Active heroes are responsible for their own fate. That means they take action to put themselves in dire situations, but then take more action to get themselves out of those same dire situations.
Passive heroes let circumstances happen to them and then they get out of those dire situations by waiting for someone else to come along and save them.
While this might seem obvious, it seems to have escaped the makers of “The Lord of the Rings” when they adapted the book “Mortal Engines” into a film. If you read the book, you can immediately see major structural problems that the film simply duplicated, which wound up creating a boring film.
The first major flaw of “Mortal Engines” is that the hero doesn’t take action to enter a new world. Instead, he’s shoved by the villain out of London and winds up alone in the wastelands with a girl. Because the hero doesn’t willingly enter a new world, this plot point in “Mortal Engines” is weak.
Thank of every great movie and you’ll notice that at the end of Act I, the hero willingly chooses to enter a new world. In “Star Wars,” Luke agrees to go with Obi-wan after seeing his aunt and uncle’s dead bodies. In “Die Hard,” John McClane willingly flees for his life when terrorists take over the skyscraper. In “WALL-E,” WALL-E stows away on a rocket to follow Eve.
In every good movie, the hero willingly leaps into a new world. Yet in “Mortal Engines” (both the movie and the book), the hero does not willingly leap into a new world.
A second major flaw of “Mortal Engines” is once the hero finds himself in dire situations, he fails to get himself out of it. In “Star Wars,” Luke willingly flees the storm troopers by running on the Millennium Falcon to get off his planet. In “Mortal Engines,” the hero needs the help of a brand new character (whom we’ve never met before) to rescue him from a slave trader who has captured him.
Because the hero in “Mortal Engines doesn’t willingly enter a new world and needs an outsider to rescue him, the hero comes across as weak and dull, which is why “Mortal Engines” turned out to be a weak and dull movie.
The hero in “Mortal Engines” fails to control his own destiny in the beginning so his victory in the end feels forced, phony, and empty. If the director of “The Lord of the Rings” can fail to structure a story properly, it just means there’s a huge opportunity for everyone else to succeed just by creating active heroes, not passive ones.