“I’ll be home for tea later mum.”
The following contains heavy spoilers for all Lethal Weapon films – even the ones that haven’t been made yet.
I’ve been thinking a lot about villains recently. It’s hardly surprising, really. If it’s not megalomaniacal Australian billionaires and their goldfish brained kids, it’s Norwegian dickheads in neoprene. You can’t even bury your head in fiction and hope to escape the tide of evil. Well you probably could, but not if the beach was made up of the Lethal Weapon films.
The Lethal Weapon films do villains brilliantly. So much so, in fact, that when experienced as a back-to-back 8-hour odyssey, amongst seeing Danny Glover’s character age from 55 to 126 like one of those BBC stop-motion nature documentaries, and Gibson becoming less and less mental as his mullet retracts into his bug-eyed bonce* you realise that the films are a microcosm of cinematic evil-doing, containing every hallmark of villainy, both real and fictitious.
To make myself feel better about watching loads of Lethal Weapon films – and despite the fact I also gleaned some valuable secondary information (such as the average of retirement from the LAPD is ‘Never’) – I’ve decided to share my information in this important thesis. Now before I go too far I should also explain that examples of villainy from part 3 are, like the film itself, only there to make the numbers up, and/or point out how to do villainy wrong. Indeed, ‘Jack Travis’ as a villain is absolute arse-candle.
Anyway, for someone who probably can’t get to sleep’s pleasure, here are the key components of villainy, as evidenced by the Lethal Weapon saga…
This one’s something of a no-brainer. Of course they’re greedy: every single one of them. However, since we’re dealing with the Lethal Weapon saga and not Tarkovsky’s The Mirror, it’s entirely possible that some fans are currently enjoying a Road to Damascus moment. Enjoy it boys, it’s going to continue for a few miles yet.
Snarky digressions aside, if the ruthless pursuit of money suggests low moral fibre then what does the existence of Lethal Weapon 3 suggest? It didn’t offer anything that we hadn’t seen before (save for a crap villain – looking at you Jack Travis). It’s entirely possible that Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are genuinely evil, or kind of stupid. I think I’ve just blown my own mind. Read the next bit and I’ll catch up with you later…
No one is more widely familiar to US audiences as a ‘wrong-un’ than someone who can’t even speak the President’s American. This is most keenly displayed in ‘Weapon 2′ where all the knob-heads speak Afrikaans, including, memorably, Joss Ackland who finally fulfils his career-long ambition for the world’s most ridiculous pronunciation of ‘immunity’.
An early scene features our heroes – and most of the LAPD – listening to the villains converse over the radio with complete bafflement. What language is that…alien? No, my friends, that language is evil.
Strange accents take a break until part 4 where they come back with both guns blazing. Weapon 4 deals with Chinese triads and faintly ridiculous accents. Early on a Chinese family turn-up but before they can be shot/impaled with surfboards they reveal themselves to be sympathetic victims of the real-villain: a walking oriental caracature called Uncle Benny.
With his long eyebrows, buckteeth and hilarious inability to pronounce his ‘Rs’, Uncle Benny is possibly the least well-drawn portrayal of an oriental since John Wayne played Genghis Khan. And like most funny speaking characters in the Weapon series – and pretty much everyone else – he gets a well-deserved presentation ceremony for his own arse.
Oriental realism, Lethal Weapon style.
Odd fashion choices
Not a raison-d’être as such, more of a troubling indicator of villainy. It seems evil people are too preoccupied with wrongdoing to think about their accoutrements, or their distorted view runs to their choice of apparel. Either way, the most evil people normally look pretty fucking stupid.
Perhaps the best example of this is in Weapon 2. By walking round with what appears to be greased evil on the top of his melon, Pieter Vorstedt clearly exudes villainy. However, by revealing that he killed Mel Gibson’s wife – and therefore is the source of his mental anguish, not to mention his ‘Weapon-ness’ – he is quite possibly the most evil character in the series.
Note: If you followed this hallmark to a tee you may be confused when watching the Lethal Weapon series in the present day – especially when you see Mel Gibson’s sunglasses and hair. May I remind you that he is not evil – at least in the films.
This complements an already apparent streak of evil, like a rotten cherry on top of a mouldy cake. Gary Busey’s Mr Joshua is clearly insane, but what makes him much more memorable – aside from being Gary Busey and therefore one of the most incredible lunatics to breathe air – is the fact that he appears to enjoy receiving pain.
Similarly Joss ‘e-muhn-a-tee’ Ackland’s greasy diplomat’s evil accoutrement is a ‘rape-glare’ that he points at Patsy Kensit, suggesting a fairly extreme set of horizontal interests. He also seems to walk around with his passport in his hand and, of course, there’s the aforementioned verbal inflection.
For perspective, Weapon 3’s villain Jack Travis enjoys attending ice hockey games…and probably playing on his computer and reading. Man, fuck Jack Travis.
Evil is a combination of many things. Someone who’s is purely motivated by financial gain isn’t necessarily evil, just a bit of a dick. Likewise, someone who dresses like a bit of knob may not be a poorly-styled embodiment of evil. But when you combine each aspect, and round it off with ‘a thing’, you’re left with someone who probably deserves to get beaten half to death on a retiring policeman’s lawn.
* If there are any scientists out there who have explored the relationship between mullets and mental illness I would be most grateful for a copy of your findings.
Great vigilante, terrible beautician.
Like most people with eyes I was in awe of The Dark Knight upon release. To paraphrase the abiding message of Batman Begins, it elevated itself beyond the sum of its parts to become something much more rich and meaningful. In this case it was undoubtedly more than just a film about a rich nutter dressing like a bat to stop crime. And while its predecessor dealt with themes of fear and revenge, The Dark Knight dealt with escalation, both thematically and literally – using a broad canvas to explore, among other things, the impact of terrorism and how fragile humanity can be when pitted against the unerring will of a psychotic clown.
But with an overriding exploration of terrorism and its fallout, what once made The Dark Knight a transcendental contemporary thriller could also now confine it to a real world time and place. Like Steve Guttenburg, Chris O’Donnell or the word ‘Ninja’, some things are so indicative of a certain time that their addition is set to forever date the film in which they appear. Conversely, The Dark Knight’s predecessor actually featured ninjas, but holds up better, at least on a thematic level. I suppose ninjas follow the basic tenets of narrative: show, don’t tell, which would make sense because, like most people, I wouldn’t attempt to tell a ninja shit.
It’s likely that in a few years we’re going to roll our eyes at the prevalent themes of early millennial entertainment – like we do today with pop-socks or Alan Sugar’s E-m@iler – especially if it’s true that the death of Bin Laden has seen global terrorist incidents fall to 0.00%. This isn’t really going to help The Dark Knight’s legacy. And to compound matters further the film also features Batman engaging in levels of phone hacking that might have even raised a ginger eyebrow in the News of the World offices circa 2000. While this may have seemed like a necessary invasion of civil liberties back in 2008, it now makes the Caped Crusader look like a ruthless privacy-violating cock-end.
Still, tasteless invasions of privacy notwithstanding, The Dark Knight is undeniably superior entertainment and any problems it might have are caused by over-reaching ambition. Perhaps we’re so engendered by summer blockbusters that we need moments of levity, or the kind of fromage-laced dialogue that, when recited in the real world, would cause instant vomiting and/or a swift punch in the gob. Or maybe that says more about my own base levels of expectation. Regardless, It was a brave choice to make such an unremittingly bleak blockbuster. But it’s perhaps even more telling that audiences decided that this was exactly how they wanted to be entertained in the summer of 2008.
We don’t know much about The Dark Knight Rises, save for the recently released teaser trailer (below), but its voiceover suggests that it picks up some of the threads from Batman Begins. Whether that’s due to the fact that The Dark Knight’s themes are lacking in relevance, that there’s little left to explore, or because Heath Ledger is no longer around to pick up the antagonist’s mantle, we can’t be sure. But since the majority of new footage consists of Gary Oldman complaining in a hospital bed it’s possible that Christopher Nolan has chosen a new real-world crisis to explore: the one in the NHS . That would certainly make for an interesting rogues’ gallery. And even if The Dark Knight doesn’t soar like he once did, 2012 still can’t come soon enough.
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