Director Michel Gondry caused a ruckus in superhero land not long ago when he lashed out at critics of his new film, “The Green Hornet.” It seems not everyone was thrilled with the casting of Seth Rogen in the title role, not to mention the film's overall jokey approach to the material.
“I usually identify with the nerds, but these ones just reinforce the social rules," Gondry said of the complainers. "Their values are fascistic. All those people marching around in capes and masks and boots. The superhero imagery is totally fascist!"
With the jovial Rogen aboard as publishing scion turned hero Britt Reid, this Green Hornet is a true comic. He’s amiable rather than awesome. Although some weaponry and fighting is required, Rogen’s interpretation — he is also one of four credited writers on the film, which was a passion project of his for four years — is a mash-up of comedy and action. It isn’t a unique blend, but the presence of Rogen — whose most notable role came in the 2007 Judd Apatow comedy “Knocked Up” — signals immediately that a relatively high goofball quotient exists.
“I think what we’re seeing in so many superhero movies that stands out is that they’re being cast against type,” noted Thom Geier, senior editor at Entertainment Weekly. “Certainly in the case of Seth Rogen you won’t see him on the cover of Men’s Health for his six-pack abs, but he will catch the attention of people tired of the standard issue superhero type.”
Legions of Green Hornet devotees descended upon Comic-Con in July to see an extended trailer of the film and hear Rogen lead a panel discussion. For the most part, the session was received well, although some of the jokes didn’t work as effectively as they might in the film, and there was definitely a disgruntled segment of fans unhappy with the project.
Robert Falconer, founder and executive editor of cinemaspy.com, seemed to represent some of those befuddled masses when he wrote back in March: “Ridiculing Seth Rogen’s ‘Green Hornet’ movie has become almost de rigueur among both fans and journos alike. And yes, we’ve engaged in the practice ourselves, doubting Thomases that we are. Something about the idea of funny-man Seth Rogen playing Britt Reid, aka Green Hornet, just strikes us as the worst example of miscasting.”
Falconer expanded on those sentiments after viewing more material, although he notes that he can't give a complete assessment without seeing the entire film.
“I can tell you from what I have seen from all the clips that have been released that it looks like the film might be a lot of fun,” he said. “My concern stems from a couple of things: Back in the ‘60s, producer William Dozier did both ‘Batman’ and ‘The Green Hornet’ (on television). ‘Batman’ was always done for camp. But ‘Green Hornet’ was played seriously. I think it was understood he was posing as a villain but was really a hero. When I heard Seth had chosen to take on the character, I was not sure how familiar he was with the source material and why he decided to go for a comic approach.
“There’s been a tendency in recent years to remake stuff from the ‘60s and ‘70s and give it a campy twist. … I would have preferred to see ‘Green Hornet’ handled more seriously. That’s not to say the film won’t be fun. But after seeing so many movies treated irreverently that don’t work, my natural tendency is to worry about how it’s going to come out.”
James Berardinelli of reelviews.net wonders not so much about Rogen’s presence but rather his ability. “The problem may not be that he's an atypical action hero, but whether he has the acting chops to carry it off,” he said. “If I was to ask, ‘Which of the following names doesn't fit? (a) Bale, (b) Downey, (c) Craig, (d) Rogen,’ it wouldn't take much effort to come up with an answer.
“Rogen has never struck me as an actor with much range. He's a solid comedian but can he handle the dramatic aspects of the character he's playing? Can he do what Bruce Willis accomplished 23 years ago (in “Die Hard”)? Or will his performance feel forced and fatuous? Will he turn ‘The Green Hornet’ into a joke? Can we lose sight of the fact that he's Seth Rogen? Therein lies the key to whether or not he'll succeed and, by extension, whether ‘The Green Hornet’ will succeed. This is not an A-list superhero film by any stretch of the imagination. It needs a tremendous star turn by Rogen to do more than win its first weekend box office, then get buried in subsequent weeks.”
Still, “The Green Hornet” came away from that costumed focus group at Comic-Con, with mostly positive buzz, thanks largely to the presence of a smaller, slimmer Rogen. And there does seem to be anticipation for the movie.
“Seth brings a more comic sensibility to the character,” Geier said. “It’s not grounded in realism. He decided to camp it up and take it over the top, to make the Green Hornet a sardonic hero. That makes sense, and fits Seth’s reputation and persona.
“For the last 10 years somebody has been trying to get a ‘Green Hornet’ film off the ground. At various times people like George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Jake Gyllenhaal were attached. Because there are so many superhero movies, Seth decided to do a completely different take on it, to have him be an average Joe. That was a different, and smart, take on this.”
Actually, the superhero in films has been evolving before Rogen ever donned a green outfit. Tobey Maguire in the “Spider-Man” series? Robert Downey Jr. in the “Iron Man” films? They didn’t fit the archetype, although audiences didn’t care. Then there's Hugh Jackman in the “X-Men” films, who does. And Ryan Reynolds in the upcoming “Green Lantern,” who might fall somewhere in between.
“The idea of the superhero has become much broader than it used to be,” explained Geoff Boucher, entertainment columnist for the Los Angeles Times who also contributes to “The Hero Complex,” the paper’s Web site devoted to hero worship of the fun kind.
“Now there are a lot more colors and tints to it,” he added. “At one time, it was somebody like Christopher Reeve (“Superman”), or George Reeves (the “Adventures of Superman” TV series of the 1950s). Now you have satirical superheroes, sly superheroes, troubled superheroes, failed superheroes. It’s a much wider spectrum.”
Boucher is decidedly pro-Rogen for this “Green Hornet,” arguing that diversity in the superhero community is not only tolerated but celebrated.
“You can have people as different as a Hugh Jackman or a Christian Bale or a Will Smith, filling in these different parts of the spectrum,” he said. “There’s absolutely room for the Seth Rogen hero. If you go all the way back to 1966 and superhero Adam West (star of the “Batman” TV series), Seth is more West than he is Hugh Jackman.”
And audiences today tend to be drawn in mostly by the spectacle, Boucher noted. “Superheroes have always been big, since they started,” he said. “I think it’s more about using the visual effects to bring the stories to the movie screen more than anything else.”
Michael Ventre is a frequent contributor to TODAYshow.com.