Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
Since we're in Superhero Land (call it Heroville, for short), you'll have to take the word "ordinary" with a grain of salt. After all, what's ordinary for a team of super-powered beings protecting the Earth is pretty darn extraordinary for the rest of us. Still, Age of Ultron does a good job of laying out the ordinary world for us in the very first scene. The Avengers team up to fight a small army of Hydra soldiers led by the shady Baron von Strucker. Sure, it's a tough challenge, but we're talking the Avengers here. This is what they do on an ordinary basis: combine their powers and take down evil-doers. Done and done.
Call To Adventure
Can't someone else do it? Seriously, there's got to be a better way. At least, that's what Tony Stark is thinking with his idea for Ultron. He's not convinced that the Avengers—as powerful as they are—are going to be able to stop another alien invasion like the one they saw in the first Avengers. When J.A.R.V.I.S. discovers the alien intelligence inside Loki's scepter, Tony sees it as the missing ingredient. Not only can he use it to better defend Earth, he'll be able to anticipate and shut down wars before they even get going.
Refusal Of The Call
Tony explains his idea Bruce Banner, the only other scientist on the team. Stop war, defeat aliens, chop vegetables in record time—there's nothing Ultron can't do with this new alien brain. Bruce, to his credit, is not sold. Stopping war before it gets started sounds an awful lot like arresting people for their thoughts, rather than their actions. Talk about your slippery slopes. Also, how well do we know this alien brain, anyway? Good questions, Dr. Banner. Unfortunately, you're up against Tony Stark, a man so charming and persistent that he could sell steak to a cow. The Ultron experiment is on.
Meeting The Mentor
We need a montage, Shmoopers. Specifically, we need to see Tony Stark and Bruce Banner all hopped up on coffee, trying in vain to crack the alien brain code. They try and try again, but no dice. Oh well, maybe a victory party will help them think better. In the meantime, they leave the code-cracking in the capable "hands" of J.A.R.V.I.S., who actually has no hands, but is sophisticated enough to finally establish an interface with the intelligence that will become Ultron. Thanks, J—we're sure that this won't turn out horribly at all.
Crossing The Threshold
Everything turns out horribly. Nanoseconds after he's "born," Ultron scans all the sordid details of human history—centuries of war, murder, and persecution. Yeah, we're just the worst. He makes the radical (though in some ways understandable) decision that the best way to protect humanity is to wipe nearly all of it out and start again with only the good ones. (Apparently, "good" in his book means "being able to survive an apocalyptic meteor.") Ladies and gentlemen, we have our antagonist.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Ultron kicks his plan into high gear, hijacking all of Tony Stark's Iron Legion robots, recruiting the "enhanced" Maximoff twins, and trying to build himself a new, titanium body that's supercharged by the mind stone, one of the mega-powerful Infinity Stones. Of course, the Avengers try and stop him along the way, facing tests at their headquarters when Ultron first appears, then off the African coast when Wanda Maximoffs zaps most of their brains, and later in South Korea when Ultron loses his android form, but kidnaps Black Widow. By this time, though, the Maximoffs have gone from enemies to allies. It turns out it just took them a little while to see what giant robo-jerk that Ultron was.
Approach To The Inmost Cave
The ultimate showdown takes place in the inmost part of the fictional city-state of Sokovia. Ultron holes up in a church, which is located in the exact center of town so that everyone can be equally close to it. It's a heartwarming sentiment, until that bad bot decides to stick a vibranium triggering device into the floor. Activating this will send the entire city (which is now floating into the sky—thanks for that, too, Ultron) crashing meteor-style back into the Earth. Once the city reaches human apocalypse altitude, the Avengers have to prevent that trigger from being activated.
At some point during all of this, Ultron has managed to build roughly ten billion robots in the style of Tony Stark's Iron Legion. He sends them all to attack the Avengers, who are now fighting back to back in the Sokovian church, trying to keep these evil meanies from triggering the device. They blast, punch, kick, zap, and even bite (we see you Hulk) the bots back, and then Thor, Vision, and Iron Man turn their collective beam powers on Ultron himself. The good guys win—this round, anyway.
Reward (Seizing The Sword)
Everyone's safe—what more could you ask for? Well, okay, so Pietro Maximoff's not very safe. He's very dead, in fact. Still, it's a small price to pay: one minor character (we love you Quicksilver, but come on) for everyone stuck on floating Sokovia. Nick Fury shows up in his Helicarrier just in time to usher all the citizens to safety. The only ones left in danger are Thor and Iron Man—who stay behind to blow up the would-be meteor and save everyone back down on Earth. Oh, and Wanda Maximoff's there, too, since she had to rip out Ultron's heart after Ultron killed her brother. Still, those three can't die too, can they? Can they?
The Road Back
Thor and Iron Man launch operation Flip It and Reverse It. At least, that seems to be what they're doing to the polarity of the vibranium that Ultron has packed into the floating island. The goal is to blow the place to smithereens before it can land back on Earth. It's a gamble; Thor and Iron Man might not make it out alive. (Neither might Wanda, but she's not part of the plan.) These guys are superheroes, though. Risking their lives is just what they do. One exploded floating island coming up.
Air Sokovia's destroyed (probably not a good time for their real estate market). Just before it explodes, though, the new J.A.R.V.I.S. android Vision swoops down to save Wanda. Thor falls, relatively unharmed, into the sea, which is located conveniently below them. Iron Man manages to dodge all the big chunks of falling rock, and Ultron's precious meteor scatters like so many fish flakes into the water. World: safe. Heroes: likewise safe. Ending: happy (just try not to think about poor Quicksilver—sniff).
Return With The Elixir
All is well once again in Avenger-land, but, well, things are not the same. For starters, the gang has a new HQ, this one in upstate New York, away from the hustle and bustle of their downtown digs. Oh, and Hulk has peaced out. He was last scene with a pensive look on his face, chilling in a plane that was headed off to parts unknown. Hulk need time to think about life. Thor, too, decides to take off to do a bit of Asgardian investigating into who's behind these Infinity Stones, while Hawkeye and Iron Man head home to be with their loved ones. That leaves Captain America, Black Widow, and gruff-as-ever Nick Fury to take the lead in training the new team of Avengers. What—you thought the world would be satisfied with a measly two Avenger flicks?