Ant-Man and the Wasp Review

Ant-Man and the Wasp is the funniest Marvel movie since the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Yeah, I think it’s funnier than Thor: Ragnarok (and it knows when to pull back a bit from humor in order to land its dramatic moments). I loved it!

Surprisingly, the way Ant-Man and the Wasp completely ignores the rules of its own technology didn’t bother me at all here. I didn’t spend the whole movie working over inconsistencies like a bit of food stuck in my teeth. Part of this might just be that I’m more used to chanting “it’s magic” any time they shrink or grow anything (which is constantly). But part of it might be that the movie never shoves its supposed ruleset in the viewer’s face, so breaking the rules isn’t as flagrant. And part of it is probably that it goes so over-the-top (in a good way!) that it’s impossible to take the physics seriously.

This movie has an ensemble cast in which every actor worked, and every character was entertaining. Everyone has something going on, to the point that the whole film should feel crowded and manic. But everything is woven together elegantly.  

This isn’t to say that the movie is perfect. The stakes for the final confrontation with the villain lack the immediacy that they needed. A comment that I give  as an editor most often is, “this needs to get a lot worse before it gets better”, and the  climax doesn’t really do that. While Scott Lang has a great character arc, no one else gets as much of one as they need to. The villain and Hank Pym in particular seem to step over the journeys they need to go to like you might step over gum on a hot sidewalk. And the action, while inventive and funny, isn’t as well shot as a lot of the MCU.

But you know what? I don’t care. I enjoyed every moment of this film. I laughed harder than I have in years. And I left the theater feeling happy and hopeful, which is what the MCU needed right now.

The first full scene is worth the ticket price itself. As are the interactions between Rudd’s Lang and his daughter Cassie (played with rare wit by Abby Ryder Fortson). As is Evangeline Lilly’s pitch-perfect performance as the Wasp (she is even more awesome than the trailers show!). The list goes on and on. All of it combined means I am going to own this film when it comes out on DVD.

 

SPOILERS

 

Funniest moments:

Scott’s habit of naming ants gets a lot funnier.

Child-sized Scott at school.

Most impressive elements:

Not only did they make the secondary villain fit into the plot in a way that betters the movie; they did so with the tertiary villain, who most movies would ignore after the scene where he’s introduced. Using the different villains to drive the plot of different character pairings is something I’m going to need to watch a few times to learn from.

The de-aging effect in the flashbacks looked so natural! I realize this is because both Fishburne and Douglas were in films at that age, and so they had plenty of reference, but even so! It was surreal that it bypassed the uncanny valley altogether.

Interrupting the cliche Bond Villain Monologue the way they did. I think Austin Powers pulled that joke a couple of times, but here’s where Ant-Man and the Wasp did it better: At the same time they made that joke, they drove Scott’s plot (and his development) forward, and also hinted at Foster’s compassion, which increasingly drives a wedge between Foster and Ava. Any time a piece can make me laugh and drive both plot and multiple character arcs impresses the crap out of me.

Biggest disappointments:

Ava’s character arc. I love that she’s not so much a villain as an antagonist, and that she’s struggling with her humanity. But this struggle needed to be driven further. We needed to feel the knife’s edge. Maybe introduce earlier that Janet Van Dyne was going to come back with that healing power somehow. And then rather than the threat Ghost poses being that she’ll collapse the tunnel with Hank and Janet inside, make it that continued use of Janet’s new powers (triggered by touch?) could potentially kill her. Make Ava choose between killing for an assured, permanent cure vs. mercy and ongoing (albeit effective) treatment. Force her to turn away from the decision she’s been making most of the movie and her life (hurting other people for the hope of a cure). This decision could be the key for a much more intense, impactful ending as well.

Hank Pym is hinted, in places, to have once been the unstable, abusive jerk that he is in comics. It’s somewhat softened, which I get, but then those allegations are refuted by Pym himself and then completely ignored for the rest of the film. I hope that movie three digs into these issues and reveals some grime in his past.

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Crash Course on Infodump

Here’s a dirty secret: Every writer infodumps. Authors with famously beautiful, or infamously sparse prose? They infodump. Your favorite author? Infodumps. They might do it evocatively or without the reader realizing that’s what it is, but they do it.

Well, if you’re Hemingway, and are fine with it taking four reads to just ferret out the subject of the piece, you might not infodump. But chances are, if you’re reading this, you aren’t looking to be Hemingway.

So let’s drop the superior attitude it’s so easy to have about infodump. Instead, let’s figure out some key tips to making infodump seamless. Or even, if you’re particularly good at it, one of the better parts of the story.

Tip One: Minimize

This is going to sound obvious, but it’s easy to forget it in the moment.

Before you even start, first figure out how much info you absolutely must dump. What are the essential pieces of information the reader needs to understand the plot?

It’s also harder than it sounds. What does minimum mean? It changes depending on the focus of the story.

We need to know the very month and day of the ancient deciding battle, because a prophesied event was scheduled 900 years from that afternoon–and we just finished lunch. We need to know the name of the person who crafted a magical artifact, because they’re going to come looking for it later, and the artifact happens to be the main character’s favorite pair of shoes.

You won’t know how much information you need until you have a good idea of the plot. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Unless you can supply a strong because, the information probably isn’t essential.

Once you know what’s essential, move the non-essential stuff to a folder on worldbuilding. It’s great if you know all of this, and even if you keep it in mind as unstated canon as you write. But the reader doesn’t need to know everything you know.

Use your best judgment. Sometimes, adding a small non-vital detail can enrich the world or characters, set the tone, hint at theme. No is the default, rather than the final answer.

Among the essential info, can anything be revealed later? Try to spread out the information you’re dumping on readers. Try to find a rhythm that feels natural. If you pace it just right, infodump can feel like a reward to the reader, rather than a chore.

And last, don’t panic if the balance isn’t right. Nobody gets this right in the first draft.

Tip Two: Find a Watson

A Watson is a character who doesn’t know the information you need to give the reader. Pair the Watson with a character who knows the information. If there’s a compelling reason why the Watson needs to know, sharing information feels like a character’s action, rather than a writer’s.

Like most of these, this isn’t a rule. You could have no Watson, because there’s only the one on-screen character in your story, or you could have multiple Watsons badgering one very frustrated Sherlock Holmes.

The second half of this is to create a situation where sharing the information makes sense and feels necessary. It could be plot-related–Watson needs to know how his magic powers work to serve in the magic army–or character-related–Holmes finally opens up to Watson about the source of his addiction to Three Musketeer bars.

If you mix the right information with the right reason to share, in the right setting, your infodump becomes a lot more memorable.

I might have to write some of these Sherlock-and-Watson stories, now.

Tip Three: Multitask

Most sentences in your story should be pulling more than their own weight. But it’s especially important that infodump is doing more than one thing.

The ancient battle and the prophecy, for instance. You shouldn’t only be telling the reader that this battle happened. You should be showing us how the battle shaped the current world. You should be giving the reader the prophecy. You should be drawing reactions from characters that reveals more about them. You should be setting a tone: Was the battle bleak, its consequences terrible? Or were the good guys especially heroic, managing a last-second victory? You should hint at theme: Is your story about the inescapable consequences of war? Or about the struggle of free will vs. predestination?

It’s when the sentences and paragraphs touch on two or three or even four things at once that the writing feels layered, and the infodump is camouflaged.

Tip Four: Focus on Change

Information needs to have a certain power, a certain weight. When this information shifts, the world needs to shift a little, too. If the information was essential, the scenes after the reader and the character learn this information could not have happened without them learning it.

When the main character learns that their shoes are the artifact this powerful, ancient being is hunting, suddenly their options change. Do they give the creator their shoes? Do they run? Do they try to fight? Either way, their plan of meeting their friends at the store for some frivolous shopping is probably out the window. All because of one little piece of information.

Most often, this information makes things a lot worse for the main character. How does this one fact make it harder for the protagonist to succeed?

If the information doesn’t change anything, you might need to reexamine your because.

Tip Five: Keep the Knowledge Imperfect

That’s not the snappiest tip name, but whatever.

I’m stealing the term name from an episode of House, but I’ll define it as I’m using it.

A character has perfect knowledge if they know what the author knows about a given thing. That is, their understanding of the subject is exhaustive and accurate, or if all of their guesses or assumptions turn out to be exactly right. This also applies if multiple characters are in complete agreement about a complex or unknown issue.

For example, if Sherlock told the whole badgering group of Watsons that their magic power included holding their breath indefinitely, and instantly all of the Watsons guessed that they were able to survive at the bottom of the sea–and it turns out, yes! Their powers ALSO include an immunity to the intense pressure on the ocean floor! Neat how that worked out, right? Almost as if all the characters were reading from the same script?

Perfect knowledge makes your world feel less nuanced, less real. The characters suddenly feel like mouthpieces for the author.

You can fix this by letting your characters be wrong. Let them be unaware of details. Let them disagree about what those details are, or what they mean for the whole. Let them agree, but draw different secondary conclusions. Or even let Holmes hold information back. How might that shape the Watsons’ opinions? What mistakes or misunderstandings might it lead to? Who might get hurt?

You see how suddenly possibility comes alive, and your story becomes overgrown with potential! So overgrown that you don’t even see the essential bit of information that was passed along.

This is a lot to remember. Like I said before, nobody gets it right the first time. Often not the second or third time, either. This is something to be crafted, and honed, and polished to a gleam.

Deadpool 2 Review

Deadpool 2 made me laugh from before the opening credits to the mid-credit scene at the end. It has great action and a handful of HUGE surprises for anyone who thinks they know what’s going to happen based on the trailers.

I highly recommend it!

It’s also lazy. It includes cliches that I have little patience for. The major plot was predictable. It didn’t make me care about most of the characters. It’s transparent about its own laziness–the line in the trailers calling out their own lazy writing? Don’t even get me started on the plot thread that’s from.

Why am I recommending it so strongly, if I found its writing lazy?

Deadpool 2 knew what it had to get right–namely, its action and comedy–and made sure that shined. It’s hard to describe just how much fun I had, or how much I laughed. That’s what I cared about going into the movie! So I left happy.

It also knew that it could afford to be lazy about its plot, since it’s mainly a comedy (and having a story that isn’t just a series of disconnected 10-minute improvs makes it the comedy of the year).

There’s something to be learned from this.

I’m not recommending that writers try to be as lazy as possible. Don’t even think about being as lazy at anything as Deadpool 2 is in its plot.

But identify what’s most important to your work, and make sure that’s exactly what it needs to be. A lot of the time, you can make most things every bit as good as it could be. But sometimes you may have to make a choice. If that means that some less-essential elements are a bit less polished, your audience will forgive you.

 

SPOILERS BELOW

 

Favorite Bits:

Domino. Her personality, how she interacts with Deadpool, her powers (“We’re going to need a bus…”).

Finding out that the biggest guy was Juggernaut. I have no clue how that was kept secret from me. Even though he was just a pretty mediocre CG figure, he was so much better than X3’s version. I love that after the first one, you learn to take every threat seriously. (Sorry, Vinnie! Still love you!)

The opening credits sequence both being a James Bond reference and an audience reaction. And the end credit scene. Fixing all of Ryan Reynolds’s mistakes…including killing him before he can be in Green Lantern.

Least-Favorite Bits:

Fridging! YAY! Inarticulate sounds of rage are sure to follow. I know there are mitigating factors. But it’s still one of the scummiest tropes ever made.

Cable’s “I only have two charges” plot thread. Way to resolve that in the least-satisfying way possible. And also in the most plothole-inducing way possible.

Killing off the X-Force. It was funny, absolutely. But you killed Shatterstar, and you gave Terry Crews practically no air time or interactions with Deadpool. These complaints will be withdrawn if we find out he brought them all back in the next one.

Predictions:

Next movie (If it’s not X-Force) is called Deadpool and Cable.

The time machine is on the fritz, we get a malfunctioning teleporter? I don’t know much about how his teleporting works in the comics, but I know plenty about the comedic potential of inconsistent teleportation.

Avengers: Infinity War Non-Spoiler Review

I saw Avengers: Infinity War. And now I feel different.

There won’t be any spoilers in this review. No spoiler section. So you can relax, there. (Although there are SO MANY spoilers to be had! I thought Marvel was being paranoid with their secrecy campaign, but they weren’t.)

This movie made me almost-cry a handful of times, and then once it broke me, made me almost-sob. They do things you think they won’t. Even for savvy viewers like me, who have some idea of what the comics look like, some idea of the restrictions maintaining their expansive universe creates. You’ll be surprised.

All our old friends are in action, and they’re a lot of fun. Their interactions and how they work together in action scenes is excellent. Their goals are meaningful and how they go about them makes sense.

But it’s not any of that that’s going to stick with me. Instead, I’m consumed by every scene Thanos is in, every line he speaks. Particularly the last shot with him in it.

This isn’t a perfect movie. It’s over-stuffed, so no one except Thanos gets every bit of development they need. More a consequence of what this EVENT has to be than a criticism; I couldn’t see a way, outside of making the movie eight hours long, to give everyone and every plot the attention it deserves. They make their choices well, and this feels like a whole movie, where everyone gets some time. Everything makes sense, and most of the emotional beats really land.

I can’t objectively judge how good Infinity War is. Maybe in a few months, once I’ve watched it a few more times. I’m feeling a bit too off-balance to try at the moment. Maybe that’s all you need to know about its quality.

What I can tell you is, if you’re invested at all in the MCU, go see it. It’s…

Important.

 

Maintaining the Illusion of Time

The ability to control the flow of time in your writing–not merely by deciding when and how to transition from summary to scene, but also by manipulating how much time seems to be passing within a sentence or paragraph–is essential to reader immersion, scene flow, and tension. This skill separates serviceable writers from fantastic ones.

Below I highlight some common mistakes and offer tips to avoid them. (I know, I do the hypothetical question thing. Bear with me.)

Have you been reading a story, absorbed in unfolding events, only for the narrative to drop into description or introspection, before resurfacing into the scene as if nothing had happened? It feels stuffed into the narration rather than belonging within it.

Descriptions, in particular, are often written as though they are free from time. As though the details are being noted for posterity. But time should be passing as the character notices the details. Don’t mention that the woman has a ribbon in her hair, for instance; mention the tails fluttering in the wind.

Whether description or introspection, the character’s action is often treated as if it were instantaneous. But taking stock with your senses, or contemplating your situation, is not a free action. If this were an old-school RPG, using the SCAN ability on an enemy would cost a turn. Time will continue to pass while the character is in their own head.

A trick that I find particularly useful for reinforcing this: when you segue back out from the internal processes into the scene proper, have the PoV character take stock of essential pieces of the scene that might have changed. Has the woman stepped closer while the main character took in her appearance? Is the trusted companion tossing worried glances at our lead, who’s been too deep in their own head?

Bonus points for having the description or introspection intruded on by the continuing scene.

If you get this just right, the internal passage will feel of a piece with the outer scene. It won’t detract from immersion; on the contrary, it will bind the reader to the piece, make the story feel more real.

Here’s a less obvious problem:

Have you ever read a scene of conflict in which the flow of time stutters and stumbles? Sometimes moving too fast, and in the next instant, too slow?

This is often a question of rhythm as well as content.

A habit among newer writers is to fill scenes of conflict, particularly combat, with action after action in winding, breathless sentences. The instinct is understandable; they probably want to create the illusion that everything is happening at once.

However, this is usually how not to build tension. As tension rises, the focus should tighten. Time should expand, and descriptions should crop. Sentences and paragraphs should get gradually shorter and shorter. At the height of the conflict, a single, short sentence, in a paragraph all itself–a single detail, a single thought–can take the reader’s breath away.

Here’s one last, small issue relating to the illusion of time that can nonetheless tear a reader from the story:

Have you read a description with the details listed in random order? The writing shouts to you that it’s a list, that these details are written so that you can read them.

There are orders in which the human mind tends to process details–orders in which listing those details makes sense. Go from broad description into specifics, as though beginning the description from the peripheral or without completely focusing the gaze. Go from top to bottom, or bottom to top, etc., as though the eye is moving, and the brain is processing. There are a lot of different ways to list details. Just put in thought to make the order intuitive.

If you learn how to make the passage of time feel constant, and can manipulate this illusion to build tension, you can keep your reader enthralled through the entire scene.

Black Panther

Black Panther is a lot of fun, and more than worth seeing.

In some ways, the movie gave me what I was looking for. But what I loved about it weren’t the same things that I was initially excited for.

For instance, I was looking forward to another action-packed Marvel movie. In reality, this hardly feels like a Marvel film at all. Half of the movie feels like a spy thriller, and half of the movie feels like an Epic Fantasy. There’s not as much action as I’m used to in a Marvel film, and it’s not quite as strong as I’ve come to expect. The action is mostly ok, but aside from an outstanding car chase, it’s nothing spectacular.

I expected to like T’Challa, and I do. He’s much less powerful than he was in his appearance in Civil War, but the focus is thankfully more on his decisions as king than what he can do in the suit.

But I was surprised by how much I liked other characters introduced in the movie. His sister Shuri is irreverent and brilliant, and a constant source of energy. Okoye proves to be far more awesome than T’Challa in many ways. Both villains work great, Klaue surprisingly fun and Killmonger surprisingly scary. I wasn’t sure what I thought about the trailers to Infinity War suggesting Wakanda plays heavily into the fight against Thanos. But now, I’m just excited to see more of the outstanding cast.

Some Marvel movies only pay lip service to their theme, give it a thoughtful look and a shrug before returning to the action. But Black Panther, similar to Civil War, latches on to the theme and refuses to let go. The question of responsibility–the individual’s responsibility to Wakanda, and Wakanda’s responsibility to the outside world–breathes in every major character, driving them to different answers and to drastic actions, for good and bad. While I feel Civil War stuck the landing with its theme a bit better, Black Panther does impressive work.

I’d worried about the soundtrack when I heard the heavy hip hop influence in the trailers–worried that modern, American rap would feel way out of place in the fictional, isolated African country. There was no need. There’s plenty of traditional influence in the soundtrack, and when rap comes in, it feels completely natural.

My biggest issue with the movie is that it feels abridged. Nowhere does it feel like pieces are MISSING, or does anything fail to make sense, but everything feels just a bit abrupt. Character, plot, and tone all develop in hops. One key character’s development failed to connect at all because it seemed to leap straight from A to B with little warning.

I get that the movie had a LOT to do. Building an all-new cast of characters–practically an ensemble–including two villains, sumberge us into a setting far outside of most viewers’ frame of reference, ask some important questions, and include fun action setpieces. That’s why I don’t judge the movie harshly over this one issue.

But I get the feeling that the story would have been better-served with another half hour of screentime. Or even better, as an entire season of TV. (A TV series with this cast, in Wakanda? PLEASE!)

Don’t let this keep you from watching a great superhero movie. Go see it before it leaves theaters. (You might have a while yet; it seems to be doing PRETTY well.)

————————

SPOILERS

Klaue getting killed was the big shock of the movie for me. He’s set up as such a fundamental villain, and Andy Serkis is playing him. And he’s breathing so much pure joy into the film. And halfway through, he’s gone. The next-biggest surprise was that the movie actually gets BETTER once he’s gone. I was worried they’d stumble like Luke Cage did. But Jordan as Killmonger is both chilling and sympathetic.

I’d expected Ross–AKA CIA dude, or Martin Freeman if you’re like me, and remember actor names easier than characters–to bite it in the last action scene. I kind of still feel like he SHOULD have. He faced down death and made the decision that the mission mattered more than his life. What are they saving him for? Part of me thinks this was studio meddling.

The last action scene, particularly T’Challa and Killmonger among the trains, could have been pushed so much further. It was the only fight in the movie (other than the quick-cut-and-darkness fight at the beginning) that felt LACKING to me.

Question: How dark are the night scenes in this movie? I suspect our projector was off, since the scenes at night were almost indecipherable. I get not wanting to include light sources other than what would realistically be there, but this was ridiculous.

Moments that didn’t land for me: Zuri (Forest Whitaker) dying, and W’Kabi’s betrayal. The first because OBVIOUSLY the mentor was going to die, and the second because W’Kabi’s character development got the short end of the stick in the abridging I mentioned earlier. Another ten minutes developing 1) W’Kabi and T’Chala’s friendship, and 2) W’Kabi’s growing frustration, (and 3) THOSE RHINOS) would have done wonders.

How great were the colors in this movie? I can’t judge the costumes as a whole because, again, completely no frame of reference for how it adapted African cultures, but the colors I can definitely say are gorgeous. And somehow never clash. Despite them all being bright and everyone seeming to have a Power Rangers color-coding? Awards need to be given.

The stingers here are WEAK. Characters talk a little, and then smile. Maybe I should be freaking out over Bucky being awake, but I honestly feel like it’s a bit soon. I expected him to disappear for a few more movies and pop up at a dramatic moment. Plus, the trailers for Infinity War completely gave away the surprise. Oh, and T’Challa at the UN? Go all out. Show the suit, give T’Challa his own “I am Iron Man” moment.

The scene where T’Challa and Shuri go to the apartment complex/basketball court at the end: was the implication that the little kid was the child of a War Dog similar to Killmonger?

Justice League

I went into Justice League mostly excited to laugh at the reportedly horrible CGI. I’ll admit that. And I got what I was expecting. Steppenwolf and Cyborg never look quite right, and Superman’s top lip makes most of his expressions creepy. Sometimes the effects are fine, but more often than not, they feel unfinished.

What I wasn’t expecting when I sat in the theater was that I would enjoy Justice League maybe even more than Thor: Ragnarok (which I reviewed a couple of days ago).

So far, none of the DC movies had really worked for me. I enjoyed Suicide Squad at first, but liked it less and less with each watch. And Wonder Woman, though the best out of all their movies so far, had structural problems that kept me from fully enjoying it.

But Justice League was a joy to watch. I’ve seen it twice, now, and I enjoyed it more the second time than I did the first.

They do a great job giving each character a reason to get involved. Most of the characters learn something from the team-up, and each pairing of characters has a different relationship. The heroes are heroic, and you root for them, cheer for them. A sequence near the beginning of the film gave me chills both times I watched it, and was a fulfillment of my hopes for what a superhero movie could be.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect movie. An hour was cut during reshoots and edits, and there are two or three places where it feels abridged or where small pieces of information didn’t get communicated to the audience. The ending doesn’t have as much tension as it needs to, and the villain never comes across as all that threatening to the League.

In both my watches, I noticed the flaws, but I didn’t care. They got the characters right, most of the dialogue is sharp, and the action is solid at worst. I highly recommend Justice League, with one caveat: I saw it with two different people, and both times, I liked the movie more than they did. Your mileage may vary.

 

SPOILERS BELOW

The sequence that gave me chills: Wonder Woman runs along the line, deflecting bullets to save the hostages. Superman’s eyes following the Flash at full speed was a pretty incredible moment for me, too.

Snyder tried to do a 300 thing with the Amazon sequence, but ended up just being creepy and uncomfortable. And there’s a stupid amount of male gaze with Diana throughout the movie.

Some of the worst CG offenders: Superman’s lip in almost every shot; Cyborg’s duck waddle in one shot; Superman and Steppenwolf square off, looking more cartoony than Injustice.

Some of Batman’s lines are cringe-worthy. Other people have pointed it out, but: “I don’t…not…” was a bad one. Overall, he seems to be more dad-jokey than BvS. Batman’s character was one of the few things that I actually liked in BvS, which makes his transformation in Justice League sometimes disappointing.