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“The Green Hornet” is Appropriately the Anti-“The Dark Knight”

"The Green Hornet" is Appropriately the Anti-"The Dark Knight"

Regardless of whether you like Christopher Nolan’s take on the Batman franchise (and there are only a few I know who don’t), you’ll find that Michel Gondry, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s version of “The Green Hornet” is quite the opposite of “The Dark Knight.” This doesn’t mean that if you do like “The Dark Knight” that you’ll necessarily dislike “The Green Hornet,” or vice versa. And there are certainly some similarities between the two, including some very badly directed action scenes and an over-the-top villain portrayed by an actor who is too good for the movie he’s in.

And as a character, the Green Hornet is easily compared to Batman. They’re both masked, vigilante crime fighters whose alter-egos are rich playboys. They each have their respective sidekicks and gadget-heavy automobiles. I’m pretty sure in the new “Green Hornet” movie that the dynamic duo of Green Hornet and Kato is even likened to Batman and Robin. A sad reference given that the former characters were created a few years before the latter. Still, it’s also an appropriate nod given that the couples have crossed paths before.

IFC’s Matt Singer reminded me (via Twitter) of the connection between the “Batman” and “Green Hornet” TV series, both of which were produced and narrated by William Dozier and aired on ABC in the mid/late ’60s. Then it was Batman who came first, at the beginning of 1966, leading to the Green Hornet’s television debut (co-starring a young Bruce Lee as Kato) later that fall. Because “Batman” was a hit, the show was used to promote “The Green Hornet” within a few weeks of the season’s start. Here is their brief, super cheesy meeting:

“The Green Hornet” show wasn’t as popular so its characters were brought back to “Batman” later in the season for a two-part story involving stamp counterfeiting. Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Britt Reid (the Green Hornet) were revealed to be childhood rivals, while nobody seemed wise to the fact that coincidentally both Reid and The Green Hornet showed up in Gotham City at the exact same time! Here’s the first part of that storyline:

Unfortunately, “The Green Hornet” was canceled and aired its last first-run episode only two weeks following this crossover. It probably would have been better to have Batman and Robin appear on the less-successful show, but they never really did. Visual references to the “Batman” TV show were made, but that’s it.

The irony is that unlike “Batman,” “The Green Hornet” was not a show played for camp. It may seem kind of silly today, but this was far from its intent. Faithful to the radio and film serials, it features a relatively straight and serious tone. Yet four decades later, it’s the movie of “The Green Hornet” that’s a goofy comedy while Batman has been successful as a serious franchise, most recently with “The Dark Knight.” Is this just the way the two properties must coincide? Both began similarly as works inspired by pulp detective fiction, but they’ve diverged reciprocally so that seemingly they can’t both be silly or dramatic at the same time.

I won’t be surprised if the cycle continues so that one day Batman returns to territory like Joel Schumacher‘s take on the franchise and “The Green Hornet” is rebooted as a darker, noirish film or TV series. In his review at Green Cine Daily, Vadim Rizov pertinently, negatively likens the new “Green Hornet” movie to Tim Burton’s “Batman” movie (“The Green Hornet proves to be the sloppiest, most inept action franchise-launcher helmed by a frail visionary weirdo since Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman.”), which nowadays is seen as a campier take on the Caped Crusader, compared to “The Dark Knight.”

In another review, Batman is likened to The Beatles, with The Green Hornet said to correspondingly be The Kinks. Again, a sad statement given which came first. In terms of chronology and notoriety, I’d say The Green Hornet is The Dave Clark Five in that analogy. Fused Film thinks that this movie could have been more like “Batman Begins” (instead of “Superbad” meets the 1960s “Batman”), which sounds rather redundant.

I guess that’s good enough reason to make “The Green Hornet” totally different, especially since kids today are going to think its a rip-off of Batman, “Iron Man” and “Spider-Man” anyway. But does it need to remind me so much of the stupid comical film version of “Dragnet” so much?

In interviews, Rogen addresses how he preferred “The Green Hornet” TV show to “Batman,” mainly because of how much cooler Kato is than Robin. So why didn’t he try to make his movie cooler, rather than funnier, than Nolan’s Batman movies? He explains:

It was very clear that there was no way to do this movie totally seriously. We needed to bring some lightness to it because the Green Hornet isn’t that dark a character. He has no deep secret. His parents weren’t murdered. He’s not avenging.

I think there’s a way to do a “Green Hornet” movie seriously without needing it to be dark. And actually Rogen’s movie is pretty dark as far as all its death is concerned. Its comedy is quite black at times. But I look forward to the future incarnation that doesn’t contain cock-punches and other buddy cop shtick.

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