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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Sausage Party (Full Review)

Remember when South Park first premiered in the 90’s? Remember how it was one of the most outrageous, disturbing, offensive shows ever to hit television? By the time I was old enough to actually watch an episode without procuring the wrath of my parents, I couldn’t stop laughing. And as I got older, I came to realize that within the outlandish brand of humor Trey Parker and Matt Stone had actually infused their controversial cartoon with healthy doses of brilliant societal commentary. Well… If you thought South Park was as wild as it could get, prepare yourself for Sausage Party.

Sausage_PartyCo-creator Seth Rogen stars as Frank, a sausage living with his fellow package mates (Michael Cera, Jonah Hill) in a grocery store where all of the products live with the dream of being chosen by the Gods (humans) and being carried away to “the great beyond”. But after a bottle of returned honey mustard (Danny McBride) threatens the status quo with creepy tales of what really happens when humans take home food, Frank and his hot dog bun girlfriend, Brenda (Kristen Wiig) find themselves out of their packages and lost in their massive world. While Frank searches for the truth to their existence with the help of some druggie non-perishables (Bill Hader, Craig Robinson, Scott Underwood), Brenda teams with a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton), a muslim lavash (David Krumholtz), and a lesbian taco shell (Salma Hayek) on a quest to find their way back into their aisles in hopes of being chosen. All while an angry douche… yes, an actual douche (Nick Kroll)… seeks revenge for being denied his opportunity to be chosen.

Like South Park, the humor in Sausage Party is meant for a very specific audience. Only the most immature of baby boomers won’t find this movie appalling. From the harsh language that uses almost every means of profanity fathomable to more sexual innuendo than a hardcore porno, Sausage Party tips the scales of anything I’ve ever seen in a movie, let alone an animated one. But me, 28 year old fan of cartoons aimed at adults, I couldn’t stop laughing. Sausage Party doesn’t try to hide the fact that it’s aimed at audiences who enjoy crude humor, so don’t expect it to.

The funny thing is, like the aforementioned controversial TV show, it actually has a relatively insightful backbone to it. Crammed within the food puns, foul language, and sexual innuendo is a pretty endearing message about how society can get bogged down by beliefs and petty differences. Sure, it takes shots at religion, but the overall concept that we as a species are all in this together, is a correct one. And Rogen and the rest of his writing team deserve a ton of credit for even having a message. Sausage Party would be hilarious if it were just a gross out, adult comedy, but it’s undertones give it an extra ounce of heart that makes it memorable.

At certain points the puns fall flat. And sometimes the movie gets eye poppingly outrageous. The end sequence is a doozy no matter how mentally prepared you think you are. But after several days of recovery from the sheer absurdity of it all, I found myself laughing again. And a movie that can make you laugh hysterically, that also has a point, is something that anyone can appreciate even if it’s too much for some to handle.

FINAL GRADE: B+

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-