On Big Evil Plans and Superheroes

This is about the Big Evil Plans in this year's comic book movies. As such, it contains spoilers. Lots of spoilers. Spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers. You have been warned. SPOILERS.

So I watched The Dark Knight Rises. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed it a lot. There was a lot to love (give Caine another Oscar at once) and it looked incredible. It was a fitting end to Christopher Nolan's bat-saga – an immersive multi-film character-arc that sits favourably beside The Lord of the Rings, The Godfather and … er … the Star Wars prequels.

But as much as I enjoyed it, by golly was it a long, flawed movie. You could actually see Matthew Modine ageing throughout the course of the film. I wouldn't have minded the length so much if the thing that was padding it out – Bane/Talia's evil maniacal scheme – had actually made sense. As it was happening, I kind of thought/hoped it was building up to something more evil, more … challenging. But no, it's just a really elaborate, protracted revenge plot.

If I remember it correctly, this is Talia's evil plan:

  • Deliberately get Bane captured by the CIA so that he can share a plane with The Only Fission Scientist In The World and kidnap him.
  • Persuade slimy construction magnate Daggett to lace Gotham with explosive concrete and hire Selina Kyle to obtain Bruce Wayne's fingerprints. Hopefully Daggett won't question how exactly this plan is meant to benefit him.
  • Use Wayne's fingerprints to make blatantly fraudulent deals on the stock exchange.
  • Now broke, Wayne will obviously hand control of his empire over to Miranda Tate/Talia al Ghul (someone he's met a couple of times and knows nothing about) and show her where the fission reactor is. At no point should Wayne's identity as Batman – which Bane and Talia are aware of – be used to manipulate him.
  • Wayne is snapped and thrown into the Pit.
  • The bridges are destroyed with the explosive concrete, isolating Gotham. Blow up some other stuff. Trap the city's police force (who apparently only ever do anything in one great big disorganised mob) in the sewers, after they're ordered down there at exactly the right moment.
  • Steal the reactor, weaponises it, and then drive it around town for five months in one of three identical trucks (ooh, that'll slow them down!).
  • Just to make him feel bad, make Wayne watch Gotham get all messy on a crappy telly with poor reception.
  • The bomb will blow up Gotham in its own good time, or maybe Talia will detonate it if she fancies it.

All of this, just to avenge Papa al Ghul's death? Does any of that make sense to you?

The Joker's plan in The Dark Knight didn't make much sense either, but as that film progressed, it became more and more evident that his only plan was to use the city as a chaotic playground in which he and Batman could frolic, psycho-bromatically. A senseless structure to his actions – and maybe I'm giving Nolan et al too much credit here – was actually an integral part of the plot. In this film though, the plan just appears to be long-winded and messy just for the sake of making the film more epic.

Some of the consequences of this plan are interesting, but never quite reach the promised level of epicness. The disintegration of the city could've been a fascinating direction of what a city is and how it operates without order – think the dystopian visions of Children of Men or The Pianist. But rather than watching a city eat itself, we're mostly just shown a small group's attempts to remove some policemen from a hole. So the plan doesn't really serve the antagonists or the film.

Thinking back to the year's other big comic book movies, it occurs to me that the Big Evil Plans in those movies didn't make a great deal of sense either. I mean, what was Loki's goal in The Avengers? Why was he doing what he was doing, and what was his plan for getting it done? Why was he working for those alien folk? Or were they working for him? And why exactly did he get himself captured? It all seemed a bit haphazard. And aside from "ooh, I do like a good reptile me", what was The Lizard's plan in The Amazing Spider-Man? It's like he'd watched the end of the first X-Men film and just copied it because it looked like an interesting way to spend an evening.

Evil used to be so much more simple. It used to be clear-cut and to-the-point. Now it's all about stock exchanges and deliberate capture (now there's a done-to-death trope we don't need to see any more) and driving bombs around town for no good reason. Evil's not evil any more, it's just nonsense.

Perhaps Skyfall will lead us out of this quagmire of inept evil. Although the Bond films aren't immune to terrible Big Evil Plans (I still have no idea what Quantum of Solace was about), they also gave us the pinnacle of the form: Goldfinger's Fort Knox heist. Hopefully the new film will take its lead from that and demonstrate that convoluted opaque schemes don't necessarily equate to smart ones.