Pros and Cons of Frame Stories

Frame stories have been, and still are, the rage. 2008’s Iron Man is a perfect example of a frame story. Tony Stark is demonstrating a new missile his company has developed. On the way back from the demonstration site, he and the soldiers escorting him are attacked. Tony is hit by shrapnel from one of his own weapons. The scene fades out with Tony on the ground, blood rising on the surface of his shirt from tiny multiple wounds. Then we cut to a scene two dozen hours earlier, where Tony is gambling in a casino while his business partner, Obadiah Stane is accepting an award for him. We then work our way back to Tony’s accident.  This works. Sure. But might there have been a better way of getting Tony into that Humvee? Was it really necessary to go back to the casino?

This is the chicken or the egg question.

In this particular story, the chicken came first. We were taught to care about Tony before we were given a chance to know him. While that worked, it also required a certain amount of patience on the watchers’ part. They were forced to endure X minutes of intro to what had just happened in exchange for a little backstory on the hero. Spoiler alert: he was a selfish creep before that Humvee accident. Things are about to change—perhaps a little too predictably, but never mind that. Robert Downey Jr. will redeem this story from becoming A Christmas Carol réchauffé, where Scrooge realizes the error of his ways after Tiny Tim takes a couple bullets in an effort (fortunately not wasted) to buy him some more time to suit up.

But wasn’t there some way of doing this without having to reset the movie’s clock? Could they have shown Tony as the self-centered womanizer he was without have to go back two days to prove it to watchers?

I think the movie would have been just as good (if not better) if they had started it at the point where Tony demonstrates his missile. It’s pretty clear at that point what he thinks about the work he does. He just wants to sell his product. He doesn’t care who it hurts. Just sign a check and he’ll be on his way. When he gets hit by shrapnel from his own bomb, it’s the ultimate irony—and the best medicine for what ails him. You are the victim of your own weaponry. Hoist by your own petard. Literally.

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