It might not have performed well at the US box office, supposedly the ultimate arbiter of future big budget movie-making, but Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass has certainly made a profound and lasting impact on the world of comic-book films.
Perhaps it's a little like the old adage about the Velvet Underground's first album (albeit on a rather larger scale), that each of the 1,000 or so people who bought it went out and formed a band. Or perhaps Hollywood is aware of quite how many people illegally downloaded a copy of the film.
In any case, I doubt that films such as Michel Gondry's forthcoming The Green Hornet, which arrives in the UK and US on 14 January, would have looked quite the same before Hit Girl and Big Daddy's big-screen debut. Kick-Ass seems to have created a "third way" for the genre that eschews both high camp and "dark and serious" approaches in favour of a postmodern take, allowing the audience to laugh at various genre tropes. In a sense, it's the superhero film's answer to Wes Craven's Scream, which poked fun at horror sensibilities yet remained a pretty scary movie in its own right.
But back to The Green Hornet, which is looking increasingly like the heir to Kick-Ass. A new featurette for the film (below), which stars Seth Rogen as publishing-heir-turned-crimefighter Britt Reid, and Jay Chou as Kato, pitches the project as a different kind of superhero movie in which the protagonist is just an average guy who decides to take up a career fighting crime. Sound familiar?
"We knew that me as a superhero is not something that people would expect," says Rogen. "So to start with something that people could totally see me as, which is a moron that drinks all day, and slowly turn that guy into a superhero, became something that was interesting."
I don't think we can blame Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg for taking this approach. The Green Hornet is not a particularly well-known comic-book figure, and there's a reason that it's been more than 40 years since the character merited a TV show. Any attempt at reviving Britt and Kato was always going to have to amount to a drastic revision, even more so with gifted comic-actor Rogen, known for playing slacker roles, in the hot seat.
Ironically, the 60s Green Hornet TV show that starred Bruce Lee as Kato was actually played far straighter than its ABC stablemate, Batman. But given that the dark knight has been reimagined countless times for various eras since, while the Hornet's most famous iteration is a distant memory, it's no surprise that producers reckon they can get away with a less serious approach.
We shouldn't forget that this is the same Rogen and Goldberg who wrote the fabulous Superbad, surely one of the greatest comedies of the last few years, and a movie that gets funnier with repeated viewings. That, and the visually gifted Gondry's involvement, bodes extremely well, and The Green Hornet has been picking up a little bit of (sorry) buzz in the States.
"It's not the funniest movie you'll see or the best action movie, but the hybrid works well for the most part," writes Cinemablend.com's Katey Rich in an early review. "Even when the script feels shaky or certain emotions or plot developments unearned, the movie stays entertaining."
The film is also "tracking" well with audiences, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Though I'm never quite sure what that term means, the industry bible suggests that Gondry's film could be a surprise big hit at the box office.
If this happens, expect even more "postmodern" comic-book movies in the years to come. The format may be a bit of a cop-out, but it's clearly a lot easier to rewrite a forgotten superhero for comic effect than it is to redraw the same figure for a new generation in consistency with the character's roots. I'm not sure that's such a terrible thing: Kick-Ass may have a lot to answer for, but if Hollywood will insist on digging up hokey old heroes who first featured in the spotlight more than half a century ago, this may just be the best way to do it.
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