5 Major Plot Holes That Aren’t
I love the Internet like a sibling – a sibling with very little social grace or common sense who is constantly embarrassing me at parties. I love the fact that it provides me with an outlet to gab on endlessly about things I like and vent about things I dislike. But with that territory comes a degree of frustration. In some cases, this is just minor irritation. In others, usually a result of a poorly-worded image search, it results in screaming horror that makes me want to stick my thumbs into my eyes. I’m going to focus on the former right now and save the eye-gouging for later.
Movies are one of those areas that I tend to read up about a lot and one of those areas where people tend to get me grinding my teeth. Almost all movies tend to have plot holes, but there are certain holes that people just won’t let go. They reach a viral level and become repeated by everybody who wants to take a shot at popular cinema. The most popular of these tend to irritate the Hell out of me because they aren’t actually plot holes.
1: Why didn’t Gandalf just fly the ring to Mount Doom?
The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy of books and films that involve getting a ring of power from the peaceful hobbit country of the Shire to the deadly fires of Mount Doom, where it can be destroyed. But there are giant intelligent eagles in this world – why doesn’t Gandalf just call them in as allies and save everybody months of walking?
Because the entire fucking trilogy is a stealth mission. Sauron has hordes and hordes of monsters, including ring-wraiths on flying dragon-creatures and a Witch King who can’t be killed by any man.
Let’s say Gandalf loads up the eagles back in the Shire. On their way over the mountains of Moria, those eagles get zapped by Saruman’s lightning storms. If they do get all the way through to Mordor, Sauron has seen them coming and has a couple hundred catapults and dragon-monsters ready for them. The eagles get slaughtered, the ring goes back to Sauron, and everybody winds up playing the Midnight campaign setting.
And that’s not even getting into the fact that eagles still have endurance and that carrying human beings on their backs for a period of hundreds of miles is going to kill them from exhaustion. It’s also not getting into the fact that, in the end, nobody could resist the ring’s power at Mount Doom. So you fly there with eagles and either Gandalf gets corrupted or, if he’s trusted the eagles to do the job themselves, you wind up with a feathered dark lord for the next thousand years.
Finally, the supposed plot hole ignores the fact that we never actually saw Gandalf’s plan of attack. What we saw looked something like this:
- Step 1: Get to Mordor.
- Step 2: ????
- Step 3: Destroy the ring.
Before the first step was even over, Gandalf got killed by the Balrog, Boromir betrayed Frodo, Sam and Frodo were separated from the group, Merry and Pippin got kidnapped by Saruman, and war were declared everywhere on Middle Earth. Maybe Gandalf’s original plan involved eagles in some way. But I can tell you it didn’t involve flying them straight to Mount Doom, because that would have been stupid.
2: How did Bruce Banner suddenly gain control of his rage in The Avengers?
After a lot of buildup in The Avengers, Bruce Banner winds up losing his shit in the most glorious way possible. He Hulks out, nearly kills the Black Widow, smashes Thor some, then tears up a fighter jet before plummeting thousands of feet and disappearing until the movie’s climax.
Then, at the climax, Banner shows up again riding on an apparently stolen motorcycle. As a giant alien death-serpent-thing descends upon the Avengers, Banner casually walks up to it, goes green, and one-punches it.
So it’s a pretty big plot hole that he somehow gained control of the monster within him so easily, right?
No it isn’t. You just didn’t pay attention.
Okay, to be fair, it’s a lot clearer if you saw The Incredible Hulk beforehand.
The Avengers is not a standalone film. It is a sequel to Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Incredible Hulk. The last of that list explicitly focuses on Bruce Banner trying to gain control of the Hulk. He wears a heart rate monitor, practices meditation, and even turns down sex with Liv Tyler in order to keep the monster inside him under control. The movie ends with Banner living in isolation and meditating again. Then he opens his eyes, they glow green, and he starts to transform into the Hulk. The clear implication here is that he has learned to harness his anger.
Is it fair to ask audiences who saw The Avengers to have watched Marvel’s other film offerings in order to get the whole story? Yes, in the same way that The Empire Strikes Back makes a lot more sense if you saw Star Wars first.
But even if you don’t want to take the time to catch Ed Norton’s spot-on Bill Bixby impersonation, you don’t have to. The clues that Banner has gained control of the Hulk are right in The Avengers. The Black Widow mentions he hasn’t had a transformation in over a year. He feels comfortable enough to fake getting angry with Natasha just to see how she’ll react. Tony Stark gives him an electrical shock and Banner doesn’t even get a little green.
The process isn’t perfect, though, and it turns out that Banner getting manipulated by Loki and trapped aboard a flying fortress that has forgotten how to remain airborne will cause him to lose his cool and start smashing indiscriminately. Presumably, it’s the sort of instability which will eventually lead to the epic Hulk/Iron Man battle that has been teased in The Avengers 2 (well, that and the fact that Tony Stark is an asshole).
Regardless, Banner being able to Hulk-out at will is not a plot hole. Even if you didn’t see the film that established this as a possibility, the hints are contained within The Avengers itself.
3: Why did Keyser Soze blow the whole deal?
“Verbal” Kint is Keyser Soze. If that just ruined the surprise for you, I’m not sorry because you’ve had almost 20 years to watch The Usual Suspects.
The entire plot of the film revolves around Keyser Soze’s attempt to kill off the one guy who knows what he looks like. But then, in the guise of conman “Verbal” Kint, he spins a web of lies that only gets figured out too late by the detective who is questioning him.
But by telling the story in the first place, Keyser Soze has shot himself in the foot. Now the cops know what he looks like, so his whole plot to kill the one guy who could identify him wound up creating a bigger problem than it solved. The filmmakers created a huge plot hole just so they could have that cool twist ending, right?
Wrong. Keyser Soze doesn’t know what the audience knows.
Soze has every reason to believe that he got away with his scam. He doesn’t know that the guy he wanted dead actually survived and gave a police sketch artist his picture. He doesn’t realize that Detective Kujan is smart enough to piece together the clues. He spends a couple of hours telling Kujan his tale, and at the point that he leaves, Kujan has come to the conclusion that Dean Keaton is Keyser Soze. That plays right into Soze’s hands – it means that not only will the police not be able to identify him, but that they will be actively following Keaton’s trail. Since Keaton is dead, it means that the cops will always be on the wrong track.
There is no reason for Soze to believe that Kujan will clue into the whole thing. He doesn’t know that a sketch of his face is being faxed over as he leaves the building. He doesn’t know that by pure chance Kujan will look over the office (an office that Kujan is borrowing and is completely unfamiliar with) and realize that the details of the story were made up based on what Soze saw in the sty of a room. He does know that Kujan has a long-term grudge against Keaton and will likely buy into the idea that Keaton is Keyser Soze. Once Kujan has the conclusion he wants, there’s no reason to believe he’ll suddenly realize that everything he thought he knew was wrong.
Keyser Soze is clever, but not infallible. The revelation scene at the end of The Usual Suspects is actually a loss for him in many ways. Of course, by the time the cops do piece it all together, it’s too late and he’s gone.
4: How does the Joker/Loki/Silva plan for all the random things that allow them to stay one step ahead of the heroes?
The last few years have given us this weird persistent trope where the bad guy deliberately gets captured only to execute his evil plan from the inside of the prison that he actually wanted to be in to start with. How can you tell that you’re watching such a movie? Check your watch when the villain gets captured. If you’re only halfway through the movie, the next act will involve a series of events that couldn’t possibly have been predicted yet which all play right into the villain’s hands.
The three most popular examples of this are:
- The Joker in The Dark Knight, who gets captured by the presumed-dead Jim Gordon, interrogated by Batman, then freed because another guy who had swallowed a cell phone bomb happens to be brought into the same police station.
- Loki from The Avengers, who gets caught by Iron Man and Captain America, only to escape thanks to a timely attack from minions of his own combined with manipulations that led to Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk and Thor getting caught in a supposedly indestructible cage.
- Silva from Skyfall, who gets caught by James Bond but is able to figure out exactly when Q will plug his computer into the MI-6 network and unleash a computer virus, then has a series of well-placed explosives and contingencies which include sending a well-timed subway train into 007’s path.
So all of these are ridiculous plans because nobody on Earth could possibly predict all of the random stuff that plays into their hands, right?
Well…kind of. But only if you assume that we’re seeing Plan A.
The Joker is a madman whose only plan is to bring chaos to Gotham City and show people that they are one terrible day away from becoming complete monsters. His plans change constantly throughout the film, and that’s why he manages to stay one step ahead of Batman for so long. He goes from trying to kill Batman to trying to get him to reveal his secret identity to trying to kill the guy who is going to reveal his secret identity to trying to make Gotham citizens kill each other. He’s got a massive amount of resources and a burning desire for anarchy. The guy with the cell phone bomb was obviously supposed to be in the prison, but for all we know the Joker was going to use him to blow up the police station before he got captured. When Gordon got the drop on him, it was time to change plans. The Joker is a lunatic, but he’s a smart guy who can make adjustments on the fly.
Loki, similarly, is the god of mischief. He’s somebody who has a lot of vaguely-defined magic on his side plus an otherworldly ally and the ability to put plans on top of his plans. Plan A ends with him captured, but then the heroes bring him aboard a flying fortress that happens to have a barely-controlled giant green man-monster inside of it. He presumably knew the location of the helicarrier already, since his minions attack in short order, and it would have been to his benefit to take the thing out of the sky anyway. The fact that he wound up being brought on board around the same time and happened to have access to a prison that could hold his hated brother was an added benefit.
Silva…well, okay, I’ll give you Silva. His getting-captured-so-he-can-escape plot was a bit too perfect. Planting a virus in the MI-6 network is one thing, but knowing when it was going to get unleashed to the point where he was standing up and getting ready to escape at the precise moment is a bit too far-fetched. Also, while the subway bomb was cool, it’s a bit ridiculous to believe that he knew exactly where Bond was going to be standing and when he would catch up with Silva. But even with the timing being a bit too perfect, a lot of the underlying plan has the mark of a number of contingencies coming together at once. He knows MI-6 has guys trying to hunt him down, he knows there’s a chance he might get captured, and he knows that he can mess with their network should that happen. He also knows that he’s planning to kill M at her hearing, so planting explosives in random areas is a way of helping to throw off those MI-6 agents who are after him. In his case, it’s just that the timing is a little too perfect.
Overall, these far-fetched plans that rely on coincidences are only plot holes if you assume they were planned out from the start. Each of the guys involved are supposed to be evil geniuses, and they’re good at thinking on their feet. They aren’t infallible, but they do have back-up plans and are capable of adjusting their evil plans on the fly. What you’re seeing on film isn’t a matter of every random coincidence lining up perfectly according to some inscrutable plan – it’s a matter of them playing metaphorical speed chess and incorporating those random coincidences into their plans as they unfold.
5: Why does Hans Gruber pretend to be a terrorist, when the punishment for terrorism is so much worse than the grand theft he’s actually committing?
Most people I know have seen Die Hard. Apparently, some tend to tune out the dialogue and focus on the explosions – which is fair, since there are plenty of beautiful ones.
The argument goes something like this: Hans Gruber has a team of highly skilled operatives who are trying to steal millions of dollars from the Nakatomi Corporation. A key part of their plan is to pretend that, rather than being thieves, they are actually terrorists. But wait – isn’t being a terrorist worse than being a thief? Hans must be pretty stupid to pretend that he’s committing a crime much worse than the one he’s actually committing, right?
Right…unless you pay attention to the movie’s actual plot.
I’m not sure how this observation became a thing, but it bugs the heck out of me because the explanation as to why Hans and his buddies are posing as terrorists is a key part of the story. I could see missing it on one viewing, but the movie is a classic that shaped the action film genre for generations. Most people have seen it more than once, yet at least some people still don’t pay attention to the words coming out of Alan Rickman’s mouth.
The Nakatomi Corporation keeps its riches locked in a nearly impenetrable vault. The final lock is on a protected circuit that the thieves can’t cut. By posing as terrorists, the thieves bring in the FBI, which cuts the power as a standard response to terrorist situations like this. Thus…
The circuits that cannnot be cut are cut automatically in response to a terrorist incident. You asked for miracles, Theo, I give you the FBI.
Moreover, Hans is not expecting to be hunted down, because he is planning to be presumed dead at the end of all of this.
When they touch down, we’ll blow the roof, they’ll spend a month sifting through rubble, and by the time they figure out what went wrong, we’ll be sitting on a beach, earning twenty percent.
Now, you can argue that the plan is unrealistic, or that the FBI doesn’t respond to terrorist situations like that, but that is not the point. The movie does not occur in the real world – it occurs within a world that follows the rules the film has set up. That’s why John McClane doesn’t lose his legs due to the massive tissue damage and infection that he’s probably earned as a result of running around a skyscraper with broken glass in his feet.
If you want to argue plot holes in these films, ask questions about why nobody in The Dark Knight ever checked those boats for explosives or why the first responders in Die Hard put a terrorist into a body bag with a machinegun. The tidbits listed above are not plot holes.
Now let’s all go back to trying to figure out how the Tyrannosaurus at the end of Jurassic Park suddenly became a ninja in the climactic scene.