Film Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Also known as: Ant-Man 2 (alternate title), Cherry Blue (fake working title)
Release Date: June 25th, 2018 (El Capitan Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Written by: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari
Based on: Ant-Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby; Wasp by Stan Lee, Ernie Hart, Jack Kirby
Music by: Christophe Beck
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, Michael Douglas, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 118 Minutes

Review:

“I do some dumb things, and the people I love the most – they pay the price.” – Scott Lang

It feels like Infinity War just happened but we’ve already got another Marvel movie within the MCU continuity. But then, I felt like Infinity War was way too close to Black Panther.

I wasn’t a massive fan of the first Ant-Man. I did like it quite a bit but it wasn’t really in the upper echelon of my mental ranking of Marvel movies. This one isn’t either but I did enjoy the hell out of it and I loved the humor and the overall tone, after coming off of such a somber ending in Infinity War.

First and foremost, this has Walton Goggins in it, who is a guy I will watch in anything. Goggins is a f’n master whether he’s doing drama, comedy or just needs to play some sort of eccentric badass. He’s a little bit of all those things in this movie but sadly, he just isn’t in it enough. But that’s okay, he survives to return at a later date and this movie’s story had to wedge a lot in.

That being said, the writers did a good job covering a lot of bases while still having the movie’s pace and multiple threads flow smoothly.

There are a few things I didn’t like about the film but they weren’t big enough to ruin it.

I thought that the lab was ridiculous. The fact that they can shrink it down to the size of a box and then run around with it and nothing inside of the structure gets damaged or destroyed, is pretty fucking dumb. Has anyone that worked on this picture ever seen a Godzilla film? What happens when giants come into contact with buildings? Them shits crumble! Could Godzilla run around with a building under his arm or yank it away from King Kong or toss it to Anguirus? No, that shit would get torn to bits like a gingerbread house at an elementary school Christmas party.

And then the whole thing where they hide the lab building in plain sight throughout the city is also pretty stupid. I’m sorry but if I drive a specific route to work everyday, I’m going to notice that there’s some ten story building that just popped up out of nowhere.

Alright, the Incredible Shrinking Lab is really my biggest gripe but I just rolled my eyes, exhaled heavily and got over it so I wouldn’t be fixated on it to the point that it ruined the whole movie.

I liked the Ghost character. I thought her backstory was good, even if it was a bit generic. It did give me a bit of the feels though. She wasn’t a cookie cutter villain and offered up something really cool for the heroes to play off of. It’s nice seeing heroes in an MCU film not fight a villain that’s just an evil version of themselves with the same power set. This was really refreshing and it allowed for more creative confrontations. Plus, her suit was fucking cool and I really liked Hannah John-Kamen in the role. I hope she goes on to have a bigger footprint in the larger MCU. And really, she deserves a redemption story after the events of this film. Good job, Marvel! Usually your villains are shit. But the villain front has been looking better lately between Ghost, Killmonger, Thanos and Walton f’n Goggins.

Paul Rudd was Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly was a goddess and Michael Douglas was a badass MFer per usual. l loved Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne and I can’t wait to see more of her. The rest of the returning cast was fun too. I’ve always liked Judy Greer and I have a new level of respect for Bobby Cannavale after seeing how incredible he was last year in the third season of Mr. Robot.

The scene where Michael Peña is telling a story and his voice is dubbed over the other actors is hysterical, by the way. I haven’t laughed out loud at something in a Marvel movie like I did during this scene probably ever.

Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t Marvel at its best but it’s a much needed breath of fresh air after feeling the weight of the universe come down on you following Infinity War. This gave the MCU audience a lighthearted break from the doom and gloom of Thanos’ major victory.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Everything else in the MCU but it should be pointed out that this film happens alongside Avengers: Infinity War.

Film Review: Jurassic World (2015)

Release Date: May 29th, 2015 (France premiere)
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Written by: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Based on: characters by Michael Crichton
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, Irrfan Khan, Andy Buckley

Amblin Entertainment, Legendary Pictures, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Monster is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat.” – Henry Wu

*written in 2015.

It took a really long time to get this fourth Jurassic Park film. For me, it felt as if I was waiting a bit longer than most, as I wasn’t a fan of Jurassic Park III and I thought The Lost World had promise but crossed over into absurdity towards the end. Truthfully, I was only a big fan of the original film.

Ultimately, this film is better than its two predecessors – making it the best film in the Jurassic Park franchise since the original.

I miss Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill and Laura Dern but Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard made a nice duo and did a good job. Vincent D’Onofrio did his part as the villain but was basically just Vincent D’Onofrio. The kids were okay but slightly annoying but then again, kids in film typically are. I liked the parts played by Omar Sy, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus and Irrfan Khan. Judy Greer and Andy Buckley also did good with their limited roles.

The film certainly churned up a lot of nostalgia and overall, it was a pretty pleasant experience. There were homages to all of the previous films: some subtle, some blatant. The vibe of the film was consistent, the musical score was better than decent (but not as good as John Williams’ original) and the horror aspect was pretty well executed.

What this film is missing though, is that Spielberg magic that the original had. While this film brings out emotions and gives a fan of the original movie some chills, it is all just because of how good the original film was. This movie relies on tapping into the well of the original Jurassic Park because it has to. It succeeds in that though, because it brought me back to how I felt watching the original the first time but it also made it clear that this wasn’t that film. I don’t really fault the filmmakers, as the original film was special. Even Spielberg couldn’t replicate his own magic with The Lost World. It is hard to capture lightning in a bottle once, let alone twice.

The plot of Jurassic World was pretty straightforward and slightly cookie cutter but there were a few twists and turns that I didn’t anticipate. The dino battles were great, the action was superb and the set and creature designs were pretty on point.

This is a fun and engaging summer film, deserving of the blockbuster status it was designed to achieve. While not a great picture, it will most likely be remembered fondly for years to come.

I also hope that this film gives the franchise some legs to keep moving forward. I’d be on board for other sequels if they are able to match the quality of this film and they present fresh ideas.

One plot question though, if they don’t want to remind people of the previous park and its disastrous failing, as made clear by Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, then why did they use the same iconic park gates, same typeface that the original logo had and make constant references to the original when talking to the new park’s guests? I guess if you change the font color to a calming blue instead of a violent red, it soothes people. I don’t know.

But anyway, couldn’t they have at least got Jeff Goldblum back for a cameo? Even at the end? Just have him walk on screen, look at the carnage and let out his patented Dr. Ian Malcolm laugh?

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Any of the Jurassic Park films.

And the trailer.

Film Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Release Date: June 26th, 2014 (Palace of Fine Arts premiere)
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Based on: characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Pierre Boulle
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clark, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Judy Greer, Kirk Acevedo, James Franco (cameo)

Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 130 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

“I always think… ape better than human. I see now… how much like them we are.” – Caesar

I was a little late going to see this one in the theater but I’ve had a lot going on. Regardless, here I am a week late with my two cents on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

To start, I know that this is a pretty profound statement, but this may be the best Planet of the Apes film to date. There have been seven films before this one and a television series but this film really captures the essence and the whole point of the franchise better than anything else before it. Sure, Charlton Heston fighting apes is a bad ass scenario and the focal point of the original film, unarguably a classic, but this movie trumps it in character, in story, in action and in soul.

The first film in this reboot series was a breath of fresh air after the mediocre Tim Burton attempt at a reboot a decade earlier. Dawn takes that story even further and with the origin already established, is able to throw it all on the line and just get down to business. From the opening scene all the way to the epic end, this film is action filled and drama filled. Both are perfectly balanced and very well executed. The drama gives you more than enough to truly care and the action gives you more than enough to pump your fist to.

The acting is superb but the greatest performance comes from Andy Serkis who plays the lead ape, Caesar. Serkis deserves an Oscar for this and really most of his performances, most notably Gollum from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. Unfortunately, the Academy doesn’t yet recognize the performances of actors who play digital characters. However, they aren’t just digital characters, they are created by using motion capture technology – digitizing the actors’ movements and facial expressions. When you see Caesar’s body language and facial expressions, you know that you are looking at a great performance that brings a level of realism and humanity to what would otherwise be a flat digital creation. Hopefully films like this get the Academy to introduce an award for these performances.

Back to the topic of the film itself, director Matt Reeves made his best film to date. That makes me incredibly excited for the upcoming sequel, which he is also directing. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman did a phenomenal job as the three main humans in the film. Toby Kebbell, who played the ape Koba, performed on a level very close to Andy Serkis. Koba and Caesar’s interactions were very real and compelling.

As far as special effects, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes relies heavily on CGI over more practical effects but it doesn’t overemphasize it more than it needs to. The effects are also fluid and fine tuned to the point that you get lost in the story and the action, as nothing feels out of place or so artificial that it is really noticeable.

As good as X-men: Days of Future Past was, this may be the best film of the summer and possibly the year.

Film Review: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Release Date: July 10th, 2017 (SVA Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Based on: characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Judy Greer, Toby Kebbell

Chernin Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 140 Minutes

Review:

“I did not start this war. But I will finish it.” – Caesar

I’ll be honest, I’ve never disliked a Planet of the Apes movie. Yes, I even found enjoyment in the Tim Burton one with Mark Wahlberg from almost two decades ago. The current series of films has also been pretty spectacular. I wouldn’t expect this one to be any different, especially after reading the great reviews and seeing how excited the fans were after checking it out. I’m a bit late with this review, as I was in Las Vegas for work all of last week, but I made this a priority once getting back to my normal schedule.

War for the Planet of the Apes is absolutely incredible. Nowadays, I try not to build up expectations in my head, before seeing a film, due to countless times where I have been massively disappointed. Truthfully, this picture exceeds whatever I could have anticipated.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the plot. Based off of the marketing, it seemed like it would be more of the same from the previous film but realistically, this is its own story and differs greatly from any Apes picture before it. It isn’t just all out war between apes and man, it is a story of one ape’s quest for justice against a lone man who just happens to lead an army. In a lot of ways, this plays more like a gritty spaghetti western than any other film genre.

I’m glad that the trailer didn’t really give the gist of the story away and it focused on the big action sequences. Granted, that is what gets asses in seats for summer blockbusters. It is just refreshing to see a film come out and still have some surprises and tricks up its sleeve without the trailer spoiling the whole thing.

One of the film’s many great aspects that I was really impressed with was the score. It was a real throwback to a time when films had powerful music and distinct themes. Blockbusters today have pretty generic and canned music that just doesn’t resonate or capture the imagination like the big films of the 1970s and 1980s. For example, you can probably remember the theme for Superman or Batman from that era but I bet you can’t even think of what Iron Man or Captain America’s themes sound like. Hell, do they even have distinct themes? The score done by Michael Giacchino for this film is astounding and it really encapsulated the spaghetti western vibe of the picture while still maintaining a consistency with the scores of the previous two Apes films. It did stick out like a sore thumb at times but that is due to how unbelievably good it was. It carried an instantaneous realization of just how mundane modern film scores are, which is only to show how powerful, meaningful and magnificent this film’s music is.

Additionally, the cinematography is utterly breathtaking. The huge shots of landscapes and wilderness are majestic. The snowy forests create a totally different tone as the film progresses and it sets it apart visually, from the previous two chapters in this Apes series. The film is cold and bleak but there is always that glimmer of hope, as if spring is just around the corner.

The CGI effects are some of the best I have ever seen. Where just a few years ago, CGI characters still didn’t fully look real and it could be a bit of a distraction, you never question the authenticity of what your seeing on screen. In fact, the apes in this picture are at the forefront more so than the previous two movies that relied on a bigger human element to propel the story forward.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the perfect end to this series of three films. It truly creates a three act trilogy that is powerful, moving and the best overall iteration of the Planet of the Apes franchise. Sure, the original 1968 movie is a classic but its sequels never quite lived up to it. With this series, each film progressively gets better. Granted, the door is left open for more movies but a fourth one will most likely have a clean slate after the events of this chapter.

This film, more than any other, really adds more credibility to the argument that the Academy Awards need to start recognizing the acting performances of those playing digital characters. Andy Serkis never disappoints and from an acting standpoint, this film is the greatest thing he has ever done and this statement comes from a guy who adored his role as Gollum form The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the best film in the entire franchise. The original was damn good and still holds up incredibly well but this new picture is truly exceptional. The acting, the direction, the cinematography, the score, the plot: all of it is as close to perfect as you can get in a film with so many fast moving parts. It has more emotional weight than any of the eight Apes pictures before it and it embodies the entire spirit of the series.

At this point in the year, War for the Planet of the Apes may be 2017’s best motion picture. And honestly, 2017 is panning out to be a much better year for film than I had anticipated or hoped for.

Film Review: Ant-Man (2015)

Release Date: June 29th, 2015 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Written by: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd
Based on: Ant-Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Music by: Christophe Beck
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Anthony Mackie, Wood Harris, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, Michael Douglas

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 117 Minutes

Review:

*Originally written in 2015.

Ant-Man is the next film in a long line of Marvel films that are a part of the Avengers universe. Ant-Man being one of the original Avengers means that this film is long overdue. In fact, I had hoped that it would have happened in Phase One of the Avengers film line and not as the last film in the Phase Two set of movies. Regardless, it is nice to finally have Hank Pym in the Avengers fray. Oh wait, I mean Scott Lang.

Yes, Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd) is the hero here even though Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) is in the film. Pym however, is Lang’s mentor and the original Ant-Man, who we knew nothing about until now. Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp, is also shown in costume via flashbacks. There is kind of a nice set up, in the film’s intro, that shows us a very young Michael Douglas (thanks to CGI) bantering with Howard Stark and Agent Peggy Carter in 1989.

Scott Lang is one of the more unique characters to be on the Avengers roster, even though he hasn’t achieved that status yet, in this film. He is a thief turned hero – on a quest for redemption in order to have a normal relationship with his young daughter. The Scott Lang character kind of takes the best parts of Hawkeye’s character in Avengers: Age of Ultron and magnifies them much more. You care about Scott, his daughter and their relationship probably more intimately than the relationship of any other characters in the Marvel movie mythos except for Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter.

Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas do a superb job in bringing life to this long overdue Marvel character. Evangeline Lilly is also great, as the daughter of Pym and the Wasp. Corey Stoll was okay as the villain who eventually becomes Yellowjacket. Although, Yellowjacket isn’t a villain in the comics, he is just another alias of Hank Pym.

Yellowjacket being the villain just seems half-assed. He is essentially the same thing as Ant-Man except he can fly and shoot lasers. Ant-Man has the advantage in that he can summon armies of ants. I’m sorry, but an army of ants against a tiny guy with lasers isn’t going to bode well for the tiny guy with lasers. What could one guy with a laser gun do against an army of ravenous orcs? This also goes back to a recent comment George R.R. Martin made about how Marvel too often pits its heroes against villains with the same set of powers and it isn’t as interesting as heroes matching up with something that is a contrast to their abilities. I couldn’t agree with Martin more.

Despite the villain issue, this film is better than that mess Avengers: Age of Ultron. When I stated in my review of that film that the solo Marvel films are better due to story, character development and not being forced to fit too much into one movie, Ant-Man just solidified that point for me even more. It is more fluid, more organic and tells a human story, unlike those massive CGI-littered Joss Whedon action fests.

To be honest, Ant-Man is one of the best Marvel films to date. It is better than both Avengers, both Thor films, the first Captain America, the second and third Iron Man, that one Hulk film with the other actor and whatever else there is except for Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Winter Soldier and the first Iron Man film.

It isn’t a picture without flaws though. At times, it got a bit too hokey. The humor was great for the most part and I loved the comedic characters, especially Lang’s crew played by Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian (the one with the Russian accent), who you might remember as the Joker’s henchman that Harvey Dent abducted in The Dark Knight.

The film felt rushed at times and the editing was a bit shaky. Like other Marvel films, things feel like they got left on the cutting room floor. Where some characters felt well developed, others were lacking. Corey Stoll’s role just seemed disjointed at times, as his motivations were never all that clear and his slip into insanity just kind of happened. It just didn’t feel like an organic metamorphosis.

Additionally, the sound editing was problematic. When Lang is taking direction from Pym in his helmet, it sounds like voice over work and doesn’t sound natural. Other Marvel films have had similar problems. Also, when Lang is ant-sized, in some scenes he can’t be heard by normal-sized characters but in others he can. I’m not sure if this was explained and I missed it or if it is just some Marvel-sized plot hole.

Judy Greer is also in this film, which makes me wonder how many more summer blockbusters will she cameo in? And using her for a minor role was a waste of her talent, unless they have plans for her later on. I feel like she could have been used for a bigger Marvel role than the 14th Avenger’s baby mama.

I liked this film. Be sure to wait for the mid-credits scene and then for the post-credits scene. We get two special bonuses with this film. Granted, they don’t necessarily lead to anything profound but they put in motion the next steps in the Ant-Man branch of the Avengers franchise family tree.