In every story, either the hero or the villain needs a clear goal to pursue from beginning to end. Without a clear goal, a story risks wandering off track and losing focus, which means a mediocre story at best. In “Star Wars,” Darth Vader (the villain) has a clear goal from start to finish, which is to find and wipe out the rebel base. In “Die Hard,” John McClane (the hero) has a clear goal from start to finish, which is to get back with his wife. The terrorists simply threaten his original goal by keeping him separated form his wife and then possibly killing her. Even in “Keanu,” the clear goal is simple. One of the heroes has lost his kitten and enlists his friend’s help to get that kitten back again. The goal from start to finish is to get that kitten back.
In weak, mediocre movies, there’s no clear goal for either the hero or the villain. In the action-thriller “Hanna,” the hero is a girl trained and bred to be an assassin. Her father has hidden her in the wilderness of Finland. While interesting, there’s no clear goal for the villain or the hero.
The hero (Hanna, the teenage girl) has no clear goal. She trips a beacon to let the authorities know of her location, but she has little reason to do so. Even worse, the villain has no clear goal either other than to retrieve the hero, but for what purpose? With no clear goal for either the hero or villain, “Hanna” wanders from one action scene to the next with no focus. With no focus, there’s little suspense and the story sinks into mediocrity.
In “Avatar,” the hero’s goal from start to finish is to get his legs back so he can walk again. While seemingly trivial, this goal drives the hero to become the alien avatar and eventually he achieves his dream by being transferred into the avatar for good.
In “The Martian,” the hero is stranded on Mars and his goal is to get back to Earth. That means he must first stay alive, then contact NASA, and then get himself off the planet to meet up with an orbiting spaceship. That one goal to get back home drives the entire story and keeps it focused.
In “Deadpool,” the hero’s goal is to kill the man who tortured him and turned him into a mutant. That one goal drives the whole story.
Whenever you see a mediocre or outright bad movie, chances are good the motivation behind the hero or the villain is unclear. In “Batman vs. Superman,” what’s the goal of the hero? The hero seems to be Bruce Wayne, but he lacks a single-minded goal. Instead, all he wants to do is fight Superman for no apparent reason. The villain, Lux Luthor, also lacks a clear goal. What does he want? All he knows how to do is help create a monster that fights Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Why? it’s not clear because the villain lacks a clear goal from start to finish.
A clear goal for the hero or villain (preferably both) gives your story direction. Just as you wouldn’t hop in your car and start driving without a destination in mind, so you can’t have a story without your hero and villain having a clear goal in mind.
Both your hero and villain need a strong, clear goal. Then they both need to work to achieve that goal in such a way that only one of them can win. In “Die Hard,” John McClane wants to get back with his wife, which means defeating the terrorists. Hans the villain wants to rob the corporation and kill everyone so he can escape. If John McClane wins, Hans loses. If Hans wins, John McClane loses.
This dilemma is the heart of conflict in any story.
In “Batman vs. Superman,” what are the goals of the hero and villain? It’s not clear. How do their goals conflict so only one can win? It’s not clear. This creates a muddled storyline that creates a mediocre movie that no amount of special effects can ever salvage.
Your story needs a clear goal that creates inevitable conflict between the hero and villain. Without a clear goal that causes conflict between the hero and the villain, you don’t really have a story at all.