WARNING: Article contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame!
Originally posted on The Independent Initiative
It’s no surprise, Marvel knows how to make movies that move us and leave us with all the feels. I’m ecstatic to talk about one of their best films, Endgame, and how to avoid writing stereotypes like the pros.
It’s gonna be a good one for us because I want to talk about why being a stereotype can be good, and how to use it well and still break out of it.
When it comes to writing a superhero screenplay Marvel is good at using many of the tricks and tips that can be found with a quick google search ...
- Make your hero likeable, give them a set of rules with their ability, and never break them
We like Iron Man, Cap, Thor, and all the others, and each one follows a set of rules. Stark has his suit and smarts, Cap is inhumanly strong and lives by a high standard of old-school morals, and Thor has lightning running through his veins because he’s the god of thunder.
- Give the hero a villain who is more powerful than them
Thanos is a worthy villain, he’s more powerful than our heroes and if that wasn’t enough, he’s got a huge army that outmatches anything our heroes can provide.
- Give the hero a happy ending, one in which they discover they and their ability are the answer to the problem
In the end, we get our almost happily-ever-after ending. Even with a few hard deaths, there’s still hope for the future, and it was only possible when our heroes realise they are the answer to the problem of Thanos.
Marvel follows the rules, BUT they also know how to make those stereotypes into something unique, and they do this by giving our heroes faults, quirks, and vices. AND they flip the whole concept of Story on its head right from the beginning of Endgame. There are 3000 amazing ways they do this, but I want to focus on two.
Let’s start with this major spoiler for the beginning of the film. Here’s me, sitting in the cinema, fully engaged in the story, when our Avengers discover exactly where Thanos is. Our heroes band together to head out to space and take the villain down.
And they do.
Without much fuss or fighting.
Thor knocks Thanos’ head off within the span of a few seconds, and my jaw dropped.
Where were they gonna take the rest of the film? Would they jump into the multiverse and take down every Thanos in every reality? What was the big play? And how the heck were they going to get the infinity stones to reverse what happened at the end of Avengers: Infinity War?
Having Thanos’ death right at the beginning gave us a more complicated story to follow, which made it captivating. Three hours of story was easy to watch.
This is a great inspiration to break the stereotype: What can you do with your story to shake the audience up and avoid the normal journey a film takes?
To do this well, you need to know story inside and out. Study everything you can about the art of storytelling and then, using your imagination, find a way to stay within the rules, but make it look like you’re breaking them.
This is exactly what they do with Thanos’ death, they didn’t really break the rule because they end up fighting him again at the end - just like a normal narrative - but it’s definitely with a great twist. The Avengers fight a slightly younger Thanos who hasn’t had the experience of messing with their world as much as the previous version. But because Thanos doesn’t know our heroes as well as the other older Thanos, he’s relying more on a future yet to happen, which in turn makes him like a baby scorpion, super extra dangerous, because he doesn’t know when to stop. Thus the line to the Avengers about them not learning from their failure, so I’m (Thanos) just gonna have to end the whole world now, instead of only half.
This was such a brilliant move. Something I’ve NEVER seen happen to a superhero. We’ve seen superheroes having a bad day or year in tv shows like The Umbrella Academy, or DC’s Watchmen, but never have I seen a superhero experience such trauma from a failure like we get in Endgame.
It’s just so epic.
Of course, Thor would be riddled with shame and guilt. Half the universe - not just earth, the UNIVERSE - is gone because he aimed for Thanos’ heart instead of going for the villain's head.
He blames himself for millions and trillions of deaths and because of his many travels to different worlds, he knows better than most of our Avengers, the extreme number of people who are gone. I can’t even imagine the weight he’d be carrying from that, so to make him a drunkard who’s let his body slip into a state of decay makes total sense, but it’s never something we expect to see.
And the best part is he remains this way for the whole film, there’s no quick ‘get fit now’ montage, he has to live with his consequences through the entirety of the film, and it reflects in his lack of ability to get the job done. Giving us not only a great character arc and unique look at a superhero but also a glimpse of the reality of life choices.
If you find yourself writing a superhero that you’ve seen many times, how can you flip their experiences to make something unique and original? How can you ground that character into reality, while still maintaining their superhero feats?
Watching Fat Thor go through a gamut of emotions, I found myself wishing I’d written a character like it. He’s a complicated mess, but he’s still written with simplicity. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely follow the old cliche “Keep It Simple Stupid”, even while their story is full of intricacies, they know when and how to keep it simple.
Watching films like Avengers: Endgame with a critical eye can improve your own writing. What character’s journey made you cry? What was it about their dialogue that appealed to your emotions? What about the story made you confused? What took you out of the film? What engaged you most? What little quirks did the characters have that worked? What didn’t work? What about the villain appealed to you? What didn’t? What twists and complications worked?
These questions and more can help give you an education on writing your own powerful and compelling screenplays, and will definitely help you avoid those cliches and stereotypes.
What were some of your favourite moments from Endgame where they avoided the stereotype? Leave a comment below for the rest of our film community to learn from you too; now get out there and write!