EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures and Chernin Entertainment have acquired rights to The Green Hornet. Gavin O’Connor is set to direct a film that will overhaul the image of Britt Reid into an edgy protagonist capable of being the catalyst for a new franchise. O’Connor, who just directed the Ben Affleck-starrer The Accountant, will work closely with Sean O’Keefe, who’ll write the script. O’Connor will produce with Chernin Entertainment.
The preconception of Green Hornet is a campy ’60s TV series (that starred Van Williams as Britt Reid, and launched Bruce Lee as Kato), and a movie action comedy that starred Seth Rogen. The first crack at a movie came when George Clooney was transitioning from ER to screen stardom, and was set to star in a film at Universal that came undone when ER exec producer Steven Spielberg prevailed on him to instead star in the first DreamWorks film, The Peacemaker, in 1997. He moved on to Batman, and the film property moved to Miramax, and then Sony Pictures, which finally made the Michel Gondry-Rogen version. It did OK , but there was no sequel, and the rights lapsed.
Paramount, Chernin and O’Connor look to wipe the slate clean with the hope that a storied, branded IP can get a do-over, as happened with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films and JJ Abrams’ Star Trek and Star Wars pictures. Paramount, out from under the cost-cutting restrictions that Philippe Dauman placed on the studio that prevented purchases of assets like Marvel, is scouring the terrain looking for potential franchises. O’Connor, whose filmography includes such gritty male themed movies that included Warrior, Pride And Glory and Miracle, seems singularly suited for this assignment. He is invested in the mythology of a character that originated in a ’30s radio serial and ’40s comic book series. He shared his ambition with Deadline, and you’ve got to respect his passion.
“I’ve been wanting to make this movie — and create this franchise — since I’ve wanted to make movies,” O’Connor said. “As a kid, when most of my friends were into Superman and Batman, there was only one superhero who held my interest — The Green Hornet. I always thought he was the baddest badass because he had no superpowers. The Green Hornet was a human superhero. And he didn’t wear a clown costume. And he was a criminal — in the eyes of the law — and in the eyes of the criminal world. So all this felt real to me. Imagine climbing to the top of the Himalayas, or Mount Everest, or K2 over and over again and no one ever knew? You can never tell anybody. That’s the life of Britt and Kato. What they do, they can never say. They don’t take credit for anything.”
O’Connor waited until the time was right for his shot. “For almost 20 years now I’ve been tracking the rights, watching from the sidelines as they were optioned by one studio or another,” he said. “When I discovered the rights were available again, I tracked them down, partnered with Peter Chernin and we set the movie up at Paramount. With the rights now in our loving hands, I’m beyond excited to bring The Green Hornet into the 21st century in a meaningful and relevant way; modernizing it and making it accessible to a whole new generation. My intention is to bring a gravitas to The Green Hornet that wipes away the camp and kitsch of the previous iteration. I want to re-mythologize The Green Hornet in a contemporary context, with an emphasis on story and character, while at the same time, incorporating themes that speak to my heart. The comic book movie is the genre of our time. How do we look at it differently? How do we create a distinctive film experience that tells itself differently than other comic book movies? How do we land comfortably at the divide between art and industry? How do we go deeper, prompt more emotion? How do we put a beating heart into the character that was never done before? These are my concerns…these are my desires, my intentions, my fears, my goals.”
The exercise will involve bringing The Green Hornet into the kind of existential struggles evident in some Marvel and DC Comics franchises based on solitary, misunderstood anti-heroes. “The Green Hornet is ultimately a film about self-discovery,” O’Connor said. “When we meet Britt Reid he’s lost faith in the system. Lost faith in service. In institutions. If that’s the way the world works, that’s what the world’s going to get. He’s a man at war with himself. A secret war of self that’s connected to the absence of his father. It’s the dragon that’s lived with him that he needs to slay. And the journey he goes on to become The Green Hornet is the dramatization of it, and becomes Britt’s true self. I think of this film as Batman upside down meets Bourne inside out by way of Chris Kyle [American Sniper]. He’s the anti-Bruce Wayne. His struggle: Is he a savior or a destroyer? Britt made money doing bad things, but moving forward he’s making no money doing good things. He must realize his destiny as a protector and force of justice by becoming the last thing he thought he’d ever become: his father’s son. Which makes him a modern Hamlet. By uncovering his past, and the truth of his father, Britt unlocks the future.”
O’Connor said the character has the requisite physical skills to qualify as a badass: “Britt’s shadow war background makes him a natural at undercover work. This is connected to his military backstory, which is more CIA Special Activities Division than SEAL Team 6. He’s cross-trained in intelligence work and kinetic operations. A hunter at the top of the Special Operations food chain, working so far outside the system he had to think twice to remember his real name. We will put a vigilante engine under the hood of his character,” O’Connor said.
O’Keefe, meanwhile, takes on the writing duties after he recently adapted the video game franchise Watch Dogs for Ubisoft, Sony Pictures and New Regency. He also has his remake of Rupert Wyatt’s The Escapist looking to move forward with Liam Neeson circling the lead role and Brian Kirk directing. He also recently adapted The Esperanza Fire for Legendary.
O’Connor is repped by WME and Morris Yorn Barnes. O’Keefe is with WME, Brian Lutz Management and Bloom Hergott.