Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp

By: Kevin Jordan

Back to the future.

With the box office disappointment of Solo: A Star Wars Story, Disney executives are freaking out.  Star Wars has reliably been a billion-dollar-per-movie enterprise since Disney purchased Lucasfilm, and anything less is the equivalent of the New England Patriots failing to win the Super Bowl.  In other words, completely unacceptable.  Heads will roll, the children of executives will have to settle for less-than-life-size TIE fighters for Christmas, and they might have to delay the opening of Star Wars Land at Disney World to avoid bankruptcy court.  What’s that?  Avengers: Infinity War has made over two billion dollars at the box office?  Here is your full-scale TIE fighter, son.  And a functioning Iron Man suit, just because.

A lot of ink (or electrons) has been spilt by people trying to explain why Solo failed and most of them are trying way too hard, saying it failed because of so-called Star Wars Fatigue or bad marketing.  The reason we know marketing and fatigue are bullshit excuses, though, is because the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) exists.  The latest film, Ant-Man and the Wasp, is the twentieth film in that franchise and will succeed, in part, because it moves the story and universe forward instead of backwards.  Solo did not do that for the Star Wars universe.  And fans will be more than happy to make Ant-Man and the Wasp a box office success despite nineteen films worth of fatigue.

People are tired of this? Please.

After watching Infinity War, I noted that I was really curious where Ant-Man and the Wasp was going to take us because, well, you know (and if you do not know, you definitely are not watching this film any time soon).  Ant-Man was conspicuously missing from Infinity War, so it became obvious that Ant-Man and the Wasp was going to explain why he was missing.  The genius of this film is that it is a standalone story about Ant-Man (and Wasp) that waits until the very end of the film to reveal that explanation.

It is not lost on me that I just railed against going back in time and Ant-Man and the Wasp does exactly that. It works in this case because it is much more sideways than backwards, filling in a gap that was left purposely and precisely for this film.  Incidentally, Captain Marvel almost assuredly will do the same thing.  The MCU was designed to operate this way, with several parallel stories going on that converge into one film.  Therefore, it is necessary to move sideways to avoid leaving a gaping hole in the overarching narrative.

Sometimes you have to move sideways to go forward.

Ant-Man and the Wasp picks up with Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), nearly finished serving a three-year house-arrest sentence for violating the Sokovia accords (see: Captain America: Civil War).  With three days left to go, he has a crazy dream about Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer).  Hope, a.k.a. Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), kidnaps Scott because she and Hank believe the dream was actually a message from Janet from the quantum realm, where she was lost decades earlier.  That would be our main plot – rescue the damsel in distress (side note: could this plot be any more Disney?).  Our secondary plot revolves around Ghost, a.k.a. Ava Starr (Hannah John-Kamen), a woman who can pass through objects, due to an accident involving a quantum tunnel when she was a child.  She also wants to get her hands on Scott for the location of Janet because she believes she can use the quantum energy Janet has absorbed to cure her of her affliction, which is killing her.  Toss in Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) as a black-market technology dealer who wants Hank’s quantum technology and we complete what becomes a fantastically fun and humorous action movie.

What I love about the recent spat of MCU films is they have really embraced the comic part of comic-book movie.  While they have included comedic relief since Iron-Man kicked off the franchise, the films were always much more serious than funny.  Guardians of the Galaxy shifted the balance to something much closer to fifty-fifty and the films have become that much more enjoyable.  For example, Scott is always joking about how he completely understands what all the scientists in the room are talking about, then, in a moment of perfect movie self-awareness, Scott asks Hank and Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) if they just put the word quantum in front of everything.

(Side note: Infinity War is definitely much more serious, but the attempt to end half of all life by Thanos is not exactly haha funny).

Is this quantum?

Another thing that is really good about this film is that Wasp is arguably the main character of the film.  Much time is devoted to fleshing out her character, her motivations, and her skills and she easily has the best action scenes in the movie.  By the end of this film, it is clear that if she got in a fight with Ant-Man, she would take him out without breaking a sweat.  That is not to say Ant-Man is a bad fighter, rather she is that good.  In a moment of cockiness normally reserved for men, she remarks to Scott that if she had been with him at the airport fight in Civil War, he would not have gotten caught.  I am definitely Team Wasp after that exchange.

I got this.

Overall, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a great movie that continues the string of high-quality films produced by Marvel.  It has great pacing, really good writing, and a retro-70s-cop-show feel that comes off as genuine and subtle rather than as a cheap stunt for purely nostalgic purposes.  If you are not entertained by this film, do me a favor and avoid saying it is because of Marvel fatigue.  Accept that you are probably just dead inside.

Rating: Worth every penny no matter how many times you see it.

Captain America: Civil War

By: Kevin Jordan

Let’s get ready to R-R-R-UM-M-M-BL-L-L-E.

At the risk of repeating myself, how is it that Marvel keeps making outstanding movies?  I’m not really surprised by this anymore, but I am surprised that they continually top my expectations.  At this point in time, the law of averages says they are overdue for a real stinker, but I’m happy to report that the new Captain America smells very nice.  Wait…that sounds weird – let me start over.  Captain America: Civil War knocked my socks off.  No, that’s weird too and makes me sound like someone’s grandmother.  Alright, I’ll figure out a better way to say it by the end of the review, but you get the point – Civil War is arguably the best movie released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date.

As I said in my review of Batman v Superman, I was really looking forward to Civil War if only to get rid of the taste in my brain from viewing BvSBvS was always destined to fail at a story level because Superman could just throw a building at Batman and movie over.  But the real reason it failed was because the reason Superman and Batman are fighting at all is murky at best and completely nonsensical and dumb at worst.  Civil War is exactly the opposite and is more than Captain America v Ironman: Dusk of Avengers – they are fighting for reasons that actually make sense.  Sorry DC fans, but the sooner you admit BvS and Man of Steel were just bad movies, the sooner you can start demanding that Warner Brothers hire some writers and directors that don’t suck, follow the Marvel formula, and start making movies worthy of DC’s source material.

Captain america civil war

The Avengers have always been a tenuous alliance of superheroes, not so much because they don’t get along, but because they have different ideas on how to achieve the mission – world peace and protecting the human race.  The film kicks off with the newly reformed Avengers (that we saw at the end of Age of Ultron) chasing down some bad guys in Nigeria who were trying to steal a bioweapon.  By the time the scene is over, some collateral damage has occurred including eleven civilians dead.  The Secretary of Defense (William Hurt) informs the group that more than one hundred nations have come together to decide that The Avengers should no longer be a private entity and must start operating under the purview of the United Nations.  Any crime fighting undertaken outside of that oversight is to be considered a crime.  As the team digests the information and debates amongst themselves, sides start form.  One side, led by Tony “Ironman” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), agrees that oversight is necessary because they are powerful and dangerous, but mostly out of guilt for the Sokovia incident (from Age of Ultron).  This is understandable since it’s literally his fault that Ultron came to be.  The other side, led by Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans), believes the opposite – that the various countries and diplomats have their own agendas and the team would end up becoming a weapon to be wielded by the U.N.  This is understandable because Cap didn’t trust what S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury were doing in The Winter Soldier (and rightly so, as it turned out).  The conflict arises because they are both right – oversight is a good idea, but the decision makers are completely untrustworthy.  Talk about art imitating life (*cough* Republicans v Democrats *cough*).

Side commentary – the logic of the SecDef mirrors the short-sighted-can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees thinking that we see in real life today.  While making his case to the Avengers, he places the collateral damage blame on them for the following events: (1) the Loki-led Chitauri invasion of Earth (The Avengers), (2) the Hydra-led invasion of D.C. (The Winter Soldier), (3) the destruction of Sokovia (Age of Ultron), and (4) the eleven dead in Nigeria.  Here’s how the team should have responded to those: (1) we stopped an alien invasion aimed at destroying/enslaving humanity, (2) we stopped Hydra from taking over America and the world, (3) yeah – that was our fault, and (4) hello – bioweapon.  I find it stunningly narrow-minded to get upset about the collateral damage when, had they not intervened, everyone dies or the world is taken over by bad guys or everyone dies.  My point is they could have come up with a better list of examples or just stuck solely with the Ultron incident.  Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The part I really want to put emphasis on is that the competing sides didn’t just jump to punch-kick-shoot, like Batman and Superman did, they literally talked about their ideologies.  Following their disagreement, another incident happens and they talk about it again.  I know that sounds a little boring (trust me, it’s not), but it makes the battle royale later in the movie much easier to accept because it’s the logical result of the escalation that occurs during the film.  And that, dear DC fans and Zack Snyder, is how you make a superhero v superhero movie.

On that note, the battle royale is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking.  I won’t spoil the who takes whose side, but here are your contestants – Ironman, Captain America, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Warhammer (Don Cheadle), Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) – and all of them get their fair share of the camera.  The scene also has great special effects, a very smooth escalation of fighting, and plenty of fun banter (at one point, Spider-Man is praising Captain America while simultaneously fighting him).  Yes – Marvel and directors Anthony and Joe Russo handled a twelve-person superhero fight movie better than DC and Zack Snyder handled a two-person fight.

Aside from the main story, they even managed to give due diligence to the introductions of Spider-Man and Black Panther, which is amazing considering how many characters were in this film.  That includes the additions of Emily VanCamp as CIA Agent Carter (to be fair, she’s not new, but she’s given far more to do this time around), Daniel Bruhl as the one true villain of the film, Martin Freeman as another government higher-up (and doesn’t he have to appear in Doctor Strange opposite Benedict Cumberbatch?), and even Marisa Tomei as Aunt May.  As incredible as it sounds, not one of these characters felt like a throw-in just to get a silly cameo for an upcoming sequel or standalone movie (seriously D.C. and WB – get your shit together).

So, yeah – Civil War was freaking awesome from pretty much every aspect you can think of.  Great characters, great story, no obvious plot holes, tie-ins with previous movies to maintain continuity, great new characters (and a big thank you to Marvel for fixing Spider-Man), great action, great acting, great dialogue, and most importantly, great entertainment.  See?  I told you I’d figure out a better way to describe this film.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back for Batman v Superman again.  Then, see Civil War again.

Ant-Man

By: Kevin Jordan

This is just getting ridiculous.

ant_man

There’s a scene in Dogma where Selma Hayek is explaining that nineteen of the top twenty grossing movies were inspired by a muse (her) and the twentieth was because someone sold their soul to the devil.  With the amount of success Marvel is having with their films, either they’ve got an army of stripper muses at their headquarters or Satan’s going to need to a new wing at Infernal Studios for all those newly acquired souls.

I remember going into Guardians of the Galaxy with very guarded expectations.  I didn’t think there was any chance a movie with such a ridiculous ensemble cast and a trailer with no plot hints whatsoever could possibly be as entertaining as it turned out to be.  You’d think I would have learned my lesson after that, but I found myself with the exact same mindset going into Ant-Man.  Could you blame me though?  They cast Paul Rudd (really) as the lead/superhero in a movie that was seeming dangerously close to being a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids sequel.  If you think I’m being hyperbolic, Ant-Man has a pet ant (actually lots of them) that the hero rides.  You’re nodding now aren’t you?

As you may have guessed by now, I enjoyed the hell out of Ant-Man.  I actually do like Paul Rudd, so I was looking forward to seeing if he could pull off being Ant-Man.  The film begins, not with Rudd (Scott Lang), but with a scene from years past showing us a CGI’d Michael Douglas (Dr. Hank Pym) storming out of a meeting with Howard Stark and Agent Carter because Pym didn’t want them abusing his shrinking particle and Marvel wanted to make sure we understood this movie fits into the same universe as the Avengers.  Fast forward to present day and we meet Scott Lang (Rudd), a thief being released from prison.  We quickly get his background story – divorced dad with a young daughter – then meet his friends (including Michael Pena, who almost steals the entire movie with his brilliance) who want him to pull another burglary with them.  As it turns out, they are robbing Pym’s house, which Pym orchestrated in order to convince Lang to become Ant-Man.

Meanwhile, Pym’s old protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), has nearly duplicated Pym’s work and Pym wants to stop him before he can sell it to the bad guys (no points if you guessed Hydra as the bad guys).  Pym thinks Lang is the perfect person to steal Cross’ super-suit (the Yellowjacket) because of his burglary skills.  That’s it; that’s the plot.  Like Guardians of the Galaxy, the plot is simple and straight-forward, it presents a clear goal, and does a good job developing its main characters so that you care what happens to them.  They even toss in a good confrontation and clichéd romance in the form of Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who wants to don the ant-man suit herself (and makes a very convincing case as to why).  The rest of the film is just Marvel doing what it does best – action mixed with comedy mixed with fun.

I wish I had more to say, but I’m not sure there is anything left to say when it comes to Marvel’s movies (the ones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that is).  Ant-Man has erased the bland aftertaste from Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Terminator: Genisys and is easily as entertaining as The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  The only real question left is if they can save some of their other properties from being destroyed.  Spider-Man is on its third Spider-Man and the trailer for the reboot of The Fantastic Four made me think the 2005 Fantastic Four wasn’t all that bad (it really was).  I’m sure there’s someone left over there with a soul to sell.

Rating: Worth as much as those three previous reboots I mentioned – combined.