Loki Odinson and Claire Dearing: How to Advance Plot Without Compromising Character Growth (Part 1 of 2)

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

Claire Dearing is all business, even at the expense of her own humanity. She’s not mean, she’s not visibly evil or a “villain”, but she has a broken perspective on life that blinds her to the dire consequences of her choices.

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.

Claire throws everything she has into protecting her nephews and Owen from the Indominus Rex. She lets herself be touched by the pain, the beauty, and the wonder of life. Claire is fully awake by the end of Jurassic World.

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.

Claire has thrown herself fully into the mission of saving the dinosaurs, but it’s gotten beyond her reach at this point.

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.

The agony of having to say no to pushing the button…

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.

This character is only beloved because Tom Hiddleston IS SO CRAZY ADORABLE!

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.

The best of Britian paired with the best of America on one screen. It was SOOO GOOD!

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.

A very sad little girl is now a very angry grown woman.

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.

Watching layer after layer of Loki unfold as he spends more time with Sylvie was a joy. THIS is the Loki we have been hoping for! Not the petty, selfish, angry Loki. No! The Loki who uses his brilliant mind, witty humor, and genuine strength to protect, uplift, and do good. It was always possible, but now we see him fighting for this better version of himself.

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.

More fighting.

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.

NO ONE IS SOBBING HERE! NEVERMIND, WE ARE FINE! IT’S TOTALLY OKAY THAT LOKI IS LOOKING AT HER SO SOFTLY WITH SO MUCH COMPASSION AND TENDERNESS! WE ARE FINEEEE!!!

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.

These two were just the greatest.

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.

I love that turned up collar, it’s so him.

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.

Thor 4, Why I Don’t Want It

Yesterday it was announced that Taika Wahiti (Thor: Ragnarok) would be directing the fourth installment of the Thor movies, starring Chris Hemsworth…

…wait, the fourth installment??? Did we actually ask for a Thor 4?

Without a doubt, there are going to be fans who are excited about this. Not all fans feel negative about the road Thor’s character has taken. Those fans are having a really great day right now, and I do not begrudge them that.

(Y’all, if Captain America 4 were ever announced you would hear me give the squeal heard around the world, so I get it).

I, however, am not at all pleased with where Thor ended up when the credits rolled in Endgame.

Please, stop disrespecting Thor even more than you already have.

I was a fan of the first two Thor movies. His first film was actually my introduction into the MCU and I loved it, I loved him.

angry thor

His transformation from Grade A royal jerk to a compassionate hero was lovely. I liked him and Jane together. I loved how powerful he was. I thoroughly enjoyed his involvement in both The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Ragnarok was a deep disappointment to me. To drastically change the tone of Thor’s storytelling and practically obliterate all ties to his earlier movies on the third installment of his series was awful to me. It felt like someone had accidentally picked up a Guardians of the Galaxy script and a “Thor” movie was made instead.

That being said, even I can admit that Ragnarok was a proper continuation of Thor’s character arc. Ragnarok pushed Thor to a place that 4 previous movies hadn’t been able to get him yet.

Thor became the king.

It was a nice arc and Ragnarok was a vital part of that.

thor background.jpg

Thor: He learns what truly makes a hero, he learns humility and kindness. He uses his might to protect rather than ravage. He begins to have an appreciation for humans. He learns what worthiness actually is as he becomes worthy of the hammer. It’s glorious.

The Avengers: He grows beyond just an almost patronizing appreciation “I must protect these infants” for humans and learns to see them as comrades and equals. He joins a team rather than fighting alone. He chooses what is right over family loyalty.

Thor 2: Again, he chooses what is right over family loyalty. His father is an idiot, Thor goes against his father and commits treason because it is right. He chooses to love someone even though it may devastate him later on. And he chooses to be honest with his father about his lack of desire to be king.

thor and his father

Age of Ultron: Thor sees the beginning pieces of Thanos’ plan as well as the future of Ragnarok. This sets him off on a journey of discovery across the cosmos and sets a lot of things in motion.

thors vision

Ragnorok: Through the exposure of Loki’s deception, Odin’s death, and Hela’s unleashing on Asgard, Thor has to finally step up to the plate to become who he was born to be.

thor gladiator

He loses everything, his father, his hammer, and his dignity as he is reduced to being a gladiator for sport. It’s a lot of hits at once. He feels very low but he refuses to give in to grief as his desire to take care of his people and do right by them is stronger. #hero

Against all odds, Thor makes it back to Asgard where has to fight his sister, the goddess of death, without his hammer. He is mighty but at this moment she is mightier. Until he ends up in a vision where his father reveals the truth, “Are you Thor, the god of hammers? The hammer was only to help you channel your power.” And the final bit of encouragement that we have all known about Odin and Thor, “I’m not as strong as you.” “No, you’re stronger.”

Next up is the most epic takedown and my favorite part of Ragnorok (THIS IS THOR) where the god of Thunder blasts his sister and her armies with his lightning because THAT’S who he is!

Ragnarok ends where Thor has to allow the destruction of Asgard in order to save the true heart of Asgard, his people.

He is down one eye but looks very regal and handsome as he is crowned king and takes his “throne” aboard a borrowed ship among the surviving Asgardians and a ragtag group of friends. His brother is at his side once more and we hear the same coronation music we began this journey with back in 2011. It was really, really nice.

thor in arena.jpg

  • Thor had to gain humility and perspective before he was ready to be king.
  • His knowledge of the greater universe enabled him to be exactly what Asgard needed when they needed him most. Odin could never have been what Thor is.
  • He forgave Loki and paved the way for them to rejoin as brothers and friends.
  • He brought Valkyrie back from her drunken despair and gave her purpose.
  • He saved Bruce and destroyed Hela.
  • He had to grow beyond the hammer and he did an awesome job. And it was THEN and only then, after all of this learning and connecting with other people that he became the king he was born to be.

Infinity War: Enter, Thanos. Thanos never played fair, so, I don’t blame Thor for any of this mess. To me, the Thor of Infinity War was the most glorious Thor I have ever seen. He was the perfect combination of all that he had been and all that he was becoming. He WAS the god of Thunder, his arrival on the field of battle in Wakanda is one of my top 3 moments in that movie.

infinity war thor

Thor still made mistakes (GO FOR THE HEAD) as did all of our heroes. And I knew Thor needed to have a meltdown at some point. You cannot lose literally everything and never break down.

Endgame: Thor tries to defeat Thanos, and while he does kill him, the damage done by that Purple Abomination cannot be undone. So Thor disappears into New Asgard and becomes a drunken pile of a depressed man.

chunky thor

Believe it or not, I was actually pleased with this. I needed Thor to be human enough to fall apart after all of the hellish things he’d been through. I felt that this was appropriate, all the more so for how handsome and grand he is. That beer belly didn’t bother me, the tears in his eyes just made me ache more.

Thor is brought back into the action by his friends who still believe in him. He contributes what he can to the plan, and then he goes back in time with Rocket (love this pairing) to the day his mother died in order to retrieve the Reality Stone.

I loved this part. I felt like it restored some of the first two Thor movies to us.

Thor is totally falling apart, and Rocket has to be the one to save the day. #thisracoongetsitdone

Oh! But that scene with Thor’s beautiful mother, Frigga! I loved, loved, LOVED that scene! I have always felt that she was an underused character, a rich well of untapped potential. Odin was a mostly rotten father, but Frigga? What a mother!

thor and his mother

Thor needs his mama, that great and mighty god of Thunder who has fallen so low just needed his mama to look into his eyes and actually see him.

He needed her to gently brush back his matted hair as if he’s still arrayed in royal robes and love him as only a mother can. She listened. She encouraged. She blessed him, and she told him with so much love and compassion to eat a salad. It was such a gift, that scene.

And that moment gave Thor the courage to face the final conflict against Thanos. He is still worthy, Mjolnir still comes to him. It’s a beautiful moment of encouragement for anyone who has ever faced grief and depression.

thor depression

He fights the battle well and we see once more, the god of Thunder is still with us.

thor endgame battle.gif

Thor is among the victorious Avengers who are still standing when the dust settles *sobs* and he returns to his people in New Asgard to begin a new life as their king. He’s been humbled and is raw, but he is still a worthy hero and he deserves a second chance, what a triumph…

…oh wait, no, he actually decides to become a homeless man and go traipsing around space with the Guardians?!?!

He leaves New Asgard in the hands of Valkyrie whom we have only known for a movie and a half? Didn’t he already give up a chance to be king once before, only to take the throne in Ragnarok because he was finally ready???

You mean to tell me that I just went through 6+ movies of bringing Thor to this incredible place of a complete arc where he actually became his own kind of king despite every obstacle —only to have him be treated like some half-eaten leftovers that the filmmakers wanted to put in the freezer to reheat later???

Thor + Starlord for about 5 minutes = funny.

Thor + Starlord for a long time = disrespecting both characters.

thor and starlord

Starlord was already given a raw deal in both Infinity War and Endgame. He was treated like a laughingstock and idiot. Is he sometimes an idiot? Absolutely. Has he been through horrible things and grown immensely as a character and made grown-up/mature/hard decisions on behalf of other people? YES! WATCH HIS DADGUM MOVIES! He’s saved the Galaxy twice!

And Thor, Thor is funny, but he is NOT a laughingstock! Stop it!

Both of these characters deserve to be worth more than just a laugh.

And as for Thor 4?

If Thor had actually made the harder choice to go back to New Asgard, face his people in humility, and try again, I would actually be looking forward to Thor 4. I am curious about this New Asgard, how the Asgardians and the humans interact.

Thor has almost become a child of two realms, Earth and Asgard, he would make a neat king. Would he find someone new to love? Would some more of those “ancient enemies” that the Asgardians seem to have a cabinetful of show up and we could see an awesome alliance of Asgardians and Norwegian fisherman against Said Ancient Foes? What is living in New Asgard like in 2023?

Thor’s choice in the final moments of Endgame was not only out of character for him, it pretty much stabbed in the back a beautiful character arc that has been in the works for 6+ movies.

I was so, so, so disappointed. Thor is one of the Big 3, both Steve and Tony had stunningly gorgeous arcs that ended appropriately for their characters. And Thor was left as a homeless man.

the big three endgame

Dear Marvel, I don’t know if you are trying to replicate the success of Ragnarok or what, but I sincerely doubt that’s ever going to happen. Too many people are disappointed, too much has happened. Let a dead thing lie, don’t try to stir it up again.

Marvel is more than welcome to prove me wrong, I wish nothing but the best for the people involved in this film. I’m not a crazed jerk who starts uttering death threats just because I don’t want a movie.

I just cannot fathom why Thor 4 would be their first choice when we have so many other, fresher characters to work with. You think Thor (who is a strung-out character) is a good use of your resources when you are literally the top dog right now???

ragnarok is it though.gif

#yesijustwantedtousethisgif #youwouldtoo

I have to wait on another Ant-Man and the Wasp but you have time for Thor 4???

For the first time in my life, I don’t want another Marvel movie.

So, are you #TeamThor4 or are you #NoMoreThor? What do you think the next installment will be about? Were you excited to hear about Thor potentially joining the Guardians? I’d love to hear any and all opinions.

 

 

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