In the comic book world, Ant-Man was a minor superhero. After all, shrinking in size and controlling ants isn’t exactly visually exciting action. Yet the “Ant-Man” movie is surprisingly good. If you watch it, you can see the basic story structure holding it together.
First, there’s the hero who starts out as a cat burglar who has lost visitation rights to his daughter and regrets missing out on her life while being stuck in prison. Mirroring this is his mentor’s problem dealing with his daughter. These two subplots basically tell the same story to reinforce each other and keep the entire movie focused instead of dissipated.
The hero is the Ant-Man, but the villain is another man who can shrink in size but wears a more powerful suit called the Yellow Jacket. That puts the hero at a disadvantage, which makes his task harder against the villain.
Look at the opening scene of Ant-Man and you can see the basic summary of the whole story in the first few minutes. Hank Pam, the inventor of a shrinking technology, vows to keep his technology a secret to keep it out of the hands of people who want to use it for evil purposes. Later the hero has to fight that exact same battle to keep the villain from selling the shrinking technology to Hydra, an evil organization intent on taking over the world.
One other feature about Marvel’s latest movies is that they often setup future movies. In normal movies, scenes need to setup later scenes, which “Ant-Man” does as well, but many Marvel movies set up entirely different movies. For example, Ant-Man battles the Falcon, a superhero who has popped up in previous Marvel movies. This sets up Ant-Man’s future role in the next Avenger’s movie as well.
Study “Ant-Man” for its story structure. Even if the idea of someone who can shrink sounds silly, it actually works as a film because it relies on solid story structure. The villain is the evil version of the hero, the subplots all mirror each other, and scenes set up future scenes such as the multiple scenes showing a keychain that looks like a tank, only to later discover its real purpose.
In any good movie, you’ll find the same solid story structure underlying the movie. Look for it and you’ll start to recognize the same elements. Once you can reliably identify these elements in every good movie, you’ll see how to duplicate them in your own movie. Even better, you’ll understand why bad movies fail because they lack a story structure that all the half-naked women, gunfire, and massive explosions can’t cover up.
People like visually exciting scenes where skyscrapers fall and helicopters blow up. However if that’s all your story has to offer, it’s no better than early movies that just showed a train arriving in a station. You need a story behind the action or else the action alone will be meaningless. Just watch any bad movie to see that in action.