Ant-Man And The Wasp Is A Lighthearted MCU Entry With Big Laughs, Adventure And Sight Gags

Ant-Man and the Wasp is the sequel to the better-than-it-should-have-been Ant-Man and the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film after Avengers: Infinity War. Following the somber feeling from that epic MCU film, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a welcome lighthearted film.

Paul Rudd reprises his likeable role of Scott Lang/Ant-Man, a former thief and fledgling superhero who dons a special suit that lets him control his size. Due to his actions in Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang is under house arrest, which explains why he didn’t appear in Avengers: Infinity War.

He is contacted by his former lover, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily), and her father, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), for help in rescuing Pym’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). As seen in the first Ant-Man during a flashback and this sequel, Janet used a similar suit like Scott’s to shrink down to subatomic levels and was lost. In Ant-Man, Scott shrunk down to this level but was able to return to our realm and it turns out he has a some kind of link with Janet.

What’s impeding his efforts to help out the Pyms are his complications from his house arrest, dealing with criminals who want to steal the shrinking tech and a mysterious figure called the Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). The last character was affected from exposure to the quantum realm and now phases in and out of reality like her namesake. So, now the Ghost wants to steal the tech herself to cure her affliction, and is the primary antagonist.

Honestly, the villains are the main problem with this film. They come off as more like annoyances or obstacles than genuine threats. The film tries to make the Ghost somewhat sympathetic, but it’s hard to feel anything for her. As for the thugs (led by Walton Goggins), they are just one-note villains who do not seem very imposing. This is quite disheartening considering that the MCU films have lately featured interesting foes. It seemed like Marvel Studios was taking to heart the criticisms about the MCU villains being weak, but now this film is a setback in that regard.

It’s a shame because the sequel did not need these villains. At its heart, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fast-paced rescue film with lots of laughs. Much of that humor comes from Paul Rudd’s comedic timing and the scene-stealing Michael Peña, who returns to his role of Luis, Scott’s friend and ex-con. Peña is a breath of fresh air and livens up most of the scenes he appears in. Many scenes with him and Rudd are hysterical and frankly, an entire film could be made with just the two characters interacting with each other.

The other actors also do well with their roles like Paul Rudd, who is a natural choice for playing the slightly silly everyman type. Lily’s Hope Van Dyne more than proves that she is a powerhouse of a hero and we’re left wondering why did it take so long for her to appear as the Wasp in the MCU. A lot of gravitas is added by Douglas, and in smaller roles Pfeiffer and Lawrence Fishburne as Pym’s former colleague.

There are many enjoyable features in this sequel. It moves briskly, exudes adventure, wild sight gags, and as noted before, is quite funny. It’s just too bad that the filmmakers felt the need to shoehorn in the weak villains. They took time away from the narrative flow and the rescue efforts. Also, we don’t see as much of the quantum realm as we would have liked. This mysterious and fascinating reality was teased in Ant-Man and it deserved to be explored more given that it may factor in the next Avengers film.

Perhaps if a third Ant-Man film is produced more time could be spent in the realm. One thing that is worth pointing out is that the stature of Ant-Man has certainly increased since his first outing. He has now become an established hero in his own right within the MCU.

Other than that Ant-Man and the Wasp is a refreshing and goofy pallet-cleanser for the MCU. Some may consider this film to be an inconsequential filler, but it’s a big-hearted change of pace for fans looking for some escape this summer.

Lewis T. Grove

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Delivers Dino-Sized Thrills & Scares

jurassic world fallen kingdom poster

The latest film in the Jurassic Park films, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, has finally been released here in North America. Many of the reviews have been downright negative and nasty, and honestly, for the most part, it’s undeserved. The fifth Jurassic Park film is an exciting and suspenseful film that adds to the film series.

Taking place three years after Jurassic World, the latest sequel follows up on the disaster that befell the live-dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World. Now abandoned, the park and the island it is on has been overtaken by dinosaurs. However, the island has an active volcano that threatens the lives of the dinosaurs. A worldwide debate opens up over whether or not to save the endangered animals. Some believe nature should take its course and drive the dinosaurs to extinction again while others have taken up the cause of the dinosaurs.

own and claire and indoraptor

An obvious homage to Jurassic Park

One of that movement’s leaders is Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), former operations manager of Jurassic World. She is approached by a Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) who represents Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a former partner of Jurassic Park’s creator John Hammond. Lockwood wants to evacuate the dinosaurs to an island sanctuary and enlists Claire’s help. She in turn recruits her ex-boyfriend, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a former raptor wrangler. Once they get to the island, the volcano erupts and as shown in trailers that revealed too much of the film’s plot, they are betrayed by Mills. He only wants to evacuate the dinosaurs to sell them on the black market and has also spearheaded the creation of a new hybrid dinosaur, the indoraptor. Now it’s up to Owen, Claire, and a couple of colleagues to stop Mills’ plans.

jurassic world fallen kingdom

All hell breaks loose in Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom

For the fifth film in a film franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is surprisingly fresh and exciting. It has plenty of thrilling and suspenseful scenes, as well as some unexpected heart-breaking moments. One thing that sets it apart from the other films is that it brings up the notion of whether or not these prehistoric animals have rights. They were artificially created so are they entitled to be protected as an endangered species? The film presents both sides of the argument fairly and it leaves you conflicted. You see the majesty of these creatures, but know that they should not be alive now. Is it right to share our current world with them? Why defy nature again? Some of these messages get lost in the action and dinosaur action, but they stay with you nonetheless. Then an unusual twist comes up with Lockwood’s young granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), that adds a new wrinkle to the film series.

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Season Two Of Westworld Journeys Beyond Its Borders

Westworld season 2 poster

The second season of the HBO sci-fi series, Westworld, will conclude this coming Sunday and what a ride it has been. Based on the old Michael Crichton film that starred Yul Brynner, Westworld was a thought-provoking surprise for viewers when it premiered in 2016. Fans had to wait over a year for its second season and frankly it was worth the wait.

Maeve and company

Westworld takes place in a futuristic theme resort where visitors can act out their violent and sexual fantasies within recreated historical places. Most of the series takes place in a land that is a perfect recreation of the Old West but other locales have been introduced this season, notably one based on feudal Japan complete with shogun warriors and ninjas. Guests interact with lifelike automatons called hosts that were once androids but are now printed biologically by the resort’s engineers and programmed to cater to the guests’ desires. What happened over the course of the story is that the hosts have gained sentience and no longer want to play along.

Dolores Abernathy

Season one of Westworld ended with a literal bloody bang as the hosts rose up in unison and started their violent revolution. Season two starts with the rebellion underway as the resort’s security tries to take back the property and there are many intertwining subplots featuring returning and new characters. These storylines jump back and forth in time and you have to pay attention to what is going on but you’ll be rewarded with captivating stories and character development. Many of them are well fleshed out and nuanced. We see the growth and descent of many like the host Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), who was once a sympathetic farm girl that is now the bloodthirsty head of the uprising. Her goal is to wipe out humanity for the continued pain humans have inflicted on her. It has gotten to the point that she is on the border of becoming the show’s villain thanks to her merciless demeanor. Meanwhile, Westworld’s main human villain, the Man in Black (Ed Harris), is seen in a not quite sympathetic light but his behavior is more understandable. We see that his obsession with Westworld and desire to revel in his violent fantasy has completely warped him and is shattering his grip on reality.

Two hosts who have risen above their programming and are the show’s hearts and souls are Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) and Maeve (Thandie Newton). The reveal that he was a host in the previous season was quite a shock and this season just went full out to explore the impact of that revelation as he struggles with his identity. He was always someone we could relate to and a very decent person. In this season we continue to root for him as he grapples with his memories and his choices. Meanwhile, Maeve has a compelling arc where she evolves to control other hosts mentally as she searches the vast landscape for her daughter. Along the way she inspires other hosts and humans with her humanity and intellect.

Thankfully this season took time to explore many concepts and dramas about the hosts and their inner struggle. Questions and explorations about the nature of reality, reincarnation and free choice are there for us to consider in between violent clashes between hosts and humans and even among hosts themselves. A couple of episodes were genuinely heart touching such as episode eight “Kiksuya” which is about a Ghost Nation warrior (Zahn MacClarnon) who becomes self aware and strives to spread the word about the truth of the hosts’ existence. Another one was “Akane no Mai” and “Phase Space”, which feature some terrific performances from Rinko Kikuchi and Hiroyuki Sanada as a geisha and ronin who love each other.

The second season of Westworld succeeds because of the other above reasons and the way it keeps you guessing. Plus, it lets you see both sides of the conflict and divides your loyalties. As we rejoice in all the bloody confrontations we can’t help wondering if we are cheering for the right side. Or if we should be pleading for both species to find a way to co-exist, if it is even possible. As the season concludes with “The Passenger” we’ll find out how these stories conclude and set up the third season.

Just Like Its Title Hero, Solo: A Star Wars Story Scrapes By With Spunk, Heart & Luck

solo poster

The second Star Wars spinoff film, Solo: A Star Wars Story, has long been a troubled production, notably with the firing of the original directors. When Ron Howard took over the film, he wound up re-filming a majority of it to bring it more in line with what Lucasfilm expects for a Star Wars film. Some fans who are leery with Lucasfilm and its president Kathleen Kennedy eagerly hoped that this film would fail. if not in the box office, at least creatively. These haters will have to wait longer because Solo: A Star Wars Story manages to be an entertaining, fun romp of an adventure.

solo and qira

To start, let’s get this out of the way: Alden Ehrenreich does a fine job portraying a younger version of Han Solo, everyone’ favorite space pirate. Sure, he’s not Harrison Ford, who will always be the definitive Han Solo, but Ehrenreich does not try to imitate him. It’s a good thing because that would have been a mistake. Instead he captures the essence of Han Solo; he emulates the swagger, the cockiness and the spunk that we fans have loved about the smuggler.

The mannerisms are demonstrated in the opening moments of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which details how Han lived a desperate life in his homeworld Corellia. Han (and some will get annoyed by the origin of his last name, but so be it) always dreamed of a bigger life, which involved leaving the hellish Corellia. Circumstances and quick thinking on his part allow Han to escape the world and bounce around throughout many misadventures. These mishaps bring him to meeting his BFF Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and fellow rogue and friend Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Plus, we see how he came to own his famous ship, the Millennium Falcon, which is newer and cleaner looking.

Kessel Run

Solo: A Star Wars Story introduces many interesting characters that come and go at a rapid pace along with some head-turning cameos. The best of these are Qi’Ra (Emily Clarke), Han’s first love, and Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who introduces Han Solo to life as a space pirate. It also dwells on the seedier, more criminal side of the Star Wars universe. The Galactic Empire, Jedi, Sith and all the traditional Star Wars trappings are shoved to the background or unmentioned. This is great since it shows that there is more to the Star Wars universe and is similar to those episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars that were devoted to the criminal underworld. This Star Wars spinoff earns extra credit just for not delivering more of the same when it comes to a Star Wars film.

At its core, Solo: A Star Wars Story is an exciting caper/heist story with adventurous dashes of the Indiana Jones films. There isn’t anything particularly deep or heavy here, but the film gives time to explore the heart and emotions of its characters. We may never know how the original version of the film would have been like, but Ron Howard does a credible, workman-like job in directing the film. It always moves along at a crisp pace and hits all the right beats. There are many thrilling set pieces such as a futuristic train robbery, an intense gambling sequence and of course, the famed Kessel Run. That last sequence, which takes place onboard the Millennium Falcon, is arguably the most nail-biting part. Also, Alden Ehrenreich deserves a lot of credit for the film since he is the main actor and is able to exude the spirit of a younger, more unpolished Han Solo. In addition to Clarke and Harrelson, Donald Glover does a great job of portraying Lando Calrissian. He does the smooth, savvy routine that Billy Dee Williams originated decades ago.

solo and lando at falcon

Some narrow-minded fans who are stuck in the past are ready to proclaim this film to be the death of Star Wars and a call to arms to replace Kathleen Kennedy. They point to some reviews and its box office performance since it underperformed in its opening weekend. However, if you watch this film with an open mind, you will find that Solo: A Star Wars Story is a genuinely fun adventure worthy of the Star Wars name.

Lewis T. Grove

 

Avengers: Infinity War Is A Bold, Explosive Epic Event For The MCU (NO SPOILERS)

Avengers IW poster The latest entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Avengers: Infinity War, is the culmination of ten years of this phenomenal film series. For that reason, so much is riding on the success of the third Avengers film. Fortunately, Avengers: Infinity War delivers an astounding blockbuster epic that recalls the old-time, star-studded movie events that made Hollywood famous. That is the kind that had posters featuring headshots of big stars and had sprawling storylines that spanned many different places with assorted characters. Avengers: Infinity War brings together most of the stars from the previous 18 MCU films such as Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Hemsworth and so much more.

There won’t be any spoilers in this review because Avengers: Infinity War has so many game-changing developments that it is best to be vague for those who have not seen this spectacular film. On that note, run out at the first opportunity and be prepared to have a great time.

After Avengers: Age of Ultron failed to measure up to the first Avengers film, there were concerns about this third film. After all, both sequels boasted humongous casts of characters with their own stories and were loud and explosive. Avengers: Age of Ultron failed to deliver because it felt bloated and noisy, too much was going on that didn’t seem necessary. Anyone having concerns about this with Avengers: Infinity War can rest easy to know that it does not have those issues. Yes, the cast is large, the biggest yet in a superhero film and it is an action fest, but the directors Joe and Anthony Russo pulled off a seemingly impossible feat of crafting a well-paced, exciting, and cohesive narrative. The fight scenes have a desperate intensity that is typical of the Russo Brothers’ other MCU films. But more impressive are the film’s fascinating characters and its chilling sense of dread.

What is even more amazing is that though the characters have limited screen time, they have their moments to shine and the film is faithful to their core essences.  All of the actors in Avengers: Infinity War bring their A game to this film and each of them manage to stand out in the crowded field. The most is made out of their screen time and though there is a lot going on (and the film walks a tightrope over this challenge) there is payoff for all the character arcs. Credit to this goes to the Russo Brothers and the well-written script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.

The dialogue is crisp, it is funny, it is also tragic and heart stopping, and it is such a joy to see all the unique interactions and team ups as unlikely superheroes meet each other for the first time. Sometimes they clash like when the similar arrogant natures of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.) and Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch) collide with each other. Other times the meetings come off awkward for the characters but are fun to watch like when Strange meets Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) or when Stark and company meet the Guardians.

What is interesting about these interactions is that the tones of their perspective films so unique are repeated here. For instance, the wonderful chemistry and humor of the Guardians of the Galaxy films is cloned perfectly. When Thor (Hemsworth) is onscreen, the otherworldly and faux Shakespearean nature of the Thor films takes center stage. On top of that when the diverse characters and their worlds intermingle it creates joyful, dynamic interactions that stay with you long after the film is finished.

Despite the film’s epic nature, it has an unexpected emotional core with captivating, romantic moments that add heart and weight. This aspect adds more levity and raises the stakes for our heroes and the situation. A common complaint about MCU films is that they can feel lightweight without any consequences. Well, this film dispels that critique as each and every development builds and builds. There are dire consequences for actions and decisions, which prove that even our favorite characters are flawed and all too human.

Thanos and moon

One character in the film that deals with consequences is the main villain of Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos (Josh Brolin). He is a gargantuan, imposing presence who has a frightening, yet magnetic presence in the film. Unlike some MCU films, Avengers: Infinity War allows time to explore his dark character and we understand why he is on his mad quest. Every time he is onscreen, Thanos brings a sense of doom as he is an unrelenting and formidable force of nature. Through his dire actions and twisted philosophy, Thanos manages to become possibly the greatest villain in the MCU.

Easily, Avengers: Infinity War is a blockbuster triumph that celebrates ten years of the MCU. Hands down it is one of the greatest MCU and superhero films, even with its faults. Admittedly, it would be helpful that the average viewer has some knowledge of the previous films to better appreciate them here and revel in their developments and interactions. There are also a few moments when the film threatens to lose its cohesion as it jumps between different storylines. Yet, the Russo Brothers manage to keep everything coordinated. That in itself is a marvel (no pun intended) that has to be experienced. Like any great film, you are left satisfied and wanting more of the film experience. Thankfully, we will be satiated next summer with the next Avengers epic.

José Soto