Superior movies are exaggerated versions of ordinary heroes in a story, but you can learn how they follow the exact same story structure. Watch a movie like “Ironman 3” and you’ll see that even though Ironman has a powerful suit, he spends most of the movie wearing a faulty prototype suit. To further make Ironman even more vulnerable, he’s fighting someone who has real powers that are nearly a match for him in a good suit, let alone a faulty prototype.
To make any story interesting, your hero must always be weaker and more vulnerable than the villain. The stronger the villain, the more satisfying the victory at the end. The weaker the villain, the less satisfying the end will be.
Pick any movie and you’ll find that the hero is always far weaker than the villain. In “The Terminator,” the hero is a man fighting against the villain who’s an unfeeling killing machine. In “Terminator 2,” the hero is an older model Terminator fighting against an advanced liquid metal Terminator.
Now look at “Terminator 3” and the hero is still an older model Terminator but the villain is a female Terminator capable of controlling other machines. With “Terminator 2,” you can see how superior and terrifying the liquid metal Terminator can be. With “Terminator 3,” it’s hard to get excited over a female Terminator that can control machines. Visually it’s just not as strong and scary, so the entire movie is far less engaging as a result.
“Terminator Genisys” is even worse since the villain keeps changing. Initially the villain is just the faceless Terminators running around. Then the villain becomes a liquid metal Terminator. After the liquid metal Terminator gets killed right away, the next villain is John Connor himself. The changing nature of the villain and the lack of massive advantages for the villain makes “Terminator Genisys” far less interesting as a movie.
In “Kick-Ass,” the hero is a high school student who puts on a costume and decides to fight crime. Yet the hero doesn’t know how to fight and doesn’t know how to use a gun. The villain is a hardened mob boss with an army of hired killers armed with guns and trained to use them. That makes the hero’s quest far more formidable and makes his victory in the end far more enjoyable.
In ordinary dramas, the hero must always be weaker. In “Thelma and Louise,” the heroes are a housewife and a waitress being hunted down by an army of police. In “The Proposal,” the hero is an executive who risks being deported by the American government. In “Gran Torino,” the hero is an old man facing a street gang armed with pistols.
Always put your hero at a disadvantage and give your villain multiple advantages. The harder you stack the odds against your hero, the more compelling the ultimate victory will be.