Hero's Journey

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.)

Ordinary World

Well, the Marvel Cinematic Universe never was what you'd call "ordinary," but things are certainly looking peaceful when we start. SHIELD is carefully testing the Tesseract, Captain America is beating up bags, and Iron Man is installing some perpetual energy doo-hickey at his Manhattan building.

Time for a wake-up call.

Call to Adventure

The call to adventure, in this case, is the arrival of Loki and the subsequent stealing of the Tesseract. (Also, zombifying.)

This is most definitely a problem in need of immediate solving, and given that Loki's arrival ended in the destruction of an entire SHIELD base, Fury decides it's time to call in the big guns.

Refusal of the Call

No one really flat-out refuses the call here, but Tony takes a little arm-twisting and Dr. Banner is definitely not keen on it.

That last one is the most interesting because it suggests one of Joseph Campbell's big ideas: if you refuse the call, bad things will happen. Luckily, Dr. Banner has probably read Joseph Campbell and knows what'll happen if he says no.

Meeting the Mentor

Sometimes it's Phil Coulson. Sometimes it's Natasha Romanoff. Sometimes it's Nick Fury himself. But while Fury is the true mentor here, they all come from the same place: SHIELD, the aptly named agency here to keep the world safe. Even veteran heroes need a guide sometime.

Crossing the Threshold

The threshold is crossed when Loki attacks Stuttgart, and the heroes have to learn to work together for the first time. They don't exactly pass with flying colors, but they're also made aware that the Chitauri are planning to invade. The rules have changed, and they're going to have to adjust to get this thing done.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

For the Earth mightiest heroes, they end up failing a number of tests in a big way. Loki's escape goes badly for all of them, resulting in Banner punching a hole through the Helicarrier, Thor chucked out the cargo bay in the anti-Hulk cage, and Iron Man and Captain America almost coming to blows before they put it aside to fix the immediate problems.

It doesn't go well…but it does show them what they're up against and how they're going to have to put their egos aside to get this done.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

Ironically, the innermost cave actually comes from outer space: the Chitauri invasion is here, and the heroes are going to have to come together fast if they want to put the kibosh on it but good.


The ordeal is the epic final showdown on the streets of New York, with the Avengers fighting frantically to stop the invasion and the shutdown of the wormhole making it possible.

The only important test is the last one…and they finally nail it.

Reward (Seizing the Sword)

Again, we've got a reversal here, at least symbolically. Iron Man doesn't seize the sword: he releases it, sending the nuke into the heart of the Chitauri fleet.

With that, the gate can be closed and the threat can be lifted.

The Road Back

Tony's road back is short, swift, and goes straight down.

Having dropped the hammer on the Chitauri, he plummets back to Earth…and is caught by the Hulk before going splat on the sidewalk.


Iron Man's kind of carrying the Campbellian load in the finale here, so we'll stick with him.

Having been set down on the sidewalk by the Hulk, he's unconscious and may have actually died. But the Hulk's bellow starts him back to life again—and immediately into a bevy of one-liners to boot—making a nifty symbolic resurrection just to keep us all on the same page.

Return With the Elixir

Um…let's call it shawarma instead of elixir?

Actually, it's the sweet taste of alien-free air as the threat to Earth is lifted and the Chitauri are defeated for good.

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