But this is something to keep in mind for plot-driven movies as well: Heroes shouldn’t know what they’re getting into. If the hero already knows how big the problem is by page 30, then you’ll just be marking time through the second act, waiting for the finale.
Here’s the bad version of Die Hard: 30 minutes in, John McClane gets on the P.A. and announces to Hans Gruber, “My mission is to kill you, Hans!” Hans announces over the same system, “You will never get to me, John, because one of my three master henchmen will kill you first!” John then spends the next hour defeating the three henchmen, and the last half hour confronting Hans directly. We’ve all seen versions of this, and they’re terrible.
This is a problem in too many heist movies: they know what the goal is early on, spend the whole middle hour planning, and only go into action at the end. I recently watched Fast Five which suffered from this problem: the heist gang decides who they want to rob, and they know where the safe is, then they sit around waiting to do it until the end.
One good way to avoid this problem is to add more sources of antagonism, all of which spring from the original problem. The original Fast and the Furious wasn’t just one big mano-a-mano confrontation between Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. Diesel’s gang may have committed the original crime that launched Walker’s investigation, but by the time he’s figured that out, he’s got a lot of problems on his hands:
- Walker has wormed his way into the gang by romancing Diesel’s sister, which makes him feel like a heel and puts him in addition danger from Diesel and her original suitor.
- Walker’s LAPD boss rightly suspects that he’s losing perspective, and wants to pull him off the case.
- The FBI wants Walker to mover quicker and arrest the wrong guys.
- As a result, Rick Yune’s violent biker gang gets falsely arrested, so they target both Walker and Diesel’s gang for retribution.
- The truckers who are getting robbed have armed themselves.
Likewise in Die Hard, the competing agendas of several groups (the cop, the crooks, a dubious rival police department, the feds, the press) keeps things lively. This takes the pressure off the main villain, who doesn’t have to provide all of the conflict in every scene, and it makes it more believable that the hero would get sucked into this ever-escalating situation, without knowing what he was getting into.