Screenwriters know where their characters are going before they get there. So if they know that a bank robbery is going to fail, they don't need to bother figuring out what the results of a successful robbery would have been. The only problem is that sometimes, the implied consequences of a failed plan are so awful that you're left wondering why anyone would have tried to pull the plan off in the first place. Consider how ...
Wonder Woman, the World War I movie that DC clearly wanted to set in World War II but couldn't because Marvel beat them to it, features a German scheme to rain poison gas on London. The plot is led by the rogue General Ludendorff, so Wonder "Diana" Woman and Steve Trevor infiltrate a party to learn where the gas is and destroy it. But Diana has an ulterior motive -- she also wants to kill Ludendorff, because she thinks he's secretly the evil god Ares. You may remember her walking into the party, wearing a dress with her sword in the back being held up by, uh ... Amazonian magic?
Warner Bros. Pictures
It's easy to forget this, given all that unfolds afterward, but her intention is to straight-up murder Ludendorff. And not, like, lure him to a quiet stairwell and make it look like he fell down and broke his neck; she's about to annihilate him in the middle of a crowded ballroom. If Steve hadn't noticed and intervened with a reminder that they had to find the gas first, she would have lopped his head off. But then what would have happened?
This is 1918, and Germany is about to sign an armistice to end the war. Ludendorff and his small faction of cronies are the only ones preparing this secret attack. He does have to be stopped, but if Wonder Woman kills him in public, everyone at the party would assume that Allied assassins murdered a high-ranking German during a peaceful event, at which point an outraged and distrusting German government would refuse to make peace, and millions more would die as the war raged on. So look forward to Wonder Woman 2, wherein Diana learns her lesson and has the CIA train her in covert political assassination.
At the end of Home Alone, Harry and Marv finally catch Kevin and hang him on the back of a door. Harry declares, "I'm gonna bite off every one of these little fingers," which sounds like a threat to scare Kevin into silence until he proceeds to start doing it. He puts a finger in his mouth, but before he can chomp down, Kevin's neighbor shows up and whacks him on the back of the head with a shovel.
20th Century Fox
But if shovel guy hadn't saved the day, what the hell would've happened? These guys are reasonably professional burglars, but in a fit of anger, they had no qualms about graduating to child mutilation. Who even thinks of something that sadistic, let alone goes for it in the spur of the moment? And Marv's fine with it?
One of two things would've happened here. Either Harry would've violently bitten off Kevin's fingers as he screamed in agony, and the Wet Bandits would forever be known as sadistic child-torturers who, when caught, would get a tabloid trial and a long and miserable time in prison. Or at best, Harry puts Kevin's finger in his mouth, pretends to bite it, then says, "OK, I'm not really doing it. But imagine if I had. Scary huh?" Then Harry and Marv leave, with that awkward moment lingering between them forever, plus Kevin still tells the cops that Harry tried to bite his finger off, so they're getting re-branded by the media as the Wet Child Eaters anyway. Just refrain from eating fingers, burglars. Trust us, no good comes from it.
Tim Burton's 1989 Batman is more cartoony than the gritty Nolan trilogy, but it still features the Joker murdering random people with poisonous cosmetic products. There's a fair amount of dark violence, and it almost has the craziest climax in superhero movie history. The Joker holds a big parade to throw money at the greedy citizens of Gotham, only to spray them with insanity gas from his floats. Then Batman arrives in his Batwing, blows up the floats, takes aim at the Joker, and empties his giant machine guns.
Warner Bros. Pictures
This results in a goofy sight gag in which Batman unloads a barrage of bullets and rockets but misses every single shot, to which the Joker responds by downing the Batwing with a single round from his massively oversized novelty gun.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures
But what would have happened if Batman's plan had worked? Was he going to rip the Joker to shreds with enough firepower to launch a war? We get that the Joker had to be stopped, but imagine that ending. Just an annihilated husk of Joker lying in the street, blood and guts pouring out of a body so mangled by military-grade weaponry that it's barely recognizable. People would be finding bits of him in the gutters for months. It's not exactly a picture Gotham's newspapers could put under next day's "BATMAN SAVES CITY" headlines.
People ripped on Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Ennui for being unfaithful to Batman's nonlethal code of conduct, but the 1989 iteration -- which is played as half-comedy -- nearly concludes with Batman deciding "Screw it, I'm going to cut this clown down with heavy artillery." But then, why even do all the bat stuff? Simply blow the Joker's brains out with a sniper rifle and call it a night.
In The Sum of All Fears, Israel loses a nuclear weapon in 1973, and apparently doesn't bother to look for it or give anyone a heads up. Nearly 30 years later, it ends up in the hands of a billionaire Austrian neo-Nazi named Dressler, who has his cronies smuggle it into the Super Bowl disguised as a cigarette vending machine, presumably after deciding that a payphone would be too conspicuous. The bomb detonates and annihilates Baltimore, a city that will never be portrayed well in fiction.
Dressler's plan is for America to blame the attack on Russia, starting a nuclear war that would annihilate both superpowers and leave him in charge of a world-dominating pan-European fascist state. But there's one tiny flaw in his plan: What the hell does this guy think that global nuclear war is going to do to Europe? Make the weather a little inconvenient? Even without getting into the massive environmental devastation, there are NATO member nuclear sites and American military bases throughout Europe that would absolutely be targeted by Russia in a nuclear war. European survivors aren't going to welcome Dressler to lead them as Hitler 2.0; they're going to BBQ him and hope his fat ass lasts until they figure out how to make plants grow again.
There are dozens of sinister European henchmen in on his plot, and every one of them spends the movie thinking, "Ah, the end of life as we know it will probably be pretty swell for good old Gelsenkirchen." Hell, one step of their plan involves bribing a corrupt Russian general into attacking the U.S. Navy. How much does that guy expect money to be worth after the apocalypse? Why can no one in this movie understand the implications of a nuclear armageddon?
Jurassic Park needed a good excuse for the dinosaurs to escape and run rampant, because as the first movie in the franchise, it cared enough to provide an explanation beyond "We dunno, a magic dinosaur and idiot humans?" Enter Nedry, the computer programmer who dresses like a midlife crisis. He thinks he's underpaid by InGen, so he agrees to steal some dinosaur embryos and give them to a competitor in exchange for a cool $1.5 million. The only catch is that he has a limited window of time in which to get the embryos to a waiting boat, and he has to shut down the park's security system to gain access to them. Since this is a movie, he, of course, makes his move during a massive storm while Hammond's grandkids are touring the park, and of course, he gets his comeuppance in the form of a vicious dinosaur to the face. But let's say he pulled off his theft without issue ... what the hell did he think would happen next?
Out of the handful of employees at the park, Nedry is the only one who knows the system well enough to shut it down and reboot it. He's also been publicly feuding with his boss about his salary, and everyone knows that he's in financial trouble. Add in all the circumstantial evidence, like his lengthy disappearance (his brilliant cover story is that he's leaving to get a soda, which would only hold up if the soda machine was on the other side of the damn island), plus the physical evidence, like the footprints and tire tracks he'd be leaving in the mud, and it wouldn't exactly be the crime of the century.
If he really needed more money, why not threaten to quit? Instead, he agrees to a terrible plan that would see him thrown in jail and/or sued into oblivion by a billionaire and his army of lawyers almost immediately. The screenwriters knew damn well that no one would be thinking through the logic of his plan while a tyrannosaurus was rampaging around.
Mike Bedard is a comedy writer in Los Angeles. Hit him up on Twitter if you ever want to talk more about superhero movies.
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For more, check out 5 Movie Plans That You Didn't Notice Rely Entirely On Luck and 23 Movie Master Plans That Make Zero Sense.
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