Why he is great: The master of the effortless quip
“Doctor Banner, your work is unparalleled. And I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.“
It’s tough separating the excellence of all Tony Stark’s apparently offhanded quips from the brilliant delivery of Robert Downey Jr. And apparently Downey Jr. pushed the writers (in the first Iron Man movie) really hard to nail the dialogue. It shows. It seems like he just happens to have the perfect comeback for every situation. It never feels like he’s doing it in a kind of “wink wink” sitcom way.
Tony Stark is just a badass with a sarcasm level to match his arrogance. All his dialogue is totally and absolutely rooted in character. He’s richer, smarter, better looking and has better toys so it’s almost not fair that he should be wittier than the average bear as well. But there it is. And of course he has to be. That’s the charm of his character. He’s brilliantly written no matter which film we see him in. And this wit only serves to make what could be a totally unlikable billionaire playboy entirely charming.
Sarcasm and quips can be wonderful tools for creating a bond with character. But, it has to be handled correctly. There is a sense, with Tony, that he is poking fun at himself as much as everyone else. His sarcasm is playful, not cruel. Not that he won’t turn his wit on someone who does deserve it in a more biting way. But at that point, we know they asked for it.
Don’t automatically go to sarcasm as the way to create charm and humour in a script. Start with character. And then work those quips until they do feel effortless and tossed off. Never let the audience see the man (or woman) behind the curtain. And don’t think that having sarcasm will automatically make people like your characters. Done poorly, it’s just annoying. We don’t want our characters or their sense of humour to be generic. Make it so unique that the only person who could have spoken the words is that particular character.
Remember too, that for a character who is usually sarcastic, there is power in being serious. Tony Stark’s writers know this as well. We sit up and take notice when he is serious and passionate about something. Because if he’s not treating it as a joke, we certainly won’t. We’ll love them (and you) for it.
Written by: (I’m using The Avengers, since that’s the quote I used but all the writers involved in Iron Man’s evolution should be acknowledged.) Joss Wheden (screenplay), Zac Penn (story) and Joss Whedon (story) Stan Lee (Comic book) & Jack Kirby (comic book)
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