One Movie/Three Structures: THE AVENGERS

How many beats/stages/steps can you fit into a screenplay? Apparently quite a few.

  • Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey has 17.
  • Blake Synder’s Save the Cat: 20. (including the five sub-sections of the Finale).
  • John Truby’s Anatomy Of Story: 22.

The magic number then, is 59.

3084359-3578001612-Tony-How many of these overlap? Are the three systems complementary or contradictory? Can you use all three at once or will you find out that no one can serve two, or in this case, three masters.

We can illustrate this by having a look at one of the biggest films of all time, Marvel’s The Avengers.

Although The Avengers is the story of the team assembling for the first time, Tony Stark is the protagonist. His arc provide the backbone to The Avengers. His transformational journey provides the structure.


Joseph Campbell’s
Hero’s Journey
Blake Snyder’s
Save The Cat
John Truby’s
Anatomy Of Story
1. Call to Adventure
Nick Fury wants to assemble a response unit known as The Avengers Initiative.Tony Stark’s call to adventure comes from Agent Phil Coulson asking him to join.
1. Opening Image
The Tesseract, another world, aliens and the world burning. An ominous threat is about to be unleashed.
1. Self Revelation, Need and Desire
Self Revelation – Tony realizes what it truly means to be a hero by being part of The Avengers.Psychological Need –overcome his narcissistic behavior.Moral Need – Tony needs to become a team player to be the best superhero he can be.Desire – to save the world.
2. Refusal of the call
He doesn’t accept this offer. In fact he questions why S.H.I.E.L.D. thinks he should be part of the Avengers – he’s unreliable, selfish and can’t work in a team
2. Theme Stated  
“As of this moment we are at war”
2. Ghost and Story World
Ghost World – Because of his genius, wealth and power he’s never had to rely on anyone.Story World – It’s a world where superheroes, advanced technologies and aliens exist.
3. Supernatural Aid
Nick Fury. He organizes, supports and motivates The Avengers.nick-fury
3. Set-Up  
S.H.I.E.L.D., a military organization, has no idea of what is going on with the Tesseract and when Loki arrives through a portal they are easily defeated.This is no ordinary opponent and they are going to need help.
3. Weakness and Need
Weakness – volatile, self obsessed narcissist.Psychological Need – overcome his narcissistic behavior.Moral Need – Tony needs to become a team player to be the best super hero he can be.Problem – Loki and his army are a greater threat than he can handle by himself.
4. Crossing the Threshold
Iron Man joins the battle and helps Captain America subdue Loki.capvsim



4. Catalyst
Loki steals the Tesseract. The military is hopelessly outgunned and Nick Fury wants to assemble his response team: The Avengers
4. Inciting Incident
Loki steals the Tesseract and Nick Fury wants to initiate The Avengers initiative.
5. Debate
Gathering the individual members of The Avengers:“I can’t I’m in the middle of an interrogation,”
– Black Widow“What if I don’t want to?”
– Bruce Banner.Iron Man doesn’t want to meet with Coulson or get involved.

“You should have left it in the ocean,”
– Captain America

5. Desire
He wants to live the billionaire lifestyle and he’s enjoying creating a clean energy power source for the world. He’s taken himself “off the grid” making himself independent.
6. Break into Two
The team gathers on the helicarrier. Some assembly will still be required.
6. Ally or Allies
The Avengers.
7. Opponent and/or MysteryLoki and his mission to conquer Earth. His plan involves tricking The Avengers into fighting each other.
8. Fake Ally Opponent
S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury – Although Nick Fury wasn’t completely honest with them, he protects them when S.H.I.E.L.D. command abandons them and launches a nuclear missile against them.
9. First Revelation and Decision: Changed Desire and Motive
Revelation – Tony studies all the information S.H.I.E.L.D. gave him and realizes they are all in over their heads.Decision – Join The Avengers.Changed Desire – Get the Tesseract cube from Loki.Changed Motive – Protect the world from the dangers the Tesseract presents in the wrong hands.
John Truby’s Anatomy uses nine of its twenty-two steps to set up. It’s the most comprehensive of the three in the laying the foundation for the story.  Where as the other two are more flexible in allowing you to formulate the idea and move forward and come back and add more detail later. Essentially all of them deal with the issue of Loki stealing the Tesseract and The Avengers have to assemble, albeit reluctantly.
Joseph Campbell’s
Hero’s Journey
Blake Snyder’s
Save The Cat
John Truby’s
Anatomy Of Story
5. Road of the Trials
Loki’s plan is a one of deceit designed to give The Avengers a false sense of control.Tony enters the helicarrier and acts like a rock star. He’s willing to become part of the group but he still wants to do everything his way: secretly planting a virus in the computer system, playing with fire by messing with the Hulk and butting heads with Captain America.
7. B Story
The A Story: Stop Loki and recapture the Tesseract.The B Story: The heroes must learn to work together as a team.
10. Plan
Help catch Loki and then track down the location of the Tessearact.
6. Brother Battle
When Thor and Iron Man meet, they should be allies against Loki but they fight.And as Tony Stark, he locks horns with Captain America over his attitude.
8. Fun and Games
Fights among members of The Avengers and against Loki.
11. Opponent’s Plan and Main Counter Attack
Activate the Tesseract.Lull the Avengers into a false sense of security by allowing himself to be captured.Cause the Avengers to fight amongst themselves.Unleash the Hulk to destroy everyone.
7. Meeting the Goddess
This is an unusual one. Meeting the Goddess is symbolic of meeting a character with special beauty and power. In this instance it’s when he meets Dr Bruce Banner.He admires him “especially the way you turn into that rage monster.” They relate with one another because they are both geniuses and share a moment about the differences between them.Iron man has to wear armor but the Hulk is completely exposed.  In that sense they are each other’s opposite half.
9. Midpoint
Loki’s plan has been uncovered:Assemble The Avengers and unleash The Hulk on them. The Avengers argue with each other until the Helicarrier is attacked.
12. Drive
Track down the Tesseract.Take control like a rockstar.Work out what S.H.I.E.L.D.’s real plan is.Nick Fury’s Plan: Torture Loki to obtain information.
8. Abduction
Hawkeye is abducted at the start of the story and returns to the ship and attacks them. Once he is defeated, he re-joins the group.
10. Bad Guys Close In
Led by Hawkeye, a group of soldiers attack the helicarrier. Iron Man and Captain America have to repair the ship.
13. Attack by an ally
Ally Criticism – Captain tells Iron man “The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on the wire and let the other guy crawl all over you” and “You may not be a threat but you better stop pretending to be a hero”Hero’s Justification – “(I’m a) genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” And “Following (orders is) not my style.”
9. Night or Sea Journey
They go on a voyage on the helicarrier.
11. All Is Lost
The team is fractured as Hulk and Thor have been removed from the group.
The Helicarrier is disabled.
14. Apparent defeat
Hawkeye disables the helicarrier.The Hulk is unleashed and fights Black Widow and Thor and in the process damages the helicarrier.Agent Coulson is killed.Thor is dropped to Earth in the glass cell.

Loki escapes.

Computers go down and lose track of the Tesseract.

Loki: “Your heroes are scattered. Your floating fortress falls from the sky”

10. Dragon Battle
The helicarrier is attacked and he suits up.
12. Dark Night of the Soul
Agent Coulson is killed and Loki escapes. Tony tells Cap they are not soldiers.
15. Second Revelation and Decision: Obsessive Drive, Changed Desire, and Motive
Revelation – Stark works out Loki’s plan: Use Stark Tower in New York to open the portal.Decision – Get to New York.Changed Desire – Be a hero.Obsessive Drive – Faces Loki without armor and then takes on the invading army by himself.

Changed Motive – Stop the army invasion.



11. Entering the Belly of the Whale/Ritual Death or Dismemberment
Iron man is caught in the rotary blades of the Helicarrier whilst trying to repair them and is nearly torn apart.Iron man flies inside one of the Leviathans just after he delivers a line about Jonah and the Whale.​Once a character has entered the belly of the whale and returned, he is changed.  At this point, Tony Stark turns from clowning around to serious hero.
13. Break Into Three
Tony Stark figures out the invasion will be in New York and they have to get the team there.
12. Atonement with the father
A father represents power, in this instance the father figure is Nick Fury, Iron man is now committed to working in The Avengers which is ‘at one with’ Nick Fury’s intention.
13. Apotheosis
Tony works out Loki’s plan: Use Stark Tower and open the portal in New York.
Road of Trials isn’t just one step. It is a series of challenges. I’ve identified them here individually but Brother Battle, Abduction, Night or Sea Journey, Dragon Battle and Ritual Death or Dismemberment all fall under the Road of Trials.
When you look at all three as a collective, everything in the second act is covered. Sometimes in specific detail (Truby‘s Attack by an Ally), sometimes in broader strokes (from the Midpoint to the Act III break   from Save the Cat)
Joseph Campbell’s
Hero’s Journey
Blake Snyder’s
Save The Cat
John Truby’s
Anatomy Of Story
14. Ultimate Boon
Finally The Avengers are ready to function as a cohesive team.
Loki: “What have I to fear?”
Stark: “The Avengers.”
14. Finale
They can’t stop the portal from opening and the invasion begins.
16. Audience Revelation
Fury used Coulson’s death as motivation to unite them.
15. Magic Flight
The fight over New York against the Chitauri.
15. Rally the Troops
The Avengers unite.
17. Third revelation and decision
Revelation – The Avengers have assembled.Decision – To truly become part of the team:
Tony: “Call it Captain.” He is ready to take orders.
16. Crossing the Return Threshold
Tony selflessly guides the nuclear missile through the portal to destroy the army.Iron man is now the perfect hero, someone who gives his own life to save others.
16. Storm the Castle
The Avengers battle the army and hold their own against them.
18. Gate, Gauntlet, Visit to Death
Iron man flies through the portal and launches the nuke into the mothership.
17. Rescue From Without
After falling back through the portal, he plummets helplessly to Earth.The Hulk jumps in to save him.
17. High Tower Surprise
When victory is in the balance they get betrayed by S.H.I.E.L.D. command. A nuclear missile is launched on New York.
19. Battle
The Avengers battle the invasion army and Loki.
18. Master of Two Worlds
When he recovers from the fall, he wants to take the team for a shawarma and take tomorrow off.He’s a hero but still a fun guy.
18. Dig Down Deep
Iron Man makes the self-sacrificing move and goes through the portal hole on a one-way mission.
20. Self Revelation
Psychological Self Revelation – He has within him what it takes to be a hero.Moral Self Revelation – A hero must be willing to sacrifice everything to save others.
19. Freedom to Live
The Avengers go their separate ways but they are ready to be called upon if they’re ever needed again. 


19. Victory or Defeat
Iron Man sends the nuclear missile into the mother ship and the Hulk rescues him before he crashes into the ground.
21. Moral Decision
Take the nuke through the portal even though this is a one-way ticket.
20. Final Image
Loki is captured, the Tesseract secured and The Avengers are a team, ready to answer the call next time it comes.
22. New Equilibrium
The Avengers are a team which can be called upon when needed.

The-Avengers-group-shot1Closer examination of these breakdowns reveals that these structures don’t merely rename aspects of an existing paradigm. Instead, Campbell, Snyder, and Truby take unique approaches to the same story, and The Avengers is effective whichever structure speaks to you.

There’s nothing analogous to Rescue from Without in Save the Cat or Anatomy Of Story.  Opening Image and Theme Stated get you thinking about your story in different ways from Hero’s Journey.

The financial success of The Avengers can be attributed to countless factors: The success of the lead-in movies, the popularity of the characters, the actors, and the filmmakers, exciting filmmaking, excellent marketing, and more. But the critical success and effective storytelling, even with seven very strong characters, plus an antagonist, can be traced back to tight structure that works within all of these models.

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