As writers, we often face a challenge when trying to figure out how to usher in big-deal-bad plot elements, but do so in a way that does not also compromise character growth. Typically these game-changing plot elements take place in a larger narrative like a series or franchise where a story has been building up to this climactic point. Both Marvel and Jurassic Park/World are excellent examples of a continuing storyline where the single-story installments fit into a larger picture that is always building upon itself.
In recent years, some big changes needed to happen in both franchises. We’re talking huge, world-changing plot elements.
For the Jurassic series, we needed to get dinosaurs to the mainland and start mixing them with people on a global scale.
Ian Malcolm. “Welcome to Jurassic World…” #fallenkingdom #jeffgoldblumforever
For the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we needed a bigger problem and bigger evil than Thanos wiping out half of all life in the universe. A build-up of 10+ years had led to Endgame. We needed something to trump that. Enter…the multiverse!
Coincidence is not a strong plot mover, every good writer knows this. Neither is it good or honest storytelling to only have the villain characters be involved with dramatic and damaging events. We’re all flawed, broken people. Sometimes those with the best of intentions can create terrible scenarios *coughs* Tony Stark. The triumph of these deeply-human stories comes when a character grows and is able to face the new challenges with a fresh perspective that leads to victory.
Two protagonists for recent installments in the Jurassic and Marvel franchises are a perfect example of how to not compromise character growth for the sake of plot advancement.
Claire Dearing is the primary protagonist for Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
The protagonist is the character that changes the most throughout a story. While many characters have life-changing revelations throughout the two Jurassic World movies, Claire Dearing is without question the character that undergoes the most change.
The running theme of the entire Jurassic Franchise is this question: how do we value life? We see characters and animals interact with this theme in both positive and negative ways in every movie. Even the short film Battle at Big Rock faithfully follows this theme. One day I will discuss this franchise and its message in depth.
When we first meet Claire Dearing she is the director of the larger-than-life theme park, Jurassic World. Finally! John Hammons’s original dream for Jurassic Park has been realized and it is magnificent!
Claire is a cold and removed person when it comes to human relationships, and she has zero connection to any of the animals under her care. In short, Claire does not have value for life. She fails to see its beauty, purpose, or hope. Her nephews come to visit and she cannot even spend more than five minutes with them. She’s got a disdain for the very human character of Owen Grady and disregards his good advice about understanding her own animals. Without thought, she is a party to the creation of the Indominus Rex, the chief animal antagonist of this story.
Throughout the beginning of the movie, we see Claire make choice after choice that is irresponsible and emotionally removed. The worst decision she makes in conjunction with the park’s owner, Mr. Masrani, is to send a containment team after the Indominus with non-lethal weapons. They ignore the dire warnings of Owen Grady – the character with the most accurate worldview – and send the team in any way. Claire’s hard shell begins to crumble as she watches one person after another get violently killed by the dinosaur.
Throughout the rest of Jurassic World we watch Claire change. Her attention turns from the park’s reputation to just saving lives. She goes running off into the dangerous forest (IN HEELS) with Owen in pursuit of her nephews. She lets herself feel the grief and pain of a dying brachiosaurus that is mauled for sport by the Rex. She does insane things to protect what matters – life! By the end of the movie, Claire is functioning as a fully engaged human being.
Has she learned her lesson? Has she grown?
When we see Claire in the next installment, Fallen Kingdom, she is employing the same drive we saw in the first movie, only this time it’s about protecting the dinosaurs that are left. Isla Nublar is about to be destroyed by a volcano, and all of the dinosaurs will die, becoming extinct once more. Claire’s life mission is to try and ensure that doesn’t happen. It’s a noble goal, and it’s a joy to see Claire giving her energy towards preserving life instead of exploiting it (and this time she does it in boots like a sensible human).
But Claire still exhibits some of the same recklessness we saw her use at the beginning of Jurassic World. Her panic to make up for her past mistakes and guilt has caused her to pendulum to another extreme – a very common reaction among humans. She’s overcorrected too far, and this leaves her in a broken relationship with Owen Grady, and vulnerable to being manipulated and used by Eli Mills, the primary human antagonist.
Crazy events ensue, and at the end of the movie a large collection of dinosaurs has ended up on the mainland in California. Multiple species have already been sold via an illegal auction and shipped around to world to be used for nefarious purposes. The dinosaurs that remain are trapped in a large facility that is filling up with toxic fumes. It’s a horrifying scene, dinosaurs wailing and trying desperately to get out as they are dying at the expense of greed.
Claire discovers she can free them with the push of a button, but to do so means they are set loose on the general population.
Owen Grady Claire, you press that button there is no going back.
A beat…Claire We can’t let them die.
Her hand hovers over the button…but then she steps away in tears. Finally! Claire Dearing has learned her lesson at a horrific cost. It’s a terrible decision to have to make, but her lack of restraint (along with others) has helped create this mess, pushing that button will only further it. It’s awful, but it’s solid proof – Claire Dearing has grown, her character arc is intact.
Aha! But for the overall story plot we still need the dinosaurs to get out…so what do we do now?
Loki is the primary protagonist for the show Loki. Obviously.
To say Loki is a stinker would be putting it mildly. He’s wild, unpredictable, violent, cunning, and constantly keeping you guessing as to whether he will help you, or betray you. Unlike Claire Dearing, Loki definitely fits into the villain category. If Tom Hiddleston wasn’t so everlastingly adorable, Loki would not have been the fan-favorite he is. His character was brought to a tragic and emotional end at the very beginning of Infinity War. It was unsatisfactory and Loki fans were devastated. Then in Endgame, a freshly butt-kicked Loki managed to escape through time right after the first Avengers movie. This Loki is raw, unedited, and still the jerk that killed 80 people in just a few days + invaded New York because he’s Loki.
The running theme for the show Loki is this question: are we trapped by destiny or do we also have free will?
It’s a hard question to answer in a pretend universe that doesn’t have the true, gloriously good God in it. I don’t have time to dive into that topic today.
Loki finds himself quickly taken into custody by the TVA – Time Variance Authority – and taken to a place outside of time. He is shown the story of his whole life beginning to end, told that his entire life purpose is for his worst to bring out others’ best, and as a Loki, he is “destined to fail”. Loki learns that he is just one of the thousands of other Loki’s from thousands of other universes. The TVA is the organization assigned to protect the “Sacred Timeline” and ensure that all events go according to the instructions of the Time Keepers, who somehow know more about everything than everyone else. It’s rather vague and full of bureaucratic red tape.
Also, now that Loki has stepped outside of “Sacred Timeline” by escaping from his story, he has created a timeline branch and as a rogue variant, he could quickly be scheduled for pruning. A nice word for – execution. Loki, doing what he does best, negotiates for a chance to help Agent Mobius track down another Loki variant that’s been kidnapping TVA agents and wreaking havoc.
Loki’s initial desire and character goals are pretty standard for him. He wants to conquer the TVA and rule the timeline/worlds/everything/everyone.
The funny thing is how small Loki appears in the eyes of all he comes across. The only character who shows any interest in Loki as a person is Agent Mobius, the kindest person we run across at the TVA. And even Mobius isn’t overawed or impressed by Loki’s grand statements or drastic threats. A Loki is a Loki, they always lose, right?
Loki crosses paths with the other rogue Loki and discovers she’s actually a woman named Sylvie who, unlike other Loki’s, has zero desire for ruling anything. She wants to kill the Time Keepers and end the TVA once and for all as payback for them kidnapping her as a child. Apparently, she was a variant who didn’t “belong” on the Sacred Timeline and therefore was scheduled for pruning. It’s horrific but shows something true that happens in our real world. More on that another day.
Loki has not previously been known for quick character growth, but in the course of just 6 episodes, he is confronted with the ugliest, darkest, most vulnerable parts of himself. He’s drunk on his own, selfish ambition. He hurts other people in order to appear powerful. He’s self-obsessed, angry, scared, and doesn’t know how to create healthy relationships. And the worst part is this, according to everyone he comes in contact with besides Sylvie, this is just his destiny. He’s destined to never be happy, to never succeed at anything, to always be this terrible person.
Throughout one of the craziest and most brilliant shows I’ve ever seen, Loki finds himself pushing back against this empty version of himself, which is actually his own antagonist. Loki, as he’s always been, IS Loki’s own worst enemy! What if he can be more? Who says he has to be the villain in everyone else’s story? As the show progresses, Loki begins to care more about the needs and well-being of characters like Mobius and Sylvie even more than he thinks about his own selfish needs.
Loki and Sylvie reach the End of All Time and discover He Who Remains. In a quiet discussion held in an office, we hear the most frightening story yet revealed in the MCU. This man is from the future. He is a scientist who discovers the multiverse and connects with other variants of himself. Things are great for a while and the multiverse enjoys travel and communication among the universes. Until, of course, a variant of He Who Remains decides he wants to rule all, and multiverse wars ensue. It’s apparently so awful that He Who Remains decided the best way to solve the problem was to create the Sacred Timeline and control everyone’s lives. He created the TVA to protect this timeline and quickly prune and reset any timeline where something gets out of line. He has been doing this for millenniums. But now he’s tired. He gives Loki and Sylvie two options (1) kill him and unleash the timeline and the multiverse (2) take over his job and rule.
Sylvie still wants to kill He Who Remains as he is responsible for her kidnapping and erasing her life. She believes he is lying just to save his own skin. She is about to kill him when Loki stops her. A back and forth of passionately emotional dialogue, magic, and fighting ensues where Silvie is trying to reach He Who Remains, and Loki is trying to intervene.
Sylvie Ah, you want the throne.
Loki No, that’s not it, no. Sylvie, the universe is in the balance, everything we know to be true. Everything. I know that the TVA has hurt us both, but what if by taking him out, we risk unleashing something even worse? I promise you from my heart, this isn’t about a throne.
Loki Sylvie, the cost of getting this wrong is too great.
Sylvie Fine, then kill me and take your throne.
Loki Stop. I’ve been where you are. I’ve felt what you feel. *crying* Don’t ask me how I know. All I know, is I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want a throne. I just…I just want you to be okay.
They kiss, it’s gorgeous and no one is sobbing on the floor. We’re fine!!! And then Sylvie shoves him through a portal back to the TVA, removing him from the situation entirely. Determined and dreading what is coming, Loki runs to find Mobius to fill him in on the drastic changes that are about to take place.
Loki He’s terrifying. He planned everything. He’s seen everything. He knows everything. It’s complicated, okay. But someone is coming. Countless different versions of a very dangerous person. And they’re all set on war. We need to prepare.
Loki went from rampaging around the universe, causing wreck and ruin all because he was burdened with glorious purpose, to suddenly only caring about others’ needs and future. He now only says “I” in reference to his selfless feelings for someone else. He uses the term “we” when speaking of himself and Sylvie, or himself and his allies/friends at the TVA. Loki is no longer alone and no longer seeking a throne. His life actually is burdened with glorious purpose now. He’s free, Loki won over Loki.
The ironclad proof of Loki’s character growth was his attempt to restrain Silvie from destroying He Who Remains. Whether that was the right choice for the future of the universe or not, it was the right choice for Loki’s character arc. He said no to the throne, and yes to what someone else needed. Loki has grown.
Aha, but we still need the timeline to be unleashed…so what do we do?
The answer is simple, we bring in the “innocents”. We solve our plot problems with the innocents. I’ll explain in Part 2.