« Yin and Yang Merging in Hong Kong | Main | Tailoring and Watches, or A Very Non-Productive and Slightly Pretentious Weekend »

A British Accent is the New Black

Just saw Batman Begins. Passable summer stuff, and definitely better than any Batman film since Burton left the director's chair. My only real comment, sadly, is a spoiler, so it's below the cut:

Update: Above the cut, since it's not relevant to the spoiler below, let me just say that I disagree with Ann Althouse's review (or rather, her favorable quote of another one). On the one hand, it gets a few things right: the fight scenes are shot too close and too quick, and some of the dialogue--mostly what was given to Katie Holmes--is wooden in the extreme. But Batman Begins seems to be an attempt to restart the franchise, to put the horrible George Clowny years behind, and thank goodness. Althouse apparently approves of the idea that "the filmmakers haven’t developed an adequate villain for [Batman] to go up against." Thank goodness the filmmakers didn't follow such advice: one breath of fresh air in this film comes from the fact that it is about the hero. I can't sort out the names of the other Batman films, but remember them by their villains. This one I won't have to.

As for Althouse's assertion that "crazy-making steam" would be a good plot-line for a B-movie, she was aware she was going to see a Batman movie that had the Scarecrow as the main villain, right? Scarecrow's a one-trick pony, and "crazy-making steam" was practically a given.

Update 2: Actually, I see that Althouse has written her own review:

I noticed a right-wing edge to some key statements: "Criminals thrive on the indulgence of society's understanding." Take that, you Gitmo critics! And it was quite clear that we were supposed to think about the criminals as al-Qaeda. Here was this "League of Shadows," based in Asia, bent on destroying "Gotham." We were nudged constantly to make this connection.

OK, look, can I make a deal with folks like Prof. Althouse? If we leave things like the First Amendment in their bailiwick, can they please not drag their politics into our comic books?

Ra's al Ghul started off as a Batman villain in the early '70s, long before anyone had even considered something called al-Qaeda. And far from shoving an al-Qaeda riff down our throats, the movie does everything it can to move the film away from anything vaguely Islamic. He's played by Ken Watanabe, for crying out loud. The scenes with him in it (or, see spoiler below) seem to be set in Nepal instead of Arabia. And the "Society of Shadows"--a fanatical organization devoted to his will--is part of the character of Ra's and has been, so far as I know, since his creation.

Frankly, Ra's had all the attributes that Althouse complains of as "nudging" her towards al-Qaeda in the early seventies, and far from shoving the connection down our throats, the scriptwriters seem to have done everything humanly possible to remove the character from such associations, going to the strange length of making him a Japanese ninjitsu expert. (As I recall the character, he was more of an Arab version of an evil Sherlock Holmes, or maybe a Moriarty.)

Maybe Althouse is saying that Christopher Nolan specifically chose al Ghul as the villain in order to make right-wing points, but Occam's Razor suggests that Joel Schumacher ran through all the A-list villains in his run on the franchise, and when good ol' R.A.G. was next in line, they bent over backwards to make the connection as weak as possible. It's not the writer's fault that the character of Ra's has a lot in common with another ideological maniac, and certainly I made it through the whole film without once making the connection.

(Incidentally: that line about criminals functioning on the indulgence of society is actually a bit of a right-wing drift to the character, but not in the way that Althouse suggests. In the film, al Ghul seems obsessed with cleansing society of villainy and injustice, whereas the original character was, to put it bluntly, an ecoterrorist who approved of saving the earth through the death of humanity. Both are omlette/eggs worldviews, but the latter is not normally a part of right-wing politics.)

Spoiler:
Discussing the movie with a friend before I saw it, I voiced my annoyance at one nonsensical aspect of Hollywood "multiculturalism." Hollywood knows the difference between whites and minorities, but I've often wondered why no one who makes blockbusters can make any distinction once the skin tone leaves off white. The main villain of Batman Returns is Ra's al Ghul. The name is supposed to mean "Demon's Head" in Arabic, but take that for what it's worth: comic book translations are often bad, and I don't know enough Arabic to guarantee it's accurate. Nevertheless, throughout the entire run of the character, on in comics, on TV, and even in his very name, he's always been an Arab.

Which is why it makes perfect sense for him to be played by Ken Watanabe, right? (Hint: For Watanabe to be an Arab name, the Mongols would have to have conquered Japan and all of Persia, and then decided that they were the Arab nation. Needless to say, they didn't, not even in the fanciful world that includes Gotham City.)

So, OK, Ra's is now an expert in ninjitsu. We can all be a bit baffled by that, or as to why the first words out of Bruce's mouth when he meets Ra's isn't, "Al Ghul my ass, Oni no Atama is more like it." But having seen the film, it's even worse: although it's uncredited, Ra's al Ghul actually hides his identity by having Watanabe's character--a mook with no real name--pose as him. You'd think that maybe the script--which spends some tedious minutes explaining such things as why Batman's cape allows him to fly, even though the explanation lends no element of credibility to the over the top special effect--might recover by having the real al Ghul show up as a man of the proper ethnicity.

Unless Liam Neeson has some lineage we don't know about, such hopes are in vain.

This is a new low. I mean, I can shrug off Sean Connery playing a Russian sub captain who happens to have a strong Scottish accent. I can shrug off Alan Rickman in Die Hard (or worse, Jeremy Irons in Die Hard III) playing German villains with accents bare miles from the Channel. But the man who played the eponymous lead in Rob Roy is suddenly Ra's al Ghul? If Hollywood is going to insist that all villains be played by British actors--and they should, because Britian makes good actors and any good movie should have a good villain--then can't we at least make said villains British?

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.threeyearsofhell.com/cgi-user/mt/mtPleaseLinktoMe.cgi/1345

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference A British Accent is the New Black:

» Weekly Law School Roundup: Mixin' Cocktails With A Plastic-Tipped Cigar from Blawg Wisdom
Like many a recent graduate, Expressio Unis is studying for the bar and tracking the relative attractive qualities of the various BarBri lecturers. I can corroborate the fact that Professor Paula Franzese does have ways of making property memorable. [Read More]

Comments

Tony: the reason I say the crazy-making steam would be good for a very low budget movie is that it's the cheapest special effect ever. I'll respond to some of the other things in a post.
I'm sure that this is contra the comic books, and I tend to think superhero movies should hew very closely to their source materials, but I do have to say: If I were a crazy ninja nihilist whose main defense is the fact that I am disguised as the second-in-command of myself, I would be sure to pick a crazy ninja name that deviated from my own ethnicity. Minor misdirection, but surprisingly effective. (Similarly, if I were Ken Watanabe, I would go by "Jack McCoy" or something similar, and have my decoy be a white guy.) The points about the conflation of Asian cultures are very well-taken though, as is everything you say in response to Althouse.
Doesn't Ra'as al Ghul neatly deviate from both Watanabe's and Neeson's ethnicities? You come in expecting standard Arab terrorist and ... it's a Japanese guy! No, wait, a white guy! (In the top secret sequel, it will be revealed that al Ghul *actually* is a South Asian programmer gone mad from too much coding.) Heck, if there's any politics in the movie, I'd say it's a warning against ethnic profiling.
Unless Liam Neeson has some lineage we don't know about department: Neeson is Irish, northern. Are the Irish British? I suppose Ireland is one of the British Isles, but I'm unsure on the usage. I don't see a lot of movies, but your review leaves me more likely to see this one. You might also get some of the credit for the many hours i've wasted on webcomix in the last year.
Last I knew, Northern Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. I suppose there's probably some bitter angsty discussion available on whether you can call the Northern Irish "British," but frankly, that wasn't the point of the post, so I didn't bother.
Arbitrary aardvark, the Irish are not British, they're Irish. That's why they're called 'Irish'. And Ireland is not part of the British Isles. Off topic i know, but as an Irish person i find that comment extrememly annoying. Thank You :)
Ireland is part of the British isles; people born in Northern Ireland are British citizens. These are facts - get over it.

Post a comment

NOTICE TO SPAMMERS, COMMENT ROBOTS, TRACKBACK SPAMMERS AND OTHER NON-HUMAN VISITORS: No comment or trackback left via a robot is ever welcome at Three Years of Hell. Your interference imposes significant costs upon me and my legitimate users. The owner, user or affiliate who advertises using non-human visitors and leaves a comment or trackback on this site therefore agrees to the following: (a) they will pay fifty cents (US$0.50) to Anthony Rickey (hereinafter, the "Host") for every spam trackback or comment processed through any blogs hosted on threeyearsofhell.com, morgrave.com or housevirgo.com, irrespective of whether that comment or trackback is actually posted on the publicly-accessible site, such fees to cover Host's costs of hosting and bandwidth, time in tending to your comment or trackback and costs of enforcement; (b) if such comment or trackback is published on the publicly-accessible site, an additional fee of one dollar (US$1.00) per day per URL included in the comment or trackback for every day the comment or trackback remains publicly available, such fee to represent the value of publicity and search-engine placement advantages.

Giving The Devil His Due

Choose Stylesheet

What I'm Reading

cover
D.C. Noir

My city. But darker.
cover
A Clockwork Orange

About time I read this...


Shopping

Projects I've Been Involved With

A Round-the-World Travel Blog: Devil May Care (A new round-the-world travel blog, co-written with my wife)
Parents for Inclusive Education (From my Clinic)

Syndicated from other sites

The Columbia Continuum
Other Blogs by CLS students

De Novo
Theory and Practice
Liberal Federalism?
Good News, No Foolin'


Althouse
Nancy Pelosi covers her head and visits the head of John the Baptist.
Vlogging in from Austin.
Omikase/"American Idol"


Jeremy Blachman's Weblog: 2007
Happy Passover
Looking for Advice re: LA
Google Books


Stay of Execution
What I've Learned From This Blog, or My Yellow Underpants
The End
Mid Thirties


Legal Theory Blog
Program Announcement: Summer Programs on the Constitution at George Washington
Book Announement: Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy by Whittington
Entry Level Hiring Report


The Volokh Conspiracy
Making the Daily Show:
Civil unions pass New Hampshire House:
Profile of Yale Law Dean Harold Koh:


Crescat Sententia
Hillary II
Hillary
Politics and Principal/Agents


Law Dork
Election Approaches
Following Lewis
New Jersey High Court: 'Same Rights and Benefits'


IrishLaw
Homecoming
Surveying the revival
Birds of paradise


Half the Sins of Mankind
Cheney Has Spoken Religious conservatives who may ...
Does Ahmadinejad Know Christianity Better Than MSN...
Borders as Genocide In discussions of climate chan...


pf.org
Progress
For lovers of garden gnomes...and any China-freaks out there
We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming


Ideoblog
Does SOX explain the flight from NY?
More Litvak on SOX effect on cross-listed firms
What did the market learn from internal controls reporting?


The Yin Blog
Iowa City = Riyadh
Jeffrey Rosen's "The Supreme Court"
Geek alert -- who would win between Battlestar Galactica and the U.S.S. Enterprise?


Letters of Marque
Graduation
And there we are
Oil!


BuffaloWings&Vodka
Signing Off


Dark Bilious Vapors
Jim (The Waco Kid): Where you headed, cowboy?
Bart: Nowhere special.
Jim: Nowhere special. I always wanted to go there.
Bart: Come on.
--"Blazing Saddles"

Technical Difficulties... please stand by....
The Onion should have gotten a patent first....


Legal Ethics Forum
Interesting new Expert DQ case
Decency, Due Care, and The Yoo-Delahunty Memorandum
Thinking About the Fired U.S. Attorneys


Ex Post
Student Symposium- Chicago!
More Hmong - Now at Law School
Good Samaritan Laws: Good For America?


Appellate Law & Practice
Those turned over documents
CA1: courts can’t help people acquitted of crimes purge the taint of acquitted conduct
CA1: restrictions on chain liquor stores in Rhode Island are STILL okay


the imbroglio
High schoolers turn in plagiarism screeners for copyright infringement
talisman
Paris to offer 20,600 bikes at 1,450 stations to rent by the end of the year


The Republic of T.
The Secret of the Snack Attack
links for 2007-04-04
Where You Link is What You Get

Distractions for stressed law students

The Other Side: Twisted AnimationsSomething Positive, a truly good webcomic

Syndicate This Site

Sitemeter

Technologies


Stop Spam Harvesters, Join Project Honey Pot