Harnessing the power of humor
By Dan Kois
Friday, January 14, 2010
This morning, the unconscious bodies of three pickpockets were found on the front steps of The Washington Post's offices. Safety-pinned to one was an envelope containing the following movie review.
Yeah, I think you know who I am. Big guy. Wear a mask. I protect the innocent of Gotham from the garbage who pollute the streets with violence.
That's right. I'm Batman.
But now there's another masked vigilante on the streets. Calls himself the Green Hornet. He's taking over Los Angeles. There's a movie out about him right now. It's called "The Green Hornet." Obviously.
It gets my bat wings all riled up. Let me tell you why.
There was a time when movies about superheroes were dark and full of angst. Like "The Dark Knight." You know just from the title what that movie's gonna be like. Broody. Angsty. I'll be doing a lot of thinking on rooftops, you know, about justice and whatever. Maybe the girl I love gets blown up.
Then this johnny-come-lately shows up. This punk, the Green Hornet. His movie's fun. It's light-hearted. It's full of jokes. Jokes! My enemies tell jokes. Riddles, whatnot. Heroes don't tell jokes. Heroes keep it grim. Saving people is serious business.
When they made a movie about me, they hired Christian Bale to play me. Serious guy. Serious actor. Intense. So who plays the Green Hornet? Seth Rogen. A jokester. A funnyman. A Canadian, for Pete's sake. Sure, they had him do some crunches, but still, it just points to a real lack of seriousness in this movie.
Just as an example, when I'm weaving the Batmobile through the streets of Gotham, with explosions and gunfire on every side, I keep my trap shut. Maybe I utter a single quip through gritted teeth after I capture the bad guys with my Batarang.
But this Green Hornet guy? "This is awesome!" he yells. "Oh man, now we're in a car chase!"
What is this, amateur hour?
I was prepared to like this Green Hornet kid. We have a lot in common. Take his secret identity. Britt Reid's a millionaire playboy, which struck a chord, although his tastes run less toward tuxedos and fine art and more toward parties drenched in beer and Silly String. Like a certain superhero I know, he loses a parent unexpectedly; when his father, played by Tom Wilkinson, dies, Britt inherits his mansion, his garage full of luxury cars, and the newspaper he edited for years. (Yeah, I thought newspaper editors drove Hondas, not Rolls-Royces, but that's Hollywood, I guess.)
But does Britt Reid seethe about the death of his father? Is he filled with rage? No! He resented the old man, so he saws the head off his dad's memorial statue. What kind of hero does that?
Look, I will grudgingly admit that much of the movie was really funny. Sure, I didn't laugh - in lieu of laughter, I emit a harsh sound like a dog's cough - but all around me, the crowd really seemed to be enjoying themselves. Rogen and Jay Chou, the charismatic Taiwanese pop star who plays Britt's partner, Kato, have real chemistry. The movie somehow manages not to marginalize or insult Kato, a character who in the early "Hornet" radio serials was something of an offensive Asian caricature. (What! I've been thinking about getting a sidekick, so I did some research.)
In fact, Kato's often the best part of the movie. Britt calls him a "human Swiss army knife," and he's right; Kato is not a sidekick, but a fully formed hero who's full of surprises. And the gadgets he develops for the Hornet's sweet ride (a souped-up '65 Chrysler Imperial, respect) are pretty sweet. I've been thinking the Batmobile could use a fax machine and a turntable.
But really, I just want to make it clear that I am personally offended that someone would make a silly superhero movie. That's unacceptable. They couldn't even get a dark and complicated director such as Christopher Nolan to direct it; instead, it's directed by Michel Gondry. Michel Gondry! The Frenchman who directed "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and those White Stripes videos! How is that appropriate?
True, some of the handmade effects in which Gondry specializes work well in "The Green Hornet," dramatizing how Kato, for instance, can beat five guys up at once. And I guess that maybe Gondry's easygoing comic spirit is a better match for a movie like this than Nolan, who proved triumphantly with "Inception" that you can make a gigantic hit movie that contains zero jokes. (I loved it! I saw it four times, and asked Lucius Fox to start developing that dream technology for Wayne Industries.)
And what about the villains? My most recent nemesis was a crazed murderer whose ruthless anti-philosophy shook me, and the city, to the very core. Chudnofsky, the villain in "The Green Hornet" - played by Christoph Waltz - is having a midlife crisis. That's not serious!
Sigh. You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Or, in this case, a joke. Well, let me employ sarcasm: Well done, Seth Rogen and Michel Gondry. You made a superhero movie for people who thought "The Dark Knight" needed to lighten up. That's so funny I forgot to laugh.
No, seriously, I forgot to laugh. I actually don't know how. Alfred?
Contains violent action, language, sensuality and drug content.