Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018): Broader Comedy and a Connection (Review)

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018): Broader Comedy and a Connection (Review)

Ever since Edgar Wright was given the old “heave ho” from the original Ant-Man the tiny (and not so tiny) superhero’s fate has been open to debate. Certainly Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a like-able alternative to Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym but one can only imagine what Wright’s take on the whole thing would have been. 

Still, Bring It On director Peyton Reed was an inspired choice to helm the first outing of Ant-Man and he has proven with Ant-Man and the Wasp that he can blend his comic touch, yet again, with action flawlessly. The film delivers on a broader scale, in terms of comedy, (although it has lost some of the delightful dichotomies involved in that Thomas the Tank engine fight) and introduces a gender changed Ghost.

Of course the best bit about making Ghost a female is that the incredibly gorgeous and talented Hannah John-Kamen (who kicked bad-guy butt weekly on SyFy via Killjoys and recently did a star turn in Ready Player One) got to show off her excellent acting chops once again. Evangeline Lily reprises her role as Hank’s chip off the old block daughter, Hope and Rudd’s character’s three stooge pals return as well.

A quick nod to the splendid Michael Peña, who once again shows his comic genius is in order here.  He almost steals every single scene he is in which almost cements his return in future installments of this franchise. Everyone, including the “newcomers” – Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne and the brilliant Walton Goggins all bring something to the Marvel table. Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale and the always adorable Abby Ryder Fortson give us an Ant-Man verse we know and love. 

There is, of course, the inevitable tie-in with “Infinity Wars” and the eagerly waited second half of said film. While, in this reviewer’s estimation, it all may stem from that green stone that Dr. Strange coughed up to Thanos to save Tony Stark, it may well be the Quantum bits and Lang’s exposure to them that turns around the downbeat and upsetting of part one of Infinity Wars…

Ant-Man and the Wasp is built around Scott’s escape from the same trap that Janet Van Dyne (Pfeiffer) fell into 30 years before. But there is also the “Accord” law breakage that puts Lang on house arrest and the dilemma of Ghost, who become a major fly in the ointment of our heroes.

The comedy in this second installment of the franchise is surely a touch of genius on the part of Reed as helmsman. The hilarity is so contagious and spot on that good old Stan Lee’s cameo is quite tame. It also affects the gag from the first film about the tiny crashing items and their lack of fan-fare.

Douglas is still grumpy and funny in turns, Lily is still hot as ever as Wasp, even before she dons the suit and, John-Kamen kills it as the trapped between dimensions “villain” being driven mad by the pain.

There is not a lot wrong with the film and it is a mark of its success that one immediately wants to sit through the entire thing again as soon as it finishes.  Ant-Man and the Wasp ends on a huge cliffhanger, one that only those Marvel fans who remember to stick around after the credits start rolling will see, and it is a real “Debbie Downer” of an ending.

(It is amazing to see how many filmgoers leave before the credits finish. Have they learned nothing?)

Theories abound about the ending and the possible connection between the upcoming part two of Infinity Wars. We are reasonably sure that despite the negative vibe put off by the end of this film, Ant-Man and his new sidekick Wasp will be around to fight another day…

The film earns a full 5 stars just for its comedy alone. Rudd, Lily and Douglas make a great team, along with Fortson and the three stooges that accompany Rudd’s character once again. Cannavale has little to do and Judy Greer (a personal favorite since Cursed) is funny as Lang’s ex who’s had a change of heart.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is still playing at cinemas and is worth seeing on the big screen. This one is a keeper though and will make a great addition to all your other Marvel verse films.

 

Captain America: Civil War – Epic Intimacy (Review)

Team Cap in Civil War

Captain America: Civil War has, to date, pulled in a box office returns in excess of $1 billion worldwide.  The Russo brothers put their own stamp on this next installment in the development  of the Avengers.  The film pitted superhero against superhero and introduced another Marvel character while “borrowing” a couple more.

Thor and The Hulk were conspicuous in their absence but there was a reason that these two were left spending time in the bleachers.  This theme of trouble in an uneasy Xanadu of heroic men and women was more compact in nature than previous Marvel outings.

There were many who complained, when the film premiered, that the scenes were too cramped. There were none of Joss Whedon’s vast vignettes where action filled the screen on an epic scale. Once again there was a reason that the brothers Russo, Anthony and Joe, kept the shots tight and almost intimate.

Each of the prior films dealt with the Avengers learning to work as a team. Building up trust and, most importantly  learning to share the power.  The group were always going to have issues, but, as long as there was a strong leader, Samuel L. Jackson‘s Nick Fury in most of the films, it could have worked with few problems.

Then came the dissolution of SHIELD after  HYDRA staged their almost successful coup.  Fury left the controls to Captain America and  then along came Bucky the “Winter Soldier.” The previous films all dealt with issues that were bigger than life. Alien invasions orchestrated by Thor’s brother Loki,  Tony Stark’s self aware “man machine” trying to destroy his maker and everything else,  SHIELD struggling to defeat an organization bent on taking over the world.

All these threats came from without.  Captain America: Winter Soldier featured problems from within. Each superhero had a personal issue to deal with. A leader to back and support based upon their own perception of right and wrong.

The UN mandate where The Avengers were controlled via the council was the trigger and while, surprisingly, Tony Stark agrees with the move, many of the team do not. Cap, who got used to running the show disagrees and the team, that worked so hard to come together before, are now split in the middle.

Thor and The Hulk being excluded made sense. Thor is not from this world and therefore any help he renders is down to his personal choice.  The Hulk is a reluctant participant and works only when needed, the big green guy’s need for solitude outweighs the team’s needs.

All the fight scenes and action sequences were on a smaller scale for a reason.  This film was all about individuals and their beliefs and reactions.  Over and above that  was the realization that this all boiled down to issues between Stark’s Iron Man and Captain America. Cap’s friend Bucky, when he was the Winter Soldier, killed Tony’s parents.

And Cap knew.

Ultimately this film was all about the two most forceful members of the Avengers disagreeing and fighting for what they believe to be right. It is also about betrayal and loyalty to friends who do not fit into the bigger picture.

The film serves as a reminder that however much we the audience love “Team Avengers” these heroes are their own entities.  Each one with a system and agenda all their own.  ‘

The  intimate feel backs this theme of individuality brilliantly. There is no need for panoramic vistas or sweeping epic scenes where all of New York City, for instance, is used as backdrop.  The story does not require either.

Even the addition of the new “team members” are comprised of more solitary players. The superbly funny Tom Holland as the, seemingly, 12 year-old Spider-Man or his competition for comic relief Paul Rudd‘s Ant-Man and even Chadwick Boseman‘s The Black Panther are all solo acts here.

The new kids on the block take sides in what is, essentially, Cap and Iron Mans’ war.  Because the battle is internalized, the cinematography is more compact and intimate. It fits the story and the struggle perfectly.

Captain America: Civil War is a more personal tale. The Russo brothers have presented the film just as it should have been.  Tight shots to emphasize the internal battle of each super hero.

This is blockbuster cinema at its finest and presented just as it should be.

The Fundamentals of Caring (2016): Road Trip (Review)

Craig Roberts, Paul Rudd, Megan Ferguson, Gomez

The Fundamentals of Caring is yet another 2016 feel good film with a plucky young person overcoming a horrific condition. In this case Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  While it is all too easy to write this effort off with an unhealthy dose of cynicism, like some critics on some sites (Like, cough, cough; The LA Times.), this road trip film does deliver.

It is not just the presence of “Mr. Popular” Paul Rudd, although this does help, but the chemistry between Rudd and Welsh actor Craig Roberts seals the deal here. Rudd can, of course carry a film himself, but this odd couple pairing actually works.  

Roberts is an accomplished comic actor who has excellent timing. Just check out his other work, which includes some straight roles. (Specifically check out Submarine, a romantic dramedy which was released in 2011.) His interaction will all the principles in this film was spot on.

The real surprise here was Selena Gomez. Her role as the hitchhiking Dot was natural and believable.  The paring of veteran actor Bobby Cannavale with Gomez was perfect. Rudd gave the type of spot on performance one expects. 

The story, taken from the book “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” by Jonathan Evison was adapted and directed by Rob Burnett. It stars Rudd, Roberts, Gomez and Cannavale along with Megan Ferguson as Peaches and Jennifer Ehle  as Trevor’s mum, Elisa. 

Kudos to Ehle for doing a believable English accent (based on the character living in the USA long enough to “soften” it considerably) it was a surprise to see she hails from the southern states.

Rudd is Ben. A writer who has suffered a devastating loss in his life. Traumatized, he takes carer classes and changes his career and immediate goals. He meets Elisa and her son Trevor (Roberts). Trev has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and is in a motorized wheelchair. The 18 year-old has a set routine and a wicked sense of humor. We learn that he does not keep carers very long.

Ben is slightly pedantic and a little too serious. Trevor loves practical jokes and sarcastic jabs.  This odd couple pairing works well and eventually both will change as a result of their closeness and daily interactions with one another.

Dot (Gomez) is heading to Denver and bumps into the two men as they go visiting the lamest tourist attractions on the map.  Along their travels they run into a very pregnant Peaches (Ferguson) who completes this little merry band of travelers.

To be fair, The Fundamentals of Caring feels like another film influenced by The Theory of Everything or the more recent Me Before You. But what is wrong with that?  This film, for all its adult language and a couple of gags that were adult in nature,  is a feel good film. A road trip where we laugh at the antics of these two disparate individuals.

Burnett does his job well, as do the talented cast, and the finished product makes you laugh and cry.  A number of critics were underwhelmed by the film and that is a shame. The combination of silly tourist traps (The World’s Biggest  Bovine for instance) is amusing on its own, add the comic jabbing between Rudd and Ferguson to this and it becomes comedy and not just a pale copy of other films.

Feeling a little like screen legend Kirk Douglas* from The Ragman’s Son,  “I liked it.”

*In the book, Douglas chooses a wine that the more expert wine connoisseurs demanded be taken away. As the waiter reached for Kirk’s wineglass the three time Oscar nominee  put his hand on it. Douglas then tells the reader, “I liked it.” 

The Fundamentals of Caring may feel a little formulaic but it works well. This is down to the cast and a script that delivers as many chuckles as belly laughs.  Burnett runs the film with a deft hand and never bludgeons the audience with the disease.  He also builds on Ben’s personal tragedy slowly and the reveal  works well because of this.

Airing on Netflix from today, the film is a cracking 4.5 star offering that will make the viewer laugh, giggle, chuckle and tear up a little bit if not outright cry.  Brilliant stuff and well worth a look or two. Check it out.

Ant Man: Michael Douglas, Marvel and a Captain America Teaser

Yellow Jacket under threat from Thomas the Tank Engine "Ant Man'

Without even going into the Marvel verse too deeply, Ant Man skirts along the edge of all things Avengers without encroaching on Iron Man territory. Michael Douglas enters into the spirit of superheroes with the gravitas of an elder statesman (with a mean temper) and the film ends with a teaser that has a surprise appearance by Captain America.

This production had a troubled start and lost its first helmsman, Edgar Wright, who may have given the world a much different Ant Man, although Paul Rudd manages to employ a lot of humor in the role.  As Scott Lang, a man with a daughter he is desperate to keep in contact with, Rudd brings that special brand of persona that he does so well.

As  an over intelligent cat burglar determined not to go back to prison, Lang still manages to get in trouble because, as Dr. Hank  Pym (Douglas) puts it, when things get tough Scott turns to crime.  The likable ex con is targeted by Pym to be the next Ant Man, much to Hank’s daughter’s chagrin.

Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) may be a chip of the old block of both Dr. Pym and his deceased wife, but she is too precious to the scientist to risk putting in the suit.  Her job is to get close to baddy Darren Cross, aka Yellowjacket (played brilliantly by Corey Stoll) and she does this well.

The storyline deals with a strict ex (a tiny cameo by personal favorite Judy Greer) and her new fiancee “a**hat” cop Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) who actually turns out to be less of a hat than Scott reckons.  Rudd’s character goes through an arc, a very impressive one, and steps up to “save the day.” 

Along the way, actor Michael Peña manages to almost steal the film from Douglas, Lily, Rudd and Stoll with his comic portrayal of career criminal Luis.  The actor is aided by some brilliant montage and flashback work where Peña voices all the characters in his expository scenes. 

The combination of his topical language choices and phrasing, along with his voice over matching the expressions of the people he voices in the flashbacks, makes the performer the clear winner in terms of captivating the audience.

Of course the film is not about Luis, so his “take over” is fleeting as Rudd manages to imbue his character with an exponential “nice guy” factor that shines through.  Douglas is a fine mix of curmudgeonly despot and loving father who cannot quite show how he really feels.

While the characters all help to bring the film to life, it is the action sequences, most by necessity CG, that carry the movie forward. Some of the effects are most certainly practical, for example the “exploding from underground” when Lang is freaked out by his initial introduction to the ant world, and are mixed with the computer generated FX brilliantly.

Sidenote: Speaking of CG there is that oddly real, but at the same time creepy, looking scene at the start of the film where Michael Douglas is years younger.  Despite leaps and bounds being made in this field, Douglas still looked…weird and a bit disturbing.

There is a great blend of humor with some of the scenes.  The entire toy train sequence is incredibly funny. Peyton Reed, whether influenced by the multi penned screenplay (with Edgar Wright as main scribe) or not, gives us a Thomas the Tank Engine chase and action scene that is just priceless. 

Seen from both Ant Man and Yellowjacket’s tiny view, the sound is enormous and the train with its speeding cars, looks deadly.  From another perspective Thomas’ danger value diminishes to nothing with comic results.

By the end of the film, it looks like Dyne will be joining Ant Man for a bit of crime fighting, or as an addendum to the Avengers and Dr. Pym survives being almost killed. The original Ant Man will act, presumably, as a continuing mentor to Scott Lang.

Marvel continues to bring more superheroes to the screen; big and small, with some being more oblique than others. Jessica Jones  as a sort of Marvel-Noire offering, along with her paramour Nick Cage has been given a second season on Netflix, for example.

With a lot of territory to cover yet in terms of the Avengers and all the peripheral action that entails; Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, et al, there will be enough material to keep Marvel on both television and movie screens for some time. (Not too mention the Agents of SHIELD and good old Peggy Carter.)

Ant Man is entertaining but not wildly funny, just amusing enough that the casting of Paul Rudd was a masterful move. All the cast do a more than capable job and the storyline is entertaining “Baskin-Robbins” don’t play dude.”

This is a 5 star film version of Marvel’s Ant Man.  While it would have been brilliant to see Wright’s version of this world, Peyton Reed brings an entertaining feature to the masses and it is to his credit that after watching this film, one immediately wants to watch it again.

Final Verdict:

Marvel-ous.