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.)
Been there, done that. The first movie already established what sort of world our adventurers are traveling in…and also established that it's toast.
(Though a bit later in the movie we will get more of a look at the ordinary lives of men in Rohan.)
Call To Adventure
Remember the whole "destroy the Ring" thing from the first movie? Yeah, that's still going on. Other calls to adventure include not getting eaten by orcs and giving Theoden a good wake-up call.
Refusal Of The Call
The only one refusing anything is Aragorn who, unlike Simba, could really wait quite a while to be king. Other than that, it's a bit late for Frodo and Sam to refuse anything, and our other hobbits are already up to their heads in orc trouble.
Meeting The Mentor
Guess who's back? That's right, say goodbye to Gandalf the Grey, 'cause he's getting' lit as Gandalf the White. Returning with more wisdom than ever, Gandalf is ready to lead Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn to Rohan's rescue.
Crossing The Threshold
Like we said, been there done that. There aren't really more thresholds to be crossed. It's already go time.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Ahh, thisss isss where it getsss interesting.
We've got a new ally in the mix named…Gollum. Captured by Frodo and Sam, the hobbits have to put their trust in him to lead the way.
In our other storyline, gaining the alliance of Theoden is the main test for Aragorn and crew, while Merry and Pippin have to convince the Ents to fight. Each of our three parties has trust and persuasion as a central tenant of their tasks.
Approach To The Inmost Cave
Hoo-boy. With three storylines, this gets to be a lot.
Frodo and Sam are captured by Faramir, but Gollum has escaped. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are riding with the people of Rohan toward Helm's Deep. Merry and Pippin are riding home on Treebeard.
Frodo "betrays" Gollum, losing his trust and, failing to convince Faramir otherwise, is being transported toward Gondor. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are attacked by warg riders. Aragorn falls off a cliff with his horse. Merry and Pippin convince Treebeard to take them toward Isengard, hoping he'll see the destruction of the trees.
Reward (Seizing The Sword)
There is no reward.
Frodo still carries the burden of the Ring and Smeagol has lost out to Gollum. But Aragorn is still alive, riding back, and his Evenstar is returned They begin preparing for battle. Mary and Pippin were right: Treebeard is not happy about what's been done to his tree-brothers and declares war on Saruman.
The Road Back
Frodo and Sam are about to walk into a battle at Osgiliath where things will get dangerous. Aragorn tries to spark some life into his brethren, who have lost hope of winning the battle. Mary and Pippin are…doing their thing.
Frodo almost gets caught by the Nazgûl, but Sam tackles him. Then Frodo almost kills Sam until he regains his wits just in time. The battle of Helms Deep is won with the combination of a last ride by Theoden and our heroes and Gandalf's return with Eomer and riders. Merry and Pippin throw rocks at orcs.
Return With The Elixir
Faramir, realizing the danger of the Ring, allows Frodo and Sam to continue their quest toward Mordor, risking treason on his part. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas mourn the dead and look toward the future.
Merry and Pippin eat some delicious food and smoke old Toby…they're definitely the winners at this stage.