12 of My Favorite Plot Holes In Otherwise Fine Superhero Films
(Assume standard “spoiler alert” warning here.)
1. Jor-El: Father, Scientist, Psychic Hotline Operator
The first time you watch a movie, you’re dazzled by the special effects. The second time, you start to notice little things, like the way certain scenes were shot or little shout-outs by the director. The third time… that’s when you start to notice things in the plot that don’t quite add up. Take baby Kal-El’s journey to Earth in 1978’s Superman, specifically the educational tapes his father was thoughtful enough to throw in his escape pod. When the holographic image of Jor-El first appears in Kent’s newly formed Fortress of Solitude, he tells his son that he — along with the rest of Krypton — “will have been dead by thousands of years” by the time Kent hears his words. But somehow, the voices that baby Kal-El heard during his time in space instructed him on all kinds of Earth knowledge, including facts about Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity… neither of which existed back when Jor-El was alive. Similarly, Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem “Trees” was referenced in Superman II when a fortress-invading Lex Luthor grabs a crystal at random and an image of Superman’s mother starts reciting the poem. Huh.
2. He Chose “Daredevil” Because “Drama Queen” Was Already Trademarked
The 2003 Daredevil film had more than a few issues; for starters, the Daredevil of the comics might have been a masked vigilante, but he never meted out justice by pushing a guy in front of an oncoming subway train. After that happens in the film, reporter Ben Urich shows up at the crime scene to do the usual cop/nosy reporter banter with one of the detectives. When the cop dismisses the idea of a guy in a devil costume roaming the streets, Urich throws a lit cigarette on the floor of the subway station, igniting some kind of flammable liquid that spells out Daredevil’s double-D logo, offering a voiceless “Oh yeah?” in the process. It’s a neat visual, but… well, when exactly would Daredevil have done that? After he had just committed a homicide in a public place? Does he carry around a canister full of kerosene for just this purpose? And what is the purpose, anyway? Was he hoping that someone would have come along after he left the scene, noticed the liquid on the floor, and dropped a burning object on it just to see it light up? If he had wanted to say “I was here” in a suitably dramatic fashion, why not set the floor on fire himself and let the scorched tiles spell out his calling card? And how is it that Urich, admittedly a guy who’s trained to notice things, was able to notice the liquid on the ground before the police officers on the scene? Wouldn’t someone have at least smelled that much gasoline on the floor?
3. Speaking of Fun With Flammable Liquids…
I’m a huge fan of The Dark Knight, let me just say that up front. I’ve watched the movie a lot of times, but never with a doctor or someone who works in a burn trauma unit, and that’s too bad because I bet they would have a lot to say about Harvey Dent’s injuries in that explosion. First off, it’s hard to believe that a man lying in a puddle of gasoline surrounded by barrels full of that same highly explosive fluid would not be killed immediately by that explosion’s shockwave, or the intense heat of the fire, or the lack of oxygen caused by the fire, or falling pieces of the ceiling, or any of the other things that tend to kill people who get caught in explosions. Second, we’re supposed to believe Dent’s left side of his face (and only his left side) was burned beyond recognition because he and the chair he was tied to fell over and gasoline splashed up only on the left side of his face… okay, fine, but it’s not as if the right side of his face is fireproof, and his suit and left shoulder didn’t suffer nearly the same damage as his face. Third, thanks to the magic of CGI, we see him with injuries that literally burned half his face right down to the teeth, bone and cheek tendons — and yet somehow he’s not screaming in pain every moment he’s awake, he’s able to talk as coherently as he did before (which just doesn’t happen with actual victims of that kind of damage), and he can move and see out of his left eyeball with no problem.
4. The Real Story of How Batman Begins? Well, It Begins With a Lot of Killing. Because He Hates Killing, That’s Why. No, You Shut Up.
While we’re talking about the Nolan films, let’s take a look at the first one, the one that shows young Bruce Wayne before he dons his Dark Knight duds. As Batman Begins, um, begins, it hits all the familiar notes, with a young lad searching the world for a way to strike back at the killers that took his parents. Wayne ends up in the kind of place that exists only in the movies, a mystical compound on a remote mountaintop in the Far East where manly men learn manly things as members of the League of Shadows, a secret society that’s dedicated to rooting out evil and corruption. Wayne realizes he’s not down with the program, though, when his final test requires him to execute a prisoner. Only then does he clue in that (a) all the months of training he had just gone through was meant to turn men like him into willing soldiers who would be willing to kill thousands on command (b) the Society works by targeting entire cities judged too corrupt to survive and razing them to the ground and (c) he was recruited specifically to lead a mission to destroy the city of his birth. All right, so maybe he didn’t read the society’s brochure when he signed up. His refusal to kill the condemned man is still a defining moment in his life, in that it shows our noble hero choosing to spare a life by… um, setting the building on fire to cover his escape, triggering a series of explosions that eventually consumes the entire building, and causing the deaths of his former comrades and all the prisoners in cages he refused to kill just moments before. Whoops.
5. Walk It Off, People. It’s Just Half the World’s Population Dead and Maimed, Is All. No Biggie.
Remember the dramatic climax in X-Men 2, where the genocidal anti-mutant bad guy tried to kill all the mutants in the world by using a fancy mind machine and a brainwashed Professor X… and then his plan was stopped by the genocidal anti-human bad guy who tried to kill all the humans in the world with the same tools? High stakes, y’all. And we know both plans would have worked because we saw images of mutants and then humans across the globe writhing in pain and/or knocked unconscious by the worldwide mental attack. Both attacks only lasted a minute or so, but think about the implications of everyone on the planet losing consciousness at the same time. Everyone driving a car? Dead. Flying in a plane? Dead. In the middle of a surgery? Dead. Skydiving? Dead. Swimming? Dead. On a ladder, near a tall cliff, climbing a rock face or feeding lions at a zoo? You get the idea. Even at the White House, where we see a few unconscious bodies sprawled on the floor, you’d think someone would have been at the top of a staircase or some other dangerous spot when the “coma wave” hit. Basically, we’re looking at the most horrific mass murder in human history, but no one even mentions it at the end — which is probably just as well, since it would have made Xavier’s chat with the president at the end of the movie a little more awkward (“Um, yeah, so a mutant managed to kill millions in just a few seconds. But we’re good, right?”)
6. Suggested Tag Line: “Oscorp Industries: Where Roaming Gangs Aren’t a Big Problem Anymore!”
Okay, so here’s what happens in The Amazing Spider-Man: early in the movie, our young Peter Parker cons his way past the security desk at Oscorp by pretending to be with a group of young interns touring the facility, which just happens to be the kind of place you’d expect to have all kinds of fancy security because of the top-secret work they do. So how does he pull off this impressive feat? Simple: (1) He scans the visibly displayed ID badges and says he’s “Manuel so-and-so” without anyone at Oscorp asking for any kind of identification and (2) when the rightful owner of that badge later shows up, the security guards automatically assume he’s the impostor and escort him out of the building without even bothering to check the poor sap’s ID. Okaaaay, then. But wait, there’s more! Once they’re inside this top-secret laboratory where security cameras are apparently non-existent, anyone with a visitor’s pass can wander wherever they please, and even enter the “TOP SECRET DO NOT ENTER” room by looking over Random Science Guy’s shoulder and noting the easy-to-read 4-digit PIN on the brightly displayed keypad lock. And even once you’re inside the top secret laboratory’s top secret spider-web room, you can be sure there will be no onsite staff, cameras or equipment monitoring the spiders’ habitat anywhere in sight. So snoop away, young industrial spy! Science!
7. I Love It When a Plan That’s Not Really Much of a Plan Comes Together.
Near the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, Cap and his army buddies are about to storm the Red Skull’s stronghold when someone says they can’t just walk up to the front door and knock. To which Cap says something like “that’s exactly what we’re gonna do.” Cut to Captain America doing just that: storming the base by himself on a bad-ass motorcycle and taking on hundreds of Hydra soldiers, betting that he’ll get captured and brought to the Red Skull himself, where Cap’s buddies will crash through the windows and help him save the day. But… what if one of the Hydra soldiers got lucky and killed Cap while he was storming the gates? What if he had been executed on the spot instead of brought inside? What if he had been taken to a dungeon or somewhere else instead of straight to the Red Skull? What if the windows were bulletproof and his ziplining army buddies just bounced off them? Wait a second — if the army guys were able to zipline into the secret base from the mountains without worrying about enemy fire until they were inside, then why not just skip to that part and forget all the Captain-America-rides-into-a-hail-of-bullets stuff?
8. So it’s agreed: we’ll leave the Giant Yellow Fear Monster on the unguarded planet to think about what it’s done. All in favor?
I may be stretching things by including 2011’s Green Lantern in a list of “fine superhero films,” but this one goes right to the heart of the entire movie’s premise. The main villain is Parallax, a sentient being composed of fear that was once imprisoned by Hal Jordan’s predecessor, Abin Sur. The movie begins when the entity escapes thanks to the unwitting help of aliens who chanced across his remote prison planet; in the film’s climax, Jordan tricks Parallax into following him into space, where the entity gets caught in the sun’s gravitational pull and burns up. So… it was that easy to destroy it, huh? Just one rookie Green Lantern and a decent-sized ball of super-heated plasma was all it took? Funny how the Guardians didn’t instruct all 3,600 Green Lanterns (or however many could make it to the party) to push Parallax into the nearest star the second they heard it was back on the loose. And while we’re on the subject, why was Parallax imprisoned in the first place? Were the Guardians studying it or maybe hoping it could be reformed? If they imprisoned the entity because they didn’t believe in capital punishment (assuming we all agree Parallax is “alive” in the traditional sense), then why couldn’t they spare a few guards or warning beacons around its prison? Here’s a crazy thought: why not imprison Parallax within their own home planet where they could minimize the chance of anyone accidentally setting it free without their knowledge? I know, too much to ask from the beings who appointed themselves the dispensers of justice throughout the known universe, right?
9. What, These Things? I Ordered Them Online. Amazon, I Think. Or eBay. Maybe Etsy?
Spider-Man 2 was a great film and Alfred Molina did a great Doc Ock, but that doesn’t mean his character’s plot always made sense. Evidence? Well, there’s the whole “I’ll chuck a car at Peter Parker even though I need his help to find Spider-Man and I’m not aware he actually is Spider-Man” thing, that’s a pretty odd move for a supposed genius to make. But for my money, the bigger plot hole in the movie is this: What does it take to impress people in New York City? Forget the fusion reactor thingamajig Octavius was showing off to those people; the man, apparently in his spare time, invented super-intelligent and indestructible mechanical arms that are connected directly to his brain and obey his every mental command. The reporters and scientific muckety-mucks were so bedazzled by the big glowing ball that they didn’t blink twice when Octavius put on his arms and showed them the neural interface he uses to control them, even though it’s safe to assume no one in this movie’s universe has ever seen anything close to this level of cybernetic wizardry. Hey, Harry — forget the fusion generator racket; get your man there to mass-produce these puppies for every surgeon, scientist, hazardous-materials handler and paraplegic who wouldn’t mind having a few extra limbs. And even looking past the arms’ near-infinite utility, we’ve got a physicist (who, note, is also an ace neurologist and robotics engineer) who has mastered the ability to move machines by plugging them directly into his brain. That’s got to be worth something on the NASDAQ, no?
10. World’s Smartest Man? Eh, Maybe Not So Much.
Zack Snyder’s Watchmen was praised and panned in many circles for the way it stuck so faithfully to the original Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons story, but one major way in which the movie diverged from the original series was the outcome of Ozymandias’ master plan. In the books, a massive “alien” kills millions of people New York City when it appears out of nowhere in the middle of Madison Square Garden; the squid-like creature was nothing more than a plan hatched by Ozymandias, the former hero billed as the world’s smartest man. He rationalized those deaths by believing the sudden appearance of a common enemy would bring the Soviet Union and the United States together and halt the march towards nuclear war, which was a very real possibility in the alternate-universe 1980s in which the Watchmen lived. In the movie, though, Ozymandias uses nuclear explosions with Dr. Manhattan’s energy signature to achieve the same result, framing his powerful Watchman colleague because he believed it would lead to the two nuclear super-powers uniting in peace against Dr. Manhattan, the “real” threat to humanity. Except… isn’t Dr. Manhattan a U.S. citizen? Wasn’t he the creation of an accident in a top secret American laboratory? Didn’t Nixon deploy him as an actual weapon of mass destruction during the Vietnam War? Isn’t Manhattan’s very name a clear reference to the U.S. effort to develop nuclear bombs during the Second World War? And given all that, isn’t it possible that someone in the USSR might see Dr. Manhattan as less a threat to the world than as the ultimate U.S. weapon against its enemies? Explain that one, world’s smartest man.
11. “I am Iron Man. No, I Mean I’m Literally Made of Iron. It’s the Only Way to Explain That Scene.”
Speaking of dudes with all the answers. One of the nicer parts of the first Iron Man movie is the story of how Stark first becomes Iron Man, updating the original Cold War/Vietnam setting by moving it to war-torn Afghanistan and showing how Stark and a fellow prisoner built his first battlesuit right under their captors’ unsuspecting noses. It’s a fine bit of filmmaking, but the set-up doesn’t really hold together when you think about it. Okay, let’s suspend our disbelief just enough to find nothing odd about a cave in the middle of Afghanistan possessing all the tools and raw materials needed for Stark to build an artificial heart/arc reactor power source and his Mark I suit of armor (complete with rocket launcher, jet boots and flame-throwing action!). And let’s pretend it’s totally plausible that Stark’s kidnappers would give him the space and time needed to build an Iron Man suit instead of the weapon they demanded. Putting all that aside… let’s be honest, the Mark I armor is a pretty crude piece of machinery, which is not surprising considering the haste with which it had to be assembled. But how was Stark able to protect his uncovered eyes from shrapnel, bullets and flames when he made his escape? How did he not pass out in the Afghan heat from wearing what amounted to a full-body cast-iron stove (and likely heated up as fast as one on the inside)? And how did he survive his thousand-foot drop to the ground after his thrilling escape? Assuming he had enough fuel to take him far enough away from his captors’ base to avoid recapture, how come his limbs weren’t lying in pieces with the metal pieces of his suit that lay scattered all over the ground? Sure, later versions of his suit are shown to be tough enough to allow his body to withstand the impact of bullets and tank shells, but this first suit wasn’t much more than a suit of armor with short-range jet boots (and flame-throwing action!). It stretches credulity a little too much to have Stark leave that desert camp without a scratch on him (well, not counting the hole where his heart used to be).
12. Look, I Didn’t Become a Japanese Billionaire By Coming Up With Plans That Made Sense.
In The Wolverine, Logan goes to Japan and fights a bunch of Yakuza thugs and ninjas before fighting someone in a giant samurai warrior suit. Because that’s what cool guys do, that’s why. But before all the fighting starts, we meet the very old, very rich Japanese man who invites Wolverine to his estate and asks him for his mutant healing power — the man is very old and sick, see, and he figures Logan would jump at the chance to give up his mutant power and live a normal life unburdened by near-immortality. Logan refuses and the guy dies that night. But as we later discover, the old man faked his own death as part of an elaborate plot to (a) put Wolverine through the grinder while he protected the old man’s granddaughter from various bad guys (b) lure him to a mountain stronghold where his mutant healing powers could be sucked out of him during a dramatically opportune moment and (c) fight him in a giant samurai suit/life support system made of indestructible adamantium that costs literal trillions of dollars. Okay, so… yeah. Let’s back up. The old man needs Logan alive if he wants to steal his healing power. He asks Logan to visit him, and Logan willingly comes without having any suspicions about his true motives. The guy has a mutant power-sapper on his staff who (as we see later in the film) could easily handle the job of weakening and restraining Logan long enough to suck out his mutant power. That should have been the end of the movie right there. After Logan had said no, why not just capture him right there and take his healing power by force? Why send him running across Japan in a powerless state, knowing he could have been killed (and his mutant powers lost forever) at any moment? And what was the point of the giant suit of armor? How could it possibly serve any purpose after the big fight scene in the evil tower full of catwalks? Fifteen minutes into the movie, the old man had everything he needed to render Logan helpless and take what he wanted without any resistance from anyone. Poison him, ship him up to the Tower of Doom, suck out his power, and bam, you’re done. Not much of a movie, sure… but it sure makes a hell of a lot more sense than building a five-trillion-dollar suit of armor just to cut off a guy’s forearm claws.