In most stories, the hero is an underdog battling against a more powerful villain. Think of “Rocky,” “The Karate Kid,” “Die Hard,” “Avatar,” “The Hunger Games” and most every movie ever made. However, there are occasionally stories where the hero is practically invincible and that creates a huge problem because where’s the excitement of watching an invincible hero?
In “The Equalizer,” Denzel Washington plays a secretive man with previous training as a super spy of some kind. Despite the power of the villains, Denzel Washington consistently bests them through his skill and intelligence to the point where the villains almost don’t have a chance. To make the hero vulnerable, the movie did show Denzel Washington nearly get defeated by a huge henchman that he barely defeats. Then as he’s lying exhausted and helpless as the villain approaches, an ally comes along and pulls him to safety.
That’s the only point of vulnerability the hero shows yet it’s enough to create suspense. Despite being a decent movie, “The Equalizer” drew its share of criticism because most people didn’t feel there was any character development. Denzel Washington starts off as an amazingly tough guy and ends the same way with little change, despite that momentary glimpse of vulnerability and possible defeat. Overall, it’s just not enough. Heroes are more impressive when they overcome massive obstacles and each time they look like they might be overwhelmed. That’s what makes “Rocky” such an iconic story that spawned several sequels.
Watch the bad James Bond movies and you’ll see this same pattern where James Bond starts off as a smooth and powerful spy and ends up the same way with little threat of vulnerability in between. The only temporary excitement is seeing what odd predicament the villain puts him in and how he manages to get out of it each time.
Yet look at the better James Bond movies like “Skyfall” where James Bond is an aging spy with declining skills. Suddenly he’s no longer the super powerful hero but vulnerable at all times. That makes a far better story than having him appear invincible and perfect from start to finish.
“28 Days Later” showed a weak and vulnerable hero all the way until Act III. Then the hero suddenly becomes invincible as he attacks the villains. This may seem unrealistic, but because we’ve seen the hero vulnerable throughout the movie, it’s still not as bad as making the hero invincible from start to finish.
What makes any movie interesting is seeing the hero change. “The Equalizer” is a decent but not great movie because the hero really doesn’t change. It’s just an entertaining story that’s forgettable after it ends. On the other hand, movies like “Titanic” and “The Hunger Games” still linger in mind because it shows a vulnerable hero overcoming massive obstacles and still coming out in the end.
Think of “The Dark Knight Rises” where Batman should be the toughest hero in the world, yet he gets beaten senseless by Bane, the villain. Batman’s return to face the villain after being beaten with a broken back makes this final confrontation far more interesting because of how far Batman had to come just to face Bane, let alone defeat him.
With your own screenplay, it’s generally best to make your hero vulnerable and weak as possible by making your villain and the obstacles blocking the hero as formidable as possible. Then you’ll have a hero that everyone can enjoy because he or she changes. Invincible heroes may seem cool, but they usually wreck the structure of any story and weaken your screenplay as a result.