Tag Archives: superheromovies

Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

After the dramatic and awesome one-two punch of Black Panther and Infinity War, it was hard not to feel skeptical about Marvel’s decision to release the second Ant-Man movie in the middle of the summer blockbuster season. Do we still care about the little guy? Do we  (okay, I) need a break from all these superhero goings-on?  Maybe. But, as you might expect, it turns out Kevin Feige and the gang knows exactly what they’re doing, and I was wrong, once again, to doubt them.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a perfect summer popcorn flick. If it existed in a world without the likes of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, we’d still be blown away by it. I said of the first Ant-Man (2015) that it was a “surprisingly enjoyable little action flick,” with a stellar cast and solid execution. As such, director Peyton Reed didn’t mess with his formula too much: he added a few more excellent additions to the cast (Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, and Hannah John Kamen, amongst others), kept the winning combo of action, humor, and heart … boom. Box-office gold.

I’ve been asked a couple of times if it is necessary to be caught up on the MCU in order to watch Ant-Man and the Wasp, and by and large the answer is no. The action picks up immediately following the events of Civil War, but those events are not relevant beyond the fact that we find Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) on house arrest for his involvement. Hank Pym and his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly) are on the run from the Feds as well, but are working on a quantum tunnel which will theoretically allow them to find Hope’s mom, Janet (Pfeiffer), who has been lost/presumed dead in the quantum realm for decades.  Naturally, the three are forced to team up again in order to achieve their goal, and of course, a bunch of other people are trying to stop them. They include Randall Park as the FBI agent assigned to Lang, Walton Goggins as a sleazy businessman who wants to get into quantum tech, and Ghost (John-Kamen), who joins the ranks of the new type of Marvel villain who is not so much evil as misunderstood.

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Evangeline Lilly and Paul Rudd as the Wasp and Ant-Man

One of the most impressive aspects of the movie is that it manages to juggle all those people and interweave their various storylines into a cohesive unit. The pace is quick but comfortable, and there’s plenty of time for humor and heartfelt moments. The film almost feels like an homage to Ferris Bueller: Lang’s out having adventures but also has to make sure he doesn’t get caught out of the house.  The jokes strike just the right balance and the running gags, mostly courtesy of Michael Pena, TI Harris, and David Dastmalchian as Scott’s trio of business associates, never get old. The characters and their relationships were so well-defined in the first movie that we can spend more time catching up with the characters, rather than learning more about who they are and where they’re at with each other.

The biggest, and most important, change is that Hope has taken on the mantle of The Wasp. She’s the first female superhero in the MCU to receive title credit! Evangeline Lilly steps into full superhero mode like she was born to it, and matches Paul Rudd beat-for-beat. In a way, The Wasp is a more stereotypical hero than Ant-Man. Part of what makes Rudd so likable in the role (aside from his endless charisma) is his Everyman persona; while he has certain skills, he’s not a genius (which is frequently played to great comedic effect). He’s not supremely noble like Cap or endowed with any superhuman qualities, whereas in addition to being a skilled fighter, Hope is a brilliant scientist in her own right and has a laser-like focus on obtaining her goals. They balance each other wonderfully and make a great team.

One of the things that makes the MCU so compelling is the mix of epic and personal storytelling. After a world-shattering event like Infinity War, scaling things back to the lives and experiences of a few individuals was definitely the right choice. When they’re done well, these small-scale pieces are no less compelling than the grand ensemble films. Other reviewers have pointed to Spiderman: Homecoming as the best example of a stand-alone episode that loses nothing in enjoyment despite its lack of global consequence. Ant-Man and the Wasp is another great instance of this. The stakes are truly confined to Scott Lang, the Pym/van Dyne family, and a few others, and that intimacy allows for more of a connection with the characters and makes their stories more personal.

That Marvel can combine that kind of storytelling with blockbuster action and effects is a testament to what they’ve built in the MCU, and it’s what keeps viewers coming back for more. If you’re caught up, the second Ant-Man installment is a palate-cleanser; you’ll have fun and feel refreshed before we return to more bombast next year (CAPTAIN MARVEL YOU GUYS!!). If you’ve been sporadic in watching the MCU, you’ll still have a blast watching this movie and my only suggestion would be to skip the mid- and post-credit sequences. Either way, Ant-Man and the Wasp is the perfect way to spend a few hours this summer; air-conditioning will feel like a bonus.

 

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Ranking the MCU

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One of the things that struck me when I revisited this blog was just how much of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) had come and gone in the past 5 years. It is still surprising to me that they keep churning out more movies, and that most of them are really pretty good. Back in January, we started a full rewatch in order to be ready for Infinity War when it came out in May, and it was fun to revisit and catch up with the characters I have (mostly) come to love. Since it would be a lot of work to go back and talk more specifically about all the films since I last blogged, I’m going to offer up my ranking of the MCU. Obviously such a list is highly personal  –  nobody’s are going to look exactly alike. I’ll give some justification for my choices, but of course you are welcome to disagree. I’d love to hear your take; I could talk about these guys all the time.

1. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) : It was no small feat when Joss Whedon pulled all the big guns together and produced a fun blockbuster with enough heart and character development to go around. I personally believe much of the continued success of the entire universe is owed to that first group outing. Some of the others may have more strengths, but this was the moment we knew it was gonna work.
2. Black Panther (2018) : Much was riding on Black Panther, and it delivered. Not only was it historic in its production, but it’s just a damn good movie – that also happens to be a superhero flick. It has some of the best characterizations and EASILY represents the best treatment of female characters in the entire universe so far. (Dear Captain Marvel, please be awesome.)
3. Thor: Ragnarok (2017) : The characterization took some time to gel, but finally someone realized the astonishing truth: Chris Hemsworth is really, really funny. Add in the godlike powers of Cate Blanchett, continue to develop the Thor/Loki relationship (best in the MCU) and you’ve got a winner.
4. Iron Man (2008) : Sine qua non. Had Robert Downey, Jr. not created the genius playboy with a heart of gold, none of us would be here. Sure, the third act is really weak and Jeff Bridges kicked off the trend of wasting major talent on one-off villains, but Iron Man set the tone and remains a singular achievement in a field littered with them.
5. Avengers: Infinity War (2018): It might still be too soon to talk about this movie, but once again, Marvel took a zillion characters and somehow gave all of them their due in a monster undertaking. The usual criticisms are in play here ( shaky pacing, under-served female characters) and for some of us the emotional punch is tempered by our understanding of the film industry, but you’ve got to give credit to the successful culmination of a long-term project like this.
6. Iron Man 3 (2013) : If you haven’t seen Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, I suppose you won’t agree with this. But I love that movie and Shane Black did it again with Iron Man 3. Tony Stark is my favorite character and he’s had the best arc of all – I loved rewatching these movies and realizing what a good character he is and has always been. Taking him out of the suit for this installment reminded us all of what a great and charismatic talent RDJ is, and that Tony Stark’s greatest weapon has always been his mind.

7. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) : The second time around I realized that the first Cap installment really did an impressive job of stretching the time period covered by the MCU. The technology used to make Chris Evans look like a 90-pound weakling is still kind of weird, but the intro to Steve Rogers is perfect in laying out exactly who he is and how important Captain America is to the world.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) : Nobody knew what to make of GotG. “There’s a tree, and a raccoon. How can this possibly be good?” Turns out it was crazy (and good!) fun, and gave audiences something they hadn’t seen before. Even if you don’t love some of the individual characters (I am NOT a Peter Quill fan) you still have to root for the team.
9. Captain America: Civil War (2016) : Here we come to perhaps my least-popular decision. I really disliked Civil War. It’s as good a movie as any of the rest of them, but for me personally, the decisions made by Cap are incredibly problematic and ultimately the movie seemed like a bunch of grown white men beating each other up instead of acknowledging their feelings and taking responsibility for their actions. Notable primarily as our (awesome) introduction to T’Challa, for whom I swoon.
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) : Another one I might need to apologize for, but y’all, I thought Winter Soldier was booooring. The pacing is SO slow and as much as I think Black Widow is the unsung hero of the team, you can only get so far on banter. People like to refer to this as a great Cold War spy thriller and to them, I respectfully suggest watching The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and then getting back to me.
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) : I personally enjoyed this one but I can acknowledge that it’s not as great as the first Avengers. I didn’t have a problem with the Nat/Bruce pairing (it’s been telegraphed all along), was thrilled to see Paul Bettany in the flesh finally, and my biggest gripe is that I really wanted more of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver. 

12. Thor (2011) : I have enjoyed all of the Thor movies, but then I am a literature nerd with a taste for Shakespeare. In rewatching these, it became clear that the high-flying heroism never sat particularly well with Hemsworth, but the visuals were stunning and Kenneth Branagh did a good job of moving along an origin story with lots of details.
13. Ant-Man (2015) : Crammed in amongst all the heavy-hitters, Ant-Man is a surprisingly enjoyable little action flick. The cast is fantastic and the structure is standard but well-executed. I am actually really excited for Ant-Man & the Wasp, which opens in a couple of weeks.
14. Spiderman: Homecoming (2017) : Another unpopular decision. I have a friend who gets mad at me for this, but I was pretty much just whelmed by the newest iteration of Spidey. I don’t see why we needed YET ANOTHER one, first of all, and while Tom Holland is a fun presence, I thought the movie itself was very predictable.
15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) : There are things I loved about this movie, but overall when I watched it again it felt a little forgettable.  The ‘twist’ on a villain was fun, but the movie started to drag after a bit. Great emotional content, and I definitely hope to see Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha return at some point.
16. Doctor Strange (2016) : Most of these movies follow a formula, and their success tends to be relative to how well they navigate within that formula. Doctor Strange benefits from being able to use a lot of great visual effects, but the characters weren’t well-developed (or felt like retreads) and I didn’t personally feel that Benedict Cumberbatch gave me a character I could root for. He was much better as a supporting player in Ragnarok and Infinity War.
17. Thor 2: The Dark World (2013) : The second Thor installment might be the most egregious example of a wasted villain. Not only was Christopher Eccleston unrecognizable, he didn’t have anything to do. As was previously mentioned, Hemsworth does better with less serious dialogue. The Dark World just wasn’t very fun.
18. Iron Man 2 (2010) :  Sophomore slump? On paper this one ought to have been good but somehow it never seemed to find its footing. I am extremely #TeamCheadle so I was happy with the new Rhodes, and we got our introduction to Black Widow, but other than that … meh. Sam Rockwell deserved better.
19. The Incredible Hulk (2008) : Poor Hulk. It’s so disappointing that they couldn’t get the character right until Mark Ruffalo came along. Edward Norton seemed like good casting, but he didn’t find the balance or the sympathy in the character. The effects were not good, and for me personally, this movie had a much different feel that made it an awkward fit for the overall universe. I almost wish we could go back and have a Ruffalo stand-alone, but it definitely feels like that ship has sailed, and he might be better in a supporting role as well.