Iron Man, or *this* is how you do plot so pay attention

May 4, 2008

I avoided reviews of “Iron Man,” but the tremendous buzz was apparent. My take on it? Wow. Just wow.

But let’s talk about plot, because this thing was almost perfectly plotted. Plot has been the hardest thing for me to learn, so I think about it a lot and am always taking notes. One famous way of thinking about plot: if you put a gun on the mantle in act one, it needs to be fired by the end of the story. My favorite way of thinking about plot: it’s like setting up dominoes. You spend the first half of the story setting up the dominoes; the second half, you tip them over and watch them knock each other down in a complicated pretty pattern. Ideally, every piece of the story plays an important part and contributes to the whole pattern. If it doesn’t, the story (like the domino pattern) stalls, fizzles in the middle, or leads to a dead end.

“Iron Man” did this beautifully. Scenes worked on multiple levels, and they were all connected to a whole pattern. Here’s a great example. **SPOILERS** The scene where Tony needs Pepper to help him switch out the little generator thingy that’s keeping him alive is hugely funny. But it also gives the characters a chance connect, and to show the audience how important they are to each other. From this, we know that when Pepper learns that Tony is Iron Man, it’ll be okay because he can trust her, and when Tony needs help Pepper will totally have his back. But that scene sets up another cool character moment: Tony tells her to get rid of the old generator. She doesn’t, but returns it to him as a trophy that says “Proof that Tony Stark Has a Heart.” I swear, an entire theater full of hard-bitten comic fans all went “Awe!” So another funny scene that also builds character. But then it sets up yet another scene: when the big bad dude (love Jeff Bridges) gets to Tony and rips the new generator out of him, the solution is right there — he’s still got the old one. It’s been set up, and it’s perfect.

The whole movie is like that.

And that’s how you do it: you look for solutions to the story among the elements you’ve already put into play. And ideally, each of those elements also builds character, contributes to the theme, creates subtext, etc. The solution, the climax, whatever, needs to be planted early on. If you have to go back and revise the first half to make sure the dominoes you need are there, then do it. Later seasons of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” had serious problems with this. There’d be a big problem, and in the last ten minutes LaForge or Data or someone would come along and say, “Oh, but if we change the frequency of the tachyon stream the power surge will override the polarity of the blah blah blah.” And we, the audience, are sitting there thinking WTF? Where did that come from?

I could say a lot more about “Iron Man.” The secondary characters were well-rounded and awesome. The effects looked fantastic. My geek-fu is strong because I guessed the acronym of the secret government agency halfway through. The easter egg at the end of the credits left me squealing in glee. (Because Jackson is so much better than the last guy to play Nick Fury.)

And none of the fight scenes went on too long. The movie actually left me wanting more. Awesome.

10 Responses to “Iron Man, or *this* is how you do plot so pay attention”

  1. smsand Says:

    I was pumped when I heard the Black Sabbath song on the trailer. Now I’m dying to see the movie!

  2. Chris Says:

    I’m a comic book fan, but I don’t read IRON MAN.

    And I loved the movie. Easily one of the top two or three comic adaptions ever in my mind.

    I know where I’ll be May 2010.

  3. lambprey Says:

    I was in awe with the assembly of the suit, the texturing and rendering of the animation. The realism of the various metals, surfaces and composites is often taken for granted, but then I guess they’ve improved the software since I tried it ten years ago.
    I too figured out the acronym the second time the agent said it. My friend was going on about the cut Nick Fury scene and then it appeared at the end.
    The cast, visuals, dialogue, plot, characters, music, everything was done exceptioinally. Seeing it again soon.

  4. Angie Says:

    I’m a comic fan, mainly Batman, but I don’t read Iron Man. I loved the movie. RDJ was fantastic. I thought it was great how he didn’t magically get the suit exactly right at first..it progressively got better. I think Iron Man is in my top 3 comic book movie adaptations, after Batman Begins and the Dark Knight ๐Ÿ˜€
    Someone was complaining that they made Nick Fury black..I was like dude..it’s Samuel L Jackson! He can play the Hulk if he wanted to!

  5. carriev Says:

    “I was like dude..itโ€™s Samuel L Jackson! He can play the Hulk if he wanted to!”

    That’s EXACTLY what I said! Especially since I’ve actually seen bits of Nick Fury movie that David Hasselhoff did… *shudder*

  6. GreyDuck Says:

    “(Because Jackson is so much better than the last guy to play Nick Fury.)”

    You had the exact same reaction I did… *chuckle*

  7. Chris Says:

    Well…Nick Fury has been black (in fact, been Samuel L Jackson) for awhile now. At least in the ‘Ultimate’ universe.

    I can hear the Nick Fury movie now: “I’m tired of these muthafrumpin’ Hydra on this muthafrumpin helicarrier!”

  8. Thomas Says:

    I haven’t seen the movie yet so I skipped over the spoilers cause I don’t want to know anything about the movie when I go see it.

    I really liked your post about plot, especially the analogy with setting up huge lines of dominoes. It’s very true. Thanks for the great info on plot how you set up a plot. ๐Ÿ™‚

    You’ll probably see some comments on the movie from me after I see it this Tuesday with my cousin.

  9. Allie Says:

    I’ve never read a single comic. Ever.
    But I absolutely love the Marvel Movies. Iron Man was awesome, and I agree, they way the scenes work=awesome.

  10. Bruce E. Durocher II Says:

    My favorite example of an original horror/fantasy film where the script was cheat-free (except foa a small one in the last ten minutes that I let pass because it had played fair otherwise) is The Frighteners. Every damn plot point was set up well in advance, nothing pulled out of a hat…and Ebert attacked it for being confusing and it sank like a stone. Blah.


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