The surest sign of a mediocre movie is when secondary characters don’t change. In “Maleficent,” then fairies guarding Sleeping Beauty never change and Sleeping Beauty never changes either. In “Hercules,” there’s a whole group of characters supporting Hercules, yet they never change and you never really get to know any of them. There’s a woman archer who’s a dead shot with a bow and arrow, yet she remains the same person from beginning to the end. Even worse, we have no idea what she wants. Her whole purpose in the movie is to hang around, help Hercules, and kill bad guys in slow motion. While interesting, it’s ultimately pointless.
Your hero absolutely must change. Then your secondary characters must change too. It’s not enough to make them change. You also need to make us care about them. In “Hercules” one secondary character does change. He leaves with all the gold but magically returns to help Hercules in the end. This return is similar to Hans Solo returning to help Luke in “Star Wars.” The difference is that we got to know and like Hans Solo over time, but we don’t get to know anything about this other secondary character in “Hercules.” He’s just one of many secondary characters hanging around Hercules and because there are so many secondary characters hanging around him, we never get to know any of them as more than cardboard figures who kill bad guys in cool ways in slow motion.
The villain in “Hercules” is also poorly defined. Think of Darth Vader in “Star Wars” and you get to see plenty of his actions so you can see how deadly he can be. In “Hercules,” we see little of the main villain and don’t see much of his power other than his ability to order armies around to attack people. Because we don’t get to know the villain that well, he’s not much of a threat to Hercules in the end since we don’t have any kind of emotional bond with the villain.
Watch “Star Wars” and you see so much of Darth Vader that you can’t help but fear him. Watch “Die Hard” and you see how Hans the terrorist leader is so clever and ruthless that you can’t help but fear him. Then watch “Hercules” and the villain rarely appears so when he does, you don’t really care if he wins or loses because he’s just another anonymous bad guy getting in the way.
To make us care about the secondary characters, they have to change and we have to spend time getting to know them. For your villain, we must get to know what motivates them and what deadly power they have so we’re emotionally invested when the hero confronts the villain in the end. With mediocre movies like “Hercules” and “Maleficent,” the secondary characters don’t change and the villain is rarely seen so the final battle with the villain becomes all action and no emotion, which leaves the action feeling empty and meaningless.
Change is crucial. Getting to know characters is also crucial. Don’t clutter your screenplay with too many secondary characters or else you won’t have time to let us know any of them. The less we know about secondary characters who don’t change, the less we’ll care about them and the overall story as well.