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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The Pixar Films Ranked

Now that Incredibles 2 has been released, Pixar AnimationStudios has twenty full-length films in its library. This is a good number to rank the Pixar films. Bear in mind that these animated films are among the best films ever made and even those that rank at the bottom have their moments. Be sure to comment below on how you would rank the Pixar films, which are universally considered the gold standard with animated films these days.

20. Brave

It was neck and neck between this and Cars 2 for the bottom spot.  What made Brave earn this spot was that ultimately the story was dull and came off as a generic Disney princess-proves-herself yarn we’ve seen too often. The hair animation was nice, though.

19. Cars 2

This is possibly the most unwanted sequel in Pixar’s history. The only thing going for the first sequel to Cars is its above-average animation, but the story about ‘Mater caught up in a spy caper is strictly aimed at kids who won’t know any better.

18. Cars 3

The third film in the Cars trilogy has some good moments about making comebacks and passing the torch for the next generation. Although the animation is up to Pixar’s loftiest standards, Cars 3 cannot shake the stigma of being an unwanted sequel to one of Pixar’s lesser efforts.

17. The Good Dinosaur

It seems as if Disney (and Pixar) has a hard time coming up with a memorable dinosaur film. How hard can it be? This film about a dinosaur and his pet human boy was interesting to watch but it lacked the special Pixar touch. What’s worse is that there isn’t anything remarkable about this film.

16. Cars

This can be considered Pixar’s first misfire, but that is unfair. Cars is not a bad movie, it’s just that it didn’t knock it out of the park as previous Pixar films have done. It’s an enjoyable film though its underwhelming plot about a hotshot racecar finding himself in a backwater town was lifted straight from Doc Hollywood.

15. Monsters University

The prequel to Monsters, Inc. (and the first Pixar prequel ever done) presents the unasked for tale of how the leads Mike and Sully first met as college roommates. It’s a fun watch, and much of the humor was aimed at children, but its message about accepting your limitations in life came off as a downer.

13. Finding Dory

The sequel to Finding Nemo is a worthy followup that further explores the enchanting underwater world and the popular characters from the first film. We also meet great new characters, and overall it’s a fun film with some tender moments, though its message about animal captivity is a bit too-on-the-nose.

13. Monsters, Inc.

The fourth Pixar film introduced a fascinating world of monsters that was quite hysterical at times. The highlights of the film were the voice acting by John Goodman and Billy Crystal who had great chemistry and timing. The relationship between Sully and the human girl “Boo” was simply adorable and would melt any cynic’s heart.

12. A Bug’s Life

The sophomore effort from Pixar kind of got lost among all of Pixar’s other offerings. This is because the animation is a bit rough by today’s standards and other films better captured fans’ hearts. Still, A Bug’s Life is a splendid tribute to Seven Samurai (or The Magnificent Seven) with a great score.

11. Ratatouille

This animated film stood out from the others with its ode to the art of cooking. It’s an unusual tale about a rat that wants to become a great chef which may not resonate as well as other Pixar films. But it’s beautifully animated and the themes about perception and artistry are well executed.

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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.

Man of Steel & The Five-Year Anniversary Of The DCEU

Man of Steel
This month marks the five-year anniversary of the beginning of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU( and the film that started it all, Man of Steel. This film brought the most iconic superhero, Superman, into the modern age with incredible visuals and a very interesting take on his origins. The film starts as expected on the doomed planet of Krypton and shows Superman’s father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and the beginning of the feud between the House of El and General Zod (Michael Shannon). The planet shown is very unique and has a wonderful sci-fi aesthetic that is a radical departure from the cold, crystalline Krypton shown in older Superman films.
After Jor-El’s infant son, Kal-El, is sent to Earth, the story shifts suddenly to present day where Kal-El, now called Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), is now a grown man unsure of who he is and where he came from. His life as a child on Earth is told in flashbacks and shows how difficult it was for a boy with superhuman powers to try to lead a normal life. Lessons from his adopted father Jonathan (Kevin Costner) include trying not to draw attention to himself until he was ready, even if it meant not saving those who were in danger. This harsh lesson would haunt Clark later in the film when tragedy strikes the Kent family.
Man of Steel presents a startling depiction of the title hero as it focuses on Superman’s uncertainty about himself when he learns of his alien origin and during his battles with Zod after he arrives on Earth. This is sharp contrast to previous depictions of Supes, where he is more accepting and confident of who he was. However, in the end, Superman is able to defeat Zod and start his journey as Earth’s greatest hero. The battles between Superman and Zod and his henchmen are thrilling to watch and culminate in Superman having to kill Zod in order to save civilians from being killed. This was a divisive thing as many fans balked at seeing the Man of Steel killing someone. The large-scale collateral damage across the city Metropolis caused by the epic battle was also controversial among fans. This different take on things carries on throughout the rest of the DCEU, where Batman is shown as a bitter and cynical crime fighter of 20 years, at the end of his rope, and Wonder Woman is in hiding after dealing with a century of war and heartbreak in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Superman kills Zod
 The new depiction of these characters has been controversial and the mixed reception to some of the DCEU films has led some people to want Warner Brothers to reboot the whole thing but this would be unwise. To date there are already five DCEU films released with three more filmed and in post production (Aquaman, Shazam and Wonder Woman 2). You don’t cancel a franchise eight films into it. What WB seems to be doing now is focusing on standalone films as opposed to team up epics like Justice League. This in part due to the disappointing  box office for Justice League. Going back to basics gives DC an opportunity to recapture what Man of Steel did so well, which was to have a streamlined film with great action and a focus solely on the heroic character without having to establish a number of other characters that WB was quickly trying to introduce. Now that those introductions are out of the way, they can now take their time to fully explore these heroes. Hopefully this will begin with Aquaman, which is coming out this December. Hopes are high with a well-regarded director in James Wan and rumors of epic underwater visuals and battles that this film will kickstart the next phase of DCEU films. Although I do hope that we will eventually see another Justice League film; the post-credit scene of of the film suggests the formation of the supervillain group, the Legion of Doom. It would be great to see them battling DC’s heroes in a big mash up.
 Another positive of this shared universe is that we are finally seeing films that have DC characters which were previously ignored in films. Earlier decades were dominated by Batman and that’s about it. This can hurt a brand if it’s focused too much on one character only. In fact that is what happened with the DC films which for the most part were devoted to Batman for a couple of decades.  Broadening the scope of DC films has led to the breakthrough of Wonder Woman, probably the most popular film of the DCEU, so far. All of this will let other characters have their day in the cinematic sun like the aforementioned Aquaman, as well as other fan favorites like Nightwing, Batgirl and the Flash. 
 But the one that started it all is also the one that started DC Comics way back in 1938. Appropriately, Superman is the beginning of the DC’s shared cinematic universe and his film Man of Steel is I think, the blueprint that should be followed by the next group of DCEU films. And hopefully we will see another Man of Steel movie, as well.  It’s maddening that Warner Bros. keeps announcing new films featuring lesser-known characters while there has been no indication that Man of Steel will have a proper sequel. There are persistent rumors that Supes will be appearing not only in Shazam, but also show up in other DCEU films and be the link the link between the different movies. If this is the case, then the future of the DCEU should end up brighter after its somewhat shaky start.
C.S. Link