Obviously I'm speaking more about episodic television then movies at this point. But I feel the conventional presumption of Bruce Wayne's demise speaks to a certain lack of imagination, perhaps more so towards the watchers of genre entertainment than the writers. Arguably the king of fantasy television, J.J. Abrams, crafted some of the best plot twists the television medium has ever seen during his run on Alias and Lost (yes, I know he wasn't hands-on the whole time, but I digress). And no matter how I felt about how Lost chose to wrap itself up, it earned kudos throughout its run for giving us often shocking season finales that either had nothing to do with a climactic character death or used said major death as a smokescreen for something more fantastic. We all knew Charlie was going to perish in the third-season finale of Lost, so we were completely blind-sided by the actual climactic reveal, which was that several of the castaways had made it off the island and that we would know be seeing 'flash-forwards' in place of flashbacks (anyone want to name a better cliffhanger in modern television history?). But there still remains the fact that writers of film and television use the 'shocking' demise of a major character as a crutch in all-too many situations. We as audience members were once *shocked* when Terri Bauer was murdered just off-screen in the season one climax of 24. But as the show progressed, it became a quasi betting game to successfully predict which major character would die off next.
No matter how good The Avengers was, would it not have been better had it contained even a single 'surprise' other than (yes...) the death of a major character at a critical juncture? That Joss Whedon and company basically went 'well, we bumped off someone important, now this film is both surprising and important to the ongoing narrative' shows a certain almost laziness on a basic plot level. And pretty much every week comes a flurry of allegedly shocked fans of The Walking Dead or Game Of Thrones all-abuzz who which character kicked the bucket this weekend. You could argue that such shows are set in proverbial war-zones, but that mentality now extends to series set in 'peace time'. A few weeks ago, after Mad Men aired an episode chronicling a professional and personal low-point for Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), the internet exploded with speculation, ironclad in its certainty, that Pete Campbell was going to be killed off before the season was over, probably sooner rather than later. Pete had a bad day and now he was marked for death. Surely Pete couldn't just suck it up and go on with his life, right? But why wouldn't viewers think this, in a television era where even shows like The O.C. killed off its female lead (Mischa Barton) at the climax of its third season even after setting up a perfectly reasonable departure for her. No one thought it was strange that writers felt the need to have college-aged Marissa Cooper run off the road by a jealous ex as opposed to, I dunno, just leaving for college?
Again, while I do think the climactic character death has become a bit of cliche, there are enough exceptions to partially negate any complaints I have about the practice from the writers' point of view. But it is a problem among entertainment writers and more-so among fans. The audience, the bloggers, the fans at-large expect mortality even in situations where the more logical narrative conclusion would be survival. Whether because we have become conditioned to expect death at every turn in long-form storytelling or because we lack the imagination to presume a more creative outcome, we now expect what was once classically unexpected. For that reason, along with the idea that everyone who is randomly speculating is 100% wrong, I hope Chris Nolan has something else, or at least something more, in store for us on July 20th. This entertainment industry deserves a better class of plot twist. Here's hoping Mr. Nolan is set to give it to us.