chemistry, but not the scintillating type. Meanwhile, in his first role since his Oscar-winning turn in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, Christoph Waltz is simply marvellous as Chudnofsky. James Franco also appears in an unbilled one-scene cameo. Despite his limited screen-time, Franco steals the movie from everyone else as a smart-mouthed club-owner-come-drug-dealer who verbally slaughters Chudnofsky. Franco is hilarious in the part; giving the film a spark of infectious energy and effortless humour lacking from other character interaction.

In spite of its scripting flaws, the majority of The Green Hornet works. Moments of brilliance are present throughout, and the action scenes are extraordinary. In fact, the last half an hour of the film provides some spectacular carnage culminating in a climactic battle royale within Britt’s newspaper headquarters that’s slick and exhilarating; far better than a lot of action witnessed in other big-budget action films which have tarnished multiplexes over the past few years. The flick is not quite memorable or strong enough to launch a new franchise, but The Green Hornet is a fun ride. It’s certainly not the disaster that most critics made it out to be.