What Marvel Teaches us About Storytelling

(Age of Ultron image taken from nydailynews.com )

(Age of Ultron image taken from nydailynews.com )

Marvel movies are always a big hit in the box office. Whether it’s hulk-smashing, shield-throwing action on the big screen, or sitting at home laughing at the witty one-liners, Marvel’s stories are a success.

The fast-paced, stunning fight/action scenes and the humorous dialogue certainly contribute to Marvel’s intimidating presence in the movie industry, but there are two other things that make the Marvel Cinematic Universe stand out. I think Tom Hiddleston sums it up nicely:

 (Image taken from Google Images. All credits go to rightful owner.)

Exactly. We can learn so much about storytelling from the way Marvel tell its own. Witty dialogue and explosive action sequences are the glaze on top of the barbecue, but the meat is how Marvel shapes its characters. Let’s break down Tom’s comment.

1. Marvel makes its heroes flawed.

    Marvel’s protagonists may be superhuman and they may be superheroes – but they’re not super perfect. The company has always been great at creating characters with realistic flaws and challenges. Its heroes are definitely not cookie-cutter stereotypes. In fact, some of them may not even be considered heroes because of things they do or how they act. Arrogant Tony Stark has a drinking problem and less-than-ideal morals (definitely not the kind of guy you would want people looking up to as a superhero). Dr. Banner’s alter ego, “Hulk”, is legitimately the complete opposite of a hero. Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) is a sneaky former assassin that isn’t above killing when needed. Thor has some serious family issues. And let’s not forget overly flirty, thieving Peter Quill who comprises a ‘superhero’ team of nothing but criminals (which happens to include a mercenary, a bounty hunter, and a revenge-driven murderer).

But all these characters still try to do what’s right, whether that’s because it’s their job, they want to prove themselves, or they realize that if they let the villain win, they’ll die too. And although, in the end, they’re saving people, they make mistakes along the way. Because Marvel makes its heroes flawed, its characters become more complex, realistic, and lovable.

What writers can learn from this: Take a cue from Marvel and give your characters flaws. Give them challenges and problems. Make your heroes less-than-perfect. Make it hard for them to do the right thing at times. Have them make hard choices. Because most of the time, heroes aren’t the people who do everything right. They’re the ones who mess up, but keep trying.

(Image taken from Tumblr. All credits go to rightful owner.)

2. Marvel makes its villains heroic.

This is where I might lose you. Villains? Being heroic? What kind of topsy-turvy, upside-down world is this we live in? Hold your horses and let me explain.

Pretty much no one is bad simply for the sake of being bad. They have a reason for what they do (whether it’s out of love, revenge, hatred, betrayal, or something else). And usually, villains don’t see themselves as the bad guys. They’re the heroes of their own story, and they think whatever they are doing is fair and just. A lot of times, villains are hurt emotionally, physically, or mentally, and that’s why they resort to their devious methods. Sometimes, they may even have good intentions, but go about it the wrong way. Additionally, no villain, no matter how crooked, is completely evil. They have inner conflicts; they have second thoughts. They have regrets and doubts.

Probably the best example in the Marvel universe of this is Loki. He just screams “complex character development”. His hatred and anger was born out of being betrayed and lied to. In “Thor”, you see the pain and fear that assaults him as he realizes that he is not what he was told his whole life that he was. In “The Avengers”, he doubles back sometimes. He verbally expresses his regrets several times, but yet he still believes that he is too far gone to be loved and helped. He even helps the heroes later on! There are a thousand things I could say as we try to delve deep into Loki’s mind and character, but that’s a post for another day. Hopefully you get the picture. Harry Osborn from “The Amazing Spiderman 2” resorts to villainy because he desperately wants a cure for his strange illness. When his supposed best friend flat-out refuses to give it to him (for good reasons, considering the antidote could kill Harry), he doesn’t understand and grows angry. The Winter Soldier is a brainwashed villain who later regains his memories and struggles with the horrific realization that he’s been trying to kill his friend. Ultron, an artificial intelligence robot, was created to keep peace. However, he interprets that as wiping out the source of conflicts – humans, the very creatures he was supposed to protect. Although his motives could be argued as being good, his actions contradicted them.

Marvel villains display both villainous and heroic intentions and qualities. They make you love them because you feel for them. Perhaps you don’t approve of their actions, but you see their pain and sadness and you understand what drove them to commit their heinous crimes.

What writers can learn from this: Don’t keep your villains two-dimensional and predictable. Give them a valid reason for the things they do. Give them regrets and feelings. Enable them to have backstories and motives. Don’t label your baddie just as a “villain” – after all, he/she is a person too. A villain doesn’t know he is a villain – his disillusionment causes him to see himself as the hero.

(Image taken from Tumblr. All credits go to rightful owner.)

It’s your turn! What have you learned about characters from Marvel? Who is your favorite Marvel villain? What do you like most about Marvel’s characters? Do tell!

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