Spoilers ahead for Thor 2: The Dark World. Ye have been warned.
So last weekend as part of a “get off the computer and actually go do something fun” campaign, the family and I decided to go see a movie which happened to be (you guessed it), Thor 2. I was going into the film fully-spoiled thanks to Tumblr and friends, so I knew the fates of Frigga, Loki, Thor, and Jane and the questionable ending (?) of Odin. But what I noticed after the seeing the film, and seeing my family’s reactions as they were completely unaware of the Thor universe prior to the second movie, was how popular the “minor” characters were as compared to the major characters.
And when I say “minor” characters, I mean predominantly Loki.
Yeah, I know. The guy’s got a lot of fans and haters, but if there’s one thing I’ll admit about him in this film, it was that he nailed it. He was humorous, tragic, charming, deceptive, and so ambiguous that it left me wondering in the end just who’s side he’s really on. I may not be a professional when it comes to creating good characters, but whoever wrote him in this light did a darn good job.
Even my Mom, who received a crash course in Marvel Thor lore five minutes before the movie, left the theatre thinking Loki was the best character there. She’s normally not a fan of superhero films, but this was the first one she’s seen that she said “Wow, I really liked that!” as soon as the credits stopped rolling. And she’s not the only person I’ve heard who left as a Loki fan.
What makes this so interesting to me as a student of story isn’t the fact that Loki is a popular character. It’s the fact that he’s a popular character who was in less than half the film. (I’m guessing 25 or 30% screen time?) In Thor 2, he was a minor character.
In story, the focus is often on a prime protagonist (in this case, Thor, and I would even argue Jane would be included in this since she has quite a bit of screen time) and an antagonist (Malekith). The story revolves around a central conflict which pines the hero and the villain against each other and everyone else is caught somewhere in the middle. Darcy and Selvig are running around England. Sif and the Warriors Three are are fighting to save the Nine Realms. Loki is being held in prison for crimes he’s committed in The Avengers. Frigga’s trying to help everyone. Algrim is tearing the place up. And this is all happening as Malekith is trying to get the Aether out of Jane and destroy the Nine Realms, which Thor is adamant to stop.
But take the minor characters out of the story. Only leave Thor, Jane, and Malekith. What happens to the plot? Remove Darcy and Jane never finds the Aether. Remove Selvig and Malekith doesn’t get defeated. Remove Sif and the Warriors Three and Thor can’t escape with Loki out of Asgard. Remove Frigga and Jane isn’t protected. Remove Algrim and Malekith isn’t as threatening anymore. Remove Loki and Thor never survives.
Without the minor characters, you simply don’t have a story. You lose the conflict. You lose the little moments of heroism and tragedy and warmth that bring about emotion from the audience that makes them connect and remember the story. Frigga and Loki’s conversation in the prison. Frigga’s funeral. Loki dying in Thor’s arms. Loki revealing himself as Odin and sitting on the throne at the film’s end. All of these powerful scenes would be gone without minor characters.
As writer’s of story, it’s easy to get caught up in writing the hero and the villain. And that’s o.k. It’s not a bad thing to keep your protagonist and antagonist in the role they’re meant to play. But minor characters, even if they’re barely in the story, have a role to play that is just as important. They help the main characters stand or fall. They keep the conflict going or stop it completely. They bring emotion and depth to a story that one or two characters may not be able to bring all the time. In other words, they matter. Because even if they’re only “minor” characters, they still play a major role.
Who are some minor characters that you’ve found you’ve enjoyed? How did they help build the story they were in?