Thursday, 21 October 2010

Character Introductions (X-Men)

At uni yesterday, I gave a quick presentation on character introductions. So I thought I'd do a quick run-down of what I talked about, and maybe someone will find it useful.

The character intro I looked at is Wolverine/Logan from the first X-Men film, which is, in my opinion, one of the finest character introductions written. We can learn a lot from this short scene. Take a look:

A good character intro should do two things -
1) Define the character - give us a real sense right from the off about who this guy is. What's he about? What does he do?
2) Drop hints/subtleties about his full character which can be developed over the remaining film/show etc. If everything is laid bare early on, there's no reason to keep watching. The audience stay with us to understand and explore those character hints we gave early on.

So in the case of Wolverine in X-Men:

1) Wolverine is half-naked, in a cage, fighting. Perfect! Wolverine is an animal, a weapon, a savage beast. Type "Wolverine" into google images and this is one of the first images you get:

So by introducing Wolverine in such a situation, we know instantly that this guy is a savage animal and that fighting is second nature to him.

2) The hints - this scene is littered with clever subtleties about Logan's character:
  • He has his back to any opponent - he doesn't give a damn about who enters the cage, it makes no difference to him.
  • He takes the beating and bides his time - he doesn't care about any injuries and at no point does he raise his arms in defence. Pain doesn't mean anything to him.
  • When the fight is (very quickly) over, he gets that cheeky little kick in at the end - a very telling aside to his attitude and the way he fights.
  • He has dog tags and wears layers of clothing (four?). Yes, this could be a) to make Hugh Jackman look bigger or b) because it can be bloody freezing in Canada. But it could also symbolise the layers to Wolverine's character. In the cage, he's stripped down, this is who he is. But outside the cage, with all those layers, we are not seeing the real Wolverine.
  • He is, as a rule, against the confrontation in the bar. And, again, he isn't too bothered about who comes up behind him. It takes a brave/stupid man to remain seated when someone that big is behind you.
  • The claws - he's clearly ashamed of or confused by them somewhat, but will fall back on them if he has to.
  • When he completely owns the big guy and the barman, he stops for a moment. At this point, he could waste everyone in sight, just take them apart. But instead, he decides to walk away.
By dropping in all these subtle character traits early on, the audience is completely drawn in to this character. We want to keep watching to find answers to all the above asides.

As a writer, you probably can't do quite that much with your characters. For example, the layers comment was probably something completely disregarded in the script and dealt with in wardrobe.

But what you can do is think long and hard about how you introduce your characters and what impression they're making on the audience.

A few other honourable character intro mentions, check them out:

Blade, Achilles (Troy), Cap'n Jack Sparrow (Pirates), T101 (Terminator), Riggs (Lethal Weapon), The Joker (The Dark Knight), Somerset (Se7en), Henry V (Kenneth Branagh's version).

So what say you? What are your favourite character intros and why? Am I wrong about the importance of introducing a character? Is it not that important? Is it more important? Is the intro of Wolverine the crappest ever? Let me know.

No comments: