I've been on a Marvel Superhero movie kick lately. Mostly because I need to catch up with the storyline so I can finish watching the Avenger series. These movies are high octane fun with lots of action, a hint of romance (sometimes), and dashes of humor. They are what my mom calls "popcorn movies" because it's entertainment with very little thinking required.

Or are they?

I have the bad habit of watching movies while wearing my writer hat. I can pick out plot points and turns, the hero's journey, and character development without realizing it. Actually, I do realize it and wish that I could turn it off so I can just enjoy the movie rather than analyzing it. On the other hand, that would be like asking to turn my imagination off. Not going to happen.

So what do superhero movies have to teach us as viewers and writers?

1. Every person has a moment in their back story that they haven't resolved. Maybe it's not doing the right thing and losing someone you love because of it. Or being banished from your home because of a rash decision. These moments often come back to haunt the hero and wonder if they had made a different choice how that would have changed their lives. This moment often colors the decisions they do make in the current storyline. In a writer's world, we call this motivation.

2. No hero is perfect. Whether it's overconfidence in their abilities or the tendency to let their anger control them, a hero has flaws. If they didn't, they might not be as interesting to us. Who is interested in the perfect hero who always does and says the right thing? If Tony Stark didn't have his arrogance, we would miss out on some of the best dialogue ever written. Thus, the superhero maybe superhuman, but he or she is not perfect.

3. No hero is alone on his/her journey. They need others as much as they are needed. They do not exist in a vacuum. They need love and companionship like everyone else.

4. Every hero has a goal. They have to want something. It could be something small like getting the girl or as major as saving the world. They are always striving towards something. Otherwise, it's just a fun story but we would watch it once (maybe), but not repeat it.

5. Obstacles are needed to keep the hero and the story interesting. If everything came easily, we would turn it off halfway through because what's the point? We keep watching because we want to know if the hero really does get the girl and save the world. And the obstacles need to be insurmountable (or so they seem). We need to see the hero try and possibly fail before the big finish.

6. Obstacles are often embodied in one character that we call the villain. The villain is a physical representation of everything that the hero is trying to destroy and overcome. They are used to set up obstacles and cast doubt in the hero. In my opinion, the best villains are the ones who are conflicted. They have the same choices as the hero - doing right or doing wrong - and they inevitably make the wrong decision. They have their reasons for why they are the way that they are. Darth Vader, though not in the Marvel universe, is my favorite villain. While the first Star Wars movie has a clear picture of his aptitude for evil, the next two movies chip away at that image until he is finally redeemed.

7. Happy endings can be ambiguous. When a hero is saving the world, it is often at a cost, whether personal or societal. He gains a victory, but it comes with losses. Of property. Of life. Sometimes of their own happiness.

Well, I'm off to watch another superhero try to save the world. Hope you are all doing well!


  1. I really like this, and I wish my mind would dig deep enough to make these discoveries. About the only thing I ever catch onto when watching movies or TV is when a character steps out of being who s/he is for the sake of the story, at which point I feel compelled to tell my husband So-and-so would never say or do that. He agrees to quiet me down.

  2. Love your analysis. My husband will ask part way through a mystery movie or TV show, how would you write it?

  3. Interesting. I'm not a superhero fan, but the movies and plots are successful because they appeal to us for all those reasons. Enjoy!

  4. This post came at an auspicious time for me, Syndi, and I thank you for that! I like analyzing murder/mysteries and am always pointing out the red herrings or guessing ‘who dun it’, which awes my husband. :)

  5. I like that line, "as major as saving the world." That's a tall order indeed! Especially since my goal these last weeks, aside from the all consuming writing goals, that is, involved my hair color and a box of dye!

  6. I love this post, Syndi! I could talk plot/character development all day! I have a habit of watching movies and checking my watch for when I think certain plot points are coming. And who doesn't love a complicated hero??


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