So I have this idea for a movie. We get this villain and he’s incredible. Unstoppable. Completely wrecks everything. Blows up buildings, and proves to be a menace that the hero can’t contend with. Then some how the villain is captured. Maybe he surrenders, or he’s outsmarted. But just when the hero is ready to deliver a lecture of disgust… BAM! The villain reveals it was all a part of his plan. He delivers this absolutely awesome monologue and then… and then… It all sounds familiar doesn’t it? It should. Ever since Heath Ledger’s Joker allowed himself to be arrested in The Dark Knight this has been a common occurrence? How common you ask? So common that some variation of this has occurred in no less than four other blockbuster films (The Avengers, Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, and Star Trek Into Darkness).
In The Avengers, and The Dark Knight Rises these “planned to be captured” schemes take place at the beginning of the film. In the former Loki is already captured as a result of the end of the Thor, and in the latter Bane’s plan involves pretending to be a prisoner until taking over a plane to fly to Gotham. Despite these differences the action itself as part of a scheme becomes an important part of the movie. This is not to say that the movies are totally similar (there are a ton of similarities between The Dark Knight and Skyfall) but it is enough of an issue that it becomes impossible to avoid. The plot by the villain in these cases prove as examples of their intelligence, and their power. It also provides the face-to-face conflict we demand to see in our movies. Joker sitting across from Batman in the prison is now an iconic moment in film. Not only for Joker’s “Why So Serious” dialogue, but because this is the first time in Christopher Nolan’s Batman series do we see this figures face off. Joker was a representation of absolute chaos and it was insane enough to work. There was power in the moment.
The more films revisit this trope the less impact it has. It stops feeling like something powerful and unexpected to yawn inducing. When Khan surrendered to James T. Kirk in Star Trek Into Darkness I found myself sighing because I knew exactly where it was headed. The moment he was locked up I did a silent countdown waiting for the monologue and waiting for him to attempt to exact revenge. And it came but it didn’t carry the weight it intended.
Why is this so common? I wish I had the answer, but over the years I’ve discovered that I’m better at pointing out a problem than offering a solution. It could be the easiest way to get a villain into the situation. Brings them into conflict with the protagonist for the first time. Maybe these writers all have the idea at the same time (highly unlikely). Or simply that no ideas are original and they tend to just reach in and grab the idea that is the most readily available.
Maybe I will write that movie, but it looks like I’ll have to start from scratch.