When 'The Green Hornet' arrives in theaters this Friday, fans will get to see some of the most hardcore superhero action yet to put celluloid: costumed killers, hand-to-hand fighting and a monumental throwdown between the forces of good and evil. There's one thing, however, that will be completely missing: any actual superpowers.
That's because the Green Hornet (played, of course, by Seth Rogen) doesn't have super strength like the Hulk, near-invincibility like Superman or the ability to control the weather like Storm (from 'The X-Men'). Instead, Britt Reid's just an average guy who uses his above-average willpower -- and bankroll -- to turn himself into a costumed avenger. In other words, he's not some space alien or mutant -- he's just like you and me.
Which got us thinking: What other great movie superheroes were just average folks before they donned their tights and headed out on patrol to dispense justice? Here's a look at some of the best examples of characters who didn't need to have superpowers to be a superhero:
At the top of any list like this, of course, there can really be only one choice -- the Dark Knight himself, aka Batman. Honing his body and mind in order to dispense the justice denied his murdered parents, Bruce Wayne (played over the years by everyone from Michael Keaton to Christian Bale) becomes an expert martial artist and the world's greatest detective. His enormous family fortune, which allows him to trick himself out with utility belts, supercomputers and Batmobiles doesn't hurt either.
We'd also be remiss if we didn't give a shout-out to Batman's opposite number and occasional paramour, Catwoman, who in the movies has been played by both Michelle Pfeiffer (1992's 'Batman Returns') and Halle Berry (2004's 'Catwoman'). Of course, that latter, widely-panned installment totally broke our rule by giving Berry's Catwoman completely unnecessary and totally ridiculous feline goddess powers -- but Pfeiffer's take on Selina Kyle was truer to the original comic book inspiration: a woman who uses extreme chutzpah to hold her own against all comers. And bonus points, of course, for that awesome leather catsuit as well.
Making her film debut in 2003's 'Daredevil,' Jennifer Garner's take on the Marvel anti-hero Elektra received her own critically reviled spinoff in 2005. But while 'Elektra' the movie wasn't a hit, Elektra the character continues to be a fan favorite, thanks to her take-no-prisoners attitude and mastery of various secret martial arts techniques, including the use of her signature weapons, a pair of razor sharp sai. Hey, you don't need powers when you can just stab someone, right?
You may not be familiar with Hawkeye just yet, but trust us, you will be: The battling bowman is rumored to be making a cameo appearance in this summer's blockbuster 'Thor' in preparation for a major role in next year's mega-blockbuster 'The Avengers.' So what's his deal? Well, Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner ('The Hurt Locker') will be portraying Clint Barton, a regular guy with a massive chip on his shoulder who earns his place among Earth's mightiest superheroes through his incredible archery skills and enormous self-confidence. Hard work and determination really will get you far, kids.
Okay, so it's true that the title character of 2008's 'Iron Man' (expertly played, of course, by Robert Downey, Jr.) has something going for him that the others on our list don't -- namely a giant suit, or technologically advanced armor, that can fly, shoot lasers, absorb bullets and pretty much, you know, do anything. But inside that suit, Tony Stark remains just a regular human being whose only superpowers are being smart enough to build the suit and being crazy enough to wear it. And they say our test scores are down in science ...
Of all the heroes on our list, the Punisher is probably the simplest of all: The guy basically just has an arsenal of huge guns and runs around slaughtering villains with them. But while Frank Castle (played most recently by Ray Stevenson in 2008's 'Punisher: War Zone') seems like the perfect NRA poster child, his backstory is a little more complicated and tragic. Trained in special ops by the government, he dons his trademark skull-face costume -- and more or less goes nuts -- when his family is killed. Everyone dreams of being a hero, just not at this price -- or with this kind of attitude.
The Green Hornet
Seth Rogen's version of 'The Green Hornet' is a little different than previous incarnations; on the classic radio series and the 1966-67 TV show, Britt Reid is a crusading journalist who trainshimself for years to face underworld menaces that the written word can't overcome. Rogen's take, of course, plays the character more as a slacker who becomes an accidental hero when his dad is offed. Either way, though, the Green Hornet's main asset isn't any superpower but rather a singularity of purpose -- backed by the best hardware money can buy and the expert chop-socky of sidekick Kato (Jay Chou).
Other than a certain enormous weirdo with a blue wang (that would be Dr. Manhattan for those of you who haven't seen 2009's 'The Watchmen' or read the cult comic book it was based on), the Watchmen as a team consists entirely of people completely lacking in superpowers. The Comedian, for instance (played in the film by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is a highly trained special ops guy with a gun and an attitude, while Night Owl (Patrick Wilson) is basically Batman except with a flying Owlplane instead of a Batmobile. Jackie Earl Haley's Rorschach, meanwhile, is an angry psychopath in a trenchcoat, Matthew Goode's Ozymandius is a super-genius who is also really, really fit, and Malin Akerman's Silk Spectre doesn't really have any powers or training to speak of but just looks super hot in spandex. Yet somehow they manage to save (or is that doom?) the entire world. Looks like powers really are overrated after all.
Once upon a time, Flash Gordon was a regular jock from Yale who enjoyed jock-type things like playing polo and being handsome. Then he is kidnapped and sent on a rocket to the home planet of Ming the Merciless -- and the rest is movie and comics history as, forced by circumstances, Flash leads a successful rebellion to save two worlds. Sam Jones portrayed Flash in the 1980 feature film, but there's no word yet on who will play Flash in the upcoming 3-D version from Sony. We know one thing, though: Whoever plays Flash Gordon won't need any special effects to portray those non-powered heroics.
Imagine Iron Man in the 1930s and you more or less have the premise behind 'The Rocketeer,' which was adapted from the comics back in 1991. Armed only with a mysterious rocket jetpack and the need to give the oppressed a fair shake in life, fearless racing pilot Cliff Secord (played by Bill Campbell in the film) becomes the Rocketeer and battles Nazis and crooks in the skies above Hollywood in the dark days leading up World War II. Considering it was a period piece, 'The Rocketeer' was ahead of its time, predating the comic book movie boom by a decade. Here's one case where a big-budget remake might actually be a good idea.
In the grand spirit of films like 'Snakes on a Plane' and the upcoming 'Cowboys and Aliens,' the 1995 cult hit 'Tank Girl' stars a girl who drives a tank. That, more or less, is the extent of bounty hunter Rebecca Buck's powers (both in the comics and in the film, where she was played by Lori Petty). Her sidekick, Jet Girl (a young Naomi Watts), meanwhile, pilots a jet. Both are scrappy but otherwise completely devoid of superpowers; the superhuman abilities, it seems, were possessed only by 'Tank Girl' co-creator Jamie Hewlett, who went on to invent the internationally acclaimed virtual band Gorillaz. Lesson: The pen is mightier than the tank.