Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Joseph Campbell’s â€œThe Hero’s Journeyâ€ (found in his book â€œThe Hero With A Thousand Facesâ€) is a recurring story-telling trope found in many stories. Two recent examples are the superhero films â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€ and â€œGreen Lanternâ€. But while both films are unoriginal in terms of their story, the former feels more original then the latter since the emotional truth makes the audience forget the clichÃ©d nature of its plot.
There are three stages to â€œThe Hero’s Journeyâ€. The first is â€œDepartureâ€, where the hero leaves his familiar world behind. This can be broken down into further stages. The first of these is the â€œCall to Adventureâ€, where the hero receives information that they must leave the world that the audience has been introduced to. In â€œGreen Lanternâ€ this is when Hal Jordan leaves his regular life on Earth to fly to Oa. In â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€ Steve Rogers tries to join the army but fails, only to meet Dr Abraham Erskine who lets him pass the entrance exam. Both of these instances are where the audience is introduced to the character and the world they inhabit. Next is the â€œRefusal of the Callâ€, where the Hero does not want to have to go on the Journey but is forced too. Hal Jordan quits the Green Lantern Corps and returns to Earth when he gets fed up with the abusive treatment he receives. Steve Rogers talks to Dr Abraham about how he does not think he is worthy enough to be selected. Following on from this is â€œSupernatural Aidâ€, where the hero is given something to help them with their journey. This happens early in â€œGreen Lanternâ€, when Hal Jordan receives the Green Lantern ring. In â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€ this happens when Steve Rogers is given the super-soldier serum that gives him superpowers. Both of these characters now have superpowers that allow them to fight against the evil that will be presented against them later in the story. The next two sections (â€œThe Crossing of the First Thresholdâ€ and the â€œBelly of the Whaleâ€) symbolize the hero leaving behind his old life to embrace the new one. Hal Jordan saves guests at a party using his ring and accepts the responsibility that comes with it. Steve Rogers fails to capture the traitorous scientist that killed Dr Abraham, but accepts his new role as spokesman for the army. This first stage deals with the audience being introduced to the character and the character leaving behind their familiar life, which is something both movies present.
The second stage is â€œInitiationâ€, where the Hero learns to navigate the unfamiliar world of adventure. They have looked inwards and accepted their new role, moving forward to confront â€œThe Road of Trialsâ€ ahead of them. Hal Jordan has to confront his ex-lover, the villain Hector Hammond and the Guardians of Oa about their non-intervention as Earth is threatened. Steve Rogers has to go from being a propaganda product of the government to a proper solider who saves military prisoners and goes on missions for the good of the army. It is during this â€œRoad of Trialsâ€ that the hero is tested both physically and spiritually. The spirituality aspect of it comes from â€œThe Meeting with the Goddessâ€, which can be seen as being linked to the â€œWoman as Temptressâ€ stage. It is here that the hero learns who it is that they love and are fighting to protect, as well as who is trying to seduce them away from their goal. Hal Jordan realizes he loves Carol Ferris and resists the temptation of his previous flirtation with other women in order to focus on being with her. Steve Rogers falls in love with Peggy Carter and is seduced by another woman, but ultimately resists her charms. Another trial is the â€œAtonement with the Fatherâ€ (the person who has power over them). Hal Jordan confronts the Guardians (the supreme alien beings that created the Green Lantern Corps and power rings) about them not doing anything about the approaching giant space monster, Parallax. Steve Rogers confronts Johann Schmidt (also known as the Red Skull): a previous failed test subject of the super-solider serum who ordered Dr Abraham’s assassination as well as orchestrating the secret weapons research for the Nazis. Once again, we see the hero having to confront those who have power over them as they start to mature and grow. At the end of the trials comes the â€œApotheosisâ€ or â€œUltimate Boonâ€. This is the climax of the story, where the hero metaphorically (or literally) dies, is reborn as a better person and confronts the villain in a climactic showdown. In â€œGreen Lanternâ€ the old, immature character of Hal Jordan has metaphorically â€œdiedâ€ and been replaced by the mature and responsible Green Lantern who defeats the monstrous Parallax. In â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€ the scrawny, weak Steve Rogers has metaphorically â€œdiedâ€ and been replaced by the confident and physically strong Captain America who defeats the villainous Red Skull. Both of these characters complete their â€œInitiationâ€ by defeating the villains and being stronger and more mature characters than when they first started out.
The third is â€œReturnâ€, where the Hero returns to the familiar world. At first the hero has the â€œRefusal of the Returnâ€, where they choose not to go back to their old life. Hal Jordan loses consciousness after choosing to throw Parallax into the sun at the cost of his own life. Steve Rogers likewise chooses to crash the Nazi plane rather than get himself to safety. However Hal Jordan is saved in the â€œRescue from Withoutâ€ when the other Green Lanterns rescue him from being dragged into the sun. This does not happen to Steve Rogers, who crashes into the ice. As such his journey ends there, with him waking up in his future (2012, rather than in the 1940s where he had lived previously), ready to start the journey all over again. In â€œGreen Lanternâ€ Hal Jordan goes through â€œThe Crossing of the Return Thresholdâ€ by leaving Oa to live and protect Earth, whilst also being â€œMaster of Two Worldsâ€ by being able to be both Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern. The final stage is â€œFreedom to Liveâ€, where the hero no longer fears death. This can be seen in the moments before Steve Rogers crashes into the ice (since he has accepted his death and no longer fears it), or when he awakes in 2012 (since he chooses to escape and fight back rather than being trapped). Meanwhile Hal Jordan is no longer affected by his father’s death (which has plagued him throughout the movie) and can thus become the best man he can be. Both characters go on journeys that force them to leave their regular life behind so they can mature and grow into the heroes they need to be.
â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€ and â€œGreen Lanternâ€ have the same basic plot. Nevertheless critics praised â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€ while giving â€œGreen Lanternâ€ more negative reviews. This appears disingenuous, since at a basic level they are the same. However the difference between the two films is the â€œtruthâ€ that C. S. Lewis mentioned in his quote. This â€œtruthâ€ is the emotional truth of the film; the way that the audiences relate to the characters and the world that they live in. In â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€ the truth of the story is that Steve Rogers wants to fight in the war because, as he says, â€œI don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.â€ The emotional truth of â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€ is not that war is glorious, or that Captain America is some powerful demi-God. He is just a little man from Brooklyn that wants to do some good in the world. The audience relates to Steve Rogers because he represents the little boy that was bullied all his life: a situation the audience has doubtlessly experienced several times before. The story of a physically weak character becoming powerful is one that has been done before, but because the audience sympathises with Steve Rogers and supports him, the film feels more original than it really is. This is especially noticeable when contrasted with â€œGreen Lanternâ€. While Steve Rogers is an underprivileged, scrawny man who wants to do good, Hal Jordan is presented to the audience as an egotistical air force pilot who cares little for others. We first see Hal Jordan leaving his one-night stand in his bed as he is rushing to get to his job. The audience is introduced to a rather despicable character. As such, the audience dislikes this character and starts to focus on other aspects of the film, notably the weak and over-used plot. It lacks a truth to it that makes the audience see past the clichÃ©d plot, so it is not received as well as â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€. Thus the truth of â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€ is far different from that of â€œGreen Lanternâ€, with the former having a greater connection to the audience’s emotions than the latter.
It is because the â€œtruthâ€ is stronger in â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€ that it appears to be more original, rather than visual differences such as in â€œGreen Lanternâ€. â€œGreen Lanternâ€ is a film attempting to appear original through a variety of means. It sets the film on the planet Oa and populates it with a variety of aliens not found in any other films, such as the aliens Tomar-Re and Kilowog (which look like a fish-man and a pig-man respectively). It attempts originality by using the Green Lantern Power Ring: a concept that has very rarely been explored in the film genre before the making of this movie. It is trying to do something that has not been seen in film before. However it is this attempt to appear original that stops it from focusing on the important part of the story: the â€œtruthâ€ that connects the audience to the characters. It tries to be original but fails, resulting in a weaker film. â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€ on the other hand is not attempting to do anything original. There have been war films dealing with a physically inferior man joining the army and doing some heroic deed for his country. â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€ is no different in this regard. However it is not attempting to be different in terms of its story, but rather making sure that the audience has an emotional connection with its lead. As such because the audience is more invested with the story, they fail to notice that the plot of â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€ is a plot they have seen several times before. They are convinced that it is an original film because they were too enthralled by the spectacle to notice its unoriginality. So while the plots of both films are the same, it is the â€œtruthâ€ that helps one feel more original then the other.
Many films, particularly superhero origin films, are based on â€œThe Hero’s Journeyâ€ as described by Joseph Campbell. Two such films are â€œGreen Lanternâ€ and â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€. However while the story is unoriginal, C. S. Lewis’ quote about originality is true when it comes to talking about the â€œtruthâ€ of the story. â€œGreen Lanternâ€ attempts to be original and fails, whereas â€œCaptain America: The First Avengerâ€ instead focuses on the truth and feels more original as a result.
Joseph Campbell. (1949). The Hero With A Thousand Faces. United States of America: Pantheon Books.
Donald De Line & Greg Berlanti (2011). Green Lantern [film]. United States of America: DC Entertainment & De Line Pictures.
Kevin Feige (2011). Captain America: The First Avenger [film]. United States of America: Marvel Studios