The Not-So-Secret Formula Behind the Marvel Movies

One of the biggest critiques of The Avengers, Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the rest of the superhero movies made by Marvel Studios is how similar and same-y they all feel. But with 12 movies released so far and another 9 announced, it doesn’t seem like the comicbook-based studio is slowing down anytime soon.

So Marvel clearly has a formula for their films which has brought them immense critical success but with the added caveat of every movie feeling the same. A few years ago, Slate’s Peter Suderman argued Marvel is just one of the many studios heavily relying on Blake Snyder’s 2005 book Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. According to Suderman, Snyder’s book has become the screenwriting bible for most movie companies, since it outlines a detailed formula for box office success based on a lengthy list of story dos and don’ts.

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Recently, Marvel disbanded its Creative Committee, citing the group’s “save the cat story logic” that was “a drag on creativity.” Apparently Marvel has been relying on Snyder’s story structure, but much to the chagrin of its creative forces. But why the Save the Cat structure a problem, especially to a company that has been so successful while using it?

One of the biggest criticisms of Snyder’s formula is how rigid it is. In addition to recommending every screenplay follow rules like “Hire a young actor to lead the movie,” and “Make the good guy more likeable by making the bad guy more evil,” Snyder also lays out a detailed outline for movie plots. His “Beat Sheet,” not only lays out typical story beats like The Inciting Incident and The B Story, but tells aspiring screenwriters what page of the script every beat must land on in order for their movie to be a box-office success. He warns to never deviate from the structure if you want your screenplay to make money.

And it seems like a lot of people have followed his advice. Once you know Snyder’s formula, you can see how well it fits a large number of blockbusters released over the last decade.

Snyder’s screenplay Beat Sheet looks something like this:

  1. Opening Image (Page 1): There has to be at least one shot or scene that shows the opening setting and mood for the movie (Think: a James Bond cold-open, the first song in a Disney film, or the title crawl followed by a space battle in Star Wars).
  2. Theme Stated (Page 5): Someone has to say out loud what the internal conflict for the hero will be (ie, the lesson the protagonist will learn at the end, like “You can’t always get what you want,” “Family is the real treasure,” or, “With great power comes great responsibility”).
  3. Set-up (Pages 1-10): The audience has to see who the main character is and what their problem is (eg, can’t get a girlfriend, needs money to keep the farm away from the bank).
  4. Save the Cat Moment (As Early as Possible): The moment when the main character does something nice to prove they are likeable and worth rooting for (eg, save a cat from a tree, stand up for someone getting bullied, help an old lady cross the street).
  5. Catalyst (Page 12): A major incident must set the plot in motion (eg, the hero finds a treasure map, someone is murdered, a twister transports the main character’s house to a land full of technicolour).
  6. Debate (12-25): The hero can never just step into the action, they have to wrestle with whether they’ll actually do it or not.
  7. Break into Act Two (Page 25): The hero finally steps into the action.
  8. B Story Starts (Page 30): The love story starts up. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a romance, bromance, or womance so long as it figures in to the finale somehow (see below).
  9. Fun and Games (Pages 30-55): This is where all the stuff you saw in the trailer goes, like wacky antics, an elaborate heist, or lots of gunfights and chase scenes.
  10. Midpoint (Page 55): Literally the middle of the film, where the stakes are raised and the fun and games come to an end.
  11. Bad Guys Close In (Pages 55-75): This is the part where the bad guys start putting their evil plan into action, forcing a final showdown between the hero and the villain.
  12. All is Lost Moment (Page 75): But the hero can’t just face the villain yet. They have to suddenly lose everything and reach their lowest point, either because someone died or the because hero is about to die.
  13. Dark Night of the Soul (Pages 75-85): The hero has to feel like they can’t go on and wonders why they should even try.
  14. Break into Act 3 (Page 85): Suddenly, thanks to the character(s) in the B story, the hero learns what really matters and digs deep to find a way to defeat the bad guys.
  15. Finale (Page 85-110): This is the final act where the hero uses what they figured out in Step 13 in a final showdown (eg, a climatic battle, the finale in the singing competition, the mad dash to the airport).
  16. Final Image (Page 110): The closing shot has to mirror the opening one, either thematically (a world at war becomes a world at peace) or literally (Hey, it’s that feather we saw at the beginning!)

Just going over it, you can see how this formula works for a lot of famous movies. And you can probably also think of a ton of films that don’t fit this structure at all. But Snyder believed this was the key layout for any movie to become a financial success.

It’s not meant to work for movies that want to challenge the status quo, but rather for big budget action flicks, comedies, romances, romantic comedies, and of course, superhero movies

So, here’s the question: how closely have the Marvel movies been following Snyder’s layout and why do they want to stop now? Is Save the Cat the reason for Marvel’s success or is it bringing about their downfall?

The only way to really find out the truth is to watch each movie, carefully pinpoint all of the major story beats, and then compare what you’ve found against Snyder’s formula as well as the financial success of each individual Marvel movie.

. . . so, I did.

I’ve assessed how closely each movie fits Snyder’s story beats and compared that to how much money the movie made. I know correlation doesn’t prove causation, but this is probably the best way to test whether Snyder is right about his formula leading to financial success at the box office or whether Marvel are right to kick his book to the curb.

So, let’s get to it!

Oh, and um, Spoiler Warning for all of the Marvel movies.

Ironmanposter

Movie: Iron Man (2008)

  1. Opening Image:

    Tony Stark is seen holding a scotch while in a military convoy, showing the stark contrast between his carefree lifestyle and the people who use his weapons to fight the bad guys.

  2. Theme Stated (should occur 4.5% of the way into the movie):

    Tony says: “I love peace. I’d be out of a job with peace.” Tony is indifferent to the dangers of war and losses of human lives. He will struggle with his responsibility over the weapons he creates as he literally becomes a human weapon.

  3. Set-up: 

    Through a quick montage, we see Tony is a genius, billionaire, playboy who inherited his father’s company and is using it to manufacture weapons. He is arrogant, irresponsible, and unaware of the affect his work has on the rest of the world.

  4. Save the Cat Moment: 

    Tony cracks wise with his military escort, putting them at ease and showing the audience he’s a fun-loving guy who likes to make people laugh.

  5. Catalyst:

    Tony’s convoy is ambushed and he is captured by terrorists who want him to build a missile for them.

  6. Debate: 

    Tony refuses to build the missile and is tortured. He realizes he has to find a way to escape, since he will be killed once he finishes the weapon anyway.

  7. Break into Act Two: 

    Tony secretly builds a weaponized suit of armour, which allows him to escape the cave and return to America. He publicly announces his company will no longer make weapons.

  8. B-Story Starts: 

    Tony reunites with his friend Colonel James Rhodes and grows closer to his PA Pepper Pots, learning compassion for others as he tries to change his company for the better.

  9. Fun and Games: 

    Tony builds and tests new suits, all while fighting back against his company as they try to remove him from power. Hilarity ensues.

  10. Midpoint: 

    Tony flies to Gulmira, Afghanistan to stop a group of terrorists who were using his weapons. He is victorious.

  11. Bad Guys Close In: 

    Tony’s co-worker Obadiah is shown to be in contact with the same terrorist group that kidnapped Tony. He and his cronies try to reverse-engineer Tony’s first Iron Man suit to use for their own nefarious purposes.

  12. All is Lost Moment: 

    Obadiah paralyzes Tony and steals his ARC Reactor.

  13. Dark Night of the Soul: 

    Tony attempts to get to his lab and replace the stolen ARC reactor before he dies. He can’t reach the table and sinks to the the ground in defeat.

  14. Break into Act 3: 

    With the help of his robot assistant, Tony is able to replace his ARC reactor and don his Iron Man armour. He flies to confront Obadiah, recruiting Pepper, James, and SHIELD’s Agent Coulson to help him.

  15. Finale: 

    Tony fights Obadiah, using Pepper’s help to blow up Obadiah’s suit with a larger ARC reactor.

  16. Final Image: 

    Tony stands in front of a group of civilians, declaring he is Iron Man and will continue using his powers for good.

Verdict: Iron Man follows Snyder’s formula pretty closely. The only real deviation is that the Dark Night of the Soul section is supposed to last about 10 pages, while Tony only really experiences it for 10 seconds. But aside from that, it’s right on the nose. Really, the only other problem this movie has is the presence of Terrence Howard. Stop being in movies, you woman-beating, math-denying lunatic!

Gross: $585,174,222 – A very, very successful first movie for Marvel studios.

The_Incredible_Hulk_poster

Movie: The Incredible Hulk (2008)

  1. Opening Image: 

    Bruce Banner is sitting crosslegged, trying to meditate to control his rage. He is clearly struggling to calm his nerves. A countdown clock says it has been 158 days since Bruce’s “last incident.”

  2. Theme Stated: 

    Bruce says: “I don’t want to control it; I want to get rid of it.” Bruce is just trying to get rid of the Hulk because he doesn’t believe it can be used for anything but destruction. He will learn to believe in his own ability to control the Hulk and use him for good.

  3. Set-up: 

    Bruce Banner is a fugitive scientist hiding in Brazil from the United States military, who want to use ability to turn into the Hulk to restart a dormant super soldier program. Bruce is trying to control his rage issues, and desperately seeks a cure so he can return home and reunite with his former love, Betty Ross.

  4. Save the Cat Moment: 

    Bruce defends a worker at the pop-bottling centre who is being bullied, showing the audience he cares for the weak and downtrodden.

  5. Catalyst:

    After finding Bruce’s blood on a soda bottle, the US military is able to find where Bruce is hiding and sends a SWAT team to retrieve him.

  6. Debate: 

    There is no real debate over what Bruce has to do next.

  7. Break into Act Two: 

    When confronted by the military, Bruce turns into the Hulk and flees back to the States.

  8. B Story Starts:

    Bruce finds Betty at Culver University and she agrees to help him find a cure. They are unable to have a physical relationship since it would raise Bruce’s heart rate and unleash the Hulk.

  9. Fun and Games: 

    Emil attacks Bruce at Culver, so the Hulk once again goes on the lamb, this time with Betty in tow. They travel to New York to meet a man who claims to be able to cure Bruce.

  10. Midpoint: 

    Bruce meets with Dr. Sterns, who is almost able to cure his condition, but the experiment fails and the Hulk is nearly released.

  11. Bad Guys Close In: 

    Emil, having healed from the Hulk’s attack at Culver, leads the charge to take Bruce into custody.

  12. All is Lost Moment:

    Bruce is shot with a tranquilizer dart and is successfully captured by Emil.

  13. Dark Night of the Soul: 

    There’s no point at which Bruce wrestles with failure or feels like he’s lost all hope. Instead of feeling depressed, Bruce has a sweet moment with Betty aboard the military helicopter.

  14. Break into Act 3: 

    Emil goes to Stern and injects himself with Banner’s blood, turning into the Abomination. Bruce realizes he’s the only one who can stop Emil, so he convinces the military to let him Hulk out and take down the Abomination. Bruce jumps out of the back of a helicopter. Prepare for a lot of people jumping out of flying things.

  15. Finale: 

    The Hulk and the Abomnation punch each other a lot. The Hulk wins, but is only able to stop rampaging when Betty interferes.

  16. Final Image: 

    Bruce goes back into hiding in Bella Coola, British Columbia, but instead of trying to control his rage, he is now purposely turning into the Hulk. A countdown clock resets to “0 Days since last incident.”

Verdict: Although there are a lot of points where The Incredible Hulk fits the Beat Sheet, the lack of any real Debate to transition into Act 2 or a Dark Night of the Soul moment means this movie’s script probably wasn’t based on Snyder’s layout.

Gross: $263,427,551 – Although not a failure, as of 2015, this is still Marvel’s lowest grossing movie. Looks pretty good for Save the Cat so far . . .

Iron_Man_2_poster

Movie: Iron Man 2 (2010)

  1. Opening Image: 

    While Tony Stark tells the world he is Iron Man, Ivan Vanko’s sickly father tells him he deserves everything Tony has. Several months later, Tony is back to his regular showboating self, jumping out of the back of a plane to open his own Expo.

  2. Theme Stated: 

    Tony says: “It’s about legacy. It’s about what we choose to leave behind for future generations.” Tony will struggle with leaving behind his own legacy when he realizes he’s about to die while simultaneously dealing with the repercussions of his own father’s legacy, which has created a new villain.

  3. Set-up:

    Tony’s popularity is soaring and so is his ego, but his blood toxicity has risen due to the ARC reactor in his chest. Tony thinks he’s going to die, so he makes Pepper Pots the CEO of Stark Industries and hires Natasha Romanov as his new PA. The Senate tries to get him to hand over his Iron Man suit to the government, but Tony refuses.

  4. Save the Cat Moment:

    Tony schmoozes with different people at the Expo. It’s . . . doesn’t really make him seem like less of a douche.

  5. Catalyst:

    While Tony is driving at the Monaco Grand Prix, he is attacked by Ivan, whom he learns is seeking revenger for Tony’s father Howard taking all the credit on the ARC reactor that Anton helped create.

  6. Debate: 

    Tony talks to Ivan in jail but dismisses what the angry Russian has to say.

  7. Break into Act Two: 

    Tony goes home and his rival, Justin Hammer, breaks Ivan out of jail to recruit him to build superior Iron Man replicas.

  8. B Story Starts:

    Tony has to reconcile his feelings for his father, who was never there when his son needed him and has a shaded past. As Tony tries to fix the ARC reactor, he is also continuing Howard’s legacy by finishing what his father started.

  9. Fun and Games: 

    Tony throws himself a raucous birthday party where he gets drunk and endangers his guests. He fights against James, who confiscates one of his Iron Man suits for the US military. Eventually, he is found and given a lecture by Nick Fury.

  10. Midpoint: 

    Given a box of his father’s research by SHIELD, Tony commits to finding out why the ARC reactor is slowly killing him.

  11. Bad Guys Close In: 

    Justin Hammer, working with Ivan, creates an army of weaponized drones to rival Tony’s Iron Man suit. Ivan has secretly designed the drones to attack the attendants at the Stark Expo.

  12. All is Lost Moment:

    At his wit’s end, Tony pours over his father’s notes but finds nothing.

  13. Dark Night of the Soul: 

    Watching his father’s old movies, Tony realizes how badly he was neglected as a child.

  14. Break into Act 3: 

    Tony finally discovers an encouraging message from his father which also doubles as a clue to fixing the ARC reactor. Tony is able to use his father’s schematics to create a new element which will save his life. With the help of James suited up as War Machine, Tony travels to fight Ivan.

  15. Finale:

    Tony and James fight and defeat Vanko by aiming their repulsor beams at each other. Vanko blows himself up, but the two manage to escape with Pepper. Tony reconciles with Pepper

  16. Final Image:

    Tony meets once more with Nick, who tells him he is no longer on the Avengers Initiative, but he can still act as a consultant. He and James are given medals in Washington, showing that Tony is now sharing the limelight with others.

Verdict: One of the biggest challenges with this movie is there’s no clear distinction between Act 1 and 2. Normally, when a protagonist enters into the second Act, they have moved from one world to the next. Whether that means they start attending law school, go undercover in the mafia, or leave the comforts of the Shire to journey to Mordor, there has to be a clear distinction –physical, tonally, or just thematically– between where the character was before and after they decided to take action and start the movement of the plot. With this movie, it’s really hard to see any difference between the extravagant, vainglorious, and self-destructive world Tony lives in at the film’s beginning versus after he fights Vanko and begins looking to cure his ailing health. The movie seems to follow the beats in theory, but in practice, it’s quite hard to tell. Also, there’s no real reason given why we should root for Tony, other than the last movie. He is selfish and constantly talking over Pepper and everyone else he comes in contact with.

Gross: $623,933,331 – A little bigger than the previous Iron Man instalment, but still pretty average in comparison to what the rest of the Marvel movies made.

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Movie: Thor (2011)

Total Length: 105 minutes

  1. Opening Image: 

    Jane Foster and friends find a Thor caught in a meteorological abnormality. Their adventure on Earth is contrasted by imagery of the cosmos as Odin narrates the role of the Asgardians as protectors of the universe.

  2. Theme Stated: 

    Odin says: “A wise king never seeks out war. But he must always be ready for it.” Odin lectures Thor about the wisdom of trying to avoid conflict. Thor will struggle with this as he loses his warrior powers and must defeat his enemy through sacrifice rather than brute force.

  3. Set-up: 

    Thor and Loki are both sons of Odin, King of Asgard. They are told from a young age the importance of ruling the nine realms, but Thor is brash, arrogant, and stubborn, so he doesn’t take the responsibility seriously.

  4. Save the Cat Moment: 

    Thor talks about how he supported Siph when the men scoffed at a maiden being a fierce warrior, showing the audience he supports his friends and is definitely not sexist.

  5. Catalyst: 

    Thor and company decide to attack the Frost Giants in Jotunheim, but they are unsuccessful and Odin must rescue them.

  6. Debate: 

    Odin states Thor is not ready to be King, stripping him of his powers and exiling to the lesser realm of Earth until he proves he is worthy.

  7. Break into Act Two: 

    Thor, stripped of his power, crash lands on Earth where he is discovered by Jane Foster and company. He chooses to accept their help to find his hammer so he can return to Asgard.

  8. B Story Starts: 

    Thor starts to connect with the human Jane Foster as he learns to care for others and take the time to understand them.

  9. Fun and Games: 

    Thor and Jane encounter SHIELD agents who take her equipment. Thor breaks into the SHIELD compound to get her equipment and his hammer back.

  10. Midpoint: 

    Thor attempts to retrieve his hammer, but discovers he is still not worthy enough to hold it. He gives up and is captured by SHIELD.

  11. Bad Guys Close In: 

    Loki visits Thor in the SHIELD base and lies to him, saying Odin has died. Loki declares himself King, has the Frost Giants attack Asgard, and sends an armoured sentinel to kill Thor.

  12. All is Lost Moment: 

    Thor’s company travel to Earth to help him, but they are outmatched by the sentinel. They all believe they will be killed.

  13. Dark Night of the Soul: 

    Thor tells Loki he is sorry for being so arrogant and sacrifices his life to save his company and the humans.

  14. Break into Act 3: 

    Having accepted the responsibility for putting everyone he loves in danger, especially Jane, Thor is finally worthy to wield his hammer again. Thor returns with his company to defeat Loki.

  15. Finale: 

    Back in Asgard, Thor uses his hammer as a tool rather than a weapon, destroying the Bifrost and sacrificing his chance to be with the woman he loves in order to save Asgard and Earth.

  16. Final Image: 

    Jane Foster looks up to the skies, waiting for Thor to return, which is contrasted by Thor looking out into the cosmos, hoping one day to find a way back to Earth.

Verdict: Thor ends up following Snyder’s beats to a tee, with perfect thematic and literal Opening and Final Images and using the B Story romance to compliment the A Story of Thor trying to prove his worth.

Gross: $449,326,618 – Definitely on the lower end of Marvel’s box-office performances. Now it’s not looking so good for Snyder . . .

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Movie: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

  1. Opening Image:

    A group of Arctic explorers find the wreckage of an old HYDRA plane with a frozen  Captain America inside. There’s a close-up on Cap’s shield as the researchers talk about how long he’s been there.

  2. Theme Stated: 

    Steve says: “A lot of guys are getting killed over there, I got no right to do any less.” Steve is willing to do anything to fight and likely die for his country, but his frail body is holding him back. His noble attitude despite his bodily weakness will contrast with Red Skull’s desire to become more powerful through a super soldier serum and harnessing “the power of the gods.”

  3. Set-up: 

    Steve Rogers is tiny, frail, and awkward around women. He is also looking for a way to prove his loyalty to America by fighting (and possibly dying) for a noble cause.

  4. Save the Cat Moment: 

    Steve stands up to a much larger man who mocks a newsreel about supporting American soldiers, showing the audience Steve’s commitment to his country and its fighting men.

  5. Catalyst: 

    Steve is caught lying on his enlistment papers by Professor Erskine, who is impressed by Steve’s determination to join whatever the cost.

  6. Debate: 

    Steve is already eager to join the military and wants to join for the right reasons (standing up to bullies) rather than just wanting to kill Nazis.

  7. Break into Act Two: 

    Erskine approves Steve for the top secret super soldier program.

  8. B Story Starts: 

    Steve meets military officer Peggy Carter, who is also often dismissed as weak because of her appearance. They form a connection and she helps him become more confident in himself and his leadership abilities.

  9. Fun and Games: 

    Steve goes through basic training and is chosen to be the candidate for the super soldier serum. His physique and natural abilities are enhanced. The project is destroyed by a HYRDA spy, so Steve instead becomes a poster boy for the war effort, and eventually makes it to the front lines as an entertainer.

  10. Midpoint: 

    Steve rescues the Howling Commandoes and his old buddy Bucky Barnes from a HYDRA camp. He becomes known as a real hero of WWII. Oh, and in order to do this, he has to jump out of a plane.

  11. Bad Guys Close In: 

    Red Skull, the leader of HYDRA, the Nazi deep science division, disbands from the Third Reich and assembles an army to bomb key Allied cities.

  12. All is Lost Moment: 

    While on a mission with the Howling Commandoes, Steve’s friend Bucky falls to his death during a train raid.

  13. Dark Night of the Soul: 

    Steve blames himself for Bucky’s death and tries to drown his sorrows in booze . . . which doesn’t work because alcohol doesn’t affect his superior physique.

  14. Break into Act 3: 

    Thanks to a pep talk from Peggy, Steve knows he can’t blame himself for Bucky’s death. He prepares a task force to stop the bombs and wipe out HYDRA.

  15. Finale: 

    Steve organizes and leads a full-on assault of Red Skull’s hidden base. Red Skull’s quest for ultimate power leads to his apparent destruction from the Cosmic Cube while Steve’s desire to fight and die nobly for his country is met as he crashes a bomber plane into the Arctic and is frozen for decades.

  16. Final Image: 

    Steve awakens in a SHIELD facility where he has been revived. He escapes and runs through Times Square, realizing it is now 2011.

Verdict: This movie misses or messes up a lot of beats due to the main character not really having an arc. Usually the protagonist goes through a personal transformation throughout the story, learning a valuable lesson and becoming a better person in the end. Captain America just goes from a noble goody two-shoes to a more seasoned noble, goody two-shoes. He doesn’t have to Debate his choices and even his All is Lost Moment doesn’t deter him for very long. Plus, the Opening and Final images have nothing to do with the tone of the movie, taking place in a completely different time period and only foreshadowing the next movie.

Gross: $370,569,774 – Despite debuting at number 1, this is the second lowest grossing movie in the Marvel franchise. But is the movie’s deviations from the Save the Cat structure to blame? Hmmm . . .

TheAvengers2012Poster

Movie: The Avengers (2012)

  1. Opening Image: 

    The Tesseract, a powerful cosmic item, is seen floating through space as a sinister voice talks about the impending destruction of the humans, who are a weaker and inferior species.

  2. Theme Stated: 

    Loki says: “An ant has no quarrel with a boot.” He insinuates that the humans are too weak and will not be able to defeat him or his vastly superior army. Throughout the film, the Avengers and SHIELD will struggle with their weaknesses and how they are not strong enough on their own to fight against evil.

  3. Set-up: 

    SHIELD, a top secret agency, is investigating an abnormal power source known as the Tesseract, which they realize too late is too powerful for them to control. There’s no one main character in this movie, but instead, several different characters follow one arc simultaneously. We see Tony Stark is still pretty vain and can’t remember people’s names, Bruce Banner is afraid to be around people, Steve Rogers feels out of place in the world of the future, and Natasha Romanov is trying to hide from her past.

  4. Save the Cat Moment: 

    All of the main characters have moments where they display their altruism.Tony has created a renewable clean energy source, Bruce helps sick people in the developing world, Steve sacrificed himself to save his country, and Natasha is willing to drop a very important assignment to rescue her friend Clint.

  5. Catalyst: 

    Loki uses the Tesseract as a portal, brainwashes a number of SHIELD agents, and destroys their base. Nick Fury starts calling together a group of semi-powerful heroes in order to take on the powerful villain.

  6. Debate: 

    Tony tells SHIELD he doesn’t want to join and Bruce says the Hulk is too dangerous. Steve and Natasha have no problem signing up.

  7. Break into Act Two: 

    Tony, Bruce, Steve, and Natasha board the Helicarrier and begin planning to take down Loki.

  8. B Story Starts: 

    Natasha wants to get Clint back from Loki’s grasp. She says she just wants to square his debt to him, but it appears he does care for his safety.

  9. Fun and Games: 

    Tony and Steve jump out of a jet to track down and capture Loki, but get into a fight with Thor before realizing they’re all on the same side. They lock Loki up.

  10. Midpoint: 

    Loki is secure in the Helicarrrier but Tony, Bruce, and Steve discover SHIELD was planning to make weapons using the Tesseract. There is infighting amongst the group.

  11. Bad Guys Close In: 

    Clint and the other brainwashed SHIELD agents attack the Helicarrier.

  12. All is Lost Moment: 

    Bruce turns into the Hulk and destroys a large portion of the Helicarrier. The Hulk jumps out of the Helicarrier onto a jet and then jumps off of that too. Thor falls to Earth while Loki kills Phil Coulson and escapes.

  13. Dark Night of the Soul: 

    Steve and Tony feel guilty over the loss of Phil, Bruce doesn’t think he can handle his Hulk issues, Natasha is a lot shakier going back into action, and Thor hesitates for a moment when he finds his hammer, thinking he may not be worthy of it again.

  14. Break into Act 3: 

    Working together, Tony and Steve realize Loki plans to attack New York from Stark Tower. Natasha and Clint They decide to band together with Natasha and Clint admitting they need each other to deal with powers far beyond what they were trained for. They meet up with Thor and Bruce and decide to band together to fight Loki.

  15. Finale: 

    The Avengers suit up and defend the city from Loki’s army. Tony rallies around the death of Phil, whose name he now remembers, Bruce reconciles with his alter-ego by using it to fight, Steve finds his place as the team’s leader, and Natasha and Clint fight side by side.

  16. Final Image: 

    The Tesseract, held in a small containment unit, is returned safely to Asgard. The same sinister voice from the beginning bemoans how his armies underestimated the humans’ capability.

Verdict: While The Avengers follows Snyder’s beats quite closely, it does something creative with the formula by developing several different character arcs at the same time. The B story of Natasha and Clint’s bro/womance takes on an extra significance as it not only compliments the A story, but mirrors the developing friendships of all the other characters.

Gross: $1,518,594,910 – When it was released, The Avengers became the third-highest grossing film of all time, only recently having been topped by Jurassic World . . . and probably Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Iron_Man_3_theatrical_poster

Movie: Iron Man 3 (2013)

  1. Opening Image:

    Tony Stark’s collection of Iron Man suits start exploding as Tony narrates the concept of heroes creating their own demons.

  2. Theme Stated: 

    Tony says: “You create your own demons.” Tony narrates the movie. He will wrestle with his past mistakes and his own feelings of inadequacy in the face of a world he no longer dominates. His battle with the Mandarin will mirror his own battle with his inner demons.

  3. Set-up: 

    Tony is masking his serious anxiety problems and compensating for a feeling of inadequacy by obsessively building more Iron Man suits. Flashbacks of Tony’s past show how the arrogance of his past is still affecting his present.

  4. Save the Cat Moment: 

    Tony signs a drawing of him saving New York for a couple of kids. He jokes with them, showing he cares for others and wants to live up to legacy as a hero who saved the world.

  5. Catalyst: 

    A superpowered minion of the Mandarin blows up the Chinese Mann Theatre and threatens more terrorist action in the future. One of Tony’s assistants is caught in the blast.

  6. Debate: 

    Tony tries to not overreact to the Mandarin’s attacks while some reporters pester him to retaliate.

  7. Break into Act Two: 

    Tony challenges the Mandarin to attack him.

  8. B Story Starts: 

    Pepper and Tony’s relationship is on the rocks, showing every part of his life is out of sync because of his anxiety issues. As he wrestles with fighting a villain of his own creation, he is also fighting to keep his relationship afloat.

  9. Fun and Games: 

    Tony’s home is attacked by the Mandarin and he flees to Tennessee to find out more about the Mandarin’s other terrorist attacks. He recruits a young boy, Harley Keener, to help him fix his suit while he researches the Extremis virus which has given the Mandarin’s minions regenerative powers.

  10. Midpoint: 

    Tony defeats two Extremis would-be assasins, feeling he only has to wait a little longer to prepare his suit and attack the Mandarin head on.

  11. Bad Guys Close In: 

    Aldrich attacks Pepper, revealing he is behind the terrorist plots. James is also kidnapped.

  12. All is Lost Moment: 

    The Iron Man suit won’t charge and Tony has another anxiety attack.

  13. Dark Night of the Soul: 

    Falling in the snow, Tony feels like he is powerless and helpless without his Iron Man suit.

  14. Break into Act 3: 

    Harley helps Tony track down the Mandarin in Miami and encourages Tony to build something other than an Iron Man suit. Tony assembles a assortment of gadgets to help him break into the Mandarin’s compound.

  15. Finale: 

    Tony rescues James, saves a group of people who are falling from a plane, and summons his calvary of Iron Man suits to battle Aldrich and his Extremis army. Pepper is saved thanks to an injection of Extremis and she and Tony take down Aldrich together.

  16. Final Image: 

    Tony purposely detonates his excess Iron Man suits, proving he doesn’t need them to be Iron Man; he just has to be confident in himself.

Verdict: Iron Man 3 also follows Snyder’s beats quite closely, but changes the emphasis of its superhero movie origin from defeating an outward villain to facing inner demons. All the action and superhero-ing is there, just with the focus taken off of a character becoming a better hero to him being OK with his inadequacies.

Gross: $1,518,594,910 – Still one of only three Marvel movies to cross a billion dollars at the box-office.

Thor_-_The_Dark_World_poster

Movie: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

  1. Opening Image: 

    Malekith the Dark Elf tries powerful substance known as the Aether to fight against Thor’s ancestor Bor and the Asgardians. Failing to absorb the Aether, Malekith flees midbattle and leaves his army to die. Odin narrates how Malekith wanted to turn the universe into eternal night but failed.

  2. Theme Stated: 

    Odin says: “Humans lives are fleeting. They’re nothing. You’ll be better served by what lies in front of you.” Odin tells Thor he must make a choice between what is in front of him (Asgard) and what he wants to return to (Earth). Throughout the movie, Thor is torn between his allegience to his people and his love of Earth.

  3. Set-up: 

    Loki is taken back to Asgard in chains after trying to destroy Earth. Thor is seen bringing the rest of the nine realms to order, but he is still torn by his love for Jane Foster back on Earth. Back on Earth, Jane Foster too is distracted from her work and dating life because of Thor. She finds a quantum abnormality in England.

  4. Save the Cat Moment: 

    Thor fights a stone giant with a hammer. This is the best I could find.

  5. Catalyst: 

    Jane enters the abnormality and is transported to the Dark World where she absorbs the Aether, awakening Malekith. Thor goes to find what has happened to Jane.

  6. Debate: 

    Thor doesn’t hesitate to help Jane, even when she has absorbed the power of the Aether.

  7. Break into Act Two: 

    Thor takes Jane back to Asgard to separate her from the Aether. The Asgardians cannot find a cure for Jane.

  8. B Story Starts: 

    Thor grows closer with Jane, but it becomes very apparent she does not belong amongst the Asgardians and their cosmic ways.

  9. Fun and Games: 

    Malekith’s sneaks his troops into Asgard and attacks the city. Thor and the Asgardians fight the Dark Elves while Malekith tries to capture Jane.

  10. Midpoint: 

    In attempting to save Jane, Friga is killed. Thor and Loki grieve and decide to go after Malekith together . . . which involves jumping from a flying spaceship . . . thing.

  11. Bad Guys Close In: 

    Malekith flees Asgard and is healed from being hit in the face with Thor’s hammer.

  12. All is Lost Moment: 

    Thor and Loki attack Malekith, using Jane as bait to make him draw the Aether out. Malekith absorbs the Aether and Loki is seemingly killed in the struggle.

  13. Dark Night of the Soul: 

    Thor grieves the apparent death of his brother for a few seconds, but is not distracted from his task to stop the Malekith.

  14. Break into Act 3: 

    With Jane’s help, Thor finds the portal connecting the Dark World with Earth. Thor teams up with Jane’s scientist team, realizing how humans and Asgardians can work together to fight evil.

  15. Finale: 

    Thor fights Malekith while the humans stop the Dark Elf from releasing the Aether. Malekith is killed, the Aether is taken to Asgard.

  16. Final Image: 

    Thor tells his father he’s rather be a warrior on Earth than a King in Asgard. He heads back to Earth, but Odin is revealed to be Loki who faked his death and has taken the throne of Asgard.

Verdict: Thor: The Dark World definitely doesn’t follow Snyder’s formula, since there’s no Save the Cat Moment, no Dark Night of the Soul and the only All is Lost moment we get is the villain from the last Thor movie dying . . . which turns out to be false anyway. There’s still a central theme about Thor wanting to be where the people are. He wants to see, wants to see them dancing. Walking around on those –whaddya call them?– oh, feet!

Wait, why am I typing out the lyrics to The Little Mermaid? Oh man, I’m tired. How many more of these do I have to do? Craaaaaaaap.

Gross: $644,783,140 – An adequate haul, not great. So wait, is that good or bad for Snyder?

Captain_America_The_Winter_Soldier

Movie: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

  1. Opening Image: 

    Steve Rogers is running around Washington, aggravating Sam Wilson in the process. His conversation with Wilson shows he is still out of his element in the future and hasn’t quite found his place in it.

  2. Theme Stated: 

    Nick Fury says: “SHIELD takes the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be.” Nick tells Steve he has to make compromises in order to protect the world from new threats. Steve struggles with how to protect his country and the ones he loves without compromising himself or his ideals.

  3. Set-up: 

    Steve is seen successfully working for SHIELD on covert missions, but is at odds with the organization’s more dubious affairs and its plan to unleash Project Insight. SHIELD keeps secrets from him so he feels disrespected with no one who understands how out of place he feels. He also jumps out of the back of a jet in this bit.

  4. Save the Cat Moment: 

    Steve sympathizes with Sam’s inability to adjust to civilian life after being a soldier, showing the sadder and more sensitive side to his serious soldier persona.

  5. Catalyst: 

    Nick is attacked by rogue agents led by the Winter Soldier and barely escapes. He warns Steve SHIELD has been compromised as is then shot by the Winter Soldier.

  6. Debate: 

    Steve is unsure who to trust with Nick gone. Instead of getting as far away from the compromised organization as he can, goes back to the SHIELD base and takes orders from its new director.

  7. Break into Act Two: 

    Steve is attacked by a group of SHIELD agents and escapes. He is branded as a fugitive and must go on the run from his own organization.

  8. B Story Starts: 

    Steve is joined by Natasha Romanov, whom he bonds with over the loss of Nick, their mentor figure. She helps him blend in to contemporary society while on the run and better understand the world of the 21st century.

  9. Fun and Games: 

    Steve and Natasha travel to Steve’s old army base and discover HYDRA has infiltrated SHIELD. They recruit Sam to help them interrogate HYDRA agents.

  10. Midpoint: 

    Steve and Natasha are attacked by the Winter Soldier, who is revealed to be Bucky Barnes, Steve’s old friend who supposedly died in the war. Steve is crushed to discover what has happened to Bucky.

  11. Bad Guys Close In: 

    The Winter Soldier is brain-washed and ordered to kill Steve. HYRDA plans to use Project Insight to kill a large number of civilian threats to their organization.

  12. All is Lost Moment: 

    Steve and Natasha find out Nick faked his death. The plan to attack Project Insight, but know the odds will be stacked against them.

  13. Dark Night of the Soul: 

    Steve realizes he has to face Bucky again, which may result in either of their deaths.

  14. Break into Act 3: 

    Steve steals his old Captain America uniform from the Smithsonian to attack Project Insight, showing how he is able to balance his past identity with his present task.

  15. Finale: 

    Steve, Sam, and Natasha are able to coordinate the successful destruction of the Helicarriers. Steve confronts Bucky but refuses to kill him, knowing he cannot compromise on his commitment to protecting the ones he loves, even at risk to himself.

  16. Final Image: 

    Nick and Natasha set out to find new roles with the loss of SHIELD. Steve stands beside Sam, his equal, who agrees to join him on his search for Bucky.

Verdict: This one is a bit tricky. On the one hand, The Winter Soldier does hit all of the Snyder beats, but on the other hand, many of them are altered from the way Snyder describes them. Once again Steve doesn’t necessarily change too much as a character since he’s pretty much noble from start to finish. However, how he deals with the modern world and so many of his close allies betraying him makes for interesting drama. He doesn’t necessarily go through a Dark Night of the Soul since it’s never apparent he feels lost or plans to give up, but again, there’s enough of his character expressed in those moments that the apparent struggle of the DNotS section is never lost. In a sense, this movie is able to use the fundamental changes in character and plot that make up the Save the Cat formula and reutilize them in different contexts.

Gross: $714,766,572 – A surefire Marvel success, especially when compared to this movie’s predecessor.

GOTG-poster

Movie: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

  1. Opening Image: 

    Young Peter Quill listens to a mixtape on headphone that his mother made for him. He is all alone despite his family being in the next room taking care of his ailing mother.

  2. Theme Stated: 

    Peter’s mom says: “Take my hand, Peter.” His dying mother wants Peter to be with her as she dies, but the pain of losing his mother is too much. Throughout the movie, Peter will struggle with his fear of opening up to others and exposing himself to pain and loss.

  3. Set-up: 

    Fleeing the hospital, Peter is captured by aliens and grows up as a Raveger halfway across the galaxy. Years later, Peter steals a valuable orb and gets caught in between a conflict between Ronan the Accuser and the planet of Xandar. Peter has a bad relationship with the other Ravegers, is an uncaring womanizer, and is overly-cocky about his status as a legendary outlaw.

  4. Save the Cat Moment: 

    Peter tells his mother he got into a fight at school because some other kids killed a frog for no reason. This shows he is a compassionate person who cares for the outcasts. God help the outcasts, hungry from birth. Show them the mercy, they don’t find on Ear– dangit, I’m doing Disney again. Gotta focus. Almost done.

  5. Catalyst: 

    Sent by her father Thanos, Gamora attacks Peter to obtain the orb while Rocket and Groot attack both of them for their bounties. They are all arrested by the Nova Corps and sent to prison.

  6. Debate: 

    Peter is forced to rely on Rocket and Groot to survive in prison, but he is hesitant to open up to them. When he hears a group of prisoners attempting to kill Gamora, he hesitates on whether to interfere.

  7. Break into Act Two: 

    Peter chooses to help save Gamora’s life by working out an agreement with her, Drax and the others to break out of prison and sell the orb.

  8. B Story Starts: 

    Peter empathizes with Gamora’s plight trying to get away from her father. He starts to connect with and trust her, although at first, he’s just trying to seduce her.

  9. Fun and Games: 

    The five escape from prison and fly in Peter’s ship to Knowhere to sell the orb. They arrive and pass time at a local bar while waiting for the Collector.

  10. Midpoint: 

    The Collector reveals the powerful nature of the orb, but his slave attempts to grab it, creating a massive explosion. The group realizes they are in way over their heads and want to disband.

  11. Bad Guys Close In: 

    Drax informs Ronan where they are so he can battle the Kree terrorist who killed his family. Ronan and Thanos’ other daughter Nebula invade Knowhere, trying to get the orb.

  12. All is Lost Moment: 

    Nebula destroys Gamora’s ship and takes the orb, leaving her sister for dead. Peter risks his life and freedom to rescue Gamora by contacting the Ravegers, who will no doubt try to kill them once the two of them are rescued.

  13. Dark Night of the Soul: 

    Peter and Gamora are saved by Rocket, Groot, and Drax, but they all come to the conclusion that nothing can be done to stop Ronan from destroying Xandar with the orb.

  14. Break into Act 3: 

    Inspired by the care Rocket, Groot and Drax show in coming back for him, Peter rallies the Guardians to band together with the Ravegers and the Nova Corps to take down Ronan.

  15. Finale: 

    Led by the Guardians, the Ravegers and thee Nova Corps attack Ronan’s ship. Nebula fights Gamora, but then jumps out this spaceship and lands on another spaceship. In the battle with Ronan, Peter obtains the orb, but only by reaching out to Gamora and the others can they share the burden of its power together.

  16. Final Image: 

    Peter finally unwraps his mother’s last gift to him, another mixtape. He listens to the music, no longer on headphones but on speakers so the five Guardians can listen to it together. Y’know. Cause they’re friends now.

Verdict: This movie is probably the best example among the Marvel movies of the beat sheet in action. Guardians hits each beat right on cue, with the Fun and Games section actually feeling like a lot of fun, while the All is Lost moment makes sure the characters have absolutely nothing left.

Gross: $774,176,600 – Pretty dang good considering it’s a movie starring a raccoon, a tree, and outdated pop music. Nah, I’m just kidding: crank that Redbone!

So Winter Soldier deviated from the Save the Cat formula and did really well. But Guardians of the Galaxy followed Snyder exactly and it did really well too . . . Trust me, I am going somewhere with this, but we still have two more movies to cover.

Avengers_Age_of_Ultron

Movie: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

  1. Opening Image: 

    Loki’s sceptre is powering a secret HYDRA base which has come under attack by the Avengers. The team from the last movie do a cool group pose together before taking out more HYDRA soldiers.

  2. Theme Stated:

    Ultron says: “You want to protect the world, but you don’t want it to change.” The Avengers have formed a pretty tight team, but they are still volatile and unstable. They will have to learn to accept things beyond their control and adapt to changing realities if the ideals they stand for can survive. Tony in particular has to grapple with things he can’t control as he wants to assert his vision for protecting the world against the team’s wishes.

  3. Set-up:

    The Avengers have become a much more efficient team since the last movie, working together as a unit to take down HYDRA bases and rid the world of evil. However, in regions like Sokovia, the world isn’t quite ready to accept them, particularly due to Tony Stark’s history making weapons. Tony is able to retrieve the sceptre, but not before one of HYDRA’s superpowered volunteers, Wanda Maximoff, shows him his greatest fear: causing the death of the Avengers and the destruction of Earth.

  4. Save the Cat Moment:

    While attacking the HYDRA base, the Avengers crack wise with each other, showing they care about each other and are fun-loving. Tony sends his robotic Iron Legion to protect the lives of nearby civilians.

  5. Catalyst:

    Having brought the sceptre back to Avengers Tower, Tony and Bruce Banner discover the gem inside might have the key to create Artificial Intelligence. Tony wants to go behind the team’s back and create an AI to help the Avengers fight bigger threats.

  6. Debate: 

    Bruce and Tony argue whether starting the “Ultron Program,” is a wise move. Tony tries to convince Bruce that a sentient version of his Iron Legion will help the Avengers create a safer world (and prevent his nightmare of the death of the Avengers from coming true).

  7. Break into Act Two: 

    After three days with no success, Bruce and Tony are ready to give up, but while they are attending a party, Ultron awakes and starts building a physical body for himself. Ultron uses Tony’s Iron Legion to attack the Avengers at the party, claiming the only way to protect the world is to destroy the Avengers.

  8. B Story Starts:

    Natasha Romanov and Bruce start to develop a relationship. Bruce believes he can’t be with Natasha because he is too dangerous.

  9. Fun and Games: 

    Everyone blames Tony for unleashing Ultron on the world. Tony argues it’s better that he tried to create Ultron in order to protect the world, but Steve Rogers argues it’s better to fail to protect the world together than trying to save it alone. They track down Ultron to the coast of South Africa, where he and the Maximoff twins are stealing a large amount of Vibranium for Ultron’s plan to destroy the Avengers. Wanda once again uses her powers to mess with the team’s minds and the Hulk is let lose on a nearby city. Tony is able to stop the Hulk, but only after the world sees how much destruction the Avengers are capable of.

  10. Midpoint: 

    Clint Barton takes the team to his farm to regroup and get away from the world which now hates them. Bruce tells Natasha they cannot be together while Tony and Steve argue what being an Avenger is really about. Thor leaves to go swim in a magic pool for a while.

  11. Bad Guys Close In: 

    Ultron kidnaps Korean scientist Helen Cho and forces her to build him a new, indestructible Vibranium body. The Avengers go to stop Ultron, recruiting the Maximoff twins and stealing his new body before he can upload his consciousness. Natasha drops out of a jet while riding a motorcycle. She then tries to jump out of a flying truck, but is captured by Ultron instead. Tony believes he can create another Artificial Intelligence to defeat Ultron and prevent the destruction of the Avengers.

  12. All is Lost Moment:

    Steve and Tony argue about the dangers of creating another AI. As they start fighting, Thor returns and activates the new body, creating Vision, who immediately attacks Thor.

  13. Dark Night of the Soul: 

    Vision stops attacking the Avengers, but reveals to them that he is not theirs to control. Vision says he will help the Avengers fight Ultron, but they may all be killed. Tony realizes he can’t control what happens or prevent the Avengers from being destroyed. He and the team must adapt to their new reality that they are no longer the same heroes they were, as the public now hates them and, if they fail to destroy Ultron, they will have caused the destruction of the planet.

  14. Break into Act 3: 

    Tony, working with the team rather than behind their backs, returns to Sokovia to fight Ultron. He and Steve state they must fight, and possibly die, together.

  15. Finale:

    The Avengers, plus Vision, Wanda, her brother Pietro, War Machine, and Nick Fury fight against Ultron and his sentry robots. They are able to stop him from using the country of Sokovia as a meteorite to create a massive extinction event. They also are able to protect the Sokovians, but are willing to face their deaths when they realize they might not be able to escape the meteorite in time. Pietro sacrifices himself to save Clint, Sokovia is destroyed before it plummets to the Earth, and Vision destroys the last Ultron robot, ending the threat for good.

  16. Final Image: 

    The Avengers have reassembled at a new base, but Tony, Thor, and Clint have left the team, leaving Steve and Natasha to train new recruits Wanda, Vision, James Rhodes, and Sam Wilson. The Avengers have successfully adapted to the new world, changing the team in order to face the protect the world as it changes around them.

Verdict: Age of Ultron has a pretty succinct structure, but because there’s so many characters to develop, the movie ends up suffering by relying too heavily on Snyder’s beats. The B Story, for example, ends up being completely unnecessary. Bruce and Natasha’s romance feels tacked on, like there needed to be some kind of romance to compliment the A Story of the Avengers fighting Ultron. But because there’s already so many relationships developing between other characters, Bruce and Natasha’s story doesn’t really end up complimenting the rest of the movie at all. As well, the Dark Night of the Soul section takes only a minute or so of screen time and it’s mostly used for Vision to espouse more plot details rather than letting the characters feel the weight of their failure or contemplate giving up.

Gross: $1,402,382,882 – While it is Marvel’s second largest box-office success, Disney executives were apparently disappointed the movie didn’t top the record of the first Avengers.

All right, one more to go. You can do this.

Ant-Man_poster

Movie: Ant-Man (2015)

  1. Opening Image:

    SHIELD scientist and spy Hank Pym gets into an argument with his superiors, who want to use his revolutionary Pym particles to replicate his shrinking technology. Hank quits SHIELD and hides his technology from the world.

  2. Theme Stated: 

    Hank says: “This is your chance to earn that look in your daughter’s eyes, to become the hero that she already thinks you are.” Both Scott and Hank are looking to redeem themselves in their respective daughters’ eyes after making a lot of mistakes. They both want to be real heroes, rather than hiding from their past mistakes and losing the chance to connect with their respective families again.

  3. Set-up:

    Years after leaving SHIELD, Hank is forced out of his own company, Pym Industries, by his daughter Hope Van Dyme and the new Pym CEO Darren Cross. They announce they are planning to build an army of shrinking soldiers by replicating Pym particles against Pym’s wishes. Meanwhile, Scott Lang is released from jail and tries to reconnect with his young daughter Cassie. He is rejected by his ex-wife and her new cop fiancé because he can’t afford child support. He decides to go back to burglary so that he can see his daughter again.

  4. Save the Cat Moment:

    Scott Lang is seen making friends as he leaves prison and one of the first things he says he wants to do after getting released is see his daughter again, showing he is a family man at heart.

  5. Catalyst:

    Based on a tip from a friend of a friend of his friend, Scott breaks into Hank’s house and steals the Ant-Man suit. He tries out its power back at home, but promptly freaks out when he shrinks to insect size and is nearly killed by his showering roommate. Scott tries to bring the suit back to Hank, but is arrested. Hank dispatches an army of ants to bring Scott the suit and bust him out of prison. Hank reveals he wants Scott to become the new Ant-Man to steal Darren’s technology.

  6. Debate: 

    Scott doesn’t want anything to do with Hank’s scheme, but changes his mind when he sees Hope helping her father fight against Darren despite their estranged relationship after the death of Hank’s wife, Janet.

  7. Break into Act Two: 

    Scott agrees to help Hank and Hope and starts learning to fight, shrink, and control ants with Hank’s special technology.

  8. B Story Starts:

    Scott and Hope begin to connect, drawn together due to her bad relationship with her father and Scott’s desire to reconnect with his own daughter.

  9. Fun and Games: 

    Scott learns to be the Ant-Man in a montage full of humorous wry wit, slap-stick, and sight-gags. Scott learns how to command ants to do his bidding and use projectile shrinking and growing discs in combat. Scott goes to the Avengers’ new base to steal a piece of Stark equipment, which involves jumping out of a plane while riding a carpenter ant. Scott is discovered by Sam Wilson, AKA the Falcon, but defeats him and escapes with the tech.

  10. Midpoint: 

    Despite his successes in learning to harness the power of the suit, Scott learns the dangers of being Ant-Man. Janet died by overriding her suit and shrinking to such a subatomic level that she was never able to return. After hearing this story, Hope and Hank have a heart-to-heart reconciliation.

  11. Bad Guys Close In: 

    Darren perfects the Pym particle technology and creates a prototype suit called the Yellowjacket. When Scott attempts to break into Pym Industries and steal the new suit, he, Hope, and Hank are kidnapped. Scott fights back, but not before Hank is shot and Darren escapes with the Yellowjacket suit. Scott chases Darren and they shrink down into a briefcase which then falls out of a helicopter. I don’t know if that counts as jumping out of the helicopter, but I’m putting in here anyway.

  12. All is Lost Moment:

    After chasing down and fighting Darren, Scott is arrested by his ex-wife’s cop fiancé (I’m sure he has a name, but I’m bothering to look it up), and his suit is taken away from him.

  13. Dark Night of the Soul: 

    With Hank wounded and his suit in police custody, Scott realizes Darren has gone crazy and is going after Cassie.

  14. Break into Act 3: 

    Scott escapes from police custody and goes after Darren.

  15. Finale:

    Scott and Darren fight in Cassie’s room, but Darren holds Cassie hostage. Scott realizes the only way to stop Darren is to shrink to subatomic size and disable Darren’s suit, even though he may disappear forever like Janet. Scott begins continually shrinking with no sign of stopping. But, determined to return to his daughter, he is able to use one of Hank’s growing projectiles to stop shrinking. He disables Darren’s suit and saves the day.

  16. Final Image: 

    Scott is able to join Cassie, his ex-wife, and her cop fiancé for dinner, showing he has successfully reentered their lives. His fellow burglar friend tells Scott Sam Wilson was looking for him, possibly to recruit him to the Avengers. Or to take back the tech he stole. That could also be the reason.

Verdict: One of Snyder’s recommendations for most screenplays is to focus on young (and good-looking) actors rather than old ones. As a result, this movie tries to focus on Scott’s character arc, despite Hank’s attempt to correct his past mistakes and reconcile with his daughter being infinitely more interesting. In fact, Scott tries to have a Dark Night of the Soul moment while in jail, but Hank, who, at the time, is bleeding out in the arms of his daughter who has finally forgiven him, is probably coming to terms with his own mortality and his inability to stop his technology falling into the wrong hands. I honestly believe this movie could have benefitted from making Hank, rather than Scott, the main character, especially since he drives the plot and even opens the movie. But the demand to have a younger character lead the film means the Opening and Final image don’t match and a number of beats lack the emotional impact that Hank and Hope have no problem achieving in the B Story. Scott could probably benefit by being the B Story, since most of the time he’s either trying to be or not be like Hank. Oo-oo-oo, he wants to be like you-oo-oo. He wants to walk like you CHH! Talk like you CHH! Oo-oo-oo, weebadeebadeebadoo. You see it’s true-oo-oo good lord I am tired. Why are there so many of these movies!

Gross: $394,912,099 – Although it’s still in theatres at the time of this writing, Ant-Man has a considerably lower box-office performance compared to the other Marvel movies, just slightly ahead of The First Avenger and the Incredible Hulk.

OK! I’m finally finished! Hopefully that means I’ll stop spontaneously typing out Disney songs.

So what can we learn from all of this? In some cases, following the Save the Cat structure beat-by-beat has led to incredible success, especially for unknown properties, like Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. Plus, movies like Iron Man 2 and The First Avenger don’t follow the key beats and character arcs and the films suffer for it. On the other hand, movies like Thor and Ant-Man that try to follow the formula by rote and also don’t fair terribly well. Plus, movies that reinvent the formula, like the Winter Soldier and The Avengers, are widely successful, both commercially and critically.

The conclusion I’ve drawn is that Snyder’s Save the Cat structure is a helpful screenwriting tool that lays out the fundamentals of plot and character arcs, but it only can really produce financial success when the writer adds their own twist to it. Whether it’s interesting and unique characters, like Tony Stark, Rocket, and Groot, or a fresh way to explore the story beats, like Winter Soldier and Avengers, you need to add something new to the mix instead of just trying to hit every beat. Obviously Snyder’s advice is useful, as movies that don’t make the main character likeable –by saving the cat or cracking a joke– or go through a full character transformation –like becoming a better person rather than staying static– tend to suffer as well.

So honestly, it’s probably for the best that Marvel is trying to move away from a dependence on Snyder’s book. It seems that after 12 movies, they understand the story formula pretty well and are ready to experiment more with the structure. What that means for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange or any of the other 7 movies coming out between now and 2019 is anyone’s guess, but hopefully it means their movies will start to feel a little more different and special.

At least I hope so. I really, really don’t want to do another list like this again. I’d rather be cooking again, be good looking again, with a mademoiselle on each arm! When I’m human again, only human again, poised and polished and gleaming with charm!

Crapdangit! I need to go outside.

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2 thoughts on “The Not-So-Secret Formula Behind the Marvel Movies

  1. It is not true that Marvel disbanded the creative committee. That was just the rumour. It still exists, but Feige has now more freedom to ignore their advice.

    Otherwise an interesting exercise, but I think you can squeeze most movies in this system, good and bad ones. Plus, you can’t really use box office as an indicator for quality. Excluding The Avengers movie, there is a pattern to the box office of the marvel movie: First movie in a franchise does well, second does better, third does the best. How well the first movie does is based on a combination of popularity of the franchise, quality of the marketing and word of mouth.

    Like

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