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

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John Wick: Chapter 2 (Full Review)

Who would’ve thought a movie about a retired assassin seeking revenge against the men that killed his dog would end up being one of the breakout films of 2014. A premise seemingly meant for a straight to redbox Jason Statham movie ended up being a fun, stylish action film seemingly plucked right from the pages of a graphic novel. So, while I usually feel as if most good ideas don’t necessarily need a sequel, the rich universe of John Wick is more than deserving of a follow up.

john_wick_chapter_twoChapter 2 picks up moments after the conclusion of the first film. Retired assassin, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has barely finished recovering his stolen car when he is recruited against his will by a former associate (Ricardo Scamarcio) and his mute right hand woman (Ruby Rose). Drawn to a blood oath, Wick must attempt a new mission that will put him in the crosshairs of an entire world of skilled assassins.

If you loved the first film, there is nothing to dislike about this second go round. From the cinematography to the soundtrack, Chapter 2 maintains the first film’s suave since of style. The action is bigger and better, filled with more fight choreography and some intense gun battles. Accentuating the action is a far greater sense of danger and suspense than what was experienced in the first film with the lead character being challenged early and often.

If there’s a flaw with Chapter 2, it’s in the more convoluted plot. But it’s hardly a bother. Sensational new characters like rival assassin Cassian (Common) and the sewer dwelling Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) are just some of the many welcomed nuances that add even more depth and intrigue to this fascinating criminal world. Returning characters like Winston (Ian McShane), Aurelio (John Leguizamo), and Charon (Lance Reddick) make the film mold seamlessly with its predecessor so even though things are more complex than a man avenging his puppy, it never stops feeling like a continuation of the first film.

The characters and world created by writer Derek Kolstad and brought to life by Director Chad Stahelski deserve to be commended. Like the James Bond and Mission Impossible films, the world of John Wick has become a character just as fun and interesting as the lead itself. And with an invigorating and fitting ending, there’s no need for this franchise to quit anytime soon.

FINAL GRADE: A

Passengers (Full Review)

1 + 1 = 2. Simple math. But movies don’t work that way. One great actor, plus another great actor, plus an intriguing concept should equate to a good movie. Unfortunately, sometimes even when a film has all of these factors working for it, a multitude of other things can keep it from being as triumphant as we want it to be. Passengers, is an ‘A’ movie concept, with ‘C’ level execution.

passengers_2016_film_posterThe film takes place in a distant future where space ships ferry humans off to live on different colonized worlds. These trips take decades and often centuries, so the passengers are meant to be kept in cryogenic sleep until they’re months away from their destination. Enter Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), one of over 5,000 passengers aboard the Avalon. Jim is awakened 90 years too soon from his cryogenic sleep after the Avalon collides with a meteor that triggers a slow wave of malfunctions. With an android bar tender as his only companion (Martin Sheen), Jim slowly falls into a deep depression with the realization that he cannot be put back to sleep. That is until journalist Aurora Lane (Jenifer Lawrence) is also awakened. Alone on a randomly malfunctioning ship, the two fall in love until a dark secret threatens their relationship.

The best thing the film has going for it is Chris Pratt. Pratt has the charisma to carry a movie on his own and manages to personify all of the most emotional moments in the movie much better than his co-star. Lawrence isn’t bad by any stretch and the two have wonderful chemistry that makes their love story seem genuine, which is important considering there aren’t many other characters ever on screen. But, Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora seems a bit boring and the movie could almost be more interesting without her. Her presence and the montage that depicts the happier moments of their romance, actually manage to undermine the more enjoyable Cast Away-like tone that the movie establishes when it’s just Pratt onscreen.

But the most significant reason Passengers disappoints revolves around the film’s latter half. The philosophically intriguing twist that engulfs the movie’s middle is barely explored and seemingly tossed aside in the end to make things feel happier, but much more formulaic. The feelings and moral complexities conjured between the characters as a result of the twist could’ve and should’ve been the focal point of the movie. Instead, it feels like a footnote on a film that is essentially Space Titanic.

The climax is filled with action sequences as the two try to fix the ship in ways that seem preposterous even for a science fiction film. Then there’s Laurence FIshburne’s wasted character Gus, the ship’s captain. The character is a commanding, yet calming presence, but isn’t onscreen long enough to be anything other than a plot device meant to forward the arc of the main actors.

The effects are solid and there are plenty of exciting moments to go along with the solid performances. But Passengers could’ve been a film as psychologically stimulating as Arrival. Instead it settles for being a Nicolas Sparks movie with a generic blockbuster ending. And while that may be entertaining for some, it’s disappointing for anyone who hoped to see something unique.

FINAL GRADE: C

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Full Review)

batman_v_superman_dawn_of_justice_ver8Forget the ‘v’ for versus, the idea of having Batman and Superman, two of the most iconic superheroes in all of pop culture, on the big screen together for the first time is enough to make even the tiniest of action movie fans giddy. As for me, you don’t have to know me, personally, to know who I side with. Simply skim through my favorite superhero movies and the love for the Dark Knight becomes pretty apparent. As for the overpowered Superman, my feelings toward him have always been the exact opposite. I respect the character, but I’ve always found him boring. That being said, I am on the side that thoroughly enjoyed Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. While most found its story dry and its action over the top, I appreciated the story’s ability to make Superman relatively relatable and I enjoyed the Dragon Ball Z-esque action sequences. So, needless to say, I was incredibly excited to see Snyder step into the director’s chair again as DC Comics attempts to create a cinematic universe akin to their rivals over at Marvel.

If you aren’t as familiar with the various comics as I am, then you’re probably unaware that Batman and Superman have always had a rocky relationship usually stemming from their conflicting styles: Superman, the boy scout and Batman, the fear mongering aggressor. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice sews the seeds of that conflict early by placing Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) at ground zero of Metropolis during the climactic battle from Man of Steel as buildings are destroyed and countless people are killed in the crossfire. From there, the world splits between people like Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) who either love or worship Superman (Henry Cavill), and the people like Bruce Wayne or Metropolis billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who fear his power or loathe him for his constant collateral damage.

For starters, put your worries of Ben Affleck’s Batman aside. He is good, albeit brutal, in his portrayal of a weary and war torn Bruce Wayne. Good enough to warrant another solo Batman outing. The action sequences featuring the caped crusader are some of the best in the movie, and I’m not just saying that because of my obvious bias. Jeremy Irons is also a fantastic addition as Wayne’s butler, Alfred. Even the Dawn of Justice elements are not as shoe horned as some might have anticipated. Gal Gadot provides a perfect appetizer for the Wonder Woman character that will be expanded upon in future films.

Now let’s address what doesn’t work. I gave Snyder a pass for his pacing issues in Man of Steel, but here they are even more glaring. From the opening sequence that reminds us of Batman’s origin it is clearly evident that we are watching a Zack Snyder movie thanks to operatic music and overkill on slow motion graphics. There are seven live-action Batman movies in existence (eight if your’re counting this), not to mention countless animated films, television shows, and video games. Do we really need a long opening montage to remind us of the hero’s origin? Things like this coupled with some dragging scenes regarding Lois Lane researching a stray bullet, could’ve been noticeably shortened or cut to make the film less than three hours and make it feel less sluggish. The movie attempts to break the dragging tone with Jesse Eisenberg’s quirky portrayal of Lex Luthor, which mostly misses with the exception of one or two really riveting moments.

But pacing isn’t the biggest problem with the movie. My biggest gripe is the one fans and casual movie goers will likely have as opposed to film critics, and that is the relative false advertising. Instead of calling the movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it should be called “The Philosophy of Superman’s Existence… featuring Batman… with a few Justice League Cameos”. Instead of focusing on the conflicting nature of the two iconic heroes and highlighting their greatest strengths and flaws, the movie meanders through its first half while wallowing in its own philosophical ideals. Sure, several excellent points are raised thanks to some great quotes from Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and some solid banter between Clark Kent and his boss, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), but that’s not what the studio spent two years marketing to potential audiences.

We were told that it would be, as Lex Luthor puts it, “God vs. Man. Day vs. Night. Son of Krypton vs. Bat of Gotham”. Yet, when the fight finally does come around, it goes by too fast and its set up seems so forced that the film could almost exist without it altogether. And because of that, even though the last act is full of eye popping action, it seems so thrown together that it isn’t quite enough to justify the weight of the buildup.

It isn’t quite fair to compare this film, or any DC film, to what Marvel has built. DC is attempting a more serious tone to establish a unique feel and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you’re going to be gloomy, wake us up here and there with some action (ala Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy). And if you’re going to have action, give it more purpose. Otherwise you end up with a film like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie so hell bent on being thought provokingly serious that it doesn’t stop to appreciate its iconic heroes and revel in the fact that we’re watching a fantasy. There are some great shoutouts to classic DC Comics and the hints at things to come should give purists hope for DC’s cinematic future. But a movie featuring arguably the most popular superheroes of all time deserves better than sub-par.

FINAL GRADE: C-