Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) – Movie Review

antman and wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp is yet one more milestone in Marvel’s lucrative super-powered saga – one more feather to add to CEO Kevin Feige’s cap. Now would seem like a suitable moment to marvel (get it?) at the unprecedented feat this man’s studio has accomplished – that of producing twenty distinct, sequential, feature-length movies in a single decade – as we rest for a spell in this juncture between epics, and await the end of the MCU (for better or worse) as we know it. Who knows what Phase 4 will bring?

Tonally, most would liken the sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man, and rightly so. Here you have a unique corner of the comic-book world – one which hits upon a very light, very comedic note, which characteristically involves plenty of action, albeit of an especially breezy, upbeat nature. Egotistic quips and visual gags are vastly popular staples across the family of Marvel instalments, yet rarely do they let slip the more urgent themes so as to embrace the comedy so wholeheartedly as Ant-Man and the Wasp, loaded with laughs aplenty as it is. In my opinion, the sequel improves on the original, scaling up the jokes and gimics of the first, while shrinking its’ defects (whatever those were, as my comment was naturally played entirely for effect!). In any case, a fresher feel sets this newer movie a step ahead of the original. That being said, it shares minimum involvement with the greater goings-on in the general world-stage of the MCU. Hearkening back to its’ predecessor once again, one may expect a neat, isolated adventure set largely in its’ own, friendly little (or sometimes rather giant!) world, which, after a ponderous opening and surprisingly action-lacking mid-section, brings us to a really fun climax that includes most of the movie’s action, and certainly the most satisfying part overall. One of the harsher (and perhaps unfair) adjectives I could cruelly suggest concerning the plot would be the word “meaningless”. The story is fine – it just doesn’t impact anyone or anything else very much. This may irk some; it may leave others nonplussed. Only mind that this tale shares precious few links to the greater scheme which stupified fans earlier this year.

Two words on characters and acting: Michael Peña! This man truely does steal the show – definitely a highlight of the fun. Yet although the casting is mostly spot-on, the characters typically lack a depth and moral and emotional quality that, were it to exist, would elevate the film to a new level (I’m looking at you, Marvel). Here I blame the writers more for incompetency in forming characters with meaning and personality than I blame the actors. In our age of sequels, tonnes of characters are played only to a “satisfactory” level, filling shoes without bringing anything more than the bare necessities to the role. Certainly in this movie, but also all over the MCU, shallow villains and heroes alike too often dominate the screen. The characters are good – but not outstanding.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself humming that catchy little Ant-Man theme incessantly days in a row after seeing this movie. Christopher Beck’s score encapsulates perfectly the quirky silliness of the movie’s antics at all the right times, yet also displays a thorough command of the more serious-spirited side of things when needed.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is probably best described as a real “fun” time. Laughs and action in abundance make popular crowd-pleasers as the movie opts for a conventional approach which is likely to please everybody all round to a degree. While iffy on the morals, it doesn’t stint on smooth (and often amusing) effects and a catchy score. Other setbacks (depending on your opinion) may include some weak stunts and unimagintive scriptwriting. Nevertheless, Marvel continues to rule the box office and the hearts of fans world-wide with an ever-increasing roster of quality entertainment, which, given its’ size and complexity, approaches something like television show status. If my cinema attendance is indicative of the larger audience, then it’s proof that our favourite big-screen superheroes are not going away anytime soon.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Ant-Man (2015) – Movie Review

ant man

When I first heard the news that Marvel was producing a film about “Ant-Man,” I thought that there was no way it could be good. How could a movie about a superhero who can control ants be interesting at all? Furthermore, my doubts on how well the movie would do were further diminished when I found out that Paul Rudd, a comedian, was going to play the lead role of Scott Lang who would eventually become “Ant- Man.” I never thought Rudd was a poor actor, just not one who could pull off a comic book hero role. I entered the theater with low expectations, but left pleasantly surprised.

“Ant-Man” turned out to be a fun, different, and off-beat film. It tells the story of a master thief named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) who has just gotten out of prison and is trying to make amends and keep a job. Lang is divorced but has a young daughter who idolizes him. Lang eventually comes in contact with a mysterious man named Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) whose plans for Lang end up changing his life. This film develops each one of the main characters fairly well. It shows us that although Scott Lang has a criminal background, he still generally means well. It also builds on Douglas’s character as well as on Evangeline Lilly’s character, Hope Van Dyne, although in this review I don’t want to give away too much.

There are also many little things that make this movie charming. Paul Rudd ends up playing Scott Lang wonderfully. He delivers his lines well and plays the character exactly the way he should. Douglas is great as he normally is, and Lilly portrays her serious character quite well. Corey Stoll’s “Darren Cross” is a generally interesting villain, although there wasn’t much that made him stand out from other villains in the Marvel universe. The comic relief character, Michael Peña, is spot on. His character is a silly, small-time thief who is a friend of Lang’s and who accompanied him on his past crimes. Overall, the casting choices proved to be effective.

In conclusion, “Ant-Man” is a film that I believe anybody can enjoy, superhero fan or not. The characters are likable, the story is different enough from a standard Marvel film to make it interesting, and there’s plenty of humor, character development, and action to make this movie worth seeing again. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Paul Rudd’s “Ant-Man” in movies to come.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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The Martian (2015) – Movie Review

Ridley Scott’s film “The Martian” does not mess around with buildup or anything in the way of expository drama; it gets right to the point and recognizes why you came to see it. It opens with Ares III, NASA’s manned mission to Mars, experiencing a treacherous storm upon arriving on the red planet. Debris is flying and visibility is next to nothing, and before the astronauts (Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, and Kate Mara) can take off, fellow astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by a flying antenna and presumed killed. The group takes off with the notion that Watney is dead.

Following NASA head Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) making the announcement of Watney’s death, we see that Watney is indeed very much alive on Mars, albeit slightly handicapped after being impaled in the stomach by the antenna. Watney now has to essentially operate on a field of landmines whilst acting as a scientist MacGyver to try and sustain life on Mars, a place where presumably nothing grows and anything can go wrong at any time. In addition to monitoring water reclamation, oxygen, and atmospheric levels, he winds up growing an array of potatoes with the help of the feces of him and his crew and makes a small home for himself. It will over four years for another manned mission to rescue him, but NASA headquarters, comprised of Sanders and assistants like Vincent (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Annie (Kristen Wiig), is determined to bring him back home in a timely fashion.

Headquarters is also struggling with the idea of telling the surviving members of the Ares III mission that Watney is alive, which ignites a fiery ethical side to the film’s story. With that, “The Martian” is essentially a gigantic teamwork exercise where everyone feels human, which is a pleasant attribute for Scott, whose recent films have really lacked in the filmmaking craft and humanization elements. Scott’s visual effects and grandscale directing usually never fail, but when these become the focus and human characters and the little touches (the science, the cause-and-effect relationships, and the narrative interest) become secondary or gravely shortchanged, then there’s a real issue with his films on a macro level.

“The Martian,” even with its nearly two and a half hour runtime, remains consistently interesting because it’s a generally optimistic film, surprisingly enough. Watney is a wisecracker a lot of the time, even in the face of certain doom, and seeing NASA’s constant efforts to bring him home show a certain diligence on their behalf works to make this film surprisingly hopeful. Then there’s the roundtable of rich performances here; aside from Damon, who does solid work being the only actor on-screen in his scenes for his sheer honesty mixed with vulnerability, Daniels and Ejiofor work off of each other incredibly well together here.

Consider the scene following Ares III’s escape from Mars during the storm, when Watney is still presumed dead; the two consult one another about what to do with Watney’s remains whilst subsequently trying to find a way to turn it into a more positive, caring PR display by sending another mission out to recover his corpse. This is a perfect scene in the way that it shows the way corporations and organizations balance humanity while considering their bottom-line, and who better to play figures in those pivotal positions of power than Daniels, who’s work on “The Newsroom” has gone on to be acclaimed, and Ejiofor, who, much like David Oyelowo, will likely win an Oscar in the next ten years.

Aside from a reliance on montages instead of actual exposition, “The Martian”‘s biggest problem as a film is the fact that we simply do not get enough time with Watney alone. The audience can never get a strong grasp on a relationship with this character simply because we’re never allotted enough one-on-one time without the intrusion of mission control. We needed more scenes with Watney ostensibly helpless, trying to farm, or simply trying to get by on what little he has to surround himself and the film doesn’t do that.

“The Martian” also makes fairly strong use of its 3D elements, using it as a tool of immersion rather than a gimmick that works to add a surcharge to already high movie ticket prices. Consider the storm scene, which completely floods the screen with indiscernible debris and disarray; the scene is only emphasized with the benefit of 3D and makes the experience that much more horrifying, being that, like the characters, we can barely see a thing.

Above all, this is a film destined to please a crowd; in addition, it also keeps its pathos down considerably, doesn’t do a whole lot of pandering to a crowd anxious to see action, and never loses sight of its deeply human and remarkable story. It also reaffirms the value of logical problem-solving in the face of a truly unexpected, and granted unprecedented, time of tumultuous uncertainty. It’s a low-key triumph made on a nine figure budget.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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Fury (2014) – Movie Review

“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.”

These words, delivered by Brad Pitt’s scarred and battle-weary Sgt. Don Collier, are meant to bring some level of comfort to Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), the young man who found himself snatched unceremoniously out of the clerk’s office and placed under Collier’s command in the final days of WWII. Despite having no combat training to speak of, Ellison has been assigned as the new assistant driver of Fury, the Sherman tank that Collier and his men call home. Ellison has spent most of the war behind a desk, hammering out correspondence at 60 words per minute, but over the last few hours he’s been gunning down Nazis in spectacularly gory fashion, and he’s struggling to make sense of the carnage.

Collier offers no other thoughts on the subject, having already forgotten about the previous battle and instead thinking about the skirmishes yet to come. He’s a fierce figure who inspires confidence and loyalty among his men, who affectionately refer to him as “Wardaddy.” But he’s also terrifying to someone like Ellison, who finds himself woefully unprepared for the demands of his new vocation. During one of the film’s early battle sequences, Ellison hesitates just long enough for tragedy to occur, and his subsequent brow-beating by Collier is followed by one of the most frightening and gut-wrenching scenes ever depicted in a war film. Ellison is quite literally forced to shun his own moral code and forsake any shred of humanity he still clings to, because Collier knows that if he doesn’t, everyone in the unit will be dead.

And what a unit it is, a motley crew of the highest order, comprised of a deeply religious gunner (Shia LeBeouf), a pugnacious redneck with a severe mean streak (Jon Bernthal), and a driver (Michael Pena) who drowns the filth and death in bottle after bottle of whatever booze he can find. But these soldiers are bound together by the sort of brotherhood that can only exist between men who have seen combat together: each is more than willing to die for the other, and the introduction of Ellison into their group is met with a hefty amount of resistance. The kid is an unknown, a variable they hadn’t anticipated, and viewed as little more than a liability.

But after proving his mettle during a nail-biting engagement with a superior German tank, Ellison gets the seal of approval from the rest of the boys. Collier even takes Ellison with him to explore an American-occupied village, and the two stumble upon a small apartment and its two female tenants. The film takes an interesting turn at this point, allowing the audience a glimpse into the exhaustion and sadness behind Collier’s rugged exterior. A bath, a shave, and a nice dinner are a welcome respite from the day’s butchery, but it’s the second half of this sequence that truly shows how even the best of men can be transformed by the horror of war.

Every member of the cast is at the top of their game here, even LeBeouf, whose well-documented public meltdowns feel like a distant memory. Despite being hampered by a script that regulates everyone but Collier and Ellison to skin-deep characterizations, the actors make the absolute most of it, bringing depth to characters that could very easily have been one-note portrayals. Pitt and Lerman, on the other hand, are given plenty to work with, and their dialogue exchange during the final moments of the film is one of the most emotionally gripping cinematic moments of the year.

Director David Ayer does a superb job with some of the more human moments in Fury, but his skills are best showcased in the thrilling battle sequences, the majority of which were filmed using actual working tanks from the era. Interior shots are skin-crawlingly claustrophobic, especially when surrounded by the shouts, explosions and machine-gun fire that signify the chaos of battle. Exteriors are also handled well, although the film’s frequent use of tracer ammunition makes some of the combat resemble the major clashes in the Star Wars films. Yes, it’s historically accurate, but sometimes it’s more distracting than engrossing.

While Fury never quite ascends to the level of excellence offered by other WWII epics such as Saving Private Ryan or Cross of Iron, it remains a relentless, unflinching account of the unspeakable nature of war. To quote LeBeouf’s character, “Wait til you see what a man can do to another man.” When we see it, it’s certainly not pleasant, and yet we can’t look away.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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