Last week it was announced that the classic 1930’s radio character The Green Hornet was returning to the big screen, in a reboot from Amasia Entertainment, and the response was a resounding… meh. Though many know him from the very popular 1960’s show starring none other than Bruce Lee as Kato, ever since then he’s faded into relative obscurity. He popped up thanks to a wildly successful run from Dynamite Entertainment (based off an old script from Kevin Smith), and then had a movie back in 2011 from Sony. That film, directed by Michel Gondry and co-written by Seth Rogen, didn’t gain much traction, so Amasia wishes to try again. But what are the elements of a successful Green Hornet story? Is this hero too old for modern audiences, or is there a way to make a successful revival? Here are five things that need to be done in order to make a Green Hornet reboot successful.
I. Treat the Green Hornet as a Competent Character
One of the interesting things about the Green Hornet and Kato is that they are essentially two the halves of what makes up Batman: Kato of course is the martial arts expert who is super wise and extremely devoted to bettering his mind and spirit, while the Green Hornet is a playboy rich guy (in his civilian guise as Britt Reid) who uses gadgets and is oftentimes a bit of a detective. Unfortunately the general public believes, and fairly so in some instances, that Kato is the only one who actually does anything, and that the Hornet is just the guy there to take all the credit. The Seth Rogen version of the character was also played up as more of a joke until the script required he be competent, and any reboot must avoid this trap entirely.
Though he doesn’t have to be a master of combat and gadgetry, the Green Hornet has to be good at his job as a crimefighter. You can’t make the title character of a story a complete joke, or it’ll disconnect the audience from his struggles and triumphs. The Kevin Smith series from Dynamite (properly adapted by Phil Hester and Jonathan Lau) is an origin story of the 60’s Green Hornet’s son, showing his progression from nobody to badass. We see the naïve and untrained Britt Reid II mastering dart guns, martial arts and the various fleet of vehicles, naturally showing his progression. While I won’t 100% advocate for the origin story approach, we need to see him be able to handle himself, and in a different way than Kato can. We need to see how the two complement, not invalidate, each other. Speaking of Kato…
II. Treat Kato as an Equal, Not A Sidekick
As I’ve mentioned before, most of the time Kato becomes the stealth protagonist of Green Hornet stories, coming across as the only capable one and stealing the spotlight. I fear that in attempting to correct this, though, a nervous screenwriter might try to weaken or even sideline Kato, which would be a massive mistake. While the franchise is titled The Green Hornet, Kato is an essential part of the duo and without him (or her in the case of Kevin Smith’s Mulan Kato) things wouldn’t be the same. In fact, an improper balance of the Hornet and Kato makes Green Hornet projects weaker! A perfect example of this is the drastically imbalanced relationship they have in the 2011 film. Jay Chou’s Kato, while admittedly cool, was such a badass and the Green Hornet was such a joke that it made you question why the Hornet was around in the first place. Not a good look when the Green Hornet is the title character!
Of course, Kato should always be the more physically proficient of the two, as if having frickin’ Bruce Lee play him in the 60’s didn’t sell that. In most versions of the origin, Kato is the one who teaches the Hornet how to fight, and I think that they should keep that dynamic for the film. Like I said in the previous point, however, I think Kato’s strength should be the physical combat while the Hornet’s should be his use of gadgets. One of the additions Dynamite made for Mulan Kato (other than adding some seriously badass butterfly knife-esque swords) was that she was always the one who drove the Black Beauty, their beautiful and dangerous ride, another possible wrinkle in their relationship. Giving Kato his/her own role in the duo while remaining an equal partner is what makes him/her work in these stories, and a badass, equal Kato is absolutely essential to making this series work.
III. Play Up the “Hero Disguised as Mobster” Gimmick
Most of the tropes of superhero stories have already been played out in film thanks to the Marvel and DC movies, making starting a new series that has something original to show us very difficult. Fortunately for the Green Hornet and Kato, they have something the other superheroes don’t: they don’t act like superheroes. They, in an effort to root out the crime that has infested Central City, pretend to be mobsters, driving out the “competition” and striking fear into the heart of organized crime. While it also sets the cops against them, it gives the Hornet and Kato a unique angle to battle crime from, and opens up a lot of potential story ideas.
How does the duo decide who the greatest threat is? Can some of these criminals be turned into allies? Will the real criminals have masked enforcers of their own? There are a lot of good ways to go just by embracing this idea, and could add another dimension to the struggles they’ll inevitably face. I’m even seeing something similar to the first Batman movie, where the motives and identity of the Green Hornet are in question because we see him acting like a mobster first. Doesn’t that just sound like a cool idea, allowing a hero to toe the line in a way that folks like Superman and Captain America can’t? There are a lot of avenues here, and I think it would be a massive shame if the studio decided to play it safe and ignore the possibilities.
IV. Don’t Make It a Comedy
You may have noticed by now that I’m not commenting on how the film should be directed, who the actors should be, the style of film, time period its set in, etc. That’s because, at least when it comes to the last Green Hornet movie, those weren’t really the problems. Michel Gondry is a fine director (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a masterpiece) and he brought a lot of cool visuals and true style to the film, and the action scenes were quite good. So what exactly was the problem? Well, it was the script that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote, which essentially turned the Green Hornet into another one of their stoner comedies.
It should go without saying by now that not everything in the universe has to be exactly like the Marvel movies, and that some movies can be a little more serious and mature. I’m not saying that The Green Hornet has to be an Oscar-caliber drama or a Scorsese crime epic, but it cannot be a completely goofy movie like the Rogen version. The best versions of the Green Hornet were based around action, but had some really strong character work at its core. Maybe, if you want this film to be successful, you don’t focus so much on the prat falls and stupid comedy and spend more time on character work, world building and setting up cool action scenes. Simple concept, I know, but one that so many wannabe Marvels and DCs fail to do.
V. No Cinematic Universe!
Another unfortunate consequence of the success of Marvel is this idea that everything has to spin off and become a cinematic universe in order to become successful. While DC has finally caught up in its own, roundabout way, almost everything else attempted by these studios has failed. I understand that cinematic universes are the big thing right now, but I sincerely believe that the only surefire way to build a franchise nowadays is to create a good first film with seeds of a sequel and focus on just nailing that one. Think more A New Hope and less The Golden Compass or Eragon or any post-Harry Potter fantasy that ended on the assumption that there would be a sequel.
Luckily, it should be pretty easy to avoid this trap with the Green Hornet. He’s only really connected to the Lone Ranger canonically, and regardless of the time period it would likely be a small reference at most. The Green Hornet and Kato also teamed up with Dynamite’s stable of pulp heroes and classic characters in both Masks miniseries, and more specifically have partnered up with The Shadow in their own miniseries. These connections, most of which would be complicated by film rights and licensing and all that good stuff, are not enough to sustain a universe, and thank God because we really don’t need yet another cinematic universe to follow. Let’s have the Green Hornet and Kato carry their own movie and do it well first, and then we can talk about moving forward.
If you’re a newbie to the Green Hornet and want some good comics to read to get to know the lean, mean crime-fighting machine, here are some of my personal suggestions, all from the great folks at Dynamite:
Enjoy your week, y’all!
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