After spending what seemed like an eternity in development hell, 2011's The Green Hornet turns out to be a lot better than its tortured production history would suggest even if it's more an entertaining diversion than a top tier superhero flick. Rather than going the period route of earlier radio superhero movies like The Shadow or The Phantom but instead reinventing the character for a more cynical age and riffing on the rationale behind superheroes in general and the Green Hornet's reasons for posing as a criminal in particular, it does turn into a bit of a tightrope act at times. Rather than the determined crimefighter of his earlier incarnations, here Seth Rogan's Brett Reid starts his double-life more as a prank than anything else while the film acknowledges the fact that his trusty sidekick is the real star of the partnership, and with Jay Chou genuinely charismatic in the role it's little surprise that Kato is elevated to the real brains and brawn behind the partnership.
Cameron Diaz's Lenore Case, Reid's trusty secretary, is a bit more of a problem. Where previous versions never quite knew what to do with her, she does get a bit more to do here than stand on the sidelines as a cheerleader, here inadvertently providing the criminal intelligence and game plan for the duo. But in resisting the temptation to turn her into just the girlfriend - despite both Reid and Kato's constant efforts - the film does tend to turn her more into a vehicle for plot exposition than a character in her own right, showing some signs of desperation by trying to throw her fans the odd bit of ditzy comedy to beef up the part.
Things do get awkward when the dysfunctional trio get even more dysfunctional in what feels a bit too contrived a plot development, but then this is a film where everyone is dysfunctional. Even Reid's father, a supposed beacon of integrity but a terrible parent, turns out to have a few skeletons in his closet, giving the impression that the filmmakers are more enamoured of the film's far from complex moral ambiguity than the heroics. Having a superhero who isn't very good at it and a supervillain (Christoph Waltz) who is insecure about his reputation for frightening people in an age where everyone judges by appearances and just don't find him stylish or intimidating anymore is potentially even more problematic, but somehow the film mostly manages to pull it off. It helps that Waltz's less effective moments have been exiled to the deleted scenes bin on the Blu-ray, cutting down on his screen time but making better use of what remains.
There are some striking flights of visual fancy, not least an ingenious unbroken single take that still manages to turn into several completely different split screen images, but they don't come at the expense of the flow of the film itself. The action scenes aren't plentiful, the film preferring crime fighting montages to all-out setpieces at times, but when they come they're satisfying without being too spectacular, the film saving its big guns for the grand finale that sees a car chase and destruction derby through most of the newspaper building - including the upper floors - that's one of the better action scenes of recent years. All-in-all it's a decent Saturday night's entertainment rather than a real classic, though it's disappointing that the Green Hornet co-creator Fran Striker's name is nowhere to be found in the credits.
The DVD offers a thin extras package - audio commentary, gag reel and a couple of featurettes - with the best extras reserved for the Blu-ray release: four more featurettes, an interactive editing feature and half-an-hour of deleted scenes, mostly padding although there is a chance encounter between Reid and Chudnofski in a bar that falls flat and a much longer (and less effective) uncompleted version of the car chase.