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.

Black Widow…Too Little Too Late?

A trailer for the new Black Widow solo movie came out today.

It looks like a pretty good movie.

But in all honesty, friends?

I do not feel very excited about it.

Can you just hear the exclamations of shock from Hollywood?

What’s wrong with you? Are you just not a fan?

It’s cause she’s a woman, isn’t it? People these days are so unevolved.

It’s a fantastic movie! You should love it!

You must just not love Black Widow.

First off, I sleep under a Captain America blanket every night. I protect that thing from harm like it was my baby. My Avengers leggings are my favorite leggings. I am a woman in her 20s who drinks out of a Marvel water bottle made for children. And I write a movie blog that often features Marvel content. Clearly, I am a fan.

Second, hello, I am a woman. Don’t play the woman card with me. Also, Captain Marvel was a smashing success and that was only her introduction movie, she wasn’t even an already a deeply beloved character. So, yeah, drop the woman card.

Like I said above, it looks like a good movie. I can see myself enjoying the action, the humor, and getting more of the backstory. The issue here is not actually with the movie itself.

Nat trust

“Maybe you just don’t love Black Widow that much.”

Wrong, the opposite is the truth. I loved Natasha Romanoff too much. That’s why I am not very excited.

Why do I feel this way? Endgame, Endgame is to blame.

endgame

The further I get away from Endgame, the more I am disappointed.

I didn’t want to be. I don’t walk into movies full of skepticism like many movie-goers. I prefer to live with excitement about something and then deal with the disappointment rather than live as a cynic and only be surprised now and then when something good actually happens.

I went into Endgame with high hopes. And I enjoyed many moments in the movie.

But truthfully…

Endgame fell far short of what Marvel had set us up to expect. And they failed heavily on the one thing that mattered the most.

Closure.

thor endgame battle

Thor gave up his entire 6 movie character arc to go hop around the galaxy and drink beer…and yet he gets another movie?

Tony Stark

We were not given a chance to properly mourn Tony. A choice was made to cut a scene that was under 2 minutes and could have changed the whole scope of how both we and our onscreen heroes were allowed to mourn our beloved Tony Stark.

This would have given us a chance to gain some closure from as far back as Civil War. The fact that Clint Barton is the very first Avenger to drop to one knee would have been deeply healing to me.

cap endgame

Steve left for the past without a proper goodbye. He left his two best friends in the world behind. Bucky he had fought tooth and nail to bring back to the light, and Sam had fought alongside him without complaint. They deserved more. We deserved more. Steve means more to us than no proper goodbye.

Now Steve has made a choice that largely rearranges Marvel history and we are supposed to just be okay with that? The dancing scene with him and Peggy didn’t even last long enough for us to get a full kiss.

With the exception of Rocket and Nebula, the Guardians were treated as a joke. It was entirely disrespectful of their beautiful character arcs and all of the progress they have made in their movies.

thor and starlord

I have other complaints but I’ll spare you the rant. The only Avenger done complete justice in Endgame was Scott Lang. And his reward is that he currently does not have any more movies on the docket.

Oh…but Nat. Nat.

Nat and Steve

Beautiful, warmhearted, undying spirit Nat. She was treated the worst.

Not only was her death incredibly unfair, but we were never given a chance to properly mourn her.

True, the heroes had to jump into the next thing immediately, I understand priorities. But we should have revisited her more beyond the few comments made by the people who loved her most. She deserved more. We, the fans, deserved more.

And Marvel let us down.

Natasha Romanoff absolutely 100% deserves her own movie. The issue is not with this movie itself, the issue is all about the timing. This movie is 2-3 years too late.

I do really appreciate that Marvel understands that a raw origin story movie for Natasha would not work. She’s come too far since appearing in Iron Man 2 for us to actually enjoy watching her as a “devolved” character. We wouldn’t even know her.

Marvel is smart with the place in the timeline they chose to feature Nat. Post-Civil War she’s a highly complex and beautiful character who is finally strong enough to face her past and deal with it properly. We get to enjoy learning the backstory while taking that journey with the Nat we truly know and love.

Natasha Civil War

But this movie should have been done 2-3 years ago. Much sooner after Civil War. Before we knew what happens. Before we knew how Nat’s story ended. Before we had tasted the bitter flavor of disappointment and grief.

That’s the danger of many Prequels, you know that eventually, Anakin must become Vader. And in this case, you know that Nat must die on a stupid planet in the middle of nowhere for a dumb stone and never be properly mourned.

Endgame created a ton of new gaps in our timeline, in our understanding of our characters, in our experience of this story. We are still walking around with those wounds, and now they want to go back and play with an old gap that should have been filled ages ago?

The world did need a Black Widow movie.

But my concern is that this may be too little too late. And that’s a shame because Natasha Romanoff deserves better.

Marvel trained us to expect deeply human stories. Powerful emotions. Gut-wrenching redemption arcs and betrayals. Characters that gave us the courage to keep facing our lives and live them well. Marvel has taught us to laugh, to cry, to grow, to grieve, to heal, to fight!

It’s not our fault that we feel the way we do, we responded to what they gave us. And in Endgame, Marvel let us down.

steven and nat endgame

Yes, I love Natasha Romanoff. I love her so much that I do not feel as excited about this movie as I want to. And that makes me sad.

I have a dream, a shy hope, that maybe, just maybe, the end scene of Black Widow will feature a certain Star-Spangled best friend popping up on Vormir and returning a nasty little orange stone. And then a flash…

“…I told you I’d see you in a minute.”

If that were to happen, my entire outlook on the future of Marvel would change.

I have struggled to put into words the disappointment and grief of things I have felt post-Endgame. I wrote a few articles on a few aspects of the movie I thought they did well.

The use of food in Endgame to connect characters and moments was really brilliant.

Sam Wilson really is the right heir-apparent for the shield, even though I do not like how he got it.

The amount of torn timelines, gaping holes, and unanswered questions post-Endgame is huge. Marvel cannot expect to just leave us hanging and grieving, can they?

Right now I look forward to Spider-Man’s story continuing, his story is always well-done and Tom Holland is a pure delight. But beyond that? Beyond that, I do not know. I do not feel very excited.

Widow and Hawkeye

Dear Marvel, you did me and my friends wrong, especially my girl Natasha here. You made this mess, so are you gonna fix it or what?

She deserves it.

I will likely see this movie. Whether I see it in theaters or not, I cannot say. But I fear that Black Widow may not make the splash it is expected to, and that has nothing to do with the character herself, or audiences, it has everything to do with the choices Marvel has made.

I hope that I see this movie and I enjoy it. I hope that I see this movie and find out my girl’s story isn’t over, in fact, it has just begun. I hope that Marvel has some secret-laid plans to untangle this mess and bring it back around.

That is my hope. I guess we’ll have to wait until May to see if it’s fulfilled or not.

……….

Were you disappointed by Endgame?

What is something you would have changed about the Marvel storyline up until now if you could?

Are you looking forward to Black Widow?

Comment and let’s discuss!

 

 

 

 

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