Last week was kind of a big one for genre fans, since the long-awaited/apparently-mildly-dreaded peak at The Green Hornet finally popped up, the adaptation of Warren Ellis’s absolutely awesome Red released a teaser, and DC’s animated movies got Adult Serious with Batman: Under the Red Hood (which, yes, does sound like a Swedish softcore film somehow).
Now, people tend to judge movies by their trailers, but I tend to be more specific. Because I like to be optimistic about a movie I might perhaps enjoy, I tend to focus on a specific line of dialogue and hope that characterizes the movie on the whole.
Let’s take them one by one:
THE GREEN HORNET
Initial Concept: Publisher Brit Reid masquerades by night as a mysterious gangster with the help of his assistant, Kato – but in reality, they’re using this cover to take down criminals by getting close to them. Green Hornet started as a radio show, is dimly recollected by a lot of folks as a companion show to the 60’s Batman series, generally looks like someone asked “What if The Shadow was related to The Lone Ranger?” and really, not a lot of people care. Nor should they, really.
The Adaptation: Take years of production and a revolving door of scripts, directors and actors, and ultimately you get a semi-comical version with Seth Rogen as a boozing layabout heir to a publishing empire, whose father’s death gives him the idea to do something with his life for a change, with the aid of ultra-handy associate Kato. They use the “masked gangsters” cover, though here it’s pretty clear that it’s 10% Brit’s crazy scheme and 90% Kato being awesome that makes this work.
Immediate Fan Response: People (by which I mean, 100 oddly passionate internet commenters) HATE the idea of the venerable, UNIMPEACHABLE! Green Hornet franchise being done as anything less than a new Dark Knight, and also Seth Rogen is too fat and jokey, even though 1) It’s a guy in a suit with a domino mask, so it’s not like you gotta get all ripped for the part, 2) Rogen actually does show pretty good range in movies like the ultimately kind of depressing Funny People, and 3) NOBODY ACTUALLY GIVES A SHIT ABOUT GREEN HORNET.
Holland’s Response: It’s really amazing how nobody seems to care that Michel Gonddry’s directing it. I don’t love all his films, but I respect that the guy knows how to put together an effective movie.
And, more to the point: IT’S NOT BATMAN. Hell, it’s not even The Shadow, the property’s most obvious influence (other than The Lone Ranger, the property it’s most intrinsically tied into). Which is all to say: Why NOT have fun with it? Why not use the barely-remembered visuals (seriously: you find me someone who recalls ANYTHING about Green Hornet other than: “Wasn’t Bruce Lee in that?” or “He had a cool car, right?” and I will give you a dollar) to tell a more quirky, light-hearted reinterpretation? Why, because it’s not true to the character?
People who complain about this drive me up a wall because they don’t think about Batman enough (a sentence I feel I should use more often). One of the many reasons Batman resonates with so many people is that the character is simple and solid enough that every interpretation works. Campy 60’s show, creepy Tim Burton, Bruce Timm animated series, Chris Nolan movies – they ALL work. Because as long as you keep the basic tenets of the character in place, you can tell whatever story you want.
So as long as Green Hornet features: A lovely green suit, an uber-competent Kato, a bad-ass car, and the “He only pretends to be a mysterious gangster” idea, what else do you really need? Why NOT throw some jokes in there? MOVING ON.
Quote to Notice: “You know what you are? You’re a human Swiss Army Knife! Just when you think there couldn’t be anymore cool things? A new cool thing comes out!” (Because it’s nice to see a Green Hornet interpretation that recognizes just how crazily awesome Kato is.)
Initial Concept: Paul Moses is a retired CIA assassin, a man trying to live out his twilight years quietly coming to grips with his violent past. Until a short-sighted CIA director decides he needs to be permanently silenced and orders a hit on him – at which point he re-activates himself and rains goddamn HELL upon the CIA.
The Adaptation: Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is new to retirement, but when a hit is put out on him he gathers a crew of out-to-pasture operatives (including Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and acid-casualty John Malkovich) to show the CIA old dogs can still fuck them up royally.
Immediate Fan Response: It’s too light-hearted and doesn’t get the dark spirit of the graphic novel.
Holland’s Response: Well…Warren Ellis covered most every base here, and I can dig it. The comic is its own thing, and adapting it directly would have made a really awesome 40-minute movie. It has been repurposed into something else, and that’s okay. The only real problem is this feels more like a cliché of a trailer, owing mainly to the score – cutesy classical background music for the ‘Man, retirement’s BORING, AmIRite?’ scenes, CUT TO: ‘Ba-blooow! AC/DC! Let’s ROCK with the old guys as they kick some asssss!!!! (Throw up devil horns).’
And that’s keeping people from seeing that there actually ARE a few “Ellis-esque” moments in the trailer – the ending “Kordesky trained you…? I trained Kordesky (SNAP)” hits the general tone, I’d say. So my verdict is, everyone settle down, and if the least we get is an action movie starring everyone’s favorite character actors and Helen Mirren shooting the shit out of stunt men? There are probably worse ways to spend two hours.
Quote to Notice: “Don’t you think we ought to discuss the fact that the CIA is being used as a hit squad?” (Another very Ellis-tinged line.)
BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD
Initial Concept: Over a year-long story, Judd Winick brought back Jason Todd, the second Robin that readers hated enough to vote for his death (by The Joker’s crowbar!), only to come back to life as a result of the impossible storytelling stupidity of DC Comics (hint: it involves the Earth-Prime Superboy PUNCHING THE WALLS OF REALITY and making the world momentarily different enough that he’s not dead, just buried alive). Anyway, Jason is revived, becomes a new Red Hood, and starts killing Gotham City gangsters while Batman wrings his hands a lot.
The Adaptation: Like Superman: Doomsday, Under the Red Hood promises to tell the same basic story (complete with “Batman and Nightwing blow up the android Amazo real good”), while also streamlining away the comics-specific continuity, so you can watch it without having to know what a Superboy-Reality-Punch is.
Initial Response: “Another Batman movie?! Why haven’t you guys done ‘New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract’ yet?! WAAAAAH” Because they already did it in the Teen Titans cartoon everyone loved so much, and it was damn near perfect then so SHUT. UP!
My Response: I am a person who knows what a Superboy-Reality-Punch is, and I wish to GOD I didn’t. So rewriting the story to get rid of those stupid plot points is a big plus for me. Also, the usual problem with these DC animated movies – “How do we cast the voice of Batman even though we know damn well Kevin Conroy is pretty much the be-all and end-all?” is solved pretty well with the gravelly father-figure baritone of Bruce Greenwood, and my love of Neil Patrick Harris (Nightwing) and Jensen Ackles (Jason Todd/Red Hood) helps a little.
Quote to Notice: “You want to rule them by fear. But what do you do with the ones who aren’t afraid?” (Because this is a question that really should be asked of Batman a lot more often.)