I Will Tell You #10: Why So Serious?

Last week, as you’ll remember, I spoke of my reservations, and also those of many others, regarding quasi-comedic spin that’s been put on the character of Green Hornet in its latest incarnation as a big screen property. Especially after previous incarnations reflected more of a straightforward action hero that’s more in line with the character’s origins.

Why so serious? What’s wrong with a little laughter? I will tell you what: because putting a comic twist on something largely recognized as serious or of an otherwise non-comic nature is a very delicate task that requires careful precision. At least, if you want it to be funny in the right way. It doesn’t take much talent to throw a laugh or three into a screenplay, but it takes a special skill to make those laughs an enhancement to the story, and not at the expense of it. Robert Downey Jr., for instance, has been able to bring an eccentric lightheartedness to Tony Stark’s character in the Iron Man movies that further defined the character without demeaning it. Whereas in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, the attempts at laughs were turned inward, in the form of campy Schwarzenegger monologues and Bat-credit card gags and the like, to the detriment of an already horrid film.

Poorly placed or executed comedy in an otherwise serious film has the same feeling as lecturing snickering and giggling 7th graders about career choices; the point that’s supposed to be conveyed is lost amidst the distraction of misplaced laughs. When a movie goes for laughs that are at the expense of its own story or characters, it sends a message that it’s not taking itself all that seriously. A lot of moviegoers might not care; laughs are laughs. But for fans of the license or franchise in question, be it Green Hornet or Batman or whatever, such a message might not settle all that well. These fans take their devotion seriously, and if the filmmakers do not, then the fans will show about as much respect for that film as the filmmakers showed towards their favorite character.

But then, despite the serious origins of characters like these, just how serious are they meant to be taken? Does that mean that their natures can’t lend themselves to lighter or downright funny interpretations? Because if so, one could argue that such restrictions could stifle creative explorations of the characters. If there were some kind of mandate in place to prevent such reinterpretations, then there never would have been an Adam West / Burt Ward Batman TV series in the 60s, a series fondly recalled by many. Considering the still-pervasive damage that show did to the reputation of comic books, though, some might feel that it would have been better had that show never came to pass.

And it’s not like someone’s trying to, say, turn William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet into a comedy, or tell a slapstick version of the sinking of the Titanic. Some ideas can’t and rightfully shouldn’t be re-imagined with a mindset that betrays its very nature as a tragedy. But does that apply to every work that wasn’t originally created as a comedy? Was Bill Murray’s Scrooged a betrayal of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Or Jim Carrey’s version of The Grinch the same to Dr. Seuss’? What about Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks, a largely comical film based on images from a series of 1950s trading cards that many parents back then decidedly did NOT find very funny?

Well, does it apply? I will tell you this: ultimately, that’s for the viewers to decide. Personally, I’m not a big fan of taking a serious concept and putting a laugh track on it, any more than I would be supportive of, say, re-imagining James Bond as a sci-fi oriented time traveler, or The Punisher as a romantic ladies’ man. Sometimes such a reshaping just doesn’t yield a good fit.But, just because someone goes to great lengths to forge these concepts into something foreign and often unrecognizable, doesn’t mean anyone else is forced to experience them; the original incarnations aren’t going anywhere and remain there for all to enjoy. But if you’re open to classic works being turned into comedies, well, I think Jack Black’s Gulliver’s Travels is still playing.

So when it comes to an effort like Green Hornet, I refuse to condemn it, still unseen by me, just because it purports itself to be the kind of film that I historically haven’t enjoyed, and I support the creative freedoms that allow any work to be remade into something that it wasn’t intended for, regardless of how ludicrous it might be. But I also support my own right to just say no, which I will most likely do if enough of my friends tell me they wish they had done the same.


About Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson (@quigonjimm) will tell you! He got a chance to write for the big boys at CBR, so we don’t see him around the site as much as we used to. Check out his stuff anyway!


  1. I haven’t seen the movie yet either. I’m not expecting it to be great, for some of the same reasons you’ve listed, but I hope thst the underlying story is one I will still enjoy and will definitely see it when it comes out on DVD, but I’m not spending my dollars on it in the theaters!

    Good comments throughout your post, Jim!

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