Ant-Man and The Wasp (Full Review)

Welp… someone had to draw the short straw. 2015’s Ant-Man was a pleasant surprise, mainly because it relished in being a comedic heist film more than an outright superhero movie. But this time around, Marvel’s shrinking hero has the unenviable task of following up the two highest grossing films in the history of comic book cinema. And while no intelligent person should be going into Ant-Man and The Wasp looking for it to be as thematically profound as Black Pantheror as epic as Infinity War, it is fair to expect a film equally as fun, or exciting, as the first Ant-Man.

Ant-Man_and_the_Wasp_posterAfter aiding Captain America in Civil War, ex-con, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) finds himself under house arrest. Determined to finish the last days of his two year sentence and spend more time with his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), he has given up the moniker of Ant-Man. But, having escaped the subatomic quantum realm in the first film, Scott is also the key to helping the original Ant-Man, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), rescue his long lost wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the same mysterious dimension. With the FBI, a black market tech dealer (Walton Goggins), and a villain who can phase through solid matter (Hannah John-Kamen) standing in their way, Scott takes up the mantle again with Dr. Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) as his partner.

Calling Lilly’s Wasp the “partner” is actually pretty ridiculous. By the first action sequence, it becomes clear that the movie should be called The Wasp and Ant-Man. She is tougher, smarter, and more heroic to the point that it relegates Lang to being, not only more of the sidekick, but inherently mere comic relief and a plot device for her adventure. And that would all be fine if this sequel had the same narrative flow as the previous film. But it never rightfully gives her the tonal forefront.

Miguel Peña, Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris, and Davis Dastmalchian all return as Lang’s goofy, ex-con coworkers. Laurence Fishburne appears as a former colleague to Dr. Pym. Oh… and Randall Park also plays a bumbling FBI agent. By the end, there are just too many characters and story threads. The over-reliance on quips and gags makes for a ton of disjointed scenes that, like in Thor: Ragnarok, undermine serious stakes. Meanwhile, Walton Goggins and his crew of buffoons seem to be onscreen only to provide henchmen to beat up, which only wastes the potential of John-Kamen’s visually stunning, but underdeveloped villain, ‘Ghost’.

Peyton Reed returns to direct, and he tries mightily to give this film the same tone. But at its core, Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t a heist film. With Hope and Dr. Pym’s emotional journey to reunite with their lost matriarch being the main focus, The Wasp should’ve been the main character. Rudd’s Lang is still charming, and his endearing relationship with his daughter was enough of a subplot to bring him along for the ride, but he needed to take more of a backseat. Continuously giving screen time to clownish characters is frequently becoming Marvel’s biggest weakness. And here, it squanders the showcasing of its tremendous female lead. It certainly has some fun moments, but there’s too much going on for Ant-Man and The Wasp not to land near the bottom of the Marvel Cinematic Universe spectrum.

FINAL GRADE: C

Advertisements

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Avengers: Infinty War is the remarkable culmination of ten years of superhero filmmaking. When Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios first embarked on this bold venture it seemed farfetched that it would reach its current level of success. But now, even lesser known comic characters like The Guardians of the Galaxy have become household names. All of the movies in the MCU haven’t been classic, but some are incredible. So here is my rank of all of the movies that have made up the greatest comic book franchise in film history so far. (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen some of these movies)

18. THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)

The_Incredible_Hulk_poster
This film wasn’t awful. In fact, in comparison to Ang Lee’s non-MCU Hulk film, it’s fantastic. But the film isn’t remotely memorable and was the first inclination that this universe might not succeed. Other than an appearance from Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross in Captain America: Civil War and a post-credit cameo by Tony Stark, it has no real connection to the rest of the franchise. Edward Norton’s stale performance doesn’t help, and it makes me wonder what this movie might’ve been if Mark Ruffalo had starred in it instead.

17. IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Iron_Man_3_theatrical_poster

The most egregious error of this film is making a mockery out of The Mandarin, Iron Man’s arch nemesis in the comics. But there are a ton of other problems with it too. Rhodey doesn’t do much of anything and too much of the film is spent with Tony Stark out of his Iron Man armor. There was also a few plot holes and the arc of Stark mentoring a young boy fell flat. The biggest saving grace is the army of Iron Man suits that shows up in the climax, but even that was spoiled by the trailers.

16. THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)

Thor_-_The_Dark_World_poster

Like The Incredible Hulk, this film was also unmemorable and had by far the weakest villain of all the MCU films. It also brought back the useless humans of the previous Thor movie. But there are some bright spots that keep it from being terrible. There was the great chemistry between Thor and his brother Loki, as well as a pretty awesome fight sequence that showed how much of a bad ass Thor’s mother Frigga is.

15. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

Avengers_Age_of_Ultron_poster

This movie was a letdown for me. It was far too much like the first Avengers and had a lot of left field plot points. Hawkeye having a family, Thor going to a “mind bath” that foreshadowed the Infinity Stones, and the random romance between Hulk and Black Widow were just some of the things that just felt out of place. Even Ultron, though performed impeccably by James Spader, felt underutilized. So while there are some awesome moments, the muddle of characters and frenetic plot made this movie underwhelming.

14. IRON MAN 2 (2010)

Iron_Man_2_poster

This movie is better after repeated viewings, but it still pales in comparison to the first Iron Man film. The plot goes all over the place, with Tony inventing a new element in one day and Black Widow’s debut feeling forced. The story also doesn’t do enough to develop Mickey Rourke’s villain Ivan Vanko, but it does feature Tony Stark’s impressive suit case armor and a nice climactic battle with Don Cheadle finally debuting as Iron Man’s partner War Machine.

13. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017)

Guardians_of_the_Galaxy_Vol_2_poster

The movie was certainly entertaining. But it was hard to live up to the hype of the previous Guardians film’s breakout success. The biggest problem with this movie, other than the muddled plot, is that it tries too hard to be funny. Jokes are thrown at the audience at every turn, often undermining serious moments. Meanwhile characters like Dave Bautista’s Drax get virtually nothing to do other than be another form of comic relief. And even though the death of Yondu was a nice endearing touch, the father-son dynamic between he and Star Lord felt forced.

12. THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

Thor_Ragnarok_poster

Just like Guardians 2, this movie hurts itself by constantly trying to be funny. It’s even more unusual here, as the plot revolves around very serious stakes including the apocalypse of Thor’s homeworld, Asgard. It also doesn’t feel true to the other Thor films, as it discards important supporting characters from the previous films like they never even mattered. The movie does make up for some of its flaws thanks to some awesome action sequences and good chemistry between the cast.

11. THOR (2011)

Thor_poster

The parts spent on Earth aren’t very interesting at all. But this is still the most compelling Thor movie. The visuals are stunning and Tom Hiddleston’s debut as Loki is nothing short of sensational. Up until Black Panther, his performance was by far the greatest villain in the MCU and it gave this movie a Shakespearean feel when it focused on Asgard and not humans.

10. CAPTAIN AMERICA (2011)

Captain_America_The_First_Avenger_poster

I thoroughly enjoy this movie more than most. Chris Evans’ performance as scrawny do gooder turned super soldier is fantastic. The World War II vibe is a unique touch and the movie paces well. The only real flaw is the unfortunately underwhelming portrayal of The Red Skull, Cap’s arch nemesis. When you cast someone like Hugo Weaving for your villain, you expect a little more nuance then your run of the mill megalomaniac.

9. ANT-MAN (2015)

Ant-Man_poster

Like Guardians of the Galaxy, this movie was a pleasant surprise. Marvel was smart to make it more of a heist film than a superhero origin story, which gives it a distinctive quality among the genre. The villain isn’t memorable and there are a ton of hokey moments, but Paul Rudd manages to be a compelling lead and the visuals to this movie are absolutely incredible.

8. AVENGERS (2012)

TheAvengers2012Poster

This was the movie that first proved that mixing a bunch of superheroes from different worlds could work. The chemistry among the cast is perfection and many of the action sequences are jaw dropping. But let’s not act like the plot to this film wasn’t weak. Loki just brings a random alien army to earth and the superheroes team up. Not exactly nuanced stuff.

7. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

Spider-Man_Homecoming_poster

Tom Holland cemented himself as a perfect Peter Parker with this coming of age story mixed with superhero flare. The supporting cast brings great comedic timing and every piece serves a purpose. Michael Keaton brings his A-game as one of the MCU’s best villains and Robert Downey Jr. does a great job in the mentor role. If there were more action in this movie, it would be higher on the list.

6. DR. STRANGE (2016)

Doctor_Strange_poster

Benedict Cumberbatch absolutely kills it as the arrogant and downtrodden Stephen Strange. Chiwetel Ejiofor also is great as good guy turned future villain Baron Mordo. And even though the Mads Mikkelsen’s villain isn’t wholly memorable, the plot paces well, the humor doesn’t feel forced, and the visuals are some of the most impressive in superhero cinematic history.

5. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

Guardians_of_the_Galaxy_poster

Easily the most surprising success in the MCU’s history. This movie is fun from start to finish and Director James Gunn does a wonderful job to pace the story and center the plot around its eclectic, yet charismatic characters. Even though the movie features another generic villain in Ronan, there are enough stakes to make the journey worthwhile. Chris Pratt is phenomenal as Peter Quill and the movie’s comedy feels organic. The film’s soundtrack is also another plus.

4. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

Captain_America_Civil_War_poster

While it was by no means as massive as the comic book event it is named after, Civil War ended up righting many of the wrongs from Age of Ultron. The dynamic between Tony and Cap came together well to create stakes that felt higher than in any previous MCU film. The epic airport battle and the successful introduction of Black Panther and Spider-Man into the franchise help make this into one of the best film’s of the MCU’s Phase III.

3. IRON MAN (2008)

Ironmanposter

We wouldn’t even be here without this breakout hit. As superhero origin stories go, this film had virtually everything. A flawed, but charismatic hero in Robert Downey Jr.’s debut as Tony Stark, a strong supporting cast, and fantastic special effects. It revealed the MCU’s potential and made Iron Man a household name. If only they could’ve recaptured this magic. Neither of its sequels were able to match it’s perfect blend of tone, pacing, and action.

2. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)

Captain_America_The_Winter_Soldier

The Russo Brothers, who also directed Civil War and are set to make Infinity War and Avengers 4, turned this Cap film into an exhilarating thriller that felt like more than a superhero film. Chris Evans once again turned in an earnest portrayal as Captain America and the film’s political undertones also made the movie feel as nuanced as it was action packed. Fun supporting characters, brilliant fight choreography, and an interesting plot made this my #1 MCU film up until 2018…

1. BLACK PANTHER (2018)

Black_Panther_film_poster

No, I’m not being prisoner of the moment here. This movie isn’t just the best movie in the MCU, it’s possibly the greatest superhero film ever made. Chadwick Boseman’s performance has James Bond levels of suave. But the supporting cast is what makes this movie transcendent. The horde of strong, magnetic female characters each add something to both the story and the hero’s journey. Even characters like Winston Duke’s M’Baku manage to shine in only about twenty minutes of screen time. The villains are also sensational. Andy Serkis brings comedic charisma to the role of Ulysses Claue while Michael B. Jordan delivers an incredibly passionate and endearing performance as Erik Killmonger, an antagonist whose compelling ideology leads to enlightenment and growth for the protagonist. Oh, and if that weren’t enough, the action sequences are jaw dropping. No other MCU film is as fun and thematically profound as Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther.

There you have it. Don’t like my rankings? Feel free to comment your thoughts and share which MCU films are your favorite. As always, thanks for reading, liking, and sharing!

Captain America: Civil War (Full Review)

Just over a month ago, DC/Warner Bros. released a movie about superheroes fighting superheroes… sort of. Now, along comes the superhero film Goliath that is Marvel to one up them. Captain America: Civil War is an adaptation of one of the most popular comic storylines ever, pitting two of their most iconic heroes against each other. Loosely based on the source material, this cinematic version serves as a sequel to 2014’s phenomenal Captain America: The Winter Soldier as well as being a quasi Avengers 2.5.

Captain_America_Civil_War_posterIt’s been a year since the Avengers stopped Ultron from destroying the earth and now Captain America (Chris Evans) leads a new team featuring assassin turned heroine, Natasha “Black Widow” Romanov (Scarlett Johansson), intelligent android, Vision (Paul Bettany), sorceress, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), winged soldier, Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie), and Iron Man bestie, James “War Machine” Rhodes (Don Cheadle). After a mission to stop a vengeful terrorist (Frank Grillo) goes horribly wrong, former Hulk adversary and current U.S. Secretary of State, Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), brings down the Sokovia Accords: a doctrine forcing all heroes to adhere to the United Nations rather than act as an independent force. While guilt causes Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) to support the new law, the ever weary Captain America refuses to serve a government agenda, causing things to get dicey when Cap’s former best friend turned brainwashed assassin resurfaces (Sebastian Stan). The conflict splits the Avengers in two, with half siding with Iron Man and the others with Captain America.

All of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films aren’t great, as some might have you believe. Some are mediocre (Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and others I just flat out don’t like (Any Iron Man movie after the first one). But the Captain America films have always stood out to me over the rest. This is due in large part to deeper subject matters and more intricate storytelling. Civil War is no different, in fact, it may be the MCU’s most earnest film yet.

Let’s start with the conflict, unlike with March’s Batman v Superman, this film’s budding rivalry has had several years to brew. So when things go downhill, it feels genuinely heartbreaking to see the two comrades and former friends warring against each other. An exceptional script that does a solid job sharing the two perspectives without condemning either one, makes this film feel more realistic than any Marvel movie to date. Both sides are right just as much as they are wrong, and this aspect drives the entire film and gives it more emotional weight than anything else in the MCU.

A stellar cast helps. Casting is perhaps the greatest strength of the MCU, and here everyone shines, even characters like Hawk Eye (Jermey Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) who are only on screen for a few scenes. As for the newcomers, they make their mark and prove that they are worthy additions to an already impressive roster. Chadwick Boseman portrays vengeful Black Panther with a regal fervor while Tom Holland is perfectly witty and exuberant as the new Spider-Man. Both make you excited to see them in future films. And while the MCU hasn’t always given us the best villains, Daniel Bruhl is stellar as the film’s sneaky antagonist.

The film drags a bit in its final act, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo deserve a ton of credit simply for managing to effectively juggle the massive horde of characters involved. It never feels like too much or too little, and when the titular battle goes down, it feels like something out of nerd heaven for fans of the genre even in spite of a few noticeable patches of spotty CGI. But visuals are only one part of making a memorable film. Captain America: Civil War isn’t great simply because of its action. Its captivating subject matter and emotional core are what make it one of the best superhero film’s ever crafted. So regardless of whether you’re Team Cap or Team Iron Man, you’ll come out of Marvel’s latest film feeling like a winner.

FINAL GRADE: A

Marvel’s Ant-Man (Full Review)

Never judge a book by its cover. In a world that is oversaturated with superhero films, it’s easy to write off a movie titled Ant-Man. It’s obscure, unintimidating, and seemingly unintriguing. But there’s a reason why the Marvel Cinematic Universe reigns supreme. It’s because the studio knows how to shake convention, and more than any other producer of comic book films, they know how to entertain.

Ant-Man_posterBased on one of the original comic book Avengers, Ant-Man follows former ex-con, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), as he is recruited by scientist and former superhero, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Along with Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), they plot a mission to break into Pym’s former Tech headquarters and prevent Pym’s former protégé and current company CEO, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), from replicating dangerous shrinking technology and selling it to the military. To pull off the mission, they’ll need the use of Pym’s super suit that allows its wearer to shrink down to the size of, and communicate with, ants.

Such an obscure premise needs precise execution to not come off hokey and to be refreshing. After all, we’ve seen superhero origin stories done to death. But Marvel manages to pull Ant-Man off by creating not so much a superhero film, but moreso a science fiction heist film. From the start, when we are introduced to Scott Lang’s comedic crew of thieves (Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris, and David Dastmalchian), the movie doesn’t really feel like the normal superhero flick.

Instead of big CGI-filled fight scenes and over-the-top set explosions, we actually get great character building. And the cast is spot on, from the headliners to the supporting roles. Paul Rudd is endearing and charismatic as a divorced father willing to do anything to reconnect with his young daughter. The father-daughter redemption theme is represented even stronger in captivating performances by Douglas and Lilly. The one weak link is Corey Stoll as the villain, Yellow Jacket. Stoll doesn’t do a poor job, but he can do little to escape the scripted cliché of a cackling megalomaniac villain that has unfortunately become a staple in nearly every MCU movie.

Even though humor and character drive the film, it’s still a Marvel movie, and with that come some impressive visuals. It almost feels reminiscent of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. And just because there aren’t as many super powered fight scenes as there may be in Avengers movies, doesn’t mean the movie is void of action. The stunning shrinking sequences, which are all absolutely made for 3D viewing, are each breathtaking even before punches are thrown, but rest assure the scarce fight scenes always deliver.

Like with most movies in the MCU, Ant-Man connects well to the other films thanks to a few well placed references and some unexpected cameos (and of course, post-credits scenes). But unlike other Marvel films (*cough* Thor: The Dark World) the film would easily be enjoyable without the connection to the vast superhero world that the studio has created. You may be disappointed if you’re looking for the usual punch throwing, damsel in distress, superhero flick that we’re all accustomed to. But if you’re looking for a witty, visually stunning, adventure with just enough heart to keep you emotionally invested, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how entertaining Ant-Man is.

FINAL GRADE: A-