I’ve been busy the last couple weeks and unable to review the films that I’ve seen. Of course I’ve seen them. Two big superhero movies came out, both sequels: Incredibles 2 and Ant-man and the Wasp. Obviously I had to go to both of those… and I did… I was just too busy to write something up. And now that I’ve had some time to think about them, I see a very obvious similarity and I figured it made sense to write them up together.
How am I going to do that? I’m glad you asked (you know, in that you didn’t but I’m writing this so I’m just going to pretend you did).
If you’re wondering, I liked both movies. I didn’t love either of them, and in fact I didn’t think either was as good as the first movie in either series. But they were fun. I enjoyed them. If you like a good superhero romp, both are a good way to spend an evening.
Obviously Incredibles 2 is a little more kid and family friendly, so it’s a good place to start. I don’t want to get into the plot at all. If you’ve seen the trailer, you have a good idea of the basic plot. It’s fairly by the numbers. And it’s enjoyable… a little safer than the original (there’s a lot of straight up murder in the original). But the key thing that interested me was the “shocking twist” that happens in the second act.
Steph and I were seated next to a family. A pair of parents with a little girl who was maybe eight or so. Right at the pivotal moment of the second act where the “shocking twist” happens, the little girl goes “Woah!” really loud. Now the twist wasn’t that shocking. I wasn’t surprised. Steph wasn’t surprised. In all likelihood you won’t be surprised. Because like, you’ve seen a movie before. But it was excusable for her… because she was like 8. This could have very well been the first time she saw a movie… at least the first time she saw one that had any kind of twist. So if she’s used to a movie setting her up to go one way and then suddenly taking a left turn, it makes sense that she might be surprised.
It doesn’t make sense for grownups to be shocked that way.
Which is exactly what happened in Ant-Man and the Wasp. This is particularly troubling because not only do I assume that everyone in the theater has seen a movie before, the first shocking twist that the movie has is EXACTLY THE SAME FUCKING TWIST AS WHAT HAPPENS IN INCREDIBLES 2! Seriously, it’s exactly the same. If you see it coming in the first movie, you should see it coming in the second. And it is a twist that is designed to confound an 8 year old.
So why does it work?
I’m not saying it’s bad. In fact, as I said, I quite enjoyed the movie. It is a formulaic twist however. And I think there’s something to be said for the formula. I wrote a while back about the five stock plots for superhero movies. I never said the plots were bad. They’re just stock. Ant-Man and the Wasp is straight up a plot #3 film (and Incredibles 2 is a plot 1 and plot 4 hybrid). And that’s fine. But there is enjoyment in the formula. There’s a sense of comfort with knowing exactly what you’re going to get when you plunk down $10 for an evening out at the cinema.
But in order to really enjoy things, we want to be surprised. And so, these films set up faux suprises The No Surprise Surprise. Obviously if you give it a couple seconds of thought you’ll see the twist coming. But audience member can sometimes condition themselves to NOT see the surprise. It’s why you jump when a jump scare happens in a horror movie. You know, the moment… the final girl heroine Blondie McSluttyvirgin, after seeing all of her friends killed by the slasher over the last couple hours decides to take a walk through the dark cemetery all by herself. The multi gets ominous… the pacing slows… she hears a thud, and yet it’s just a cat… nothing to worry about. Everything will be fine… But then she turns the corner and BOO!!!! Shovel Joe, the slasher jumps right out of the shadows from behind a tombstone to terrorize her with his demon shovel. Who could have seen that coming?
Everyone saw that coming. Because that’s how these movies work. Every single one of them. But the audience buys the surprise, because they crave the surprise. They knew that Shovel Joe was going to be in the cemetery the second they saw the trailer for Shovel Joe XVII. Of course he is. He’s always there. He was there in the last sixteen movies. But the No Surprise Surprise is the point. You want Shovel Joe to scare you when he comes out from behind the tombstone.
And that’s what’s happening here. You want to be surprised by a meaningless twist. It’s the substitute for an actual plot. Because honestly, the plot of both of these movies is actually extremely lacking. There are dozens of holes. There’s a lot of nothing. I enjoyed both movies, but that’s because they’re completely held together by charming characters. Both films had a lot of heart. Cute kids. Wonderful messages about family bonding. Just not really any plot. But they did have fake twists.
What’s really surprising is that Ant-Man and the Wasp had another twist. A twist that absolutely anyone should have seen coming. It was pretty clear that everyone in the theater had seen Avengers: Infinity War. And if you have, you know the second twist. And yet, when the second twist comes, 90% of the theater lost their fucking minds. Why? I mean… you saw the other movie. You knew the twist. It would be like going to see Titanic and being surprised when the ship sinks. That’s what you’re there for.
But maybe watching too closely just takes the fun out of it. Maybe being me has just ruined movies for me.
I liked them anyway.
★★★☆☆+? (3 out of 5 stars… and a twist)