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.)
Popeye, licking his wounds after a failed case and the death of another cop, is working with his partner to clean up the dirty, dirty streets of 1970's Brooklyn. He drinks to fall asleep, he drinks to wake up, he chases skirts, and hassles dime-bag hustlers for their last bit of speed.
Call To Adventure
A chance encounter during after-work drinks gets Popeye's gears going: a small-time crook seems to be passing out more cash than he should have. Shortly thereafter, he finds out from an undercover cop that there's word on the street that a big shipment of heroin is going to come through.
Refusal Of The Call
Even though his captain is sick of Popeye and his partner Cloudy's small arrests, he's also unsure about giving him latitude to go after this big a case, especially in the wake of the last failed one. Eventually, Popeye convinces him, and pairs them up with two Federal agents to see what they can find out.
Meeting The Mentor
It's time to get started on the case, but Popeye has been handcuffed to his bed by a playful one-night stand. Cloudy comes to the rescue, gets him straight, and later keeps the peace between his angry partner and the smart-alecky Fed (Mulderig) they're now working with.
Crossing The Threshold
Armed with the phone taps for the conspicuously-spending crook Sal, Popeye and Cloudy discover that he's working with a Frenchman named Alain Charnier.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
In this flick, this stage is super literal: Popeye & Co work their butt off tailing Charnier and Sal, trying to figure out when and where the drug exchange is going to happen. They realize that a car, brought over from France by a movie star, has something to do with the case.
Approach To The Inmost Cave
Though they've picked up all of the connections, Popeye can't exactly prove anything, and he doesn't have anything to show for the time and money he's spent with his cohort trying to get to the bottom of the case. Because of this, his captain takes him off it.
Popeye's disassociation doesn't last long: when a sniper shoots at him as he's walking through the park, it kicks off a multi-car-and-subway-train chase that lasts forever… or almost forever. At the end of it, Charnier's henchmen, the sniper, has been injured, and when Popeye gets him in his sights, he shoots him. Just like that, he's back on the case.
Reward (Seizing The Sword)
After patiently working for weeks on this case, Popeye, Cloudy, and the Feds are finally able to seize the car that has something to do with this big cross-Atlantic drug deal. They strip it down and find a bunch of heroin hidden inside of it. They replace it, and return the car, hot on the trail of the criminals.
The Road Back
After the Frenchmen and the New Yorkers finally make the drug trade, Popeye and Company catch them, cornering them near some abandoned buildings under the Roosevelt Bridge. They're ready to make arrests and reap their rewards, for all their hard work. Charnier, however, gets away inside one of the buildings.
Popeye, mad with vengeance, goes after Charnier, and shoots one of the Feds by accident. Unfazed, he continues on, and a gun goes off, off-screen. (Because this isn't a story with any kind of redemption, Popeye doesn't get "resurrected" here, as much as he gets to keep his job, kind of.)
Return With The Elixir
Instead of showing us the lack-of-hero's welcome for ol' Popeye, the screen cuts to black. Likely this is because he hasn't changed, and won't be transformed. Rather, as we're told in the post-script, he and Cloudy are both transferred out of narcotics and reassigned.