By Andrew Payne

Finally, a film asks the superhero genre: “Why so serious?”

The Green Hornet opens Friday with a decidedly lighter-than-normal take on the superhero genre. Gone are the dark brooding archetypes to which we’ve become accustomed and in its place are a unique blend of comedy and superhero mythology. This comes together for a slapdash hero tale that works well throughout.

Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is a Hollywood party animal in the Paris Hilton mold. He has no job, no ambitions and wallows away in his newspaper-owning father’s (Tom Wilkinson) mansion much to his extreme dismay. When Britt’s father dies suddenly, Britt inherits the newspaper with a reputation for being tough on crime.

He also becomes acquainted with his father’s longtime mechanic, a Chinese immigrant named Kato (Jay Chou) who’s built the late Mr. Reid’s favorite car into something of a more practical Batmobile. Kato also shares Britt’s distaste for the insufferable Mr. Reid and joins Britt in a late night mission to a local cemetery to decapitate Mr. Reid’s statue.

While there, Britt encounters a gang trying to mug a young couple and, with the help of Kato, breaks up the attempted mugging. He’s also caught by the security camera and seen only as a mysterious figure in green who committed the act of vandalism.

Britt schemes with Kato to use his newfound notoriety, and self-given title of The Green Hornet, to get close to the city’s villains and ultimately topple Los Angeles’ crime boss Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz). Britt and Kato develop the persona of the Green Hornet with the unwitting help of Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), Britt’s new secretary at the paper, who just so happens to be a Criminology expert.

They’re soon off to battle crime in the guise of villains.

On its surface, this appears to be the typical trappings of a superhero film, but director Michel Gondry expertly establishes a lighthearted tone early on and doesn’t let that waver, even when the film takes darker turns. The villains are allowed to be outsized and the heroes take such a wide-eyed approach to their charge that the film avoids any real feelings of jeopardy. Instead, it flows along lightly with an eye on delivering humor and delivering laughs with the superhero stuff serving as a sidekick.

This focus on humor feels like something of a throwback. Not to anything involving superheroes, but more to the 80s action genre where thrills were allowed to come with a wink rather than being treated with the gravity of a Bergman allegory. This approach is refreshing, and the gags are surprisingly funny. This is supplemented by a quick pace and some well-crafted actions sequences that make for nothing but pure fun.

That’s not to say the film is completely flawless. Several characters (especially Lenore Case) are too extraneous to warrant the weight they’re given, and many plot twists are both predictable and over-explained. While those do prevent the film from reaching the levels of a standout action-comedy hybrid, the film does deliver in most regards, and it’s certainly entertaining.

And that’s nothing to laugh at.