The Hero With a Thousand Faces

Like many others this fine quarantine, I have been playing around with the idea of taking on a set of movie marathons. At first, it worked out well for me. Then, a few days ago, I decided to take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I wanted to do it in story order, starting off with Captain America: The First Avenger and moving on from there. I only made it to Iron Man 2 (4th in this order).

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy a good superhero story and Marvel does these well, but all I could think is “I know what comes next,” and no, it was not because I had already seen these. It was because of Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces. (Dr. Orchida, you proud of me yet?). In it, Campbell discusses his theory of the mythological structure of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world myths.

The structure is simple and once you recognize it in one story, you are able to apply it to any other. For the sake of explanation, let us discuss Captain America: The First Avenger since it’s on the older end and all “spoilers” rules fly out the window.

The Call to Adventure: This is where we begin. We are introduced to our hero, usually not yet discovered or is not yet experiencing much of an adventure. Then, suddenly, something happens that calls for them to go on their journey. We meet Cap as Steve, a skinny young guy with not much going for him, then he is suddenly recruited to join the army.

Crossing the Threshold: Usually, our hero will have found someone with whom they can begin their adventure. They will then experience something that will have them cross from one path to the other. Cap meets Agent Carter. Shortly after is part of an experiment and becomes a lot stronger than he ever was and goes on tour.

The Road of Trials: Unsatisfied and looking for his friend, Captain America, aided by Agent Carter, goes behind enemy lines in hopes of saving his friend. After saving a large number of soldiers, Cap recruits a few of them and goes hunting other Hydra bases.

The Abyss: Also known as Death & Rebirth. This is usually what happens right before the big fight or twist. Our hero is pretty much almost dead, only to get right back up again for one last fight. Captain America boards a plane, and during the subsequent fight ends up sucked into a wormhole, only for him to wake up and find out he had been asleep for 70 years.

Now, this is the end of the movie. However, that is not the end of our hero’s journey considering he is a part of many other movies, some of which are on the newer end and I will refrain from spoiling with details. Proceed with caution!

Transformation: After facing the near death experience, our hero is transformed and ready to fight for justice and experiences a transformation of sorts as they get ready for the height of their journey.

Atonement: This is the point in which our hero proves themselves, the big fight that they most likely win occurs, and our hero comes up on top.

and Return: Our hero returns home, reborn, stronger, and truly a hero (in the case of Cap… Ahem, End Game. That is all.)

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t always the case. Yes, we do experience losses that are unexpected or even sad endings with no return (although that is another aspect of “return” that we can discuss at another time). But for the most part, this applies to any superhero story you can think of. Try it. With any of them. It works 99.99% of the time.

I thoroughly enjoy Marvel movies, I really do. I don’t think knowing Campbell’s Hero’s Journey theory will ruin that for me. However, seems a marathon of the scale I was planning on doing is probably not the right choice anymore considering they seem to be following this exact same path over and over again.

This marathon will take much longer than initially planned.

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