Saturday, April 23, 2016

Writing Lessons from Movies: Iron Man

Iron Man (2008) is the film that really got me into Marvel and science-fiction. Sure, I'd seen Star Wars and Star Trek before, but Iron Man half-inspired me to write Subsapien. It's the best written out of the three Iron Man films and my personal favorite. It has action, emotional scenes, a great score, and great acting. This was Robert Downy Jr.'s first film to get him back into the film industry and it jump-started the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

There are so many great writing points in this film, but I'm just going to highlight the five biggest along with of course, tons of Iron Man gifs. 

Warning: Contains major spoilers.

1.) Antihero Character Arc - I went into this a bit in my antihero post, but since this is a whole post about Iron Man, I'm going to go into more detail. 

At the beginning of Iron Man, Tony is a selfish, spoiled, rude, narcissistic, irresponsible, inconsiderate man. He makes his employee's worlds very difficult and he doesn't give a crap about how hard he's making others' lives. He doesn't care about what his company does, he just cares about getting the money from it so he can continue with his hedonistic flamboyant lifestyle. He neglected to go to a prestigious awards ceremony to gamble at the hotel casino. He slept with a journalist and didn't even remember her name. He didn't care much about the big deal weapons demonstration he was doing and drank while he was working.

Basically, Tony was a pretty much a huge jerk. As he openly admitted:

"I have a laundry list of character defects." ~ Tony Stark from Iron Man (2008)

Three months later after being trapped in a terrorist cell in Iraq and surviving shrapnel to the heart, Tony realizes that the world isn't about him. While dying, Yinsin inspires him to not waste his gifts and talents on frivolous activities, but to use them to help others. Tony discovers people need him, and treats Pepper, Rhodey, Obadiah, and Happy with more respect. Tony witnesses terrorists using his company's weapons to wreak havoc on the Middle East. When he sees the Ten Rings attack the town of Gulmira (Yinsin's hometown) on a newscast, Tony is enraged at the terror and destruction. In Tony's near loss of his heart, he finally gains a heart.

How this can be applied to writing: Antihero character arcs are some of the most powerful out there. Pinpoint your antihero's flaws and see how you can flip them on their. See how their flaws have caused consequences for their turnarounds. Many people still think Tony is a selfish jerk even after he's changed and many resent him such as Obadiah and Christine Everhart, thus keeping up conflict. Showing how not so good people can turn into heroes is a powerful thing, but it can come with a cost for the character.

2.)  Hidden Villain - One of the twists in Iron Man is that for the longest time you believe the Ten Rings is the villain group you should worry about when behind the scenes Obadiah has been conducting everything. He ordered the hit on Tony Stark and inadvertently created Iron Man. Obadiah is a villain hidden in plain sight. He seems like a well-to-do friendly fellow, and he acts concerned for Tony's well being when ultimately all he wants is what he get out of Tony and even more so Stark Industries.

You don't begin to catch on to Obadiah's sly nature until more than halfway through the film when he admits booting Tony off the board of directors for Stark Industries. Then a full reveal happens when you discover he's in this all the way when he visits Raza of the Ten Rings in person.

How this can be applied to writing: Hiding your villain in plain sight can be a very fun twist, but keeping this sleeper antagonist hidden can prove difficult. Your reader is going to try to figure out any trick you have up your sleeve. Keep your reader doubting his or herself. Obadiah didn't seem too happy with Tony's new vision for Stark Industries, but he also seemed like he wanted to protect him during this time of transition. Obadiah was the bearer of bad news when he told Tony that the board locked Tony out of the company, but he brought pizza to soften the blow. Having your reader thinking, "But he isn't too bad of a guy," will help keep your antagonist under the radar until you finally reveal the twist.

3.) Villain is Stronger than the Hero - Obadiah is cunning, devious, ruthless, has a crazy sonic paralysis thingamajig, and a crazy powerful suit. He takes advantage of his familiarity with Tony and Tony's negligence to get the upper hand in Stark Industries. He has Raza and a large portion of the Ten Rings eliminated by his own squad of men. He uses the paralysis thingy to incapacitate Tony to steal his electromagnet to power his super suit that nearly crushes Tony to death on several occasions. Obadiah is more stronger mentally and physically than Tony stark, making him a perfect antagonist for our hero.

How this can be applied to writing: Your villain needs to be a worthy opponent of your hero. He needs to be stronger, quicker, smarter, etc. so your hero has difficulty overcoming this opposing force. We need to doubt even just a little bit that the protagonist really can't defeat the bad guy. If the bad guy seems inferior to the hero then the tensions are just not as high.

4.) A Major Villain and a Minor Villain - Iron Man has two villains: Raza and Obadiah. Obadiah is the major villain and Raza is the minor villain since he technically works under Obadiah. Raza takes his orders from Obadiah even though Raza takes matters into his own hands when instead of killing Tony, he tries to make him build the Jericho Missile. Each have their own goals (Obadiah wants to take over Stark Industries and Raza wants to take over the Middle East) and each control amounts of men, but one is superior over the other and unfortunately for Raza that brings about his end.

How this can be applied to writing: Major and minor villains can often make interesting combinations such as Whiplash and Hammer in Iron Man 2 or Sauron and Saruman in the Lord of the Rings or Ozai and Azula in Avatar the Last Airbender or Amon and Tarlok in the Legend of Korra. Some of these villains cooperate each other while others oppose each other. Each meet different demises such as Whiplash dies but Hammer is imprisoned or Amon and Tarlok both die because Tarlok puts an end to them both. Major and minor villains create interesting conflict both between them and with the protagonist. 

5.) A Damsel Who Isn't Always in Distress - Pepper Potts is Tony's Love Interest aka the Damsel, however, she may not be able to kick butt, but she has her own ways of helping stop the villain. She is brave enough to go into Obadiah's office to get the data Tony needs and holds herself together even when she's caught. She gets the SHIELD agents to help investigate Obadiah's lair and helps Tony activate the Arc Reactor to ultimately stop Obadiah. Pepper isn't helpless and is by far useful to the plot instead of just being a love interest.

How this can be applied to writing: When I think of the original damsel in distress I think of the 1950's Superman cartoons where it seems like Lois Lane's only purpose in life is to be captured by villains so the Kryptonian hero can save her. I've seen other films where it seems like the love interest/damsel isn't capable of doing anything for herself at all. Though kickbutt female characters are fun, not every girl is like that, not every woman has gone through rigorous martial arts training with Buddhist monks. There has to be some that can still be useful, but not necessarily with her fists. Bravery and strength come in many different forms.

Conclusion - Iron Man is a great superhero movie and still one of my favorites. It has much to teach us about antiheroes, villains, and damsels. Thanks for reading!

Have you seen Iron Man? Have you noticed these writing aspects? What movies have you noticed have good writing? Let's geek out together!

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