First, a reminder that I'm looking for people to help with the promotion of my new book, Silent Oath. Details for those who are interested can be found here.
The rest of this post contains spoilers for Lord of the Rings, Man of Steel, and the Avengers movie.
You've been reading a book or watching a movie, it's the final few pages or minutes, and the hero stops the villains plans, saving the day! It's dramatic and emotional and a fantastic payoff.
Then the hero and the villain face off and have another fight.
Does this seem strange to anyone else? I'll be honest, I hadn't really given much consideration to how this can impact the story until I saw Man of Steel.
At the movie's climax, Superman destroys a Kryptonian terraforming device which General Zod is using to turn Earth into a New Krypton. Meanwhile, the US Air Force uses the ship that took Superman to Earth to send Zod's forces back to the Phantom Zone. There's a massive explosion, lots of CGI and destruction, and the world is saved. The tension is released.
Then Superman and Zod have a lengthy battle across what's left of Metropolis.
The thing is, by this stage in the movie, the audience has already seen colossal levels of destruction, virtually wiping out half the city and surely taking the lives of tens of thousands of people with it. Superman has saved the world at the cost of all those citizens of Metropolis. The conflict has reached the height of its stakes and come to an end.
What is left to provide drama for the fight between Superman and Zod?
Zod has already been defeated. His threat, his power within the narrative, is gone. He swears to make humanity suffer in order to punish Superman for opposing him, but with his plans undone, he has no way to do that on a grand scale.
It needs to be personal. But there's nothing personal there. Zod killed Jor'El. But Superman never knew his real father and Jor'El was resigned to death anyway, so that lacks drama. We're left with just another fight scene, and while it reveals that this version of Superman is willing to kill an enemy to protect people, even this rings hollow because Superman has made little to no effort to save anyone other than Lois and his mother since putting on the suit. In fact, he crashes the ship Zod is flying, sending it through several buildings and possibly killing even more people.
Other stories have opted to have a seeming secondary threat arise and be defeated following the main threat. In Lord of the Rings, the Scourging of the Shire takes place after the defeat of Sauron. With the greatest evil in Middle Earth defeated, a depowered Sauron and a band of orcs pose little threat to the heroes.
Compare this to the recent Avengers movie. Throughout the final battle, the Avengers fight off hordes of invading Chitari and even fight Loki himself.
Once the Chitari invasion is stopped, however, with their mothership destroyed and the portal closed, we cut to the interior of Stark Tower. Loki gets up from his Hulk beat-down, and sees the Avengers standing together.
And he surrenders.
There's no added fight scene, no attempt to drag out the story. And it works. Loki is already beaten. His plan has failed and his ability to threaten the heroes has been completely taken away.
The more I think about it, the more I'm in favour of the big "save the day" moment being the end of the climax, and the personal defeat of the villain either coming before it, or being a part of it.
What do you think? Would you rather the tension was kept high throughout, with the villain taken down before or during the defeat of their ultimate plan? Or do you like seeing a more intimate final confrontation after the climax?