In the set piece that opens The Dark Knight Rises, a CIA operative screams at three hooded captives, “The flight plan I just filed with the Agency lists me, my men, Dr. Pavel here, but only one—of you!” He then starts pretending to toss them out of his airplane, only to be interrupted by the masked terrorist Bane, who has seen through his deceit (“Perhaps he’s wondering why someone would shoot a man … before throwing him out of a plane!”). Menacing banter ensues, after which Bane gains control of the aircraft and prepares to crash it. Grabbing Dr. Pavel, he commands an underling to remain on board, because “they expect one of us in the wreckage, brother!”
This is the kind of exchange Christopher Nolan thinks clever, when really it makes no sense. The plane was riddled with bullets, its wings torn away, its tail end blown off by explosives. Obviously somebody attacked it—so who cares if the bodies in the wreckage match the flight plan? What’s more, the CIA man wasn’t telling the truth about throwing them out—Bane even commented on that—so why trust his line about the flight plan?
These might seem like nitpicking, geeky griping over plot holes. But this exchange illustrates so much of what’s so wrong with Nolan’s movies.
For one thing, his characters never shut up.
In Funny People (dir. Apatow, 2009), Adam Sandler, since diagnosed with cancer, teases his oncologist about looking like Karl, the blond villain in Die Hard (1988) who rises from the dead at the end of the film for a final shot at John McClane (Bruce Willis), only to be shot dead by the black cop, played by the guy who ended up playing Urkel’s neighbor. (I’ll spare you my theory on the subconscious racism of how all “good cops” are black, as if such casting were some progressive affront to the more common implicit stereotype.) It is sadly wonderful how all of you know what I’m talking about, these names and faces closer than our own cousins — that there are semi-dense clusters of cells in our brains dedicated to remembering these things, that we are somewhat thwarted by them, yet continuously rewarded. In Hollywood’s game, people can be anything, and Apatow is aware of the pleasure we derive in getting the reference, the erratic yet embedded memory of Karl, as Bruce Willis and John McClane are equally distilled with meaning in this regard. (“Where you try to kill Bruce Willis” is Sandler’s punchline.) The question is did the script call for an actor who looked like Die Hard’s Karl, or was the script cleverly revised, ad libbed even, once they noticed the similarity? The answer is less important than its instigator. Karl since has risen from the dead twice, an unlikely Jesus, save the perfect Aryan hair.