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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Tomb Raider – 2018 (Full Review)

Let’s be honest. Video game movies are usually terrible. Not just bad… terrible. So terrible that even the best ones aren’t particularly memorable. Angelina Jolie’s 2001 and 2003 turn as beloved video game heroine Lara Croft didn’t do much to curb that notion. But in true Hollywood remake fashion, here we are again with another attempt at making Tomb Raider work for the big screen.

Tomb_Raider_(2018_film)This reboot reimagines Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) as a rebellious delivery girl whose father (Dominic West) disappeared while searching for mystical relics that could prove the existence of an afterlife. When she finally decides to accept her father’s inheritance and take ownership of his multimillion dollar company, Lara stumbles upon clues to his whereabouts. With the help of a drunken ship captain (Daniel Wu), Lara ventures to a treacherous, uncharted island where she encounters a secret organization that is using slave labor to uncover an ancient tomb.

I can count on one hand how many video game movies are watchable, and if you can name more than that then you will absolutely enjoy this reboot of Tomb Raider. The movie starts out slow. There are hokey jokes that don’t land and plot elements that don’t make an ounce of sense, but the adventurous tone and action sequences are right on the money.  Alicia Vikander brings some true grit and earnest heart to the lead role that makes her feel like a much more believable character than Angelina Jolie’s more cartoonish take.

The action is intense and the stakes are felt thanks to Vikander’s performance. Every other character will come off as forgettable, although Walton Goggins makes for a relatively intimidating villain. Truthfully, a Tomb Raider movie need only have a captivating Lara Croft and, more importantly, an enthralling motivation, for her to work. Recreating Lara as a brave and tough young woman grinding her way through perils to reconnect with her long lost father is enough to make this reboot worthwhile even for the casual moviegoer. Just don’t be that poor soul expecting something emotionally groundbreaking or overtly intelligent from a video game movie.

FINAL GRADE: B

The Hateful Eight (Full Review)

I consider myself a fan of Quentin Tarantino. Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite films of all time, and I absolutely loved the Kill Bill movies, Django Unchained, Inglorious Bastards, and Reservoir Dogs. But 2007’s Death Proof, his only film I flat out despise, also showed me that the films by the stylistic director can sometimes be an acquired taste if you’re not used to him and irksome even if you are.

The_Hateful_EightTarantino’s newest film, The Hateful Eight, takes place in post-Civil War Wyoming where union soldier turned Bounty Hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) crosses paths with famed Bounty Hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his $10,000 bounty Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the midst of a blizzard. The weather causes the two men and the prisoner to seek refuge in a small haberdashery with a dopey, newly elected Sheriff (Walton Goggins), an English hangman (Tim Roth), a quiet loner (Michael Madsen), an old Confederate General (Bruce Dern), and a Mexican caretaker (Demian Bichir). But it doesn’t take long for the two bounty hunters to realize that one of their new counterparts is in cahoots with their prisoner.

The film serves mostly as an old western/mystery. That unique quality alone makes it intriguing. But it does feature all of the things many find irksome about Tarantino’s films. For one thing, the director is excessively methodical, from the film’s dialogue to the often 90 second tracking shots, it’s clear QT has no respect for your notions of a proper film’s runtime. Then there’s Tarantino’s trademark gore and rampant use of the ‘N-word’, neither of which bother me and if you saw and liked Django Unchained, they shouldn’t surprise or distract you either.

Negatives aside, as I mentioned before, I consider myself a fan of Tarantino. And as such, I can recognize all of the elements that make him, in my mind, one of the best working Directors in film. From the costumes, to the attention to character details, to the scenery, The Hateful Eight carries an authenticity and tangible nature about it that makes it feel as if you’re right there with the characters. The acting is also solid, thanks to wonderfully charismatic performances by Jackson, Russell, Goggins, and Roth as well as a gross and gritty, yet lovable job by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

If you’re unfamiliar with Tarantino then the violence and three hour runtime with often slow pacing will make you want to leave halfway through The Hateful Eight. But if you’re familiar with the director’s style, then there’s plenty to love about his eighth film. It’s certainly no Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill, but the latest film is certainly another worthy addition to Tarantino’s impressive archive.

FINAL GRADE: B+