Aug 06 2021

Suicide Squad sequel: 2.5 stars out of 5, far improved over original

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

–There’s intense violence but not a lot of feeling here. It’s not a very exciting movie. But it’s functional. It’s frequently tedious (especially the political sermons), but rarely boring. It’s definitely a huge improvement over the first movie.

–Most of what sucked about Suicide Squad 1 was an overfocus on soulless authority figures. Sidelining Waller and soulless authority types in general was a brilliant move. What I think this movie gets that the first movie completely missed is that Waller is not (and cannot be) a three-dimensional character, she’s JUST a source of insane mission directives and lethal pressure to comply. She’s just a boss out of hell, and asking her to carry the first 45 minutes of the first movie was a mistake only WB could make. The first we see of authority figures in this movie, they’re betting on which Suicide Squaddie will be the first to die. It’s a much more Marvel approach to authority figures. E.g. military jargon is completely gone, nobody sounds remotely like an authority figure is supposed to sound, conflicts are played up, underlings get a lot more freedom to explore the space with Waller’s golf club, etc.

–In the first movie, the second half of the movie is an inordinately long single mission with long rambling intermissions where the characters stop to talk for no readily obvious reason. In this movie, the ENTIRE movie is a long single mission, but much better structured. The transitions between dialogue and combat are smoother.

–Weasel came from the same parent company that brought us Hector Hammond. We’ll later find out that their content-creation algorithms are fueled by human nightmares.

–Things that are more technically sophisticated than Weasel: King Shark, the Geico Gecko, the North Korean ice-dancing team, and Rocket Raccoon. Things that are less technically sophisticated than Weasel: Savant’s wig and Idris Elba’s American accent. Also, when they were casting John Cena, I’m guessing they were hoping his melee fights would look interesting and/or enjoyably fake. Or that his humor would land at all. Guardians of the Galaxy has Dave Bautista, a wrestler with real physical chemistry and comedic timing, and John Cena does not have them here.

–There were a lot of premises dead on arrival. Editing needed work.

  • “What if King Shark was mentally disabled and completely unable to contribute to dialogue in any way?” “Will it be funny?” “Not at all, but Sylvester Stallone really wants an Oscar.”
  • Harlequin gets a wedding proposal from a Che Guevara dictator. “Do we have any plan to go anywhere with this?” “Not at all, do we need one? Nobody said we needed one.” If this seems like it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, you’re right, but she did vote for Bernie.
  • Waller’s afraid she’s going to look a fool with a Senate friend because she can’t golf. Was zombifying Chicago not bad enough? Are we pretending the first movie never happened? I can live with that. Are we going with 100 Senators being dumb enough to not realize what happened in the first movie? Also workable.
  • Every second with Weasel. Polka-Dot Man has a running gag where he sees other people as his abusive mom. I wish I could see Weasel as Rocket Raccoon instead. I suspect the stand-in actor for Weasel (and also Rocket) does too.
  • “Bloodsport, why are you afraid of rats?” 1) Because useless 2) Because oppressive father figure. The movie tries treating this as a mystery, but it’s okay because we can see #1 and can guess #2.
  • Idris Elba playing a Louisianan child mercenary turned soldier and criminal who has apparently spent 20 years in the British educational system. He actually has sounded American before, I’m not sure what was going on here. He also sounds kinda posh for someone whose father stuck him in a rat-filled crate but I’d rather have that than Vince Vaughn trying to play a ridiculous blue-collar tough guy (also rat-tortured by his abusive father) in True Detective.
  • The team doesn’t have any pre-mission training. Might have been useful to figure out if any of the members had a crushing fear of another teammate’s powers, whoops.
  • The team lead has no control over who goes on the team.This makes sense for Bloodsport (if Waller lets him pick his own people, he might stack the team with people who will betray Waller). But why screw Flagg like this? If Waller doesn’t trust him, either, that probably deserves some explanation which could help develop Flag’s eventual hero moment.

–This is the worst King Shark since Harlequin’s animated series. At least he’s not a social media dork this time. (If anyone had asked Sylvester Stallone to try getting offended by shark stereotypes in like a third of his scenes, Stallone would have shoved a copy of Demolition Man up the director’s caudal fin).

–Villain selection is MUCH better. Almost everybody is shootable, which is a great fit for a team that is mostly shooters and sharks.

—-It’s ridiculous that a power-worshipper like _____ (spoiler removed) could have conflicted feelings about murdering a character as weak as _____ (victim removed). None of these blanks are “social media expert King Shark” or “cowriter Howard Zinn” or “celebrated kabuki choreographer B. McKenzie”, but any combination of these would probably have been more interesting than what we actually saw.

–Communications between Waller and the team are down for most of the movie, so she looks less incompetent that she loses eyes on the team. This is a better execution than in the first movie, where she apparently forgets to keep eyes/ears on her murder-slaves.

–Action choreography not great. Harlequin’s breakout scene is just Harlequin doing her thing with very little interaction or threat from her enemies. Not great. Korean/Japanese/Hong Kong action movies usually get a lot more emotional heft out of melee combat than this.

–Rick Flag, besides *maybe* his hero turn, still does not have any chemistry with anyone.

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May 03 2021

Hour 1 of Justice League’s Snyder Cut, Scene By Scene

Published by under Writing Articles

1:30 – 6:55: Cyborg sees his Mother Box acting up. Then Mera sees her Mother box acting up. Then Amazon guards see their Mother Box acting up. Also there’s a Lex Luthor flashback where the computer shows him that Mother Boxes are plot relevant in case you missed that. PS: In the first 8 minutes of the movie, the only line of dialogue is an Amazon saying “Alert the Queen!”

6:55 – 9:30: A super-long Batman hike which doesn’t fit in at all with anything that’s happened up to this point (Mother Boxes acting up). Iceland is rugged but this camerawork is more grey/dreary than beautiful. Contrast to a Western where the epic vistas support the plot and characterization. For example, when a sheriff does a slow march out of town to apprehend an outlaw, the terrible beauty and desolation of the West are perfectly in sync with how savage the task ahead is. We don’t know anything that’s going on with Batman, so hopefully you REALLY like watching 2.5 minutes of desolate hiking through the crags of Iceland because that’s all you’re getting from this scene. We’re still on one line of dialogue so far.

9:30 – 14:30: Batman offers Aquaman/Curry a spot on the Justice League. Aquaman refuses. Ladies burst into song at 13:20 in the strangest use of diegetic music I’ve ever seen in my life.

Aquaman requests $5000 to pass along a message to the man from the sea “if he exists.” This ruse is a waste of time because Batman already knows he’s Aquaman. Proposed rewrite of this part of the scene:
Aquaman (Icelandic): $10,000 and I’ll find him if he exists.
Batman (English): $20, it’s a short search. (Batman briefly stares at a clean-shaven extra). There might be a mirror here. (Batman is obliquely saying that Curry is Aquaman, but Aquaman misses this).
Aquaman (Icelandic): You’re a billionaire and you can’t spare $10,000?
Batman (English): You’re a king and you need $10,000? (Pause). To find yourself (disbelief). I’ve seen a lot of business proposals, but Arthur you might have just topped shark repellent. (Hands him $10,000, which Aquaman quickly passes on to a local).
Aquaman (English): Finding someone that wants to be king, that can be a king is not easy. Keep the shark repellent, you’ll need it.
Batman: There is no shark repellent.
Aquaman: There is no Atlantis. Not for me, anyway.

An Icelandic local gets offended that Bruce offers Curry money to talk outside, and even the local’s confused about what he’s doing in this scene. “How dare this dog speak to us like children? Ooh, magical man from the sea! We are poor. Not stupid.” When your supernatural savior is handling a conversation with a stranger that seems to know his secret, antagonizing the stranger is a real dumb move, and it’s hard to imagine that he thinks this is helping Aquaman.

Instead of wasting a minute on a detour that goes nowhere (Aquaman claiming not to be Aquaman), I’d suggest focusing instead on Aquaman shooting down Batman’s request. For example, he’s jaded about being a ruler — the political situation in Atlantis looks awful for a new ruler with very little experience or political ability. I wouldn’t have him claim he’s in Iceland to get away from people – it obviously isn’t true, he’s close enough to the locals that they serenade him and sniff his sweater and oh God I hope that’s weird even in Iceland. I think it’d make more sense if he wants to choose his own problems, ones that he can actually fix. All of this points him away both from Atlantis and Bruce’s warning of impending danger.

Batman clumsily drags Superman into the conversation. CURRY: “Strong man is strongest alone. You ever heard that?” BATMAN: “You ever hear of Superman? He died fighting next to me.” If anything, I’d have Aquaman bring up Superman’s death first, as evidence that Batman’s plan is doomed. If you can’t make it work with Superman, it won’t work whether or not Aquaman joins.

14:30 – 15:30: Martha moves out of her foreclosed house. This is bizarrely slow, and won’t ever go anywhere. The only person fighting to keep this scene in the movie was U-Haul.

15:30 – 16:30: Bruce Wayne lands helicopter and discusses his recruiting failure with Alfred. Alfred’s main role in this movie is to narrate at people and be narrated to. When he’s not doing that, he’s being the even sadder guy in a room which is already well-steeped in morosity and lethargy.

16:30 – 18:15: Lois Lane gets coffee and exchanges pleasantries with a cop at Clark’s memorial. There’s a ridiculously over-the-top dirge. I think the point here is establishing that she’s still grieving over Clark’s death, but it’s hard to tell, since most scenes so far have been this bleak.

18:15 – 26:00: London. The world’s most incompetent terrorists shoot their way into a museum to buy time for a 4-block-radius bomb they could easily have detonated outside. Then they forget that bombs can be detonated instantly, so they set a minute-long fuse, which is enough time for 20+ cops, 5 police vans, 2 snipers and a superhero to show up. If you’re getting your hopes up for non-superheroes to do anything useful, don’t worry, we’ll next see the cops when debris from the last terrorist’s corpse rains down on them like a particularly bad construction accident. There’ll be a hat too. Welcome to London.

21:20: The bomb counter starts. 22:10: clock shows 30 seconds left, but it really should only have 10. Everything in this movie moves slower than normal, even bomb fuses.

Wonder Woman has an awful lasso of truth moment with an extraordinarily boring terrorist. Among other things, this guy expects to be dead within 60 seconds, and he’s under a lasso of truth, so he might have some unexpected emotional cues, e.g. maybe he’s got some regret about how it went down or he’s grimly confident that blowing up this bomb won’t accomplish anything he’s looking for, but it’s more about making a statement, or maybe he fears that bringing back the Stone Age might not work out all that well for his parents. He doesn’t need to be a likable character, but it is on-brand for Wonder Woman to bring out humanness in characters that normally don’t get it. It is NOT on-brand for Wonder Woman to dismiss the world’s most boring terrorist with “Boring!” If your scene is so lame that this feels like an appropriate response, get back to rewrite.

You're 5 feet from a door! But 0 feet from useless

23:10: Wonder Woman leaves with the bomb. At this point there is 1 terrorist with no bomb and a pistol. 23:30: The terrorist points pistol at the crowd. The hostages do… absolutely nothing but scream. 15 seconds later (!), the terrorist reconsiders and picks up a rifle from a dead comrade. The hostages do absolutely nothing. The terrorist points rifle at the crowd and now the crowd starts ineffectually putting their hands out. 23:55: Wonder Woman bursts in as the world’s slowest terrorist opens fire. I saw 15-20 adult hostages, mostly men. Not only are they so helpless that they don’t attempt to flee at any point or grab one of the rifles lying around or charge the shooter or do literally anything besides wait to die, they don’t even take the front row to body-block for the 20+ kid hostages. Shockingly, there are adult hostages *behind* the kids, which I think is a lesson for kids not to get caught with hostages this useless.

Wonder Woman savages the last terrorist and the cops watch inertly as his hat slowly drifts to the ground, which is a perfect visual for this scene. If you added clownish special effects the pointlessly long hat drop would BE this scene.

“Can I be like you someday?” If you sit down for your death, probably not. You know she wouldn’t have.

These kids have seen some REAL stuff. There’s been 30+ shots fired at them, multiple people have been murdered, they’ve seen a bomb count down to 10 seconds, the bomb eventually explodes, and later the windows explode with enough force to wreck a cop car. This cutesy “Can I be like you someday?” line seconds later is a terrible mismatch for the tone of the scene.

26:00 – 27:30: The Amazon Queen investigates the Mother Box. “Any changes today?” “No, my Queen.” What? Wasn’t the entire point of the opening scene that the box started acting strangely? Everybody in the room saw it change. 27:30 – 28:00: People around the island react to skybeam coming out of the Mother Box’s vault.

28:00 – 37:00: Action scene. If you’ve seen any movie with the heroes trying to protect plot coupons from invaders, at least the first 2 will be easy wins for the invaders. It didn’t have to be this slow, though. E.g. there’s a 2 minute sequence between the Queen taking the box and leaving the building.

37:00 – 37:45: Amazon denouement. They’re going to light the warning fire, a plot line riddled in logic holes to get Diana in position to see a visual history of something her mother might already have mentioned to her, seeing as her mother was part of an army that saved the planet against an enemy they know will return. It’s hard to imagine this is some sort of arcane secret hidden in a shrine if they keep 50+ Amazon guards around the clock guarding their Mother Box.

37:45 – 38:45: Steppenwolf setting up a Russian base. He deploys search teams to smell out the other two boxes. He’s trying to prove his worth to Darkseid. This is surprisingly non-bad for an alien invader. The less we see of Darkseid, the better this setup works. PS: His plan is way better than lighting a warning fire.

38:45-40:15: Batman discussing possible Flash sighting with Alfred. Alfred’s not sure the goal of putting together the team is doable. He’s not convinced of the threat, or of their results so far. Batman needs to set him straight that this doom-and-gloom counsel is not helpful. And not necessary, we already have Snyder.

40:15–42:15 Dr. Stone leaves work super-late. Janitor finds a pile of rubble. Note: despite holding Superman’s ship, this place isn’t as well guarded as the museum with the magic cops. Alarm systems later heard aren’t on here. The janitor stumbles in on a parademon without knocking and, spoilers, it’s EXACTLY what it looked like, a serial killing in progress.

42:15–44:30: Amazons light signal fire in the off-hand chance that it gets carried by the news and that Diana happens to see a news update from a no-casualty fire 1000+ miles on Crete.

44:30–45:45: Diana happens to see a news update from a no-casualty fire 1000+ miles on Crete. Well, glad that worked out!

45:45–47:15: “What’s your rank, Doctor?” If you try to pull rank but you can’t guess who outranks you (e.g. the oldest person that everybody’s deferring to in conversation), you probably won’t be working many super-cases. PS: It seems very unlikely that there’d be an obviously nonhuman murder at the facility holding Superman’s ship without the investigators having even the slightest clue about why the facility is important. It also seems impossible that you could grab 8 people at a secure facility without getting caught on camera but at least this sets up a cool and senselessly dramatic sketch ID.

47:15-48:15: Dr. Stone goes home, and tells Cyborg that the Box isn’t safe at home, that people were abducted by a monster. Cyborg: “You know a lot about monsters, don’t you? Especially how to make ‘em.” What the Bojangles. This editing is just the worst. We don’t at this point have any of the beats established to either make this dialogue impactful or even for it to make sense. Later on, we’ll get a fairly good set of scenes laying out Cyborg’s conflict with his father, and it all would have made a lot more sense if we saw that before the first parademon attack involving Dr. Stone’s lab. Of the first 45 minutes, there are at least 20 that could be cut or moved back to make room for this.

48:15–51:00: Wonder Woman at Shrine of Amazons. She sees a history of the Darkseid invasion and the backstory with the Mother Boxes. Don’t worry, if you miss it here, she’ll also have a scene narrating the history to Batman.

51:00–52:45 Aquaman saves a boater from drowning. He grabs a whiskey, which is pretty much the only scene in the movie where they passed on product placement. “It’s on him” is probably the first very good line so far.

52:45 – 53:45: Curry downs a whiskey and marches out to a 20% badass song and his second shirt-removal scene. At least it doesn’t get sniffed this time, I hope.

53:45-57:00: Curry’s tutor Vulko finds him at the gravesite of an ancient king. Vulko gives a pretty plausible reason that disappearing sentries are a problem for Curry — the existing authorities, under Aquaman’s half-brother, are trying to blame it on the surface. That’s actually a pretty cool setup. Across the board, I really liked what we saw of Atlantis in this movie. It’s delightfully dysfunctional and feels *exactly* like how a superpowered aristocracy would struggle with people coming to power that have a terrible personality mismatch for actually ruling. Aquaman is a PERFECT reflection on this disaster. Thamyscara mainly shows up to burn like 15+ minutes on two excruciatingly long action scenes with 50+ extras getting mowed down, which is the role that fictional places like Atlantis/Thamyscara/Wakanda usually provide for team movies.

57:00 – 59:30: Steppenwolf gives a status report. Destroy their will, unite them under Darkseid, repeal the capital gains tax. DeSaad narrates that Steppenwolf betrayed Darkseid in some prideful mistake. Implied character development: he’s not particularly hubristic in the movie. His attack plans are rather modest, and he flees almost immediately after acquiring each box rather than try to stick around and accomplish secondary objectives or eliminate downed enemies. When he sees the relief army of Amazons coming, he leaves.

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Dec 28 2020

2020: Even Wonder Woman Lets Us Down

Published by under Movie Review

–Wonder Woman 1984 is not nearly as good at the original. Pluses: the cast is still very charming, and a few of the fight scenes are effective. I did actually like most of the first hour of the movie.

–Setting: In the original Wonder Woman, the WWI setting contributes to a hard bleakness which effectively contracts with the main character’s naivete and optimism and it sets up a reasonably effective conflict with a villain. I sense that they selected the 1980s out of some observation of rampant consumerism in the 1980s, but the only actual observation on the 1980s the movie was actually committed to was that people dressed weird in almost exactly the same way as in any other 1980s period piece. There are no points at which the 1980s setting contributes to anything interesting, and several where the story pauses to focus on how crazily people dressed in the 1980s.

–The only character in this movie who does not have the weight of the 1980s crushing down on him is the homeless Jiminy Cricket guy.

–The two main cast additions are Pablo Pascal (Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones) as a sleazy conman and a Kristin Wiig completely unbelievable as either a lifeless wallflower or someone who wished for Wonder Woman’s charisma and verve. Refusing to go back on turning into a cat-person is somehow not the least believable part of this character. This character is such an inversion of reality that only a quadruple-negative sentence can express how bonkers she is.

–Maxwell Lord is theoretically inspired by 1980s businessvillains like Gordon Gekko but has none of the abrasive charm, “in your face” quality, or menace to pull this off. He is, as he admits to his son, more of a loser than anything else. This is not the stuff of dramatic legend.

–We’re told a few times that the Minerva character before the wish is humorous, witty, and fun to be around. Don’t believe this pep talk, it’s all lies. The closest she gets to a laugh line is that reading a lot of books somehow cured her eyesight.

The movie completely derails after Maxwell Lord meets with the President. Up to this point, it hadn’t been particularly dumb. Everything that comes out of this scene is a complete trainwreck (the President wishing for more nuclear weapons, a nuclear war starting without explanation, the magical communications system, Max’s plan to let everyone wish for whatever to steal something which probably isn’t very interesting, and everything about Cheetah). What ensues… I think the dumbest superhero plots up to this point have been an evil CEO releasing a fatal cosmetic in Catwoman or Curtis Connors trying to turn everybody into lizards. Wonder Woman 1984 dares to ask: why choose between a cartoonishly evil CEO and someone turning herself into a cat? It’s the 1980s.

–Hundreds of nuclear weapons suddenly appearing are enough to provoke a nuclear war. Weirdly this is not THAT far off from the Turkish or Cuban missile crises, though the dialogue here is not nearly good enough to cover something that’s critical to the plot and probably not intuitive to the average viewer. If you had a minute for this, maybe the Soviet premier confronts a peace-minded general who had insisted that the Soviet Union had a good read on America’s nuclear plans and that the threat level was low. Then panicky reports pour in as US missiles appear in aggressive postures, and the US first-strike which they genuinely feared for much of the Cold War looks like it might be happening at this very second. For a related incident, I’d recommend checking out the Able Archer panic.

–Maxwell’s wishes can be revoked by the recipient, so it’d be in his interest to NOT screw people he needs on board. E.g. when Minerva asks to be an apex predator, my instinct would run towards “humans ARE apex predators” rather than “make my most committed soldier into a cat monster.” If you feel obliged to keep the cheetah connection, perhaps she has the speed of a cheetah but does not actually look like she came off the set of Cats.

–“Firing a particle counts as touching” is one of the lamest workarounds for a superpower limitation I’ve seen in a while. Among other alternatives, the 1980s had several human chains with millions of participants (e.g. 2 million people in the Baltic Way calling for independence from the Soviet Union or 5 million for Hands Across America). I think millions of people gathering for a cause, particularly under fear of government suppression, is more inherently interesting than touching someone with a particle.

–The setup where Maxwell Lord can add secret costs to wishes (knowing or otherwise) leads to a lot of unclever problem-solving with zero interesting interaction between him and his targets. It might feel higher-stakes if the targets knew they were in a high-stakes situation and that the cost of making the wish would be serious.

–Lord gets too much screen-time for a villain that’s at best forgettably mild and at worst a cartoonish maniac.

–I don’t think the climactic showdown is very clear. Wonder Woman shows Maxwell a flashback of his own traumatic childhood along with a glimpse of his missing/distressed son to help show him that his playing with wishes is having a terrible effect on the person he’s trying to impress. As actually shown, I don’t think it’s clear that this flashback is of Maxwell rather than a live victim in real time. PS: Given how quickly the situation devolves into nuclear warfare, this appeal by Wonder Woman shouldn’t be necessary for this villain.

–I like the concept of a mostly non-physical showdown between Max and Wonder Woman.

— Some scenes that could have been reworked:

  • The decathlon scene is zero-stakes and most of this ~10 minutes could be better spent elsewhere. It doesn’t matter at all whether she wins or not; she’s never expressed any interest in being an athlete before, and it’ll never come up again. The stakes MIGHT be indirectly higher if the competitors were closer to her in age so we can see how she stacks up against other girls from similar backgrounds. Also, if the actors were of a similar age, they’d be able to run at similar speeds without making Wonder Woman look slow. (As it is, the older actors were definitely holding back and the cinematography didn’t do a great job hiding it). PS: I liked that the film shows the shortcut without screaming “this side-path is cheating” and also that the young Diana doesn’t claim “nobody said it was against the rules” but accepts that it’s a violation of the spirit of the competition. Contrast to how a more modern character might handle this (e.g. Captain Marvel takes a shortcut racing against her friend and, when called out on it, asks “Since when is a shortcut cheating?”)
  • Diana’s setup as a Smithsonian researcher is executed in a low-stakes direction. Thinking back to the original movie, there’s a delightful contrast between an idealistic hero-warrior and one of the most disillusioning wars in history, and in a low-key way she’s a perfect fit for the setting and the story.
  • Every moment of the movie focusing on the 1980s as strange. There’s not enough material to justify a scene where Trevor tries out a bunch of super-1980s clothes or gawks at people in the subway. I’d suggest 5 seconds at the most. PS: before you make a movie set in the 1980s with mohawks and pink polos and stuff, I’d recommend checking out works FROM the 1980s. It’s much less pronounced in, say, Back to the Future’s 1985 scenes than in Wonder Woman’s DC subway, which is a total mismatch for the setting.
  • Cheetah only shows up for a weak fight scene, and I’d just cut Minerva’s turning into Cheetah altogether. The character concept hasn’t aged well and the character design and execution are memorably awful.
  • A shopping mall jewelry shop is an odd setting for a mythological/exotic smuggling operation. Did they need a shopping mall scene that badly? Why? I think a lower profile setting would probably have fit what they’re trying to do with her being semi-unknown to the public. (In terms of smoothly fitting in with other movies, Batman later on does research on her going back 100 years to connect the dots. The less public she is now, the smoother it works later).

There’s a crazy amount of contrivance going on:
–Randomly running into Maxwell Lord leaving Cairo and instantly recognizing him.
–The first person to stumble upon Minerva beating up her assailant happens to be the one person in town that she regularly speaks to.
–Wonder Woman responding to the mall robbery almost instantly.
–Everything about the jet. Her Smithsonian ID has access to an airfield with an unaccompanied jet fighter ready to go. Steve Trevor, who hasn’t flown planes since WWI, is able to fly it. She sprouts anti-radar invisibility powers out of nowhere. There’s enough fuel for a return flight around the world. God knows where they landed it on either end. No one asks about her ID being used the night of the theft. The stated rationale for going through all this is that Steve doesn’t have a passport and they don’t check on the body he’s inhabiting. There’s a lot of better solutions here, but she’s a Smithsonian researcher and maybe she smuggles him in a shipment of items being returned to Egypt? Or maybe she pulls strings with a smuggler or something?
–Later on, she randomly gains the ability to fly almost immediately after Steve dies. This probably isn’t necessary here. This system for the President to deliver a speech into the world’s televisions would presumably be most convenient if it’s located near Washington DC, so it plausibly could be accessible without flying there. If you absolutely need Wonder Woman to have a mobility superpower for later appearances, I think occasional teleportation would probably cover the movement logistics without leading to flying brick fight scenes.
–The Dreamstone: Diana doesn’t recognize it or otherwise sense its importance, even though she’s on a first-name basis with the god that created it and works full-time researching archeological and mythological mysteries. If you want the villain to be THAT ahead of her, an oil executive who can’t afford a full-time secretary is an odd choice unless there’s some better explanation than what we got. Rethinking the scene where he invites himself to the Smithsonian to meet the researchers, he doesn’t sound at all like he might ever have gotten interested in finding a long-lost artifact or somehow pulled it off. I think it might help if he gets a rewrite to be more cerebral and ambitious, maybe even obsessed, with ancient artifacts. To develop his awareness, I’d have him interact more with Diana in this scene than Minerva. She should get the feeling that he’s way more than just a TV salesman. He might get the sense that she’s definitely more central to this case than Minerva is. This is star-sense. Stardom: Diana lives it, Lord craves it, and Minerva doesn’t even know what she doesn’t have.
–Wonder Woman somehow remains an open secret despite dressing like an Amazon and stopping crimes in broad daylight. She makes a point of letting kids know that they need to keep it quiet and she destroys the mall’s security cameras but the DC press would have to be more incompetent than normal to miss a superhero operating like this.
–There’s a receipt with Max Lord’s name on it in the Dreamstone’s carrying case. Despite this super-obvious clue, Max STILL gets close enough to the Dreamstone to steal it from the Smithsonian.
–When Max Lord meets with the President, there happens to be a tech presentation on the only system in the world which meets a bizarrely particular “I have to be able to physically touch everyone” requirement. But… what’s the presentation doing there? The President wasn’t even supposed to be in the office. (He mentions confusedly that he remembers being somewhere else altogether).

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Dec 24 2020


In Griftlands, Rook finds a rebel map with FRPERG ONFR written on it and chuckles. The writing doesn’t explain this, but it’s a crude cypher for SECRET BASE. Solution: rotate each letter 13 digits. E.g. the secret message starts with F, the 6th letter of the alphabet, and adding 13 turns it into S (the 19th letter).

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Aug 04 2019

Captain Marvel Review: 1.5 Stars Out of 5

Published by under Writing Articles

1. I don’t know where to start with Captain Marvel. So many things went so wildly wrong that we’d need a presidential commission to get to the bottom of it. It’s like the Chernobyl of superhero movies.

2. If at any point you feel like your action movie would benefit from a character whose main role in-scene is to hold a cat, get back to rewrite.

3. The conflicts are completely toothless. Over the first 10-odd minutes of the movie, the main character conflict is faceless asshats criticizing an unusually robotic protagonist for being too emotional. I would STRONGLY recommend building conflicts that fit your characters and that they can’t easily walk away from. For example, if you want a conflict around a character being too emotional, it would help a lot if they were not the least emotionally engaging superhero ever filmed. Even Groot has more emotional variety than Captain Marvel does, and he’s a tree with a 5 word vocabulary.
Captain Marvel Headshots

In contrast, here’s some stills from Wonder Woman. You can be a serious warrior and still radiate charm and excitement.
Wonder Woman Headshots

Also, Marvel’s SFX teams have done amazing work expressing human emotion in characters that should not be able to support it. I’m particularly fond of the moment where Groot – the character with the softest edges in Guardians – follows up on killing several henchmen in an uncharacteristically brutal way by giving his teammates a childish “aren’t you so proud of me?” smile.
Guardians of the Galaxy Headshots

3.1. The “young lady” exchange. Talos refers to Maria as a “young lady” (which is out of voice/character for him and comes out of nowhere), Maria threatens to kick his ass, and Talos backs off immediately. If you must have this exchange, it’d probably be better to commit to the conflict. Talos, a soldier on a desperate mission to allow what’s left of his people to flee a genocide, has tragic and brutal material to work with. Dropping some perspective on Maria would probably be more interesting than backing down instantly. E.g. MARIA: “If you call me ‘young lady’ again, I will kick your ass.” TALOS: “I’ve had to bury towns of murdered Skrulls. I don’t have time for etiquette lessons, and if you threaten me again, I’ll be burying you too.” If a character backs off of a conflict instantly, it’s probably not worth having. Don’t waste your time firing blanks.

3.2. Relatedly, if a teammate casually threatens violence against someone they’ve known for less than 30 minutes, that should not pass without some sort of consequence or reaction (e.g. the other person might take it really badly, particularly if they are an alien soldier fighting off a genocide… or maybe they mouth off at each other and they both react really well to how fiery the other person is).

3.3. I think this exchange makes Maria look unlikable. She’s threatening violence against an alien soldier that isn’t attempting to offend her, and being an alien makes it immediately obvious he might not have the cultural background to understand that he is offending her. This is a more forceful response than I think any Marvel protagonist has given to any insulting banter, particularly from another protagonist, and it doesn’t give Talos anything interesting to respond to. In contrast, when Rocket gets called a “trash panda”, even the gun-toting raccoon in question responds by walking away with a relatively tame “You son of a…”.

3.4. In the first Guardians movie, Rocket gets some truly vicious insults (e.g. “vermin”, “rodent”, being compared to a species that Drax grills on skewers, etc) and eventually nearly breaks down in tears. Losing your cool that much could be dangerous for protagonist likability, but emotional variety saves him. By the point this happens, Rocket’s already established himself as a badass, and he’s been more collected in similar situations (e.g. “not helping!” when insulted while during a critical moment of a jailbreak). In contrast, when Maria snaps over “young lady”, she hasn’t had an opportunity to establish that this is out of character for her, nor has she handled similar situations in a more typically heroic way. I think she comes across looking clownish here.

3.5. Nick Fury reports their location to his boss. This is a major breach of trust and, in a better movie, it’d be a good opportunity for major conflict between the two. There should have been consequences more serious than Marvel taking his communicator away. At the very least, when she sees Agent Coulsen lie to his team rather than give SHIELD their location, she might say something to Coulsen that knocks Fury (e.g. “you’re the only SHIELD agent I’ve met that hasn’t tried betraying me to the Skrulls – are you sure you’re not available for this mission?”).

3.6. The sexist conflict is just awful. 1) It’s extremely hard to respond to demographic bullying (e.g. “You know why they call it a cockpit?”) in a way that’s interesting. I think a best case scenario would be having Carol respond with an offbeat quip like “Because you’re a dick.” This is mildly funny and definitely a better response than nothing but it doesn’t fix the gaping structural problem that a “I hate you because you’re a (demographic)” conflict probably doesn’t have enough depth to it and won’t create as many opportunities for interesting dialogue or interesting choices as a more promising conflict would. In this case, the sexist characters didn’t contribute to any good scenes, they didn’t get any good lines, and they didn’t even have enough depth to get names. 2) It tends to reduce characters to demographic boxes rather than their choices and reduces their agency over their story. Ironically, X-Men (a series which hinges on persecution) tends to handle this pretty well – e.g. CIA humans and CIA mutants distrust each other in First Class, which is a more flexible and promising setup than “mutants can’t be CIA agents.” Also, the mutual distrust generally has more substance than “I hate you because you’re a mutant.”

3.7. There’s no conflicts between the Maria and Captain Marvel in the now of the story, e.g. no major disagreements about tactical approaches or courses of action or even whether Maria should be on the mission. The closest they come is a brief exchange where Maria complains that Captain Marvel won a race 5 years ago by taking a shortcut. It’s a non-issue and doesn’t contribute to character or plot development. Weak sauce. The conflicts between Captain Marvel and Nick Fury (who briefly betrays her) and Talos (her ex-enemy) are also surprisingly weak. In particular, if ever there were a teammate that shouldn’t be excited to relegate his goals 100% to the main character, Talos is a general facing a genocide while allied to a human that’s notably unexcited about him and at best a newcomer to his struggle. (And, also, until like a week ago she was assisting the extermination campaign).

4. The scene introducing the real Lawson is shockingly boring. Before this scene, we’ve learned that Lawson is the character Carol most respects, setting high expectations for Lawson. Compare to the crazy hype for Tony Stark early in Iron Man, which Tony Stark actually delivers on. When we first see the actual Lawson, she’s incredibly bland and the scene runs like a first draft. Adding insult to injury: repeating lines that were mediocre the first time makes them worse, and there’s no reason in scene to repeat the lines.

SKRULL TECHNICIAN: Hang on, I think I’ve got it.
LAWSON: Goose likes you. She typically doesn’t take to people. (If your character’s first line is about what her cat likes, get back to rewrite).
CAROL: Early start to your morning?
LAWSON: Late night, actually. I can’t sleep when there’s work to do. Sound familiar?
CAROL: Flying your plane never feels like work.
LAWSON: Wonderful view, isn’t it?
CAROL: I prefer the view from up there.
LAWSON: You’ll get there soon enough, ace.
(scene starts to rewind)
LAWSON: Sound familiar?
TALOS: Wait, wait, wait! That’s her. Get her back.
LAWSON: Wonderful view, isn’t it?
CAROL: I prefer the view from up there.
LAWSON: You’ll get there soon enough, ace.
TALOS: What’s that on her shirt? I couldn’t read it.
LAWSON: Wonderful view, isn’t it?
CAROL: I prefer the view from up there.
TALOS, to Carol: Focus.
CAROL: Excuse me?
TALOS: Look down.
TALOS, reading. Pegasus. Dr. Wendy Lawson. That’s her.
CAROL: Do you hear that, too? (This is a notably weak reaction to hearing voices and getting weirded out by conversations repeating themselves).
TALOS: Do we have her location?
TALOS: Now track Lawson until we find the energy signature.

4.1. There’s about four minutes of Talos navigating his way through her memories. She’s a fighter pilot, she drives a go-kart recklessly, male cadets think she’s too emotional (Christ, not this again), she plays pool and sings in a bar, and she finds an alien ship. This is a lot of time to spend without making an impact. I’d suggest focusing on 1-2 of these and making them count. One concept for this scene that would have created more interesting opportunities for interaction between Marvel and Talos would be an interrogation scene where the two talk as her memories play out on Skrull monitors. Having her react to her memories and/or offer any insight beyond what we’re seeing and/or any sort of conflict with Talos is more promising than having her unconscious.

4.2. If you’d ever want your main character unconscious during a scene focused on her backstory, you probably don’t have the right main character, or the right backstory.

4.3. If you’d ever want your main character unconscious during a scene where he/she could be talking to the main villain (or a character who appears to be), you probably don’t have the right concept for Talos, either. If the only purpose of this scene is to point Talos and/or Carol in the direction of Earth and establish the engine Macguffin, you have better opportunities than watching a pilot and alien scientist share unusually banal pleasantries. If it really is the case that Talos and Lawson cannot combine for more interesting scenes than this, I’d recommend overhauling and/or scrapping them.

5. Dialogue was off in a lot of places. Some examples:

  • Every line addressed to or about the cat. E.g. “Who’s a good kitty huh? Huh Goose? Yes, that’s right. Who’s a good kitty Goose? You’re a good kitty.” I cannot imagine what raw footage the editors were looking at that made it look like this was the most promising option.
  • “Then dig deeper. Lawson is our link to the light-speed engine. And everything we’re after…” When you’re having two characters talk about what they already know, I’d recommend sounding smoother than “As you know, Bob, this is what we already know.” In this case, I think something like “Then dig deeper. Find me the engine” would have sounded more natural.
  • “Where’s Pegasus?” “That’s classified. Not unlike the file I’ve started on you.” This response is awkward and disjointed, and a missed opportunity to bring Fury into the scene in a more interesting way.
  • Maria: “The Air Force still wasn’t letting women fly combat, so testing Lawson’s planes was our only shot at doing something that mattered.” 1) This superiority complex towards support teammates is ironic now that she’s a support teammate that matters much less to Captain Marvel’s mission than support staff do to USAF operations. 2) In a better movie, this would probably be used to establish conflict or that there’s something lacking about the character. E.g. in Cars*, a movie that needs children to quickly recognize that the main character is being an asshole, having the protagonist call out his teammates as beneath him or “your work doesn’t matter” would definitely work. If you’re not trying to establish the character as an asshole, I’d suggest having her see these other careers as not hard enough or not exciting enough rather than they don’t matter enough.
    *This is probably the first time Cars has ever come to mind as a positive example. Cars is terrible, but it’s not this terrible.
  • There are few if any moments where Talos feels believable as a military commander, and his phrasing is all over the place (e.g. “jazz hands”, “bad trip”, “young lady”, “science guy”). First, anyone stiff/formal enough to say “young lady” probably shouldn’t be using “science guy” or “bad trip.” Second, he’s slotted into a Drax-like “can’t get it” role like not knowing what a cat is, but none of this attempted humor lands at all and there’s no reason to have it. He’s a mind-melding shapeshifter, how can he not get it? If your character knows what “jazz hands” are, how does he not know what a cat is? In contrast, Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy is very consistently literal-minded and the character’s dry portrayal makes it effective. E.g. “Nothing goes over my head. (pause) My reflexes are too fast.” This is a lot better than “What’s a cat?”, or any other Talos line, for that matter.
  • The “young lady” exchange.
  • Every line including the word “emotion” or “emotional”.
  • “All life on Earth is carbon-based, not this guy. Whatever he runs on, it’s not on the periodic table.” If you’re going to rip someone off (or “pay homage” or whatever this is), I’d suggest a better movie than Man of Steel. PS: A completely emotionless protagonist with no good dialogue didn’t work there, either.
  • A Kree soldier mentions to Carol that it was disturbing seeing a shapeshifter take his appearance. CAROL: “Maybe if you were more attractive it would be less disturbing.” SOLDIER: “You think you’re funny, but I’m not laughing.” Carol’s one-liner is alright, but there was an opportunity here for a better followup, if the story hadn’t handicapped itself using a “No emotion/humor allowed” planet.
  • “Name a detail so bizarre a Skrull could never fabricate it.” “I can’t eat toast that’s cut diagonally. But you didn’t need that, did you?” “No, but I enjoyed it.” This is probably the first good exchange in the movie. 40 minutes in. PS: It’d be cool if the first hour had a well-executed exchange that developed character or plot points more important than toast preference.

6. Side characters are grossly unable to contribute what they need to. None of the side-characters contribute anything useful that Captain Marvel doesn’t already have, e.g. no distinctive capabilities or skill sets (e.g. a shapeshifter that doesn’t shapeshift, a pilot on a team whose main character already is a pilot, and a gunman that spends more time talking to a cat than shooting). If they all stayed home, it’d be hard to notice the difference. It’s not like they’re contributing to interesting dialogue or charming moments, either.

6.1. Lawson the superscientist makes her scenes worse. She has no good lines at any point and her entire first scene is low-stakes chatting with no bearing on the plot. She doesn’t contribute anything besides a superpowered engine. In contrast, most logistical support characters (particularly Marvel super-scientists) create interesting conversations with their leads. E.g. Iron Man and Rocket are in a league of their own, and I’d also recommend checking out Beast in First Class, Shuri in Black Panther, Pym in the Ant-Man series, and Edna in Incredibles. It’s hard to imagine any of these characters ever having a scene as boring as what we got from Lawson.

6.2. Nick Fury has a great car chase. After that, he gets a lot of screentime but doesn’t actually contribute anything. I think Incredibles’ approach to Frozone and Black Panther’s approach to the CIA pilot was more effective here – their screentime is brief and impactful. They’re never useless. Nick Fury should either have been written out after Marvel enters the military base or been given a reason to stay around. As it is, he gets beat up by Talos, he’s reduced to holding a cat in the final mission, he loses an eye to a cat, he sings a Marvelettes song, and he helps with dishes. I don’t think I can point to any moment post-car-chase where Fury makes a scene more interesting, and he bends over backwards to make them worse. In particular, the baby talk between him and the cat is just embarrassing. Rereading the transcript, I feel so bad for Samuel L. Jackson. This is worse than getting eaten first in Deep Blue Sea.

6.3. Maria and secondarily Monica. First, Maria doesn’t have any capabilities Captain Marvel doesn’t, which makes her mostly useless in a movie where Captain Marvel is doing 99%+ of the work. If you need her around, I’d suggest giving her some unique ability to contribute (e.g. better at piloting a particular plane or a better scientist or whatever). Splitting the team up for some missions would also help — for example, a secondary objective might involve handling explosives, taking down a shield generator, creating a diversion, adding air support, providing an escape route, etc). As it is, the only thing Maria adds that Captain Marvel doesn’t already have is the ability to gush about how amazing Captain Marvel is, and God does she use it. “You are Carol Danvers. You are the woman on that black box risking her life to do the right thing. My best friend… who supported me as a mother, and a pilot when no one else did. You’re smart and funny, and a huge pain in the ass. And you are the most powerful person I knew, way before you could shoot fire from your fist. You hear me? You hear me?” Across the board, 20% of her lines (14 out of 70) cover how impressive Carol is or how much Carol means to her. In more effective movies, there’s ups and downs in team cooperation (e.g. check out friction between teammates in Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, and Into the Spider-Verse). Protagonists usually have more setbacks and have to work harder to prove themselves. PS: If you absolutely do need to have someone deliver gushing praise to Captain Marvel, it’d probably sound less bad coming from the grade-schooler than a hardened fighter pilot, and preferably after the villain is defeated (less damage to pacing).
PS: I would guess that this movie had more lines praising the main character than Lincoln or Gandhi. It’s a distinctive approach for an action movie, particularly one with a main character this meh. I think it makes more sense in the opening of Iron Man because a character whose signature flaw is massive ego problems and/or overconfidence NEEDS to be highly competent to avoid massive likability issues. Also, Iron Man is extraordinarily charming from minute 1.

6.4. Neither Captain Marvel nor her side characters have any charm or chemistry together. An effective side-cast could have helped somewhat. I think the two biggest issues here are the lack of conflict within the team and Carol’s lack of personality. (E.g. the side-antagonists she shared with Guardians of the Galaxy had much better scenes with Quill in GOTG than with Captain Marvel, and let’s not even talk about the huge downgrade she gave Nick Fury).

7. The movie is unusually heavy on unnecessary audience cues. Don’t call out your viewers as idiots, and don’t waste time.

  • “TORFA: KREE BORDER PLANET.” This comes seconds after a scene mentioning that they were going on a mission to this planet.
  • “SUPREME INTELLIGENCE – AI LEADER OF KREE CIVILIZATION” – this could have been handled more smoothly in-scene.
  • There’s no need to have Fury’s boss Keller reveal himself to the audience as a Skrull by caressing the corpse. First, doing this with humans in the room makes him look careless/incompetent, which reduces the threat level. Second, the later scene in the elevator covers this better, and I don’t think there’s any plot need to reveal this before then.
  • “That’s no MiG”. What gave it away, the lasers? Or the spaceflight?
  • “She’s trying to break out.”
  • The heroes see a steaming cup of coffee on a ship they expect to be abandoned. “We’re not alone.” I think that’s obvious to anyone older than 8. Having a character silently alert other characters to the coffee should be enough, and maybe Captain Marvel charges up her photon blaster to cue kid viewers that the threat level is higher than it was a few seconds ago.
  • “It’s firing behind it” – a close-up shot on rear-mounted lasers and Captain Marvel dodging incoming fire would probably cover this more smoothly.
  • “Species: Flerken. Threat: High.” Talos panicked after seeing the flerken, so it should be pretty obvious that the cat is dangerous.
  • “I’m Just A Girl” – If you’re going for 1990s songs that are uncreatively on-the-nose for Captain Marvel, I’d suggest Wannabe, I Don’t Have the Heart, and Frozen.

8. Scene timing: There’s an early scene with Carol and the Supreme Intelligence, but they’re probably not able to have an interesting scene at this point. They don’t really have anything to talk about besides the backstory with the Skrulls and making Carol completely emotionless, neither one of which is particularly promising. The backstory with the Skrull war is common knowledge in-setting, so we might be able to handle this more smoothly in a news blurb about a Skrull imposter getting arrested or an update in the war on the Skrulls. Alternately, it might be possible to handle this in the briefing scene for the mission to Torfa.

9. If you’re creating an alien species, I’d recommend that they either all look human or all look non-human, especially if your plot involves a human taken in by aliens. Yon-Rogg looks 100% human, and we shouldn’t have to guess whether he’s a human or not. (PS: He’s not).

9.1. Having Lawson as a Kree rather than a Skrull creates some plot holes. It doesn’t make much sense that the Kree, a warrior species with no shapeshifting capabilities, would have a critical scientist work as a lone infiltrator on a remote world where they have no other presence. It’d be in character for the Skrull, though, and it’d make sense why a shapeshifting Skrull would look exactly like a human. This feels like they were originally planning for Lawson as a Skrull but switched her to a Kree without thinking it through.

10. Captain Marvel takes place a few years after Desert Storm. If Maria is willing to threaten violence over “young lady”, I’m guessing she’s a civilian now because she got court-martialled the first time she met a Saudi. My personal canon is that she caused somebody’s son to draw a weapon to protect the tribal honor based on what he heard third-hand from somebody’s cousin who separately has a blood feud going against Western forces for backing a military commander from a family that stole his great-grandfather’s herd three generations ago. And it’s still a better love story than Twilight.

11. The challenge level is unusually low. When the threats are this weak, it considerably reduces opportunities for suspense and excitement.

  • No lasting consequences to any setbacks. For example, in classic Star Wars, losing a fight might mean a major injury like losing a hand, a major character death like Obi-Wan, or even the destruction of a planet. In Captain Marvel, losing a fight means being involuntarily transported to the next scene, but they don’t even take your equipment. These aren’t even low stakes, they’re no stakes. PS: If you ever have a prisoner who can shoot a laser through your ship, don’t let her keep anything that would let her survive in space.
  • All it takes Carol to win the fight with the Supreme Intelligence is to remember getting back up after falling off a bike, and pulling off her Kree control device. I think this neuters what should be a climactic moment. I’d recommend checking out each confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader for a classically effective progression of a hero gradually overcoming a threatening villain. More recently, I love how Dr. Strange handled a protagonist taking on a far superior foe (cleverly forcing a draw).
  • For most characters, falling out of a plane would be a major setback. No worries, she discovers she can fly. Unless you’re writing a Saturday morning cartoon, this is probably the least interesting option available for overcoming this setback.
  • Having discovered she can fly a few seconds ago, she can fly well enough to catch a salvo of warheads and a fleet of interceptors from wrecking Earth. This is not as bad as Kylo Ren losing to someone holding a lightsaber for the first time* but it’s on the spectrum.
    *I think?
  • She blasts her way into a secure facility rather than let Fury trick their way inside. This is a boldly reckless move that obviously should create some problems (e.g. the base might go on alert, Fury might become convinced she’s an unreliable partner, some records they came for might get destroyed, etc). Instead, the photon blaster actually turns out to be just a much faster way of getting through a door than picking the lock. What the hell sort of maximum-security facility is this?
  • She may or may not be able to defeat her ex-boss in melee combat. No worries, she lasers him. This shoots a potentially interesting opportunity for melee combat in the face.
  • She isn’t shown having any unusual technical background (either before or after she gets taken in by aliens), but she’s able to engineer a payphone to make an intergalactic phone call using parts she got from Radio Shack. That seems like a Tony Stark-grade technical problem, something that requires skills amazing enough that they shouldn’t be coming out of nowhere. (Tony Stark would probably also get a longer scene showing his first attempts and how it gradually gets amazing over time).
  • When they need to run from the military base, there’s a plane fueled and ready to fly. Of course there is. (Very thoughtfully, USAF/NASA armed it as well, just in case we need live rounds in a test plane, I guess)*.
  • *In case we need to shoot down space MiGs.

  • She’s able to build an intergalactic pager.
  • Virtually everybody she interacts with for more than 10 lines regards her as singularly impressive. In particular, Maria’s gushing praise for her is embarrassing and Fury naming the Avengers after somebody that hadn’t been important enough to mention before is odd.

12. Carol’s demeanor and bearing does not feel believable for a fighter pilot. Even before the Kree capture her, she’s unusually restrained in a position that’s iconically daring and bold. If your character has a personality that’s at odds with her life goals, there might be some quality opportunities there for conflict and/or personality development. At it is, she’d probably be more believable as an intelligence analyst or doctor or an accountant. E.g. if she is supposed to be unusually gutsy (like her go-kart wreck suggests), maybe give her some bold missteps along the way? As it is the closest she comes to an unusually bold move is blasting a door into a highly secure section of a military base, but the story plays it like she is taking a stealthy approach (no guards are alerted, they’re able to quietly find the records they are looking for, etc). Her boldness never really creates problems for her, which I think is a major missed opportunity. (Similarly, Maria’s threat to kick Talos’ ass is a bold move that creates no problems and is instantly forgotten). PS: if you have a main character that plays it this safe, I’d suggest against naming any characters (particularly a cat) after a Top Gun character.

12.1. In her climactic moment, she’s challenged to melee combat (by someone that’s previously bested her in melee combat) and she instead blasts him with a laser. Blasting him is entirely reasonable, but she attempts to glorify taking the easier route as “I don’t need to prove myself to you” and it’s miserably pretentious. If someone tries to kill you, you don’t need to explain why you shot them — e.g. you know Han Solo or Indiana Jones wouldn’t have wasted any time there, and they’d have been helluva more charming, maybe with a self-explanatory smile. PS: What sort of test pilot passes on an opportunity to push themselves to their limits?

12.2. Military scenes: Compare “That’s not a MiG” to this amazing scene where Ms. Incredible pilots a plane under enemy fire. This Incredibles scene is extremely tense and one of the most judicious and effective uses of professional jargon I’ve ever seen. The acting, the dialogue and the fight choreography create danger and suspense completely missing from the Captain Marvel equivalent. Secondarily, there are some really cool things going on here like subtly creating a backstory for Ms. Incredible without ever explicitly saying that she was a military pilot. I’d much rather have 4 minutes of this scene than 4 minutes of Carol being generically rejected as a stockcar racer/cadet/pilot/whatever. It advances a major central conflict, it moves the characters forward in the plot, and it’s balls-to-the-wall exciting.
PS: The Incredibles scene uses anti-missile chaff without saying what it does. Having the plane barrel engage in evasive maneuvers as it’s firing the chaff makes it easier to see that the chaff is protection against the missiles. (Also, having the chaff angle towards the missiles is a good call – this gives viewers more information about what the chaff’s purpose is than a more passive drop would have). If a rated-G audience can figure out chaff, PG-13 filmmakers should have had more confidence in their audience’s ability to figure out what steaming coffee on an abandoned ship means, and in their own ability to provide context clues to help them.

12.3. One unusual plus to aerial combat for writers is that it’s one of the only kinds of combat where combatants have good reasons to talk during the fight and can sound natural doing so. If you’ve got an opportunity like that, you can do a lot better than “That’s not a MiG.”

13. Comparing Incredibles 1 to Captain Marvel, I believe that Ms. Incredible comes across as much more competent and active than Captain Marvel, even though they come from similar backgrounds. Some potential causes here:

  • Ms. Incredible is treated as an individual in-story (e.g. no overt demographic discrimination), and the conflicts she has with other characters are more three-dimensional than anything Captain Marvel gets. E.g. contrast her conflict with Bob over how his desire to be a superhero causes them to have to relocate their family vs. Maria’s conflict between being a single parent and wanting to accompany Captain Marvel on a suicide mission. Maria almost instantly ditches her kid for a very high-risk mission because her kid tells her it’d be setting a bad example otherwise. First, caving like this is probably out of character for Maria (too soft, too squishy). 2) There are no consequences to this decision, it’s pretty gutless. One possible consequence would be that the person/people she needs to ask as potential parental surrogates are not 100% cooperative (e.g. an ex-husband that already thinks she’s not the most responsible parent). Another possible consequence would be that Maria might handle the mission a bit differently than a non-parent would, e.g. backing out on a particularly dangerous phase of the mission that she wouldn’t have as a younger pilot. (Bob not making this adjustment 100% is one of the main conflicts of the first half of Incredibles).
  • The dialogue and acting/directing in Incredibles are much better. When I’m seeing a scene executed by very good actors, I know I could never do that even if I had the script in front of me, and a great actor would make me feel silly for trying. There are very few Marvel superheroes that get scenes that are so leaden that I wonder if one of the stuntmen or lighting staff* on-set could do a better job acting than the actors actually did, and besides Hawkeye and Peter Parker all of them are in Captain Marvel. In particular, Talos’ scenes are so mediocre that I wonder if I could do better. (I am confident that I wouldn’t be much worse, and if any data analyst is feeling bold enough to publicly make a claim like that, the acting/direction is probably not movie-ready).
    *It’s not like the movie needed them for lighting. Look at how oppressively dark and washed-out the first 20-30 minutes are.
  • Incredibles’ stakes are real and the adversaries are more competent – in particular, I’d recommend checking out the scene where Rohan and his fleet watch helplessly as they get wrecked by someone that learned how to fly 30 seconds ago. In comparison, Syndrome and his agents learn and adapt quickly to heroic tactics and they’re never a joke.

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Jul 17 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home Review (1 star out of 5)

Published by under Writing Articles

1. This version of Spider-Man is a useless toolbox who actively avoids doing interesting things, and what he does attempt is usually wimpy and/or incompetent.

2. Unlike most main characters, his choices don’t matter much. For example, he chooses to leave his supersuit at home (but his aunt sneaks it in anyway) and he tries to choose his school trip over superheroics (itself a red flag) but Nick Fury railroads him into coming to Prague anyway. He has an unusual lack of agency over his story. Relatedly, he’s pushed into following in Tony Stark’s footsteps, but he doesn’t have any of the initiative, charm, or intelligence to make that feel believable, nor does he pursue an alternative which is interesting in any way. (He mentions a few times that he would just rather be a neighborhood Spider-Man, but he’s not proactive enough to actually do anything about it).

2.1. It’s hard to complain about being a neighborhood Spider-Man if he’d rather go on an iconically upscale Euro trip than save the world. A neighborhood Spider-Man might also spend less time complaining in general. Unless the neighborhood is NW Washington DC.

3. If your superhero would rather be on a school trip than a superhero, don’t make a superhero movie about him, it’ll probably suck.

3.1. Surrounding a superhero with faceless classmates and teachers is not a great setup. Even if they had good lines, these school characters besides Ned and *maybe* MJ are bystanders to the central plot. They don’t know what’s going on and don’t create particularly interesting social obstacles either. Instead of a scene distracting the world’s most oblivious teacher from a ****ing missile strike, maybe Spider-Man has to hide something from Nick Fury or another character involved in the superhero plot? That looks like a more promising setup to me.

3.2. The first movie in the Marvel cinematic universe after ~50% of humanity getting erased for 5 years is a high school vacation.

4. If any characters causes viewers to ask “Should you even be on this team?”, it’d be very helpful if viewers see there’s some reason to have him on the team . In this case, Spider-Man’s main role is being grossly inadequate and he doesn’t even want to be there. You’ve proably seen like 100 movies where a cop screws up a case and the hardass boss says “Gimme your badge (pause) and your gun.” This movie’s twist is that the main character tries to quit on saving the world and the hardass boss has to smile at this absolute toolbox and convince him to do his job.

5. Incompetent clownery: have we hit rock bottom yet?

  • Peter accidentally calls a drone strike on his own bus within seconds of being given the drone system.
  • Peter has two fights with elementals without realizing that they are holograms.
  • Peter could have stayed home from the water elemental fight and the outcome would have been largely the same. A more competent hero might have picked up some information which could have been useful later on and/or been more successful at whatever he attempted.
  • “Peter tingle”
  • Every conversation Peter has with Mr. Harrington or Aunt May.
  • Peter getting fooled by illusions of Nick Fury twice. Even on first viewing, Peter clearly has to be severely concussed or otherwise mentally damaged not to suspect anything when “Nick Fury” asks Peter who he told about Mysterio’s fraud. (Arguably this is worse for a character that loves movie references. If you’ve seen a movie ever, when someone asks you “who have you told about this criminal activity?” they’re ready to murder you and the witnesses. If I were trying to make Spider-Man sound non-dumbass here, I’d suggest a rephrase like “We need an ironclad case. Do you have any corroborating witnesses or other evidence?”)
  • Jake Gyllenhaal calls him awkward.
  • In a good movie, a protagonist should be able to speak with a love interest and make it interesting. In this movie, Peter concocts a half-assed plan where his friend pretends that he has an allergy in a scheme to get her to sit next to Peter. Having his friend deliver these lines somehow makes Peter look even more pathetic.
  • Arrested by the Dutch.
  • “Even Dead I’m The Hero”. Even dead, Tony Stark has more of a pulse than Spider-Man.
  • “I love Led Zeppelin!” during an AC/DC song. He’s designated himself as the pop culture guy, that’s his thing (pathetic as it is), and he can’t even do that right. Having a character fail ineptly at something he’s supposed to be really good at… I generally wouldn’t recommend this for superhero movies. (The only positive example that comes to mind outside of superheroes is Michael Scott in The Office — I think he’s comedically effective largely because he’s a chaotic mix of brilliant boss, complete mental case, and rolling HR disaster. He also gets great lines and great acting).
  • Talos/Nick Fury thinks Peter isn’t even worthy to bring up Captain Marvel (“don’t invoke her name”). That’s rock bottom, isn’t it? Is it possible to be more inadequate?
  • I’ll give a pass for an alien shapeshifter not knowing that opera is not the best way to keep teens occupied. A shapeshifter soldier surviving a genocidal war getting fooled by Mysterio pretending to be a fighter surviving a genocidal war? Oh, God. That’s like Dr. Strange getting fooled by an alien pretending to be a human surgeon that has never before met either a surgeon or a human. I would REALLY hope the writers give Strange a better explanation than “wow, his costume was amazing.”

6. Out of all of the common concepts for a sequel, “Same characters as last time, but now they’re in Europe” is one of the least promising. No surprises here, taking bland characters and taking them on a Euro vacation is actually worse than leaving them at home – doing tourist stuff does not generally make for very interesting material, and the setting is probably going to take time/space that otherwise could have been used more effectively. (In fairness to set-in-Europe sequels, “let’s refilm an animated movie in live action” and “let’s refilm a movie but with a younger cast” are probably worse).

6.1. In a good sequel, you might see dramatic themes expanded upon, interesting character arcs built upon, etc. E.g. looking back to the 2000s Spider-Man movies, I think Spider-Man 2 did a great job building on Peter’s conflict between maintaining a normal life vs. being a superhero. In Far From Home, the only theme brought back from Homecoming is “Peter Parker is still completely a joke at being a superhero, and if he got hit by an asteroid the audience would be better for it.” I’ve never seen a movie as committed to a theme as this one.

7. One bright spot: in the post-credits scene a villain took Spider-Man’s secret identity public. Hopefully this will reduce the amount of scenes where other characters have to be mentally damaged to protect the secret identity.

8. Other bright spots: the action is surprisingly competent, definitely better executed than other drone battles in Avengers 2, Iron-Man 2 and Venom. The hallucination powers are creative. The villain (pre-reveal) is notably more engaging than Spider-Man. Weirdly, he’s more believable as a fake hero than he is as a live villain given how thin his motive/plan is.

9. The fake hero setup creates interesting opportunities for hero-villain interaction. Hey, not EVERY supervillain has a daughter you can date.

10. The editing in this movie was notably weak. There were a lot of moments that stood out here, but I have to call out the villainous reveal scene as some of the worst exposition I can remember. E.g. “They called me unstable” sounds like a B-film about a mad scientist. More generally, there was a lot of wasted time:

  • Most of what happens before the water elemental fight (e.g. the fundraiser, most of Venice, and maybe the airplane scene).
  • Every Flash Thompson line
  • Aunt May’s side-romance with Happy.
  • The Netherlands scene was funny but Peter Parker desperately needed time/space to be competent. (Also, if we’re pretending that his secret identity is interesting at all, having a character get arrested and unmasked without any followup is probably bad plotting).

10.1. The editing is sloppy enough that consistency issues were noticeable during a first viewing. E.g. Mysterio gets prompted for safety concerns after launching a drone strike in his own area but Peter somehow didn’t get this safety alert when he called in a drone strike on his own bus.

10.2. If Tony Stark builds a drone strike system that doesn’t have any safeguards against assassinating a busful of kids, maybe it’d help to give it to someone less dumbass than Peter Parker. Peter Parker is not just a raging storm of stupidity, he infects the people around him. Other victims include Talos, the real Nick Fury, the love interest, classmates and teachers, and whoever signed off on making this movie.

11. The plot hinges on Mysterio setting up fake crimes to pump up his own status by beating up holograms. He carefully choreographs everything and pre-tapes footage about how the fight will look before it happens. Spider-Man making an unscripted appearance against the water elemental should have been a bigger deal. This would have been a good opportunity for Mysterio to improvise something to keep Spider-Man from figuring out that the fight was a sham. This would probably have a more satisfying outcome than “Maybe Spider-Man will spend the entire fight trying to keep a tower from collapsing but not even accomplish that.”

12. Peter and MJ figure out that Mysterio is a fraud by stumbling upon one of the hologram generators he used. It’d probably be more satisfying (and help develop their competence) if they worked harder for it. For example, thinking back to the first Avengers movie, there’s a scene where Captain America realizes that he’s being deceived when he’s introduced to an “Army nurse” pretending it’s still the 1940s. CA picks up on subtle clues that things are off (e.g. she’s wearing a man’s tie, her haircut doesn’t meet 1940s regulations, and she’s got a modern bra on). How lame would it have been if Captain America had realized the WWII setup was a sham because the nurse accidentally dropped a modern newspaper?

12.1. What might a competent hero might have been able to pick up on to suggest that something is up with Mysterio? I have a lot of ideas on this, but to start with, Peter should have an interest in Mysterio’s equipment. It’s noticeably more effective against the elementals than anything else they’ve tried, and any super-engineer should be trying to figure out how to build more of it. Peter might offer help on routine repair/maintenance (and get shut down), and maybe wonder about how exactly Mysterio is keeping a futuristic suit repaired by himself. Secondarily, Mysterio’s visual style is very flashy/Hollywood (e.g. flying around with a cape), and that’s a really odd move from an engineer who claims to be one of the survivors of a failed war against elemental invaders.

14 responses so far

Apr 11 2017

Rotten Tomatoes Score Dataset Updated

We’re up to 72 superhero movies since 2000 (current as of November 2017). You can download the full data here. Some observations:


  • R movies are making up the quality gap with PG-13 movies.
  • Superhero movies are improving. Over the last 5 years (2013-2017), the average superhero movie is averaging 70% on Rotten Tomatoes, up from 58% from 2000 to 2012.
  • Marvel properties tend to score better on Rotten Tomatoes than DC properties — Marvel’s averaging 65%, compared to 51% for DC properties and 69% for other superhero movies.
  • Both DC and Marvel movies are getting better over time. Movies based on DC properties averaged 55% over the last 5 years, up from 48% over the 12 years before. Movies based on Marvel properties averaged 74% over the last 5 years, up from 59% over the 12 years before.


  • Sci-fi movies and drama movies do noticeably better than average.
  • Thrillers and fantasy do noticeably worse.

Notes on genre classifications: Each of the movies had 2-3 genres assigned by Google metadata. I changed any values that struck me as obviously wrong (e.g. according to Google’s metadata, Spider-Man 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy are “action / fantasy” and Green Lantern is “fantasy / thriller”). Disclaimer: Genre classifications are always highly subjective and arbitrary.

3 responses so far

Mar 24 2017

Letters from Deadpool

Published by under Deadpool

Hey DeadPool,

You are a funny guy. How did you become a super hero? What do you do when you’re not doing anything? Do you like being a superhero? Why do you wear a mask? Why do you wear red and white? Are you Canadian?

Getting superpowers is sort of a long story. Some people are born mutants or work in a nuclear power plant. I got an organ implant from a doctor I found at an IHOP. (I mean, I got the DOCTOR at the IHOP, not the ORGAN, that would just be nasty).

When I’m not doing anything, I make fun of X-Men and my studio and my writers, that keeps me plenty busy.

The last Canadian I met tried to murder me with his claws a few times. And that was before I tried hitting on his sort-of-daughter, who ALSO has Canadian murder-claws. That’s since been adapted into two movies, Logan and Saw 3. #CanadianDating

“Why do you wear a mask?” To make it possible for Ryan Reynolds to play me in the movies. With the mask off, he looks more like an avocado than a mercenary (and about as threatening as a door-to-door Bible salesman).

“Why do you wear red and white?” It’s easier to wash blood out of red clothes. White helps if pigeons are around. New York has a lot of pigeons.


Your Friendly Neighborhood Deadpool

Mr. Deadpool,

Is it true you don’t like to be called a hero? I like it when you make jokes. They’re really funny.

In your movie, why did you count your bullets when you could have picked up an enemy’s gun?

I also heard you don’t like the X-Men, is that true? How many enemies do you have?

I don’t call myself a hero, but I don’t care what other people call me, except for the time that Spider-Man called me Cable’s sidekick. NOT TRUE, CABLE WORKS FOR ME. He doesn’t have a movie yet. He doesn’t even know what a chimichanga is, so he’s no good for food orders either.

“I like it when you make fun jokes.” Thanks! Sometimes inspiration for a great scene hits me. Colossus bet me $20 there was no worse way to die than watching Green Lantern. The next day I found a Zamboni, and also eight henchmen trying to kill me, and the rest is history. PS: Colossus refused to pay up because he is a LIAR. And a Russian. Don’t bet with Russians.

“How come you counted your bullets instead of picking up an enemy’s gun?” Guns are like girlfriends: you don’t swap them out. Unless you find one much better. Or you have a katana. Trust me, it’d all make sense if you had a katana, or a girlfriend.

“I also heard you don’t like the X-Men.” TRUE. When I was in Wolverine’s movie, they sewed my mouth shut. When I asked Wolverine to be in my movie, or maybe someone badass like Gambit or Cable, the X-Men sent me a Twitter-addicted negasonic teenage warhead.

“How many enemies do you have?” I don’t keep like a running kill-count or anything but 100 less than at the start of my movie. Several remaining names: Wolverine (tried to kill me after I flirted with his daughter WHO TOTALLY COULD HAVE BEEN 18), Wolverine’s daughter (same), Sweden (The Katana Incident), Madcap (me but less funny), and Modok (he’s a floating head).


Deadpool, how’s your granny? I heard your girlfriend kicked you out of the house. What do you think of your job? I hope your girlfriend will take you back.
How’s your day? When are you going to make another movie? In your last movie I liked it when you got your girlfriend back. I hope you make a new movie soon.

“How’s your granny?” SHE’S NOT MY GRANNY. She’s just someone I’m sharing a room with, who happens to be a granny, and also probably addicted to cocaine. That’s how she went blind. It’d also explain why she took a hitman as an AirBNB guest, just saying.

“What do you think of your job?” I have a job? I didn’t get paid anything for taking down Ajax. I wasn’t even able to sell the Zamboni. If Batman and Iron-Man have taught us anything, being a billionaire playboy is every bit as amazing as it sounds. If I have taught you anything, don’t go on a one-man journey of revenge and murderous redemption without getting paid for it.

“I hope your girlfriend will take you back.” Unlike the granny, she’s not blind (and I’m not a billionaire), so it won’t be easy.

“I hope you make a new movie soon.” Deadpool 2 is coming out next year. My sidekick Cable’s going to be in it. More importantly, me too.


Why did you think about becoming a hero when you got an offer? I love the part in your movie where you cut your hand off, that part made me laugh so much.

Why did you make a movie? Why is your name DeadPool? Why do you live with an old lady? Do you have a pet? Do you have a car? If you wanted a car what would it be?

“I love the part in your movie where you cut your hand off, that part made me laugh so much.” When you’re filming a movie, most scenes get practiced 30-40 times to get the performance just right. Check out the take where I pass out from blood loss. Comedy gold.

“Why did you make a movie?” My life is grim, dirty, and loaded with murder and betrayal. It was either Hollywood or politics, and I don’t look good in a tie.

“Why are you named Deadpool?” A deadpool is when people bet on who’s going to die first. I had cancer (and a lot of it), so most of the people at my bar thought I was going to die first. JOKE’S ON THEM, SUCKERS.

“Why do you live with a old lady?” She’s blind and slow, two of my main requirements in a roommate. Anybody else would have run to the cops years ago.

“What was your favourite part in the movie when you were acting?” The romance scenes were all my idea. And, no, we didn’t use stunt doubles. The studio is still working out whether my ideas for the sequel are okay for a rated R movie, though. Or legal.


5 responses so far

Nov 08 2016

Preliminary review of Dr. Strange

Published by under Comic Book Movies

  • I feel like a marketing executive put a gun to the screenwriter’s head and said “I don’t CARE what the movie is about, put New York City, London, and Hong Kong in it. Just do that thing where the villain is trying to collect plot coupons around the world in places that happen to be major marketing centers. What about like magic sanctums or something? Have we tried that yet?” The plot coupon setup would have been less obvious if the cities had been used more cleverly. The scenes in Hong Kong, London, and probably NYC could have happened virtually anywhere.
  • Notably, Dr. Strange bends over backwards to insult the love interest, and dares her to leave, and the next time they see each other she’s basically forgotten about the whole thing. From a plot development perspective, probably not ideal. I wouldn’t suggest having a character work that hard to do something distinctive/extraordinary unless you’re willing to deal with the consequences. In this case, I think it makes the love interest seem very hard to like.
  • The movie was funny in more than a few places, but off the top of my head, I wouldn’t recommend the writing on most other levels. For example, Dr. Strange doesn’t really earn most of what he has (with the exception of the final scene) – e.g. his cape wins a battle for him, his cape chooses him for no reason, he happens to get a super-lucky assist from somebody in New York that happens to have been to the Nepalese healer he’s looking for (AND has a personal reason not to help Strange but does so anyway), he just happens to have been born with incredible magical talent, his sort-of-girlfriend forgives him far too easily to feel like a human, he gets treated as exceptional long before he’s actually done anything exceptional, etc. It gets better gradually – e.g. the scene where he steals magic tomes using telekinesis works not because his telekinesis is better than anybody else’s, but because he’s willing to try using it in a way that most other characters wouldn’t. Also, in the final scene, he cleverly uses limited capabilities to force a draw with a more powerful adversary.
  • “The Cloak of Levitation” is a notably bad name for anything. He’s a sorcerer. I don’t think he needs an explanation for why he wears a cape.
  • Dr. Strange got a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Over the first half of the movie, I would have guessed 50-60%. By the end, maybe 60-70%. I don’t think it passes the smell test on action quality, and the character development is noticeably weaker than in most other MCU movies.
  • Wow, Nepal is a lot more racially diverse than I was expecting. Dr. Strange gets randomly mugged by a white guy, a black guy, and an east Asian that looked/sounded like a casting director found them at a business luncheon and hoped nobody would notice if they were wearing street clothes. It’s like the United Nations of Nepalese street crime. (And, weirdly, even less Nepalese than the rest of Dr. Strange’s Nepal).
  • The fight scenes were disappointing. The trailer set this up as some mindbending, Inception-level mojo. Instead we got half-assed CGI melee for the most part. The action in even a mediocre kung fu movie is miles ahead of this.
  • The ending is genuinely clever, and probably the only element of this movie that I’ll remember a year from now. Negotiated settlements between hero and villain are exceptionally rare in superhero movies (see also Watchmen). Also, the bargaining scene allowed the screenwriter to avoid some of the more serious problems floating around world-level threats — they are hard to talk to and rarely have much interesting to say (see also Suicide Squad, Green Lantern, the last two Fantastic Four movies, etc). We didn’t get to avoid the purple-swirling-dust stuff, though (see, well, pretty much every superhero movie where the planet is threatened).

32 responses so far

Nov 06 2016

Calling All Supervillain Stories

Den Warren, (K-Tron, Metahuman Wars) is issuing a call for 3k-5k word submissions for a superhero prose fiction anthology titled, The Supreme Archvillain Election.

Each submission will be a supervillain sitting at a huge table explaining why they should be voted as the Supreme Archvillain, then they go into a story, etc. Reprint excerpts and new writers welcome.

8 responses so far

Sep 18 2016

Man of Steel Review

1. This movie is about as bad as Catwoman but, in Catwoman’s defense, it had okay action scenes.

2. Man of Steel particularly struggled with family dialogue. E.g. Clark’s Kryptonian parents take 3 minutes to describe their plan to send him to Earth and say their goodbyes. It’s pretty bland stuff, e.g. melodramatic intonations like “Goodbye, my son, all our hopes and dreams travel with you.” For much better family sequences, I’d recommend checking out Up, Incredibles, and Inception, non-dramas that happened to have some highly emotional and sometimes tragic family scenes. Let’s look at Inception’s vault scene, where a son insecure about failing his imposing father’s expectations is about to inherit a business empire from his dying father. He quietly hates his father because he thinks that his father has rejected him (e.g. not acknowledging a photo of a homemade pinwheel that’s probably the only happy memory they ever shared).

If you can get through this scene without shedding a tear or smiling at all, I’d recommend talking to a WB casting director because apparently they’re really into that. Also, the dialogue in this scene takes about 1:15. Compare to 3:15 of “Goodbye, my son, all our hopes and dreams travel with you and maybe also an AI which will spend another 5-10 minutes narrating to you later.”

(For some extra tragedy, this scene from Inception is a dream sequence created to trick the son into breaking up his father’s empire. In actuality, the father probably actually was a bastard).

2.1. When Pa Kent reveals to his son that he’s an alien, he bends over backwards to be weird about it. E.g. “You’re not on the periodic table”, “You’re the answer to ‘are we alone in the universe?’”, and “You need to decide whether to stand proud in front of the human race or not.” Clark doesn’t respond at all to this weirdness (his father gets 146 words in this scene, and Clark gets 13 – like most scenes between Clark and a parent, it’s more of a parental monologue than a conversation).

2.2. When Ma Kent’s son locks himself in a closet at school, mixing in some conflict would probably be more interesting than trying to be a yoga instructor. (“Focus on my voice. Pretend it’s an island. Out in the ocean. Can you see it?”) Alternately, maybe having Clark react when they take conversations in exceptionally weird directions. In this scene, Clark’s mom gets 80% of the words. Contrast to more effective conversations in Dr. Strange – even the most New Age-sounding lines from the Ancient One address problems and advance goals in a serious, practical way.

3. A question-and-answer session between two entirely cooperative characters is almost never the most interesting way to convey information. If the backstory of what had happened on Krypton actually were important, I’d recommend cutting the first 20 minutes of the movie on Krypton and most of the conversation between Clark and Jor-El, and have General Zod briefly mention or allude to important pieces when he shows up. Even that’s probably unnecessary.
3.1. If you’re rewriting a scene that feels like an 100% cooperative Q&A session, I’d recommend considering building some conflict between the characters, some mistrust, some concealment and/or lying and/or self-serving, not being willing and/or able to tell the whole story, and/or unreliable answers, etc. Also, there may be some degree of “cost” to the questions — e.g. if you sent your son to another planet and could have come yourself but chose not to, you might be uncomfortable freely admitting that because he’d probably think that you abandoned him. There probably should have been some pushing/conflict before Jor-El elaborates on what happened there.

4. The movie heavily overfocuses on Clark’s parents, who delivered twice as many lines as Clark/Superman gets (26% vs. 13%). Minor characters (mostly the military and minor Kryptonians) made up another 39%. Giving 2/3 of the lines in the movie to minor characters that have little bearing on the plot, little personality, and almost no unusual decisions between them is a bad idea. If your superhero is so boring that sidelining him for his parents might be a good idea, something has gone catastrophically wrong for your superhero story.

Characters Word Count % of Total
Clark’s parents 1,888 26%
Clark/Superman 926 13%
Zod 850 12%
Lois 725 10%
Everybody else (mostly military + minor Kryptonians) 2,815 39%

4.1. Arguably the worst part of the conversations between Clark and his parents is that his parents are windbags that relentlessly info-dump at him in the most grandiose, messianic terms what he symbolizes and the unbelievably wonderful things he’s going to accomplish some day when he gets off his ass and stops listening to windbags telling him about it. Jor-el: “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. You will help them accomplish wonders. You will guide them so they might not make the same mistakes we did. You will show them this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal.” Pa Kent: “You were sent here for a reason. All these changes you’re going through, one day you’re going to think of them as a blessing, and when that day comes you’re going to have to make a choice, to stand proud in front of the human race or not… You just need to think about what kind of man you want to grow up to be, because whoever that man is, good or bad, he’s going to change the world.” Who the **** cares what he symbolizes? Get him doing and saying interesting things. In the first hour, he doesn’t come close on the first or attempt the second.

4.2. If ANYBODY takes 80% of the lines in a conversation with your main character, the scene-stealing characters damn well better be hyper-charismatic and/or critical to the plot, on the order of a Hannibal Lecter or Han Solo or Blake (the “coffee is for closers” sales instructor in Glengarry Glenross). In Man of Steel, virtually every scene with Clark’s parents sidelined Clark, which is very unusual for a lead character. I don’t see what they were going for. Clark didn’t get a lot of opportunities to have personality, develop himself and/or be interesting.

4.3. There’s one point at which the ghost of Jor-el tells Clark “If only Lara could have witnessed this.” Nah, three hyper-generic parental figures should be enough, I think.

5. The entire plot is a festering cancer of incompetence.. Being in Man of Steel is like barrel-rolling a Jeep full of incontinent donkeys. Nobody walks away looking good.

  • The military and Superman have one Kryptonian weapon against the Kryptonian invasion. Instead of doing a conventional aerial assault, like the last one that got totally wrecked by Kryptonians flying at Mach 20, why not have Superman fly it in?
  • Krypton’s codex, the only means by which Kryptonians can have children, is completely unguarded. Jor-El doesn’t even need to pick a lock to steal it, let alone deal with any guards. It’s less secure than the average 7-11.
  • Zod moves at an exceptionally slow pace when trying to recover the codex .
  • Zod: “I was bred to be a warrior. I trained my entire life.” Zod and two soldiers with rifles are unable to defeat a scientist in combat, and the scientist punches Zod out. Nor is he able to prevent a journalist from shooting her way out of captivity. I’d get a refund on that training.
  • When Zod stabs Jor-El, he doesn’t secure Jor-El’s gun even though Lara is a few feet away from it. You sure you can’t get a refund on that training?
  • Zod has at least 10 Kryptonians. Earth has one. Might have helped having more than 2 of the invaders try superpowered fighting.
  • Clark not figuring out a way to save his father secretly from the tornado (e.g. creating a distraction with heat vision and then running in while people are distracted).
  • Less blatant, but I think a smarter superhero could have spared Metropolis some devastation by drawing Zod away from the city.
  • Here’s the first lines exchanged between Hardy and Lois. COLONEL HARDY: “You’re early. We were expecting you tomorrow.” LOIS: “Which is why I showed up today. Look, let’s get one thing straight, guys, okay? The only reason I’m here is because we’re on Canadian soil, and the appellate court overruled your injunction to keep me away. So if we’re done measuring dicks, can you have your people show me what you found.” That… got out of hand quickly. To make Lois come across as tough rather than mentally unstable, I’d suggest giving her an actual provocation to respond to rather than just a military officer gently pointing out they agreed to a different schedule. Treating that as “measuring dicks” makes her sound completely in over her head and/or massively insecure. Also, I’d recommend giving her some social skills – check out Maltese Falcon or The Killers for much better examples of characters working on hostile sources of information. Introducing yourself by declaring “YOU’RE OPPOSED TO MY INVESTIGATION!” for no benefit generally isn’t very sharp, even if the target actually were opposed to your investigation (which Hardy doesn’t appear to be, in this case).
  • Clark: “I don’t know if Zod can be trusted.” Zod has threatened to devastate Earth and Jor-El mentioned that he launched a coup against Krypton. I’d recommend taking this in a badass direction (e.g. “he’s probably going to kill me, but it might save the planet”) rather than “I really am that dumb”.
  • Perry evacuates the Daily Planet about 10 minutes after an alien warlord’s spaceship reaches Metropolis and a few minutes after the bombardment begins. If an alien that has threatened dire consequences for Earth parks a warship over a major city, sticking around to watch makes it less of a murder and more of a suicide. This is probably obvious to everybody in the world but Metropolis.
  • The conspiracy blogger was a pleasant surprise. He’s fully aware that Lois is trying to use him, and throws a wrench in her plans the first chance he gets (revealing that she knows who Superman is). It’s badass and makes Lois’s habitual idiocy sort of tolerable here. (If you need to blindly trust somebody, telling them how much you detest them while asking them for a favor probably should not work out all that well. That’s probably obvious to everybody in the world besides Lois).
  • Perry refusing to run a huge story on a UFO sighting because he thinks that Lois might have hallucinated it. Okay, but did she hallucinate the multiple collaborating eyewitnesses? And her laser wounds, and the massive ****ing crater where a spaceship flew out of a mountain? To make Perry look less idiotic here, I’d recommend making Lois’ case a bit more sketchy (e.g. she has several military contractors who will anonymously corroborate her story but no one willing to go on record, and there’s a plausible alternative explanation for the crater, like a volcanic eruption). Alternately, have Perry refuse to run the article because he’s been badly burned by Lois’ sources before and/or he suspects there’s something she’s not telling him (e.g. she’s in love with the subject of the article, probably has a vendetta against the military, is a BS artist, and generally is a walking time-bomb of incompetence and conflicts of interest).
  • Speaking of chronic incompetence, about 2 seconds after Perry refuses to run her UFO article, Lois gives it to a conspiracy blogger to run. She’s still surprised that Perry figures it out. (She gave him the article to read. How could he have NOT figured it out? There weren’t any other journalists within 100 miles). I’d suggest having her handle this in a more brazen, daring way (e.g. she knows that Perry will figure out what happened, and maybe doubles down when Perry confronts her about it – his decision to sit on an ironclad blockbuster story because there was an official denial is bad journalism).
  • Jor-El: “We’ve had a child, Zod. Krypton’s first natural birth in centuries.” Why tell him that as he’s about to kill you? It accomplishes nothing but endangering Clark. It’s also unnecessary from a plotting perspective: nothing Zod does later requires knowing this early that Jor-El sent a child (when Clark later activates the SOS beacon on the ghost ship, Zod can figure it out on his own).
  • If you’re driving a schoolbus, and blowing out one tire (out of 4-6) causes you to completely lose control and drive off a bridge, you probably shouldn’t be driving a schoolbus.
  • If you’re an infantryman and you bring a grenade launcher on a cargo plane carrying the military’s only superweapon, you probably shouldn’t be on this mission. Particularly if the enemy has proven utterly immune to conventional explosives.
  • If you’re a military planner and you have an alien in custody, you might want to try learning more about Kryptonian capabilities, Zod’s goals on Earth, whether Zod can be trusted, the backstory between Zod and Superman, or anything else that might be useful if the obviously sinister Zod turns out to be a major problem moving forward. Taking a tissue sample might also be useful for developing ways to kill Zod if it comes to that (and, based on the way Zod introduced himself to Earth, it should be obvious it’s going to).
  • Military planning: if an alien is immune to heavy aerial munitions and can fly at supersonic speeds, anybody that sends in riflemen next probably shouldn’t be a military planner. Maybe nerve gas? Sound-based weaponry? Biological weapons? Anything more creative and/or potentially useful than weaker versions of what you’ve already tried? (Alternately, if the point is that the military is unable to respond in ways that might be effective, why give it so many scenes?)
  • When a building collapses towards Perry, he tries outrunning it in the same direction it is falling. E.g. the Chrysler Building is ~1000 feet tall by ~100 feet wide. If the building is falling south, running south will take 1,000 feet, whereas running east/west will take 50 feet.

6. Emotional variety is missing. I think Clark smiles twice in the entire movie and there are literally no moments that are exciting or cool. Compare to much more effective dark movies, like Chronicle and Deadpool and Kick-Ass and Watchmen, which have a lot of despair and suffering, but ALSO have some levity and a lot of energy. E.g. in Chronicle, one of the main characters has an abusive father and is generally an outcast at school, but everybody gets occasional bursts of excitement and happiness and most of the characters are living semi-functional lives. Man of Steel is a gray pile of sadness where Superman stumbles from one tragedy to the next.

6.1. Here are some faceshots from the movie. Clark’s emotional expressions could use some work (e.g. his pose for seeing Lois for the first time is virtually identical to when he sees by a corpse).
Superman faces

6.2. I can sort of understand the rationale behind doing several scenes with military extras – Superman has virtually no good dialogue in this movie, and his powers don’t lend themselves well to interesting fight scenes. However, if you spend so much time on military characters that they have more lines than Superman does, I’d recommend having the military extras actually be sort of useful (e.g. taking down one of the minor villains or something rather than just shooting ineffectually).

7. Jesus Christ, how tragic can one person’s life be?

  • One father dies in a tornado, and the other gets murdered in a 5-minute civil war. And then gets murdered again by the same guy.
  • His father died because some asshole left her dog in a car. He couldn’t save his father because there were randomly hundreds of witnesses on a highway in the middle of Kansas.
  • His mother dies when his planet explodes. His Kryptonian father who turns himself into a ghost apparently forgot her. Probably just as well, they were just going to get murdered again anyway.
  • According to Jor-El, his parents could have accompanied him but chose not to, shooting him into the middle of Kansas instead and guessing that’d be good enough. They’re the ultimate deadbeat parents. (Superman doesn’t remark on this, but given that he himself was a deadbeat dad in Superman Returns, I imagine it’s a sore subject). Seriously, not even sending a robot or something to make sure that he’s cared for before humans find him? Also, dressing him first?
  • The only other people that survive his planet exploding are hardened criminals that had previously vowed to track him down across the galaxy.
  • When Zod shows up with a warship orbiting the Earth and demanding that Clark turn himself in, Clark doesn’t remember that Jor-El had previously mentioned Zod to Jor-El and might have some insight into whether Zod is as nutso as he appears (“yep, actually he murdered me”). He asks a random priest for advice instead.
  • A fishing cage falling when he’s right under it.
  • At least five people start a fight with him because they’re assholes (two sets of school bullies, and a drunkard in a bar).
  • His school assigns Plato.
  • Millions of people die when Kryptonians attack the planet. Zod thanks him for (unknowingly) activating the SOS beacon that gave them directions.
  • His schoolbus loses a tire just as it’s going over the bridge, and everybody nearly dies.
  • An oil rig explodes near his fishing boat.
  • Yellow sunlight makes him invincible and green sunlight makes him interesting. I’ve never seen a green sun, either.
  • Falls in love with Lois “Catastrofe” Lane. She can’t ****ing cross the street without getting kidnapped twice, and she’s not much better at journalism.

8. A recurring problem for Superman: an active Superman is so powerful that he can instantly solve most problems that come his way. For most of the movie, they opt for “Clark wants to act but instead does nothing to hide his powers, and then has a 3+ minute debriefing where a parent monologues about why he had to do nothing to hide his powers.” If you’re going to have so many of these scenes, I’d suggest at least having him TRY to overcome his problems without superpowers (e.g. talking his way out of it, run for help, or make some friends by having any outside interests or anything going on in his life besides random disasters and tragedies) or maybe some sly use of superpowers like using his heat-rays to start a fire alarm to bring out witnesses at an in-school fight.

9. Characters should respond more naturally to each other. For example, if Clark says something like “You’re some guy that found me in a cornfield” to his adopted parents, please write a sharper response than “Clark!” / “No, honey, it’s alright.” If you want to have Lois to declare that Hardy is trying to measure dicks with her, please give Hardy a sharper response than nothing. Other moments in the movie that probably deserved more of a response than they actually got:

  • Clark finding out that he’s an alien, and that his adopted parents have been keeping that from him for a long time.
  • Jor-El telling Clark that he’s Clark’s father.
  • Jor-El heavily implying to Clark that his parents could have accompanied him to Earth, but chose not to. (Alternately, maybe a slight rewrite like Jor-El and/or Lara attempt to accompany him to Earth, but die of wounds taken during the civil war?) This conversation sort of starts to explain why Kryptonian society thought Kryptonians couldn’t be trusted to have their own kids. They’re really, really bad at it.
  • Any of the lines where Jor-El sounds strangely lukewarm about Zod, even after getting murdered by him.
  • Clark locking himself in a closet at school.
  • Clark’s parents deciding that he shouldn’t have any friends. (We hear this from a kid at school, it never comes up in conversation between Clark and his parents).
  • Any exceptional strangeness from Clark’s parents.
  • Pa Kent sacrificing himself to save some asshole’s dog that, spoiler, will probably get euthanized in 5-10 years because its owner won’t pay $6,000 for hip replacement surgery. Clark’s parents (both sets) repeatedly screw Clark, and certainly a father screwing his family on behalf of a stranger’s dog is pretty rough, but at least they didn’t send an infant alone to an alien planet, right?
  • Clark’s father not creating a ghost for Clark’s mother.

10. For a dramatically effective version of soldiers fighting an impossibly powerful enemy, I strongly recommend looking instead at the final scene of Rogue One (doomed rebels in a terrifying encounter with Darth Vader). The scene lasts less than a minute and is completely non-redundant with everything else in the movie. In contrast, Man of Steel (and Suicide Squad) have 4+ emotionless scenes where military extras get mowed down emotionlessly just to burn time off the clock.

36 responses so far

Sep 17 2016


Published by under Writing Articles

I spent 5 hours this week watching Man of Steel and taking 5,000 words of notes. It was like being trapped on an alien planet where the atmosphere consists 80% of characters telling Clark what incredible, grandiose things he symbolizes, 20% of daringly bad action scenes, 15% of grimly constipated expressions, and 15% of acting this bad. 130% lethal to humans.

And they haven't even mentioned the zombie part yet

(Much) more to follow for the masochistically inclined.

2 responses so far

Aug 19 2016

Out of the Past non-review

Out of the Past is a 1947 noir thriller so brilliant I cannot do it justice. I would definitely recommend it, particularly if you’re working with…

  • Characters
  • Plots
  • Accidental deaths falsely claimed as murder-suicides
  • Double-crosses, triple-crosses, and maybe a quadruple-cross depending on how you interpret a self-defense kill with a fishing reel.
  • A complex plot that is extremely easy to follow as it unfolds.
  • A character falsely disgracing himself for the greater good, but more smoothly and dramatically than Batman taking the blame for Harvey Dent in Dark Knight. This is straight-up tragic.

4 responses so far

Aug 14 2016

Suicide Squad review (spoilers)

1. The character introductions were lacking. Having Waller narrate the characters’ backstories to a minor character in a no-stakes infodump was probably not ideal. If Waller’s MO is that she’s ruthless and/or exploitative, would have preferred a scene with her coercing Flag to work on the project and/or why they selected these guys rather than any other high-stakes criminals available. Also, given that virtually all of the characters are total unknowns to most viewers, a smaller team would probably have helped with character development. (Failing that, if you start with a large team of antiheroes, having several deaths would probably have helped raise the stakes and establish a mood).

2. It probably would have helped if the main mission of the movie had been more shady and/or disagreeable. If a supervillain is ravaging a city, it’s not clear why the government needs a “plausible deniability” option here of unwilling gangsters with guns and bats rather than, say, asking Batman or Wonder Woman to step in. Or that having 6 minor criminal patsies would have helped explain at all why a sorceress wrecked a major city. I feel like a very messy police mission like trying to destroy a major gang and/or killing somebody that’s gone rogue and/or helping a VIP (maybe Waller) deal with a major case of blackmail would have been a better fit.
2.1. Waller’s trying to fake an answer to the wrong question. If a villain magically turns millions of people into zombies, the blame coming your way doesn’t have anything to do about who did it, but rather that you either didn’t have a plan and/or it involved sending guys with guns and bats to stop a sorceress rather than, say, asking Wonder Woman. Also, if you DID need to falsely claim that someone zombified a city, could I suggest somebody more plausible than a group of minor criminals headlined by a crocodile and a prison psychiatrist?
2.2. The blame coming your way might also have something to do with “why was somebody as incompetent as Waller within 1,000 miles of a life-or-death assignment?”
2.3. “When Enchantress started killing millions of people, why didn’t we immediately flip the kill-switch on her magical device?”

3. The music selection was ugly. E.g. playing “Sympathy for the Devil” to introduce a shady character with semi-sympathetic goals calls out the viewers as idiots, I think. Not nearly subtle enough. In contrast, Killer Croc got the much more imaginative “Born in the USA”, rather than (God help us) Crocodile Rock.

4. June is the worst archeologist in the world. She spends less than 10 seconds in the temple before twisting the head off a priceless relic that nearly destroys the world. Whoops. Not to be outdone, she falls for the worst soldier in the world, whose superpower is playing golf without a handicap and bungling pretty much everything he touches.

5. The team selection is an odd choice: Harlequin, Killer Croc, Captain Boomerang, Diablo, Katana, Deadshot, and Slipknot. Slipknot and Captain Boomerang are joke characters that contribute very little to the plot. (Seriously, Slipknot’s reason for being on the team is that “he can climb anything”). Harlequin and Deadshot (and secondarily KC and Diablo) feel like a pretty good personality fit for the movie, and the four of them dominate the memorable lines. I would have removed or overhauled CB, Katana, Slipknot, and maybe Rick Flag – they have little impact on the plot, and there just isn’t time.

6. Enchantress feels like a serious mismatch for the protagonists. Someone shootable would probably have created more interesting interactions and better fight scenes, seeing as almost everyone on the team is a badass normal. (The team’s only superhumans are Diablo, Killer Croc, and maybe Katana – not the most intuitive choice for stopping a world-ending threat).

7. Characters raise plausible concerns about Waller’s plans in a fair way (and thoroughly exhaust standard police and military alternatives). In context, it almost feels believable that serious people would agree to this crazier-than-crazy plan. (If we pretend that Batman and Wonder Woman were dealing with some other world-ending threat somewhere else, it almost makes sense). Also, in the interests of making Waller/Flag look better than “totally useless”, it might help if the problem the team had to deal with was not 100% created by Waller being a dumbass. In, say, well-executed noir movies like Out of the Past, characters create their own problems, but without compromising their competence.

8. Although this movie did as poorly as Batman vs Superman on Rotten Tomatoes, I think Suicide Squad is considerably better-executed and more entertaining. E.g. Will Smith’s attempted negotiation with Flag and Waller actually did a great job advancing character development, establishing conflicts between characters, and advancing the central plot. I don’t think there were any scenes in BVS that managed any one of those besides maybe Bruce Wayne’s very brief conversation with Diana Prince.

9. Even for a superhero movie, SS asks you to check a lot of realism at the door. E.g. 3 helicopter crashes for major characters without any deaths or injuries. Seriously, it would have been okay to kill off some of these characters. No one in this movie besides Batman and maybe Joker is integral to the success of the DC Universe moving forward. Also, Rick Flag is a notably passive, weak character – besides killing off Slipknot early, he is curiously reluctant to respond to provocations from his team. I was actively rooting for his death.

10. Several of the characters (notably KC, Joker and Diablo) are taken in an unusually gangsta direction. It feels really strange for Joker, who comes across as more sketchy than threatening. For Killer Croc, it got oddly humorous, in a non-PC way.

11. Harlequin’s background as a psychiatrist does not feel like it fits with the rest of the character.
11.1. The sexploitation was actually pretty effective.
11.2. Harlequin getting punched in the face by Batman probably got the loudest laughter from the audience, followed by Deadshot trying to negotiate in prison.

12. Villains threatening worldwide destruction generally don’t give protagonists much to work with. Enchantress felt like a sorry rehash of the most recent Fantastic Four’s Dr. Doom and Green Lantern’s Galactus, even down to the purple vortexes of death and terrible CGI. It’s much harder for characters to interact with a force that has nothing to talk about. Off the top of my head, the only superhero movies with global villains that worked out creatively very well were the Avengers series and Guardians of the Galaxy, and they relied on exceptionally interesting interactions between the protagonists rather than with the villains.

13. Most of the teammates – and Flag and (if you go as far back as Green Lantern) Waller – have a tragic backstory to soften them. I was sort of hoping for at least one character to have an unapologetic Walter White-style “I did it for me. I was good at it.” The closest we got was Harlequin stealing a purse. While that helps reinforce the character’s craziness, maybe something more important to the central plot?

14. Deadshot’s final scene with his kid (helping her with geometry) was surprisingly heartfelt and refreshingly dark. The kid isn’t just a sweet plot device, and it’s probably the closest this movie got to daring. I wish they had tried it more often (e.g. see Deadpool). For example, maybe giving characters more opportunities to do more antiheroic things than stealing a purse? Giving Diablo and Flag more of a pulse? Making Waller competent?

14.1. Deadshot shows off technical expertise in his final scene very naturally – compare how he talks about the geometry of shooting people and the curvature of the Earth to virtually every Fantastic Four conversation about science.

15. The setting is beyond weak. It’s very generic and, like every DC city besides Gotham, it’s just a soulless cardboard box to wreck. No interesting characters, no interesting places, no distinctive mood to the city… For God’s sake, it’s called Fauxcago “Midway City.” How much personality could it possibly have? PS: Would suggest checking out better noir movies for better alternatives to “dark and rainy all the time.”
15.1Adding a character from Fauxcago (maybe one of the Suicide Squad members) might have helped. The only line from a Fauxcagoan I caught was a bride complaining that her wedding was ruined. Instead of a useful suggestion here, let’s have a moment of silence where we can reflect on the loving care that’s been put into developing Gotham as a vortex of crime and despair, where a bunch of random bank robbers or ferry passengers or pretty much anyone on the street can make a masterpiece scene. Unfortunately, this is Suicide Squad, and we can’t have nice things. We get Fauxcago, and a complaining bride. It’s the setting we deserve, not the one we need.

16. The last 60 minutes of the movie (50:00 to 1:48:00) were a single, REALLY LONG mission where the characters break into Fauxcago, rescue a VIP, and ultimately defeat the villain. I strongly prefer the pacing of virtually every other superhero movie (e.g. Avengers and Incredibles), where several (much shorter) action sequences build up to a climactic confrontation with the villain. That would have also made it easier to work in dialogue into scenes than it was for Suicide Squad – e.g. look at how weirdly paced the bar scene is. (The world’s about to end, but hey, let’s talk about Diablo’s backstory!)

17. Across the movie, I counted about 38 minutes of action scenes. I think that’s about twice the average for superhero movies. Some issues here. First, it got tedious. Second, most of the fight scenes were ineffective. E.g. did we really need 3-4 separate scenes of soldiers/helicopters/aircraft carriers getting wrecked? There are so many characters that could have used most of that space more.

17.1. Most of the action sequences setting up each SS member were wasted.

  • Boomerang’s heist – there’s no emotional impact to the betrayal, and he comes across as helpless. No exaggeration here: this is probably the least interesting interaction I’ve ever seen between a superhero and a villain in any medium. Compare to the vastly better-executed heist scene in Dark Knight, which establishes Joker’s disloyalty and unpredictability and his conflict with more conventional criminal groups. I believe it’s an especially memorable scene because he makes major decisions (e.g. preemptively betraying his own men) that 99% of villains wouldn’t have made in the same situation.
  • Katana’s scene stabbing a criminal in Japan was a heavy-handed way of showing her revenge angle, and it contributed to the movie in no other way. Easily removable.
  • Diablo torching a prison yard, shown twice. Not terrible. The crown of fire is a neat touch (but seems to imply that he hasn’t changed as much after killing his family as he’s trying to show).
  • Deadshot has 3 (a sample assassination which does a good job establishing his personality, getting taken down by Batman, and an inexplicably long scene where he shows off his skills by firing at dummies for 45 seconds straight).
  • The Joker/Harlequin takedown by Batman is probably unnecessary – it covers a lot of the ground of Batman taking down Deadshot, but that scene did a better job establishing Deadshot’s relationship with his family.

18. The movie took far too long before the teammates first meet each other 45 minutes in. Virtually all of the moments in the movies that actually worked featured Squad members interacting together (or Deadshot with Flag or his daughter), and getting the Squad together much sooner would probably have helped with the pacing. If your first 45 minutes of the film give more screentime to Waller, faceless government extras, and Joker than the titular heroes, it’d really help if these side characters got more opportunities to be interesting or memorable. In comparison, most of the great superheroes movies that introduce the main case exceptionally late, like Iron Man 1 and Incredibles, used the extra time early on for scenes that were very interesting, hilarious, emotionally effective, developed the main characters, or developed critical plot elements – hell, Tony Stark’s “Merchant of Death” scene and Bob’s attempt to prevent a suicide went far on all 5. In Suicide Squad, the first 45 minutes don’t have anything that well-executed… I’d argue the closest is Deadshot’s interactions with his client, which create some character development and humor.

18.1. The odd men out here are definitely Waller, Joker, Enchantress and her brother (Incubus), and arguably Batman. Ideally, I think it would have helped to replace Enchantress/Incubus with villains that could interact with the heroes more directly, made Batman’s scenes more distinctive or removed him altogether, and significantly accelerated the setup to the squad coming together. I think Joker would be a candidate for lead villain, but I wouldn’t keep him on as a side villain because there are so many characters fighting for space. Also, overhauling Waller (more competent, more believable, more logical, more reacting to an actual problem rather than creating a problem that doesn’t exist yet, more threatening to teammates rather than maintaining no surveillance on the team, etc).

19. A point worth belaboring: Waller is outlandishly incompetent.

  • At one point, she warns the squad, “Remember, I’m watching, I see everything.” Except that she doesn’t have, you know, team microphones or anything, which might have let her hear Boomerang goading Slipknot into bolting, or Deadshot telling HQ that he was going to kill Flag and the SEALs but needed Joker’s help with the nanites. So she’s less well equipped than a Counterstrike team.
  • She appears to get off on lying for no apparent reason (e.g. goading Deadshot into pulling the trigger on a VIP security officer by telling him that the gun was disabled, and telling Rick that it was a standard terrorist attack).
  • It doesn’t seem to occur to her that trying to trick Deadshot to kill somebody for no reason in front of the victim might cause the victim (who runs security for the prison housing her team!) to become less cooperative. And she doesn’t take any precautions against it, getting completely blindsided by a major asset getting turned by Joker, or his high-risk behavior playing in a heavily criminal casino. Nor is she aware that he’s slipped Harlequin a phone, and frankly there weren’t many places to hide it. She apparently trusts that to prison security, even after trying to have one of them killed for absolutely no reason.
  • She’s not aware of her helicopter getting hijacked by Joker. The resulting surprise gets many people killed.
  • Not being able to destroy the heart remotely, or put in a verbal command to someone who can. That seems like a pretty important capability, given that she knew Enchantress could teleport.
  • She murders her own subordinates because “they weren’t cleared for any of this.” First, this serial killing feels completely unnecessary. However, if it were necessary, it might be safer to wrap it up before Flag and Deadshot can witness it. Second, she’s not even good at being bad – she shoots four people once each, and doesn’t check to make sure that they’re dead. That’s really sloppy… there’s a high risk that at least one will survive.
  • No security precautions on the second doll.
  • Her decision not to destroy the first doll after Enchantress goes rogue and/or takes over a city is a major plot hole that makes the movie significantly worse. If she’s not going to use this lever at this point, it’d probably be better not give her this lever – otherwise she’s just developing herself as weak/passive/incompetent by not using it.
  • She allows herself (and the first doll) to be taken by Enchantress.
  • At no point does she approach basic competence. The movie is jaw-droppingly consistent that she’s an active liability to everything she’s trying to accomplish.

19.1. While Rick is not as legendarily inept as Waller, he’s not exactly covering himself in glory.

  • “I don’t do luck. I do planning and precision.” Except for, you know, any sort of plan that accounts for 50%+ of your team plotting to kill you, and you having no surveillance on them even as you have SEALs within 10 feet of the plotters. If your team’s situational awareness is that bad, you might as “do luck” and randomly blow up a teammate, because everyone on the team besides Katana and KC is openly discussing killing you.
  • Flag lets HQ back onto the team even after she sides with Joker and gets most of his SEAL friends killed.

20 responses so far

Jul 26 2016

Some tips on creating city names

Published by under Writing Articles

1) If you’re mainly looking for something believable, most major U.S. cities use one of the following:

  • Surnames of VIPs, usually explorers and major political leaders (e.g. Houston, Columbus, Washington, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville).
  • Anglicized spellings of Native American terms, usually related to geography. E.g. Shikako (“skunk place”) -> Chicago and Myaamia (“downstream people”) -> Miami.
  • Southwestern cities usually use Spanish terms, usually San/Santa + Spanish name or Los/Las/El/La + Spanish term (e.g. San Jose, Los Angeles, and El Paso).
  • Some cities settled by the French use French terms (e.g. Detroit / “strait” and Baton Rouge / “red stick”), are named after French places (e.g. New Orleans) or French saints (e.g. St. Louis).
  • Some cities settled by the English are named after English cities (e.g. Boston and New Amsterdam getting renamed to New York).

2) If you’re looking for something more exotic and/or more thematic, I’d recommend starting with a syllable that has the right sound/feel and then adding suffixes from there. E.g. if I were trying to name a city that was economically wrecked and high-crime, I might start with a syllable like Bent or Pac or Mar, and then add a suffix (don, ion, ola/oma, burn, dere, atur, ville, port, er, burg, boro, rst, oma, sen, iet or whatever suits you). In this case, maybe Marburn or Bensen or Paccola.

3) Unless you’re going for a very “comic booky” feel, I recommend against combining an English adjective/noun and “City”. For example, names like “Central City” and “Star City” tend to be very generic and don’t sound like actual names. (Of the 100 largest U.S. cities, only 4 end in “City” and only 7 use a common English word besides a surname: New York City, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Jersey City, Aurora, Phoenix, and New Orleans).

9 responses so far

Jun 04 2016

Captain America: Civil War Review

Published by under Writing Articles

1. I think the movie is overrated at 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’d put it at 60-70% (notably less awful than the year’s other superhero-vs-superhero movie, Batman vs. Superman, but probably the worst-written MCU movie not starring the Hulk).


2. My biggest complaint against the movie is that it guts well-established character development for no readily obvious reason.

  • Iron Man’s the biggest offender. He spent most of his first 3 movies and Avengers 1 establishing himself as a refreshingly cocky genius notably unwilling to cooperate with soulless authority figures even when it was easy to do so (e.g. refusing to falsely deny he was Iron Man and refusing to give his technology to Congress and the military). In this movie, that not only gets completely obliterated, but he becomes the soulless authority figure, which is insult on injury. For example, when a faceless State Department employee blames him for her son getting killed while building homes in the generically Eastern European place that got annihilated during Avengers 2, is there anything in he’s done in earlier movies that suggests that he’d be on board with submitting the Avengers to faceless UN bureaucrats that he doesn’t know and has no reason to trust? I think he’d probably point out that the Avengers successfully saved the world. Hell, if he were going for something more distinctly Stark-esque, he might ask her for a thank you, seeing as they managed to save 99.99% of the people on the planet including everybody else she knew. Stark had a much more memorable response the last time someone tried guilt-tripping him.

  • In Ant-Man’s first movie, he gets arrested for an idealistic/altruistic crime and it costs him his family. His ex-wife was quite pissed that he wasn’t able to support their daughter while behind bars. When Falcon asks AM for help on an idealistic/altruistic crime, AM helps because he’s met Falcon before, and is impressed by Captain America. Okay, but isn’t his daughter a bigger deal to him than that? Also, given the circumstances of how he met Falcon before (getting sort of attacked by Falcon in the first AM movie) why would he rush to help Falcon when Falcon asks?)

  • Spider-Man’s motivation for joining Tony’s team against Captain America is exceptionally weak. Okay, he’s a high schooler impressed by Tony Stark’s star-power. Okay, but he’s also a New Yorker that was alive when Captain America helped defeat an alien invasion of NY in Avengers 1, and also when Captain America helped save the world in Avengers 2. And, also, Peter Parker might have been on the Hydra kill-list aborted by Captain America in Winter Soldier. It probably would have helped giving SM some bigger reason to want to get involved than just idolizing Tony Stark. Maybe Tony convinces Spider-Man that they’re only really interested in arresting superpowered hitman Bucky, and that they need to subdue anyone interfering as cleanly as possible. Spider-Man is much better qualified for a nonlethal takedown than almost anyone else Tony could have asked (e.g. compare to Hulk, Thor, War Machine, etc). “Hey, you probably aren’t very excited about fighting Captain America – I doubt any New Yorker would be – but you’re our best chance of arresting a super-assassin without any Avengers getting seriously hurt. You in?” I think this would have helped SM look a lot less flaky/childish than he actually did.
  • Secondarily: Vision unintentionally shooting War Machine. I see two main possibilities. One is that an android just happened to miss a shot that badly because the writers needed him to miss, which would be helluva lazy writing. I feel the only plausible in-story explanation is if Vision meant to hit WM (possibly because of mind control, maybe from Thanos’ influence over the gem), which would probably be much more interesting than “I lost focus.”
  • Maybe Captain America interfering with attempts to arrest Bucky? He doesn’t appear to consider any alternatives “let Bucky be arrested” and “defeat anyone attempting to arrest Bucky”. E.g. spending a line or two talking with Wanda and/or Vision about whether it’d be possible for them to remove Bucky’s mind control?
  • I like the villain’s goal, but it all hinges on Captain America being so fanatically loyal to Bucky that framing Bucky for another murder will create a lethal confrontation between Captain America and other Avengers. Given that this didn’t happen after Bucky committed actual murders in Winter Soldier, that seems unlikely.


3. Out of all the people that could really benefit from financial assistance, the MIT student body is probably pretty low on the list.


4. The cast was probably unnecessarily large. Hawkeye, definitely unnecessary. Black Panther, more on him later. This version of Spider-Man was not written well enough to earn his time/space in the movie. Wanda, arguable. Falcon, probably unnecessary. Of the five, I feel like Falcon was the biggest disappointment, not because I had terribly high expectations for the character (I think his main contribution is that he can eventually replace Chris Evans when he hangs up the shield), but because if he ever were going to establish himself as a character different than CA in any way, this probably would have been his best chance. (“Umm, hey, we know that you’re very close to your WWII teammate, who happens to have been mind-controlled into a superpowered serial killer, but maybe there’s a better way to help him than punching out 20+ police officers?”)


5. The writing for Spider-Man was sort of an odd choice. E.g. bending over backwards to make him annoying, and emasculating him with the scene where Iron-Man pulls him out of the fight. (Over the last 60 superhero movies I’ve seen, when a superhero gets taken out of a fight, typically he either gets knocked unconscious or his combatants withdraw or maybe he faces superior odds and withdraws himself). If you hate a protagonist you’re writing this badly, I’d recommend writing him out of the script. Maybe see Turtles Forever for another example here?) If this was the best they could do with the character, why work him into a movie that already has 10 superheroes in it?


6. Waukanda felt goofy. It’s not the first time a fictional country has been introduced into the MCU (Sokovia in Avengers 2 was a fairly generic setting that mainly showed up to get blown up, and blowing up an actual country might have been too dark). The mix of Waukanda’s 19th century government (king as actual head of state) and very advanced technology might have felt less goofy if it had been established in a separate Black Panther movie rather than in an ensemble movie. Also, I think Thor/Asgard has already covered a lot of this ground, but Thor actually has the fantasy background to make it work.

6.1. Black Panther is a martial artist, a billionaire heir, randomly a jet pilot, apparently a master investigator (he found Bucky quite easily), and driven to revenge by the murder of a parent. If the writing for a character rips off Batman that badly, I’d strongly suggest not making him look like this.
Black Panther's costume: also a Batman ripoff

6.2. Unfortunately, they didn’t rip off the stellar lines that Batman typically gets, and personality and character development were sort of missing. With so many characters fighting for time, this probably wasn’t the best opportunity to introduce him. I hope his standalone movie in 2018 will be much better.

6.3. In Marvel’s defense, it wasn’t the worst Batman movie this year.


7. Tony Stark’s creative contributions have been waning over time. I think he had maybe 3 very clever lines in the movie. Weariness doesn’t seem to help him very much.


8. Ant-Man was probably the MVP of the movie in terms of personality and writing, though his role in the plot was negligible. Also, I had previously been skeptical that his powers would allow him to contribute much in combat in a superhero ensemble movie, but he actually contributed more to the fight scenes than most of the other characters.


9. Bucky is hard to care about – he’s less of a character than a mind-control plot device to be fought over. I think Manchurian Candidate, Jessica Jones, and even the pilot episode of Alphas handled mind-control much more effectively, generally from the victim’s perspective. Here’s the introductory scene of Manchurian Candidate.

10 responses so far

May 09 2016

Long distance moving rates are out of control

I was looking at a few relocation scenarios. Some observations:

  1. Long-distance moves are helluva expensive. FedEx quoted me $500 to move a 40 lb box from Chicago to Tokyo. That’s around 10x per pound-mile what NASA would pay for a trip to the moon. Also, FedEx insurance is extra, and you’re definitely not getting any moon rocks.
  2. Even long-distance moves within the U.S. are fairly expensive. For a small Chicago-DC move, the least ridiculous Potomac mover was a few thousand dollars (495 Movers). If I drive it in myself, I think there’s a 10%+ chance of a major accident, decapitation, and/or high speed chase*, so hiring a moving company might actually be cheaper in the long run.

*My driving is so bad I once got in a low-speed chase with a possibly sober deputy by accident. If you’re comfortable driving 6+ hrs without incident, I’d recommend that instead. Just give yourself 2-3 days to spread out the driving.

4 responses so far

Apr 30 2016

A professional side-project!

I’ve designed a website for a PPC company. PPC Seven is a Chicago agency that manages pay-per-click advertising.

One response so far

Mar 24 2016

Batman Vs. Superman is worse than you’ve heard

Published by under Writing Articles

This is the worst Batman movie since Batman & Robin ~20 years ago. The writing was sub-cartoon grade. If you didn’t enjoy the latest Fantastic Four movie or Man of Steel, I would stay far away from this one.

24 responses so far

Feb 29 2016

Creating Memorable Villains

We read a book to experience the journey a hero takes and to relate to the person they once were. However, a hero’s journey runs stagnant without a villain capable of proving their worth. Without a cunning villain, you have a hero basking in his awesomeness. Without a memorable villain, you have a hero walking a path we’ve grown bored with. Without a compelling villain, you have a story falling flat on its face and just going through the motions. The  superhero can only be as mighty as the super villains they face.


Brian has already discussed the motivations for both heroes and villains. It is true the majority of motivating factors can be boiled down into a mere handful, so how is it possible to make a villain stand out amongst the plethora of evil organizations and bad guys with advanced degrees? While the overarching reasons to turn to villainy can be simple as love or the temptation of power, it is the flaws of these well-known troupes that create a character strong enough to rival our heroes.


For the sake of discussing supervillain archetypes, I’ll use three whose construction is elevated beyond many. The first is Magneto, to this day, my favorite villain of all time. His backstory is as complex as his emotional state. Born to Jewish parents and witnessing the Holocaust, Erik Lensherr’s primary motivating factor as a villain is to rule the world to bring order to a chaotic system and to a lesser extent, punish those who have done him wrong. Magneto has arguably one of the most impressive powers in Marvel (he did nearly destroy the planet, steal nuclear warheads, and create an outer space base of operations) but he holds a fundamental flaw as a villain: he knows what he is doing is bad.


How can the knowledge you are a bad guy create a villain to survive the ages? He witnessed one of the greatest horrors as a youth and later, as Genosha is nearly eradicated, he witnesses it again. We have a man who is reflecting on his life’s work, realizing that his mighty strokes of villainy has done nothing to change the course of mankind. Worse yet, he realizes that he has become the thing he loathes and he moves from villain to dubious hero. We hope as an audience he will find absolution, not only for the horror’s he’s witnessed but the ones he’s perpetuated. The weight he bears as he rescues Kitty Pryde from certain death is but one of the many grand gestures he partakes in to regain a piece of himself loss to his misguided efforts. We witness Magneto, master of magnetism, feel sorrow for the wrongdoing he’s committed. A flaw as a villain that give us perpetual hope he’ll become a badass hero.


However, not all memorable villains need the hope of redemption to be seared into our minds. I think one of the greatest portrayals of a villain in the live action world is Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk in Netflix’s original series Daredevil. The mystery of who is running the crime in Hell’s Kitchen was well known to the viewer, and we eager anticipated the despicable businessman turned crime mastermind entering and dominating us with his unrivaled tenacity. Our first image of Wilson Fisk is not acting as the Kingpin, it’s of a man trying to understand the meaning behind a piece of art. What we see is Fisk lost in an emotional state, pondering sensations he’s uncertain of how to process. Fisk has a backstory a mile long in which we feel he is the victim, but in this single moment, we experience his humanity as he relates the work of art to a wall from the days of being abused.


Now, it’s not enough we see our villain as human. Fisk is the perfect example of how villains are created, not born. It’s rare for our super villains to be perfectly evil, instead, more often we find them driven to their profession. Fisk’s abuse at the hands of his father creates a common story and accessible by many viewers. As he is beaten, we root for him to go from the underdog to the man in power. What we don’t realize at the time, he becomes a man of power, to a man we detested in the first place. While he is now this powerful man, we see glimpses into his humanity. The need to feel sorrow fuels him as he stares into the painting. We only see him become more vulnerable when he courts the gallery owner, Vanessa. We sympathize with this man, forgetting his power or influence as he awkwardly tries to ask a woman he finds beautiful on a date. We’re geeks, we’ve been there and we feel a victory when she accepts.During the final battle, I found myself wanting him to win, not because I wanted to see Daredevil lose, but because I wanted the flawed man, who had endured so much, to walk away with yet another victory.


Netflix has proven it can create a villain we love to hate, they only solidified this in Jessica Jones when we met Kevin Thompson, aka Kilgrave (known as Purple Man in the comics) played by David Tennant. With the ability to control anybody with his voice, he previously forced Jones into a “relationship” against her will. Exerting his abilities on Jones, we understand her past with him equates to rape. So how can a man who is so extremely vile be considered memorable? Kilgrave wants the one thing he can’t have, a woman, Jones, to love him of her own free will. Again, we see a flaw, a flaw we have been victim to many times, wanting the object of our affection but not having our feelings returned. We see a sinister form of ourselves and we’re faced with the question, “If I had his powers, what would I do?” With such a great power, his machinations are extremely shortsighted and he has little desire for world conquest or even to be more than what he currently is. The only thing he wants: the thing he can’t have; a do-gooder with a serious attitude problem.


Kilgrave spends the series, forcing her into situations in which she must confront herself. She fears that his abilities will trap her again. Even when we discover *spoiler alert* that he can not trap her with his abilities, he creates situations resulting in her volunteering to become his girlfriend. For a moment, we witness Kilgrave being capable of good. Because underneath the destruction he causes to obtain Jones, he feels he is doing what he must to court the girl and win her over. His incredible intellect is flawed by his inability to comprehend the world beyond himself due to his sociopathic behaviors. We understand that he’s trying to win her over and has no idea how to do it because he can’t understand anything beyond himself. Jones has to face this reality and in a moment when she believes she will be captured by him forever, she confronts her demons and imperfections and walks away victorious. We’re left understanding why it ended the way it did, but we feel pity for the poor Kilgrave and his need to be loved.


In these three villains, we have a range of one who wants to rule the world for the betterment of his people, to a man who wants to overcome his past, and another desires love. Each of them are the product of their insecurities and we find their insecurities, partly because of the scale, and partly because of the super-status, blown so largely out of proportion we’re left wondering as the viewer, “Would that be me?” A villain can not be a hurdle for the hero to overcome and surpass to prove their own heroism. There is a formula to create a memorable villain, but it does require a certain amount of willingness to delve into the mind of the villain and explore them as a character.


  • Find their origin. At what moment did they create this persona and what does this persona hope to overcome?
  • Breathe humanity into their character. We need to see real people, people with flaws and kinks in their armor. We want to see a piece of ourselves in them that leave us questioning our own morality.
  • Let their flow be their motivation, not their weakness. We don’t want to see a hero exploit the humanity of another character or we watch our hero fall from grace. Let the villain’s humanity be their motivation to be a villain. Insecurity on all levels drives us, however when you’re super, it can drive you further.
  • Let us know your villain. If we only see the villain doing evil things, they will remain two-dimensional and be forgotten. Take a moment and step back and let us see how they operate doing even the simplest of things. We watch Magneto seek personal redemption, Fisk asks a woman on a date, and Kilgrave stops to have tea with his beloved Jones. Ordinary things will let us see them as human and not just a hurdle.


Amazing powers and an awesome uniform do not make a villain memorable. It’s the flaws in their humanity that breathe life into the characters. Be sure to treat them as a character and not just a punching bag for your hero. Let them develop, because as they develop, the strain between them and your protagonist will increase and you’ll be left with a dynamic that has us turning the page to see who will emerge victorious. Give them chances to be human and let the reader inside their world more than just the confrontations. Let us see them on date night or how they take their tea. The more we connect, the more we remember.


About the Author

Jeremy Flagg has written several books including the young adult Suburban Zombie High Series as well as a non-fiction book memoir, I.Am.Maine: Stories of Small Town Maine. He lives and writes in Metrowest Massachusetts. For more information you can find him at

Children of Nostradamus (Nighthawks, Book 1) is currently available for order on Amazon.

23 responses so far

Feb 21 2016

Inactive Protagonists

Are there any circumstances under which a highly inactive protagonist would be more promising dramatically than a more active protagonist? E.g. a main character that is weakly unenthusiastic about participating in the plot*, or opts to do nothing in situations where almost every protagonist in the genre would have taken some sort of move (like a superhero story about someone that develops superpowers but doesn’t want to be a superhero/villain or otherwise interact with superhero activity).


*Weakly unenthusiastic: not all that promising. In contrast, I think someone who’s being coerced into doing something but actively rebelling/sabotaging is helluva more promising.

9 responses so far

Feb 03 2016

Incompetent Protagonists

Under what circumstances (if any) would it be possible to make a grossly incompetent main character likable and engaging? Are there any cases where making the main character consistently incompetent would make a story more interesting?

26 responses so far

Jan 27 2016

How Disney writing has changed over time…

God, how many hours of counting character lines must have gone into this? Thanks, researchers!

One response so far

Oct 19 2015

And now, something VERY different

Published by under Pretentiousness

If you happen to find yourself in Hong Kong from November 2-4, Marvel is hosting a preposterously swanky 8-course meal at Bo Innovation, a 3-star Michelin restaurant. “From the Avengers to Spiderman to Guardians of the Galaxy, each chef will have one night to create an exclusive Marvel-themed menu…” At a price of $300/person, this better include a flambe raccoon and a super-serum apertif. If you’re interested, you can reach Bo Innovation at +852-2850-8371 or via email at

2 responses so far

Aug 31 2015

Fearless Deadpool prediction

Published by under Superhero Movies

In the Deadpool trailer, Ryan Reynolds’ character takes a shot at his last superhero movie, Green Lantern. I predict that it’ll actually do even worse critically than GL did (26% on Rotten Tomatoes). His movies (e.g. Green Lantern and RIPD) tend to be fanatically committed to comedy but have an awful record at actually being funny. For example, in the Green Lantern oath scene below, the desperate attempts at humor suck the time/space out of anything else the scene could have contributed (like character development, interesting choices/motivations, conflicts, or side-plots). DP’s trailer looks like it’s headed that way.

46 responses so far

Aug 25 2015

A free novelette for you!

Published by under Be a Badass

John Lucas just published a superhero novelette about a superhero whose marriage counselor told him to grow a set. “Less than 24 hours later, he finds himself mired in an underworld of crime, violence, and ill-advised self-improvement.” The novelette, A Hero Is Always Alone Sometimes, can be downloaded for free on Amazon from 8/26 to 8/28. Unlike the last novel I reviewed, this is one that I definitely wouldn’t recommend for a 4th grade classroom. 🙂

No responses yet

Aug 07 2015

Preliminary Review of Fantastic Four

  • The new Fantastic Four movie runs like an ill-conceived first draft. Personally, I think it deserved a 30% on Rotten Tomatoes rather than a suspiciously low 9%. It’s notably less awful than Green Lantern (26%).
  • Fill in the blank: “One thing most of the main characters share is ________.” The first thing that came to mind for me is petulance. It’s a weird direction for Dr. Doom. Other justifiable answers include insanity, mood swings, daddy issues, a lack of action scenes, unbelievably weak dialogue, a complete lack of fun in their lives, poor acting from normally okay actors, a shocking lack of energy and initiative, a director that thinks they’re in Chronicle, and a studio that thinks they’re in an X-Men movie. It is still better than Green Lantern in every way, and a better love story than Twilight.
  • Another weird direction for Dr. Doom is having him act like a Human Resources killjoy against a romantic rival. “It’s not professional. That’s not what it looked like…” He’s previously been kicked off the team for lighting the project’s servers on fire, so maybe this isn’t the most fitting or most interesting way for him to conflict with Reed over Susan. E.g. he’s brash enough to launch a renegade, drunken space mission. Maybe he could get brave enough to ask her out at some point?
  • Writing advice from 2009: “Tip: [If you’re using a super-scientist] get him out of his lab as much as possible.  Field research is more interesting and has more storytelling potential than lab research.” The Fantastic Four spent maybe 5-10x as much time in a lab as they did in the field. The stakes on their lab research were alarmingly low. Okay, it’s great that Reed Richards is really interested in finding out a way to make teleportation possible, but I think he’s the only one riding that train. It’s a train-ride with 5 minutes of combat and 90 minutes of quasi-adolescent angst. You don’t want to be on that train.
  • Writing advice from 2014: Don’t work anywhere with a containment unit. They have never, ever contained anything and are a leading indicator that everybody involved is about to die in a fire.
  • I liked the darker direction they took with the relationship between Reed and Ben, but I’m not sure what the plan was for the Human Torch and the Invisible Woman. They contributed so little to the movie in their time on screen that their roles either needed to be totally overhauled or (if this weren’t an already-established franchise) cut altogether.
  • If a high school friend woke you up in the middle of the night and asked if you want to go into space even though you have zero training, no relevant experience, no applicable skills, and a crew that is all drunk out of their minds, you have nobody but yourself to blame when it goes to hell. And keep in mind that Ben is supposed to be the sensible member of the team. (One way to resolve this would have been having Reed work Ben into the project more quickly — e.g. Reed could insist that Ben be added to the program because Reed trusts him a lot more than Victor). Also, maybe giving Ben some rarer skill and/or more meaningful interaction with Reed than lending a screwdriver.
  • Pattern recognition and uniform-making, really? Susan Storm is like half a step below a Bond girl.
  • There were something like 4 writers and 10 editorial staffers credited. I watched the movie ~5 minutes ago, and I can’t remember any line that stood out in a positive way besides maybe “You would have been too busy to notice.” This is not the stuff that 50%+ ratings are made out of.
  • Visuals and audio effects were pretty solid. Oddly, The Thing sounds a lot more human than TDK’s Batman does. And his CGI looks a hell of a lot better than it did in his first movie. Some other reviews mentioned that The Thing doesn’t wear clothes, but given that he’s a pile of rocks, it feels like a nonissue. Out of all the changes this movie desperately needed, the wardrobe is not top-30.
  • I feel like Susan Storm and her father showing up at Reed’s high school science fair (apparently at random) could have been handled a lot better. Personally, I would have cut the high school science fair and had them be contacted by the Baxter Foundation after nearly destroying the world. Once you’ve nearly blown up the world, a high school science fair is a huge step down.
  • The attempts to work in comic book catchphrases and the team name were notably clumsy. I’ll check my notes, but off the top of my head, I don’t remember another Marvel-licensed movie struggling like this. Having “It’s clobbering time” come from an abusive brother is the bizarrest use of source material I’ve seen in any movie (superhero or otherwise) in a long time.
  • The goofiness level was unintentionally high. E.g. the “CONFIRMED KILL COUNT” running during the video recap of The Thing’s combat operations, a video recap that the Army apparently outsourced to ISIS gornographers.
  • Writing advice from 2011: “…the organizations are almost always callous and/or sinister secret agencies that bend over backwards to make their conscripts hate them. If I could offer some human resources advice, I’d be very careful about unnecessarily antagonizing your workforce, especially superpowered combat specialists that don’t want to be there. Also, have you tried not hating your subordinates?”  Uhh, yeah, that is still good HR advice, it turns out. Also, not rehiring known psychopaths that have previously set your servers on fire and darkly wonder about whether humanity deserves to be saved.
  • If you’re a science teacher and your brightest student has been working on a teleportation project for years and manages to pull it off at your high school science fair, disqualifying him because “that’s not science” is, umm, a bit backwards. This is why the only scientists that come to New York City are supervillains and/or useless… For everyone else, there’s everywhere else.
  • I feel like the Thing’s combat operations (which happen almost entirely off-screen) would probably have been much more interesting than the movie they actually showed. And also probably a better love story than Twilight.
  • The product placement was annoying bordering on obnoxious, but once the box office returns come out, this’ll look a lot wiser in retrospect. [UPDATE: Probably the smartest decision the filmmakers made, actually.]
  • I watched it Friday evening (6PM) on opening weekend and the theater was at 40-50% capacity. The correlation between Rotten Tomatoes ratings and a superhero movie’s box office success is very strong.

6 responses so far

Jul 19 2015

Preliminary Review of Ant-Man

Published by under Comic Book Movies

My expectations for the Ant-Man movie were exceedingly low — mainly based on concerns about the source material (no memorable villains, not much interesting personality, not conventionally useful superpowers, etc). In actuality, it’s a consistently funny movie with reasonably good fight scenes. Right now it’s averaging 79% on RT and I think that’s about right. Some observations:


–The main villain is a one-dimensionally psychotic businessman. His lack of style and depth is probably my biggest knock against the movie.  At the very least, if you absolutely need a psychotic businessman (which has already been used quite heavily in superhero movies), other movies have blazed this path better. E.g. generally Spider-Man 1’s Harry Osborne and Incredibles’ Syndrome felt like they could be real people with major mental issues. Not so much here. That said, I really liked the scene where the villain asked his mentor Dr. Pym why he kept the villain at such a distance. At the very least, the villain did give a really good opportunity to develop a side-protagonist’s personality.


–Using reformed sort-of-criminal* Scott Lang rather than generically brilliant scientist Dr. Pym as the main protagonist was an excellent choice. I think we’re overstocked on brilliant scientists at this point.

*He committed one theft, a Robin Hood-style crime where he returned the money to people that a company had overcharged them. The filmmakers softened the edges on his criminal work so much that it didn’t look like they were completely convinced that a criminal-turned-superhero could work. For PG-13 movies, I prefer the Guardians of the Galaxy mold (where protagonists have more latitude to at least talk about committing selfish crimes**, even if most of the things they actually do aren’t).

**Even removing someone’s spine, which is actually murder, and also illegal.


–In the comics, Scott Lang gets back into crime to help his sick daughter. Boohoohoo. In this case, it was to make child support payments (after a hilarious failure at Baskin Robbins), which felt a lot less cheesy/generic than the comic version.


–The side-cast in this movie and the (somewhat outre) comedy were much better than anyone had any right to expect. E.g. I believe comedic side-character Luis was created for the movie, which must have been a series of leaps of creative faith. “I know this guy, Michael Pena. Well, my cousin was at this PTA meeting, you know, and…”


–Falcon’s cameo is probably the closest he’s come to being interesting, especially when Luis goes into storytelling mode for the second time. This is also the most interesting SHIELD/Avengers cameo in any of the Marvel movies so far. Doing it with Falcon (who doesn’t have a personality independent of Captain America yet*) is just plain impressive.

*E.g. “I do what he (Captain America) does, just slower.” I believe the most charitable interpretation for Falcon is that his main purpose is to replace Captain America if/when Captain America’s actor Chris Evans stops making CA movies. He’s essentially a slow-rolling reboot.

8 responses so far

May 21 2015

Exercises for developing authorial voice

Published by under Writing Articles

The most important thing in writing comic books is finding and honing your own unique voice. A unique voice makes your writing exclusive and authentic. Authenticity connects with readers.


Many comic book writers have trouble developing their own unique voices when they are starting out. Fortunately, there are a few exercises you can do to develop your voice and improve your writing.


Study Another Writer’s Voice

Studying other Writer’s voices will make it easier to identify and develop your own voice more clearly. Picking a comic book you really like and aping the style makes a fun writing exercise that will help you do this. Everyone has their own style of writing comic books. Good writing styles are practically invisible. Aping a comic book’s story will help you see the style and better understand the writer’s creative decisions.


What do I mean by aping a comic book? I mean tell your own story, but with the beats of the comic you’ve chosen to ape. Plug your characters and concepts into the other Writer’s story beats. He uses five panels, you use five panels. He uses a caption, you use a caption. He does thought balloons, you use thought balloons.


You will be more comfortable writing in your own style once you’re comfortable with another writer’s style.


Take Inventory

Take an inventory of yourself to identify your voice so you can accentuate it. Ask yourself some pointed questions:

  • What are three adjectives to describe your personality?
  • Who is your perfect reader? Describe who he is in detail and then write everything just for him.
  • What are five or more books and blogs you enjoy reading? How are these similar? What is it about them that’s compelling to you?


Ask other people what they think is unique about your voice. You can find out a lot about your voice in reviews.


Look at Your Writing

Free-write something. Just write something you enjoy without doing any editing. Then, look over what you wrote and ask yourself if this is the kind of writing you’re publishing. Is this the kind of stuff you would read? If it isn’t something you would read, then change your voice to make it something you would enjoy reading. Do you like what you’re writing while you’re writing it? Does it feel like work to write? If it does feel like work, then there’s a good chance you need to change the way you’re writing.


Do you feel afraid or nervous before you publish? If you aren’t feeling vulnerable when you’re putting your work out into the world, it might be time to work on making your voice more personal. Try to write dangerous stuff. You want to be scared of what people will think when they read your work.


Finding Your Voice is Important

A unique voice can help you in many ways. Most writers who don’t write with a unique voice burn out eventually. Your unique voice is what makes people fans of your work. Finding your voice is important for writing comic books. However, it’s even more important to continue developing your voice once you’ve found it. Try these exercises and see what you find out about your voice.

4 responses so far

Dec 07 2014

The Suit Chafes: Using Sensory Details to Enrich Your Story

Published by under Writing Articles

Comics are a visual medium, and that can be an advantage over prose when it comes to storytelling. The motion and force in Wonder Woman’s punch, the adorkable grin on Ms. Marvel’s face, that gorgeous two-page spread of Gotham City: these are images that can be harder to get across in writing. But don’t get discouraged, novel writers. Prose has its own advantages, and one of those is that it can be much more immersive than comics through the use of sensory details.


Touch, smell, hearing, taste: use them right, and it can deepen your reader’s experience, making them feel like they’re right there with your characters. This isn’t central to your story. A solid plot and well-rounded characters always come first, but when you’re revising your second or third (or tenth) draft, look for places where you can enrich your description with sensory details like the examples below:



  • Your heroine is wearing some kick-ass leather boots. Are her feet sweaty and gross inside them?
  • The wind on that tall building your hero is perched atop of is probably cold and biting against his face.
  • Does your villain wear gloves? The sense of everything he touches is going to be dulled by their fabric.



  • What’s the evil corporate executive cologne like? Is it way too much?
  • Your superhero team’s base is on a space station. That’s cool, but the recycled air probably smells stale and awful.
  • A mugger is in an alley. Does the alley smell like old beer? Vomit? A dumpster full of rotting food from the Italian restaurant next door?



  • Does the femme fatale’s husky voice make your hero (or heroine) shiver?
  • Has your villain been punched in the head so hard that it sounds like his ears are stuffed with cotton balls?
  • Your mad scientist is in her laboratory. The humming of computers, hissing of Bunsen burners, or squeaking of lab rats could make up the background noise.



  • The coppery taste of blood might be your heroine’s first clue that the last punch left her with a nosebleed.
  • The villain’s minion has just been knocked face-first into the dirt. Did some get into his mouth?
  • Your hero has been captured and bound, and the ball gag tastes rubbery.


Small details like these can make the world of your novel feel more real to the reader—which is important when that world is populated by mutants, aliens, and men and women in colorful tights. Sensory details alone won’t make a good story, but they can add another layer to already good writing.


BM adds: Kristen Brand just wrote the superhero novel Hero Status.

2 responses so far

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