LOS ANGELES — Movies based on comic-book superheroes have become as plentiful as bees at a honeycomb. To make sure “The Green Hornet” wasn’t the latest Hollywood drone, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg made it their mission while writing the script to take traditional elements of the genre and turn them upside down.
“I would have no real interest in just doing a very literal interpretation of pre-existing material. I see a lot of these comic-book movies that come out now and you almost feel like anyone could pick up the first few editions of the comic book and say, ‘I want to shoot this,’ and then six months later you have the origin story of most superheroes,” Rogen says. “We really wanted to be able to inject our own sensibilities into it and our own sense of humor.”
Before they could take the different approach, they had to create a foundation based on Hornet history. The writers listened to many of the original ‘Green Hornet” radio shows and watched episodes of the 1960s TV series that featured Bruce Lee as Kato, the Green Hornet’s partner in crime fighting. That research resulted in several nods to the originals, including the Green Hornet gas gun and the “Flight of the Bumble Bee” theme song.
Then they began to make changes, such as adding the comical edge and going with a rather non-traditional villain.
The trick was to go for laughs while still providing plenty of action.
“You just had to generally be aware that the comedy should come from the characters and it all should feel real and it shouldn’t feel like we’re being funny just for the sake of being funny,” Rogen says. “It should kind of feel like something that would maybe actually happy with these people.”
The recreation of the Black Beauty, The Green Hornet’s car, was a perfect gauge. They filled the vehicle with plenty of action devices — machine guns and missiles — while staying vigilant not to add too many gimmicks. When the car started to look like it could have been owned by Inspector Gadget, everyone knew they had gone too far.
They turned to Oscar winner Christoph Waltz to play The Green Hornet’s foil, Benjamin Chudnofsky, because they needed someone who could be menacing and sympathetic.
“Our fixation wasn’t how to make this guy scary. We wanted more than anything to intellectually understand why someone would be so fascinated with killing another person,” Rogen says. “When we saw Christoph’s previous work it had elements of danger, but at the same time was very entertaining and had very funny parts. That’s really why we thought that he would be a good guy to do it.”
Instead of Chudnofsky being the typical sneering villain, he’s a man going through a mid-life crisis.
Another major twist for “The Green Hornet” is the body count. Superhero movies like “The Dark Knight” and “Spider-Man” go out of their way to make sure the heroes don’t purposely take a life. The Green Hornet and Kato have no such qualms.
Director Michel Gondry jokes there were so many bad guys killed they had to disguise the stuntmen with mustaches to use them again.
“I always thought that it was funny that on the old ‘A-Team’ TV show how they would shoot 400 people and none of them would die. I think if you’re going to make a violent action movie you might as well just go for it,” Rogen says. “It’s not explicit. It’s not in any way meant to inspire people to do anything crazy. It’s not supposed to instill any horrific images or anything like that. It’s all for the point of fun and just kind of big action more than anything.”
The final variation on the superhero theme was Cameron Diaz’s role as the secretary to newspaper publisher Britt Reid (the Green Hornet’s real identity). The traditional superhero movie has the hero getting the girl. In this case, it’s Kato who seems to be making the best advances.
Diaz had an even better idea.
“I didn’t want her to be interested in either one of them,” Diaz says.