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.

Advertisements

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.

 

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.

Thor: Ragnarok

This is the first of two reviews going up in the next couple of days. Since I watched Thor: Ragnarok first, I decided to review it while it’s fresh in mind.

The third Thor is funnier and more action-packed than either of the previous movies. It’s an adventure, and a fun watch, in a way that the Shakespearean first film and the mediocre second offering don’t even attempt to be. Tonally, Ragnarok has much more in common with Guardians of the Galaxy.

It gets its fun at the price of much of its depth. A lot of incredibly dark stuff happens in this movie. Stuff that will change Thor’s life forever. But we never get to see the impact that has on him. Unlike Guardians, which pulls back from its humor to grow its characters, Ragnarok shrinks from most real emotion, throwing out one more joke as a defense mechanism.

I enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok immensely. I’m going to watch it many more times, for several reasons. The acting is great, full of actors that I never would have picked but prove perfect. Some of its effects felt like magic to me, where I knew it wasn’t real but still can’t work out how they did it. And Korg is a new favorite character.

But the movie didn’t make a real impact on me. It’s a popcorn movie that is rarely dumb. A movie you can throw on in the background in five years and enjoy it without focusing on it.

If you like the MCU, go see this movie. It’s in the middle of the pack for me, but only because I love many MCU movies so much.

 

SPOILERS BELOW

 

This movie is absurdly quotable. “I’m not doing get help.” “Well, I tried to start a revolution, but didn’t print enough pamphlets so hardly anyone turned up. Except for my mum and her boyfriend, who I hate.” “That’s exactly what Doug used to say! See you later, New Doug!” You might notice that Korg gets two lines here. THAT is how good he is.

Let’s tally this: Odin dies, most of Thor’s friends on Asgard die, Asgard is destroyed, Thor loses an eye, Thor learns he has an older sibling (and thus isn’t the rightful heir), and he loses his hammer–leading to him having to redefine himself. Loki loses his father and any hope of making final amends with him, and learns that another child of Odin was cast out, potentially leading to a complex relationship between him and Hela. Not to mention Hela, who has hints of motivation, but no development whatsoever. I’m not saying the whole movie should be brooding. But pivotal moments in each of these characters’ lives get swept under the rug so that we can get the next joke. As much as I enjoy this movie, part of me resents that these moments don’t happen in a movie that cares about them.

Speaking of Mjolnir: Anyone else surprised they never go back for the pieces of the hammer? It’s made from a super-rare material, right? My instincts say it’s going to be reforged into a new weapon, but it feels like they forget about that plot point.

And why were those cool swords in all of Thor’s promotion? He barely uses them.

I’m willing to bet that Loki stole the Tesseract while he was in the vault. Not a totally unique prediction, but I will also bet that he hands it over to Thanos at the start of Infinity War.

“The Defenders” Review

I’ve watched each Netflix Marvel series as it was released, all the way from Daredevil’s season one. I stand with the majority opinion on all of them: both seasons of Daredevil were awesome, Jessica Jones disappointed, The first half of Luke Cage was outstanding (and the second half was lackluster), and Iron Fist was a DISASTER.

 

To say I started The Defenders with mixed expectations is an understatement. And the series provided more or less what I expected (with a few big exceptions that I’ll tackle in the spoiler section).

 

First, the good. The team-up does service to each character individually. Some people say that the first couple of episodes were slow, but I found them interesting because they did a great job showing how each hero got involved in the central conflict. Each character brings their baggage into the group. Some are reluctant to join up; others outright refuse.

 

The dynamics between each set of heroes is treated differently, and the best part of the series to me was watching them pair up in different ways and what happens when they do. It even hints in places why each character needs the others in their life, something that the Avengers doesn’t really do.

 

Charlie Cox is by far the best part of the show. He gives the best performance in whatever scene he’s in. It’s as if he’s never stopped being Matt Murdock. This is a performance that should continue forever, that should win awards.

 

Sigourney Weaver does a great job. Some of her small expressions speak volumes; as I watch her, I continually wonder why she’s not all over the place in Hollywood and on TV.

 

A lot of characters from each individual series return. They don’t hesitate to give these characters important parts in the plot, significant character development, or sometimes gruesome deaths.

 

Most of the action is decent. Nowhere near Daredevil’s perfection, but not as sloppy as Iron Fist.

 

Now the bad.

 

The basic plot is decent, but it’s executed lazily. A mystery that’s hinted at for so long that by the time the reveal happens, we don’t care. The threat to the city is vague for most of the series, which makes the driving tension sputter. Characters are sometimes driven by the needs of the plot rather than internal motivations. Some of the lazy writing in the last couple of episodes made my jaw drop.

 

It’s very easy to split the show up into “These two episodes are about this, and these two are about that, and…”, which goes back to a lack of complexity in the writing.

 

While most of the action was competent, a couple of fights had so much shaky-cam and quick-cuts I couldn’t tell what was happening.

 

Finn Jones has improved a bit since Iron Fist, but that’s not saying much. He still spends much of the series reminding me of Mr. Furious from Mystery Men.

 

And last, it feels like we’ve moved completely into a comic book universe. Similar to Gotham, whose first season felt like a crime procedural with the occasional supervillain, and the second felt like a comic book show from Gordon’s perspective. (Or similar to the second half of Luke Cage, which transitioned from a gritty crime drama to a comic book show.) It loses something unique to the Netflix Marvel shows in the process.

 

The Defenders is worth watching for anybody who’s into the Netflix Marvel shows. It falls solidly beneath the Daredevil seasons in quality. If you’re not already into these shows, I’d suggest you start with Daredevil, which remains some of the best “television” I’ve ever seen.

 

SPOILERS BELOW!

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

The MAIN main problem, since we’re talking spoilers, is that the entire series is about the Iron Fist being a liability. If he had made a strong showing in his own series, this wouldn’t be a problem. As it is, this takes an already-annoying character and forces us to ask why they want him in their group. Which we should NOT be asking about a character whose main purpose is fighting the villains they’re currently dealing with! I’m not saying that I agreed with Stick’s idea… (though I was surprised that option three hadn’t occurred to anyone else before then?)

 

I did love Luke Cage smacking Danny down about his privilege. It ultimately doesn’t come back up after that episode, but exploring those themes would make Iron Fist more interesting.

 

Elektra had nice character progression throughout much of the series–even if amnesia as a plot device needs to burn in a fire. But then she makes the heel-turn, from Dragon to Big Bad. Uh, writers? You know the difference between a twist and a slap in the face, right? Ask Shyamalan if you’re confused. You need to hint at this. You presented “she’s struggling over what the moral choice is”, when you needed to bring back “she likes killing, and that’s scary”.

 

And then–THEN! Daredevil trying to convince Elektra. Three problems with that. One, you’ve shown her radical descent into mustache-twirling villainy. We don’t care anymore. Two, he struggled with this for a whole season before, and has had eight more episodes to deal with this. WE DON’T CARE ANYMORE. And Three, you’ve established that anyone at the bottom of that hole is dead when the bombs go off. So who cares whether he convinces her? They’re both dead literally within moments. He’s dying for literally no reason.

 

Oh, and then Daredevil surviving? When next we see him, I expect Doctor Strange-level magic at work. And I still call shenanigans. Plus, it adds to the “pointless” part from above.

 

Lastly, all the legal troubles go away. I understand they wanted A) the Hand still exists and wants to cover up what really happened, or B) Hogarth is just THAT good. But here’s the thing: DESTRUCTION OF POLICE PROPERTY. OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE. Let’s leave out DOMESTIC TERRORISM, because the only person who knows for a fact that they’re the ones that planted the bombs (Misty Knight) is on their side now. Still, that’s what, 15 years worth of felonies that there’s hard evidence for? And kidnapping, since Matt isn’t going to show up to take responsibility for his part. You don’t sell “Wow, it went away! That’s weird/creepy/ominous” well enough for it to feel like something other than lazy writing.