Once upon a time, the fight between good and evil was very simple. The Good Guy wanted to kill or capture The Bad Guy , thus stopping them from their nefarious activities.
The Good Guy would shoot The Bad Guy in a showdown or he would drag the defeated Bad Guy to the sheriff, they would be put in jail and the credits would roll.
Not so anymore. That once guaranteed ending between the struggle of Good and Bad has now become a popular plot twist designed to surprise audiences and is just another trick up the Bad Guy’s sleeve.
While the Good Guy might be breathing a sigh of relief, The Bad Guy is twisting his mustache and giving off a smirk because – he actually wanted to get caught! And now once behind bars there’s an even bigger, nastier scheme that is going to be unleashed! Who could have possibly seen this coming???
This movie cliché has become a popular way to demonstrate the cunning and intelligence behind the villain. How can the Good Guy possibly defeat the Bad Guy when they want to be caught? What was once a fresh twist has now become old hat. Audiences are no longer surprised by it and in some cases actually expect the Bad Guy to be pulling something like this.
I guess The Good Guy can only just shoot the Bad Guy to secure victory.
This movie cliché is an interesting one. It’s not a subtle one by any means. Even casual viewers must have seen the pattern emerge in a handful of movies and television shows. The thing I find most interesting about it is that it is a somewhat recent novelty that has very quickly become such an overused gimmick that it’s lost all its attraction.
The first big instance movies fans point to towards ‘The Villain Wanting To Be Caught’ trope is usually The Dark Knight. After an exciting pursuit and having caused mass chaos in Gotham City Heath Ledger’s Joker is finally caught by Batman.
However, the Joker doesn’t seem too worried as he sits in his cell. Then unexpectedly while the Good Guys are all racing around the city it suddenly dawns on them the Joker is exactly where he wants to be and planned to be caught the entire time. Now after accomplishing this seemingly crazy chess move on his part he can go about implementing an even more devious plan. Uh oh!
Since The Dark Knight in 2008 I can think of seeing this ‘Villain Wanting To Get Caught’ story twist happen in The Avengers, Skyfall, Star Trek Into Darkness and Sherlock. The Superhero genre really seems to have taken a liking to this story trope. I’ve seen bad guys willing to get captured and be put in cells on both The Flash and Supergirl.
I imagine there must of been some instances where this storytelling device was used earlier than The Dark Knight, but I’ll be darned if I can think of them.
Let’s see. Charlie Chaplin wanted to get arrested in Modern Times, only because he was having such a nice time in jail it was much easier life than in the outside world. His meals were provided for him and all that, but I don’t thing that qualifies as really the same thing. Plus, he wasn’t a villain.
Oh the same with the Three Stooges! In So Long Mr. Chumps the boys were trying to get arrested in order to talk to a guy in prison. Of course they have the darnedest time getting pinched. Their goals were much less nefarious than the Joker’s and of course the Three Stooges are heroes!
Luke Skywalker surrendered and allowed himself be captured in Return of the Jedi. His plan was to redeem Darth Vader. So he let himself give up his lightsaber and be handcuffed. He didn’t hide the fact that he gave himself up and what he was up to. Plus, Luke was the hero!
The same with Jason Bourne. He allows himself to get identified and taken in in The Bourne Supremacy, but that was only so he could get information. Once he gets the agent’s SIM card he easily knocks his guards out and makes his way out of their reach.
In Seven Kevin Spacey’s John Doe walks into the police station covered in blood with arms raised. Him sitting handcuffed in the backseat of their car leads our cop heroes to the climactic finish to his dastardly plan.
However, one of the keys to this subterfuge is the Bad Guy making it look like they didn’t want to get captured. That’s what makes the twist so surprising. The Good Guy has to genuinely think they’ve won and the story is over. In Seven John Doe surrendering still leaves that lingering question ‘what is he up to?’ The cop heroes are suspicious about this move. The Bad Guy has to make the Good Guy let their guard completely down and believe there’s no more harm the Bad Guy can do while being in their custody.
I don’t know if we’ll be seeing this movie cliché take place much anymore. Maybe in grade B-movies that are willing to just use it not caring if it feels fresh or not. The Bad Guys always want to trick and outsmart the Good Guys and the whole ‘wanting to be captured’ trick was a clever way to not only stare down the Good Guy, secretly knowing full well they have the upper hand, but also a fun twist that surprised audiences – at least a few times. The steam might have run out of that engine at this point.
Also, have you noticed the design similarities between most of these modern day cells we see today. The Joker was one of the few prisoners who were treated to iron bars and a dingy mattress. A rusty lock is no longer a sufficient way to hold the Bad Guy in. There’s little chance of anyone trying to dig out of these cells like Clint Eastwood did in Escape From Alcatraz!
Modern day cells have become very streamlined and clean looking. There’s no accessories for the prisoners to keep. They aren’t even given a shelf to put pictures or a bar soap on anymore. Today Hannibal Lecter’s cell in Silence of the Lambs looks downright shabby in comparison!
Today’s imprisoned guests are lucky they get some kind of built in seating installed in their digs for them to sit on. A lot of times it appears they just have to stand during their entire stay or sit on the floor! How uncomfortable!
The one necessity to the design of these modern cells is a giant clear plexiglass wall or window we can look in on. The prisoners sit in literal giant fishbowls. This of course allows the Good Guy and Bad Guy to look at each other without any obstructions and exchange dialogue.
The camera can give the illusion of them appearing in the same room together. There’s no iron bars that crisscross over anyone’s faces. The only thing they have to worry about when filming these scenes are smudges on the glass or an annoying glare.
I think what this technique offered was a chance for the Bad Guy and the Good Guy to meet face to face under a new power dynamic.
Usually in movies, the bad guy captures the good guy. Instead of killing the good guy right there and being done with the whole business, the bad guy usually has to gloat, come up with a "inventive" death or try to get something from the Good guy first.
Examples, I can think of are Rambo: First Blood Part Two when Rambo is being interrogated by the Russians. The other is Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan when just couldn't resist contacting Kirk.
With this technique, the Bad Guy and Good Guy can talk as equals. No reason for either one to hold back because they are meeting on even footing. And that's were the drama comes from.
But this technique has been run into the ground lately. So we'll have to wait and see what they move on to next.
As for previous times when a bad guy asked to be caught, I offer Cody Jarrett in the movie "White Heat." In that one, he was trying to beat a murder rap by confessing to a minor theft that happened at the same time. Thus confounding the investigators on where to place him at the time of the murder.
Forgive me for going a little off topic, but I've always been amused by other (dumb) movie villian cliches. For examble, how about the murderer who willfully appears at place where the detective gathers all the suspects. Why risk it? If I was guilty I'd be high-tailing it out of town! And of course there's the James Bond super villian. When your worst enemy is in your hands, do you shoot him? No. You wine and dine him while telling him your complete criminal scheme. As we all know, suspending our belief is the bargain we pay for entertainment