How does every story begin? With a call to adventure! And what is it? Well, it’s when the hero gets a call from the writer who tells him that the adventured he ordered is ready.
Obviously I’m joking, but it’s true that every story cannot really “begin” without a call to adventure. So let’s see what it is.
First of all, a little context. In 1949 the author Joseph Campbell published the book: The hero with a thousand faces, where he lays out the details of something that he calls the “monomyth”.
Basically, Campbell claims that every story in existence (myths, fairy tales, modern literature, etc…) follows a certain blueprint. He explains that there are a certain number of stages (something like plot points) that every story goes through, and other stages that only a few stories touch on.
Ever since Campbell’s book was published, many storytellers have used this blueprint (usually known as The hero’s journey) to pace their stories and avoid to get lost in their own plot.
The “ordinary world” and the “call to adventure” are the first two stages, let’s see what they are using the movie Spider-man Far from home as an example.
The ordinary world
Everybody knows that before jumping into the action it’s important to hook the audience and make them care about the protagonist.
The ordinary world is the part where we do just that. We introduce the protagonist and let the viewers empathize with him so that they will care about his well being when the story starts to get “heated”.
The first few minutes of the movie have to answer those questions:
- Who is the protagonist? (Male/female, human/alien, etc…)
- Where is he? (Our world, a fantasy world, the country he lives in, etc…)
- When does the story take place? (The period of time in general, but also is it a particular moment in the life of the protagonist?)
- What does the hero want? (Does he have a goal? A dream? Is he happy or does he want more?)
The movie begins with a press conference hosted by Aunt May where she talks about the charity she created after the Blip.
A guest from the Avengers is asked to step on the stage and give a speech, and that is none other than Spider-man.
After a few nervous lines, Peter and his aunt go backstage and talk about his imminent school trip to Europe. Through this conversation, we find out that Peter is trying to put his duties as a hero and an Avenger on hold for a moment so that he can enjoy a bit of normal teenage life with his friends.
So, does Far from home answer these questions in its first two scenes? Yes!
- Who? Peter Parker aka Spider-man (they’ve already made 28947 movies about this superhero so there’s really no reason to go into the details here)
- Where? On earth.
- When? After the Blip.
- What? A normal life.
Now that we have a clear picture of Peter’s Ordinary world, we can move on to the next stage.
Call to adventure
According to Campbell, the call to adventure can be recognized by 3 things:
- A strange event
- An unwanted encounter
- A task that the hero is asked to complete
He brings the example of “The princess and the frog”: the princess loses her precious ball in the lake (strange event), she meets a repulsive frog (unwanted encounter), who asks to be her companion in exchange for retrieving the ball (the task).
Spider-man far from home follows the same pattern:
- S.H.I.E.L.D. detects the presence of the elementals (strange event)
- Nick Fury calls Peter (unwanted encounter)
- Fury forces Peter to take part in the mission to destroy the elementals (task)
The call to adventure is similar to the inciting incident because it sets the wheels of the story in motion. The only difference is the fact that the inciting incident is just some random event, while the call is usually something aimed to force the hero, and only the hero into making a decision.
For example, imagine that Thor was available and not “off-planet”, with another superhero around Peter wouldn’t have been forced to intervene. In this scenario, it would have been up to him to decide wheater he wanted to help out the team or enjoy his vacation.
But since Peter was the only Avenger available, the call was directed to him, and he had to decide to be in or out.
To me, the funniest part about this is that in the movie the call to adventure is quite literally a call from Nick Fury that Peter sends to voicemail.