Writing a movie is hard work, and when all is said and done, there are always going to be a few small subplots that get ignored in the third act. But sometimes a filmmaker forgets an important plot thread. And by "important," we mean "one that was actually way more important than the main plot."
So we have to ask ...
Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a corporate spy hired by shady companies to investigate their competitors' dreams. It's established in the first scene that his particular brand of corporate espionage doesn't exactly fall under the heading of "ethical business practices" -- he's more like a prettier Bernie Madoff. So for instance, when he botches the job for a company called Cobol Engineering at the beginning of the film, Cobol sends its hit men after him. This results in an obligatory "Mr. Nolan, your script has just gone 20 pages without an action beat" chase through the streets of Mombasa.
"Boy, I sure could go for a spontaneous running gunbattle."
But Cobb has bigger problems to deal with. He's accused of murdering his wife, and the film is all about him doing "one last job" so he can clear his name and move back to America and see his kids.
Finally (SPOILER!) he appears to have accomplished just that in the final scene. The job is successful, he comes back home and he hugs his kids -- whether the whole thing was a dream or not is the subject of another article.
Spoiler: Leo is a replicant.
But What About ...
Uh, what about Cobol?
Over the two-plus hours of the run time, the film seems to forget that this huge, unscrupulous corporation still wants to murder Leo's ass and has black vans full of thugs capable of doing it (they've taken out one team member already). And let's face it: If they were able to track him down to Kenya, it shouldn't be too difficult to find him in America. At his house.
So the ending to this film becomes significantly less happy when we realize that, hell, they'll probably now have to murder his kids, too, to get rid of any witnesses.
"Hit men are looking for me. I should hide at home with my innocent children."
And now will they have to go on the run for the rest of their lives, living from town to town, never knowing when Cobol will show up to pop a cap in them, or wire their car to explode? Where do you run from the people who found you in freaking Africa?
Dammit, Leo, you should have just chilled with Michael Caine for the rest of your life and had him bring the kids to Paris from time to time to visit. Way to ruin their lives, asshole.
We hear he snores, but still.
And not to pick on Leo, but we also need to look at ...
Jack Nicholson is Frank Costello, one of the most memorable movie villains in recent years. Costello's an Irish mob boss, based on actual underworld figure "Whitey" Bulger, who does it all: murdering, drug dealing and racketeering. Oh, and by the way, he also rips the Chinese off in the form of selling them a bunch of fake microprocessors intended for military targeting technology. Hey, it's just China -- what are they gonna do about it? They're a forgiving lot.
He's eventually brought down by an undercover investigation that results in his own mole, Matt Damon, doing the job that old age probably would have done in a couple of months.
"It's a lot more badass to say, 'We shot him' than to say, 'Senility did him in.' " - State Police
Yes (SPOILER!), Leo DiCaprio gets killed in the process. But the bad guy gets his just deserts, Mark Wahlberg finishes off the rest of the scum, and we can all rest easy, safe in our knowledge that another criminal is off the streets. After, you know, evading the cops for decades, living a rich and full life and killing a shitload of people.
But What About ...
In all our enthusiasm for justice via Marky Mark, we forgot one major detail that's a bit of a downer: those damned microprocessors that, oh by the way, were going to be used to start World War III.
That's right -- they were intended to be used in cruise missile guidance systems. About midway through the film, Costello negotiates a deal with the Chinese saying they'd better show him the money if they "wanna nuke Taiwan anytime in this century." That's American ally Taiwan. The country that, if attacked, would draw an American military response. If nuked, there would be a nuclear response.
Those chips represent the end of the world. And the movie just forgets about them.
Above: Probably not worth worrying about.
Now, when Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg's characters confront him about it later, we learn that Costello actually tricked the Chinese with a package of fakes. We also learn that he's an FBI informant. So maybe the chips never existed?
Nope -- earlier in the film, we learned that Costello had orchestrated their theft, a job that resulted in the unfortunate death of the guy who pulled the job, Miles Kennefick. The film even makes sure to have Martin Sheen ask, "What did you do with the real microprocessors, Frank?"
So regardless of Costello's relationship with the FBI, the chips are still out there, in someone's hands. And if he was willing to go through that trouble, he must have had some plan to make money with them. If they weren't getting sold to the Chinese, they were getting sold to somebody.
If Costello didn't have a chance to sell them before he bit the bullet, whoever has them after his death certainly will. But hey, we killed Matt Damon. That's what really matters.
When a Russian scientist named Jan Benes defects to the West after developing an experimental shrink ray, he falls victim to an almost-successful assassination plot that leaves him in a coma and with a blood clot threatening his brain.
At that point a team made up of a secret agent, a pilot, a surgeon and his assistant get inside a specially designed submarine, are shrunk to microscopic size and are sent in to remove the blood clot from Benes' head.
And maybe to do a few laps around his colon, if there's time.
But there are complications. For one, they have only a limited amount of time to get in, fix the problem, and get out before the effects of the shrink ray wear off and they spontaneously grow back to normal size. According to the scientists, objects stay miniaturized for only a short time, depending on how much miniaturization the object undergoes.
Also, going along with them is the chief of the hospital's medical staff, Dr. Michaels, played by Bond baddie and Dr. Evil template Donald Pleasence. He shockingly turns out to be a traitor intent on sabotaging the operation.
Who could have seen it coming?
But eventually the saboteur is caught, the blood clot is cleared, the ship is destroyed by a white blood cell and the crew escape Benes' body through a tear duct with literally seconds to spare before they end up back at full size. Phew!
But What About ...
Uh ... the wrecked submarine is still inside the patient.
How do you pass a submarine? Grease and a Slip-N-Slide?
Generally speaking, any medical procedure that accidentally leaves things inside you is considered less than successful. But this isn't like a typical botched surgery, where if they leave a scalpel inside you, they can just whip you open again and take it out, no harm, no foul. This is a full-size submarine ... or at least, it will be once the shrink ray wears off.
Why then, when we hear the swell of violins and the triumphant return of the four non-asshole crew members to their normal size, do we not see in the background a shot of Benes' head being stretched to bursting point by the rapidly swelling shape of a nuclear sub?
We will take literally any excuse to get this picture into an article.
OK, so maybe you're saying that for some reason not given in the film, the shrunken submarine was made from some special material that means it won't blow back up to full size when everything else does. Fine.
They also left Dr. Michaels behind. You know, the bad guy saboteur?
His baldness betrays him.
At some point he is going to return to adult size, from within the patient, possibly wearing him like a character costume at Disneyland.
Either way, it seems almost certain that the film should have ended with a bunch of embarrassed-looking and blood-spattered doctors standing around in an operating theater that looks like the final scene from a Saw sequel, gazing at one another sheepishly and swearing a pact never to mention the whole affair again.