Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018): A Fun Ride With No Payoff

 “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is alright. This is a film that if you enjoyed the first one you will probably enjoy this one. It hits a lot of the same notes, has a bit more of ensemble cast, but is much less focused and the first film had a much better villain and climax. This film stays at the level of good, but never rises to great throughout its entire run.

The film was directed by Peyton Reed, and has five writing credits, one of whom is Paul Rudd. Given that, no wonder it never quite rises to greatness. Films written by committee don’t tend to have the singular focus and vision that makes those unforgettable films.

The story follows Hank Pym and his daughter, Hope, as they attempt to invent a machine to bring back Hank’s wife, Janet, from the Quantum Realm. They discover the key lies in Scott Lang’s memories, so they kidnap him. He must help them get the supplies they need to finish the machine, while dealing with a gang who wants their lab and a mysterious threat called The Ghost, who is also after the lab for her own ends.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action for this film is solid. There are some captivating action set pieces, from the shrinking lab, a fight with a gang in hotel kitchen, and a car chase. All of which, make use of the shrinking and enlarging powers that the Pym’s hold through their tech. The fights with Ghost are also captivating, too, as she warps all over the place and is the hardest character to hit because of her quantum powers. The one thing I’ll say against this though, the action didn’t really feel like it pays off. It is all good action, but it never gives the climax I was hoping for.

Ant-Man and the Wasp – Ant-Man and the Wasp (Scott Lang and Hope) and the original (Hank and Janet) have some of the best dialogue and chemistry in the film. In Scott and Hope, we have Scott trying to live a normal life so he can be with his daughter after his time under house arrest is up. Hope is driven by the desire to save her mother by any means necessary, and is far better at the hero business than Scott is. For the original, Janet is the compassion to Hank Pym’s ornery distance. When they are together you see how the guilt he feels has driven him to distance himself from people, and she brings out the good in him. I really enjoyed their reunion and the flashback scenes. Lily, Rudd, Douglas and Pfeiffer are the best parts of the film.

Frank Pym’s Arc – Frank is the one character out of all the main characters who has an arc. His arc is to save his wife, and in doing so, save his family and redeem himself. He carries regret for not stopping the missile that she stopped by shrinking, and entering the Quantum Realm. I would have liked more exploration of this, but this is the throughline of the film and what made the film good in the end.

The After Credits Scene – In the after credits scene, Scott is shrunk down to get Quantum energy to help heal Ghost. While he is down there Thanos’ snap from Infinity War occurs and he is stuck. It is a powerful scene and one of the better Marvel After Credits scenes in any of these films.

Okay:

The Finale – I feel like the original knew how to better handle the climax and villain. Yellow Jacket was a fun villain, and the anti-Ant-Man who was only out for himself. He had elements of Iron Monger, from “Iron Man,” and like Iron Monger went out in a big fight that made use of the shrinking technology. It was funny and it rocked, where this finale was run of the mill. The most interesting element of the finale was Hank Pym shrinking into the Quantum Realm to find his wife. Outside of that, the characters fighting could have been anyone and it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Cons:

What Consequences? – Ghost gets saved and stops fighting our heroes… it is implied they can save her for good, which in turn has turned her into an ally. The Pyms are still on the run from the government, so nothing has changed there and Janet is fine, even after being in the Quantum Realm for years, and she has Quantum powers now. This was a film with zero negative consequences. It took Thanos in another movie to create consequences, which is a major con. A great film needs stakes, and by the end I felt like they were non-existent or just weren’t high enough.

  If you enjoyed the first “Ant-Man,” you’ll enjoy this one. The writing is decent enough, the acting and action are mostly great, and it has a good amount of humor to keep the film going when it slows down. This is a good summer blockbuster escape, but I wouldn’t rate it any higher than that. This is a film that could have been more if it had bothered with stakes and had consequences for the actions of the characters.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solid summer escape.

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Ant-Man (2015): Marvel’s Return to Fun and a Story That Stands Alone

Ant-Manton Reed

     When I first saw “Age of Ultron” I had a lot of fun…but the more I thought about the film the less sense it made. What the studio wanted from Whedon created so many holes and created a fractured narrative. For this reason I changed the score from in the 9s to the 8s as the Cons I listed still apply, they just feel bigger now…especially in relationship to  “Ant-Man.”  This was a film that worked and feels complete in and of itself while still tying into the wider universe without the wider universe bringing the story down as what happened in “Age of Ultron.” The villain also does a lot more damage than Ultron did…which is pretty sad when you think about it. Suffice to say, I enjoyed this film…and it is amazing Marvel Studios pulled this off after the development hell this movie went through in order to be created.

     The film was directed by Peyton Reed, written by Edgar Wright, Paul Rudd, Joe Cornish and Adam McKay and produced by Kevin Feige.

SPOILERS AHEAD

       The story involves the ex-thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) being hired on by the past Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) in order to steal the Yellowjacket outfit and destroy the technology of his protege Cross (Corey Stoll) who plans to sell the suits and technology to H.Y.D.R.A. Things soon get more complicated as time is working against them.

The Pros: The Action – The action is wonderful! From Scott’s heists to the fight with the Yellowjacket…space and size are used really well as Ant-Man jumps around from different sizes in the action sequences he is put in. They are the best to come out of this universe so far.

The Cinematography – This relates to what I said about the action, we get to see things on a small and normal level and this lends so much strength to things and immediately draws you in. There are stakes in both sizes and Scott is always having to learn and adapt.

The Past – The story begins with Hank leaving the Team that Peggy, Howard Stark and Carson are a part of (early S.H.I.E.L.D.) after Howard tries to steal his technology. This leads to him being isolated and we see how hard the missions he was on have made him more difficult to work with than he already was, and how the suit has made him more paranoid of others.

Falcon – Anthony Mackie is back as Falcon! We see him fight Ant-Man when Ant-Man is robbing the Avengers for tech. he needs to beat Yellowjacket. It is a great fight and we later see Falcon bring Ant-Man into the Avengers as well as implying that he will connect him with Captain America so they will have a secure place to rehabilitate Bucky who is revealed in the after credits scenes.

Cross/Yellowjacket – I like this baddy and it’s wonderful seeing Corey Stoll again post “House of Cards!” He is driven and we see how hard Hank leaving him took a tole. He reveals Hanks dark side as they are both people who are sociopathic and can disconnect from others to protect themselves while having a huge domination factor of how they view things. Hank grows through this, not so for Darren Cross as it ends up leading to his death at the hands of Ant-Man when he tries to kill Ant-Man’s daughter.

The Pyms – The Pyms are the strongest part of this film and I would have watched an early S.H.I.E.L.D. film with Peggy Carter and Howard Stark and their relationship with Hank Pym! His daughter Hope is just as antagonist as he is but both have a softer side too when they feel heard. Their path towards  healing is done really well.

Hope Van Dyne – Evangeline Lilly is wonderful and I’m glad she finally gets the Wasp costume she should have had from the beginning. She is the one who is always standing up for herself and holding her dad accountable. I really liked her character and hope we get to see her in action in the next film.

Hank Pym – Hank is a dick and doesn’t get along well with people. He is also intriguing too as he is right about the Starks tech. leading to trouble with it being so open. He is the skeptic and is antagonistic in many ways and his arc is learning to communicate and truly live the action of caring about Scott and Hope. It’s done really well.

The End Credits Scenes – Bucky is found by Captain America and Falcon is there to help as they keep things undercover from Tony Stark and the government knowing that if they find out that they are keeping safe a wanted criminal…things can only go bad.

Hope receives the new Wasp suit! Can’t wait to see it in action!

Okay: Scott Lang and Co. – All of them including Scott are funny sometimes but they don’t have the intensity the Pyms have or Yellowjacket does so it makes it hard to care about them. They feel like comedic relief at times…including Scott.

Scott’s Family – They are bland, including the step-dad. I didn’t really feel that I got to know any of them and that they were just plot devices for Scott’s growth.

   Scott Lang and his family were the weakest parts of this film, besides Scott’s Team but it still didn’t keep this film from being better from “Age of Ultron.” Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas are amazing as the Pyms and Corey Stoll owns the role of Yellowjacket. It’s great seeing the wider universe play a part and not dominate the story either. This story is more personal as it is Scott’s path of redemption and the Pym’s path to healing. Both have great payoffs too. I’d recommend this film far more than “Age of Ultron” and won’t be suprised if it makes my Top 5 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Marvel’s Avengers Assemble Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1 and 2 – “The Avengers Protocol Parts 1 and 2” – Trying to Follow “The Avengers” Film But Be Own Thing

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“Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” is an animated series that takes place where “The Avengers” left off with the team separated, but also having it’s own feel and changes to it as well. It feels almost like an alternate timeline, I’ll get into more details of what I mean in the review.

The pilot episodes were directed by Eric Radomski and written by Man of Action Studios who has written other animated television shows like “Ben10” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.” The series was created in 2013 and premiered on Disney XD.

The episode begins with all the Avengers fighting different enemies alone, but are called together when the Red Skull appears with MODOK and it looks like they kill Captain America. From here Iron Man calls the team together to stop MODOK and Red Skull and avenger Captain America. The story unfolds from here.

Here is an assessment of the episodes:

The Pros: The Animation – The animation is seamless and also unique. It fits for the universe and doesn’t feel blocky or slow.

Black Widow – As the member of the Avengers who acts as more of a SHIELD agent at times, she is great in this. She keeps sarcastic Hawkeye on his toes and is a bit like Batman as she disappears and reappears randomly. She’s got a car that’s also a plane and because she stays in the background saves the team quite a few times from HYDRA throughout the episode.

Thor – He’s got humor and enjoys fighting the Hulk. Besides Black Widow he has the most real personality. It’s just a shame he isn’t given more to do beyond hitting things with his hammer.

Falcon – The Falcon here is very different from the one in “Winter Soldier,” while the “Winter Soldier” Falcon was a veteran in his special division, this guy is a rookie SHIELD trainee meant to give us the new guy perspective as he has Tony Stark’s arrogance and heart to him.

Red Skull – Is actually a good villain. In the “First Avenger” he isn’t as he gets beaten at every turn and his organization feels like a threat where he does not. This one he works with MODOK we see him “kill” Captain America and later possess him body before being defeated and taking Tony Stark’s armor. Every time he loses he wins and he is the guy who gets the evil team together (Doctor Doom, Dracula, etc.) to take on The Avengers.

Okay: Iron Man – Iron Man is okay, he has the wit but it feels so flat because the voice actor doesn’t have Robert Downey Jr.’s charm. He feels like a much lesser Iron Man, and the reason he is made the leader is never explained.

Hulk – Has funny moments but talks way too much and we never see Bruce Banner. That was annoying. Seeing Hulk all the time defeats the purpose of the character. He is Hulk and Bruce Banner.

Captain America – There isn’t much there. He gets rescued, helps save Tony Stark and is there as the supportive second in command. I’d say he is safe, neither good nor bad a character.

The Theme music – It’s alright, doesn’t do much.

The story – The story kind of establishes the characters but it feels like it banking way too much on the film when it should have tried more to be it’s own thing. A lot of the characters feel flat or stale for that reason and MODOK, there isn’t much good to say about this villain.

Cons: MODOK – This guy was super annoying. He has all the mind powers and technology but we aren’t given any reason for him to hate the Avengers. He is just kind of there and is weak when he doesn’t have his tech. His motivations aren’t as clear as Red Skull’s either as Red Skull wants to create the “Perfect” world of people like him, MODOK is just MODOKing out.

Hawkeye – I wanted to punch this character. His quips are super annoying and he can’t do anything quietly. Best parts are when he was getting flicked up Hulk or taken out. They try to make him the dark emo character, but it comes off as false and he looks like a tool.

SHIELD – Nick Fury says that Falcon is fired and he is taken on to the Avengers, SHIELD does nothing to help though beyond Black Widow being present. Why even have them make a cameo if they don’t do anything?

So how does this newish series hold up? I do want to watch on, just to see what the Red Skull will do now that he actually feels like a legitimate threat. I also want to see what the new baddies are like and their agendas…and get more backstory. Hopefully Bruce Banner will make an appearance rather than just the Hulk? Would I recommend this, maybe. The animation is beautiful, the story is solid at establishing the good and bad guys, but there are major cons like Hawkeye, the uselessness of SHIELD and there isn’t much going on with the leads. The voice actors just aren’t putting much into it.

My final Score for this episode is 7.5 / 10. Okay/Good largely because of animation, Black Widow and the Red Skull who carried the episode.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – An Amazing Spy Thriller That Changes the Marvel Universe

Captain America Winter Soldier

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” is one of the best movies I saw in theatre this year. The only one that beat or was comparable was the “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” In my Disney Marvel Franchise Adventure this film is top of my list to write about, along with “The Avengers,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” once I see it.

There are a lot of reasons I like this film, but for the non-spoiler version that is as vague as possible: The security state is critiqued, we see the price of war and the it asks us the question of freedom versus security and what makes an organization good or noble.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” is a sequel to both “The Avengers,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” tying it to both and furthering the continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The story picks up with Captain America working for S.H.I.E.L.D. as an agent, but quickly finding out that he doesn’t know what is going on when Nick Fury is attacked by unknown agents and the Winter Soldier arrives the scene who is a famous assassin who Black Widow knows about only through rumors largely but who she witnessed in action in one of her missions. From here Captain America and Black Widow go undercover to find out what is going on as S.H.I.E.L.D. sees them as possibly guilty for the attack on Fury. They also get help from Falcon, a veteran who is part of an airborne division where he had prototype wings that he used in combat. From here the story unfolds as the conspiracy is unraveled.

Spoilers Ahead

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Tone – “Don’t trust anybody.” Is what Nick Fury tells Captain America at one point, and that level of unknown and fear pervades the film. We get hints of it in the beginning with Widow’s side mission and after that it continues on throughout the rest of the film continuing to grow with the face of that unknown in the Winter Soldier and the actions against the protagonists.

Black Widow – Johansson does it again. We get to learn more about her past and why she doesn’t trust anyone, and we get to see her in the mentor role, since Captain America is Super Hero that has never had to do undercover work. She is the secondary protagonist besides Falcon and is the best that we have ever seen her. She even makes a pretty hard choice at the end that I will discuss later in the review.

Falcon – Can’t wait for this guy to take Chris Evans place after he leaves…which I hope they do now that Falcon is Captain America in the comics. Falcon is a veteran who helps veterans, and because he isn’t a super soldier depends on his training as a soldier with a prototype weapon and adaptability to help Widow and Captain find out how far the conspiracy goes. He is there only friend at the end at one point. Anthony Mackie is fantastic.

Nick Fury – Is the mentor in this and has some great reveals about his past and why he doesn’t trust and is so brutal. This is the movie that gives us Fury as a fully realized character, and it is awesome! From his friendship to Pierce and to Captain America and the choices he makes. Samuel L. Jackson owns this role.

S.H.I.E.L.D. – I shown to be a complex government organization that ends up being compromised. The first warning signs are the Helocarriers that have been programmed to deal with threats. It is Captain America who first questions this but is shutdown by Nick Fury through his story of growing up rough and how his grandfather always was armed to protect himself…and that the government needs to do the same (a reaction to Loki’s attack on New York). Alexander Pierce (one of the heads of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the main guy advocating for this protection and offensive might. I’ll go into what happens with them later.

Fury’s Death – Fury has an awesome fight with The Winter Soldier and unknown agents and eventually takes them out after a pretty big fight and goes into hiding with Captain America. He delivers his warning and is shot…

Arnim Zola – This guy is back! We saw the government take him in after World War 2 and he worked for them but also used it to plant the seed of H.Y.D.R.A. there as well as making himself into a program to control and use S.H.I.E.L.D.’s data. He turns S.H.I.E.L.D. into an arm of H.Y.D.R.A. He is also one of the creators of the Winter Soldier. We see him face Black Widow and Captain America from an old style computer that he eventually sacrifices to try and kill the two of them. We learn that he was loyal to H.Y.D.R.A. all along which was a question after the first film given he betrays The Red Skull. I hope we returns later on and that some part of his program is still active. He was a lot of fun and a great threat.

H.Y.D.R.A. – Using the Winter Soldier they “kill” Nick Fury and try to kill Black Widow, Falcon and Captain America…regardless they win to some degree in this. They destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. by becoming S.H.I.E.L.D. it is brilliant and show how idealism can get hijacked by the corrupt as well as the danger of concentrated power in anything with military might.

The Winter Soldier – Is “Bucky,” Captain America’s old friend who has been brainwashed and given a metal arm by H.Y.D.R.A. he is a huge threat and pumped full of the super soldier serum. He is like the terminator throughout the film but gets some great moments with Captain America as he fights to find who he once was and get control over himself again.

Fury and Captain America – There is a great conversation here when we learn he Fury faked his own death to go underground…and rather than it being cheap, like it has kind of become with Marvel…it has consequences. It is when Black Widow and Nick Fury fight to bring down S.H.I.E.L.D. it is the death of this organization that changes everything in this universe.

The Confrontation – This is where everything comes to a head. The Winter Soldier has been rebrainwashed and is being used to kill the heroes, the Helocarriers are taking off and haven’t been implanted with Fury’s virus. This is some of the best action I’ve seen (much better than “Avengers” or “Iron Man 3,” and “Thor 2,”) and in it all it has a point in it too.

Alexander Pierce – As the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. and H.Y.D.R.A. Robert Redford gives us a fascinating character who sees ends justifying the means because of how Fury disobeyed orders. He saw that on the large scale which lead to his corruption. He is clearly bad but you can at least sympathize with this very flawed villain who is all the corruption of the security state justifying itself. Fury gets the kill on this guy when he tries to kill the Council.

Captain America – He grows a lot in this film. From having to make hard choices in regards to killing, to trusting Black Widow fully and becoming an agent undercover…to all his interactions with the Winter Soldier. Chris Evans nails it all and is a pleasure to watch.

The Reveal – Baron Von Strucker has 2 mutated children (Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch) and plans to feed Fury, Widow and Captain America false info. to keep them away from key H.Y.D.R.A. facilities. Giving us a hint of things to come.

Bucky returns to the museum we saw Captain America at in the beginning, showing him in his quest to find out who he is.

I highly recommend this film. There really weren’t any cons for me. It is what I want out of a Super Hero movie. It knows what it is about, has a consistent tone, the characters actually grow and the action actually means something. Captain America actually became an interesting character too and I hope Falcon will have the chance to be him after Chris Evans leaves.

Final Score is 10 / 10. The greatest thus far.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – A Review in Honor of Independence Day and the Sci. Fi. Historicish Biopic

Captain_America_The_First_Avenger_poster

We begin the “Disney Marvel Franchise Adventure,” with “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Captain America was always the least interesting of the Avengers to me…like Superman in DC he was always more interesting in who interacted with him and less the character himself. I am happy to say these movies changed that for me though, which is one reason I am looking forward to doing these reviews.

The premise of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” is that Red Skull a Nazi leader with a military group called Hydra takes control of the Tesseract (a mythical artifact we will learn more about and see later), that was said to be one of the greatest of Odin’s treasures. We then go to Steve Rogers, a small man from Brooklyn who wants to enlist after his parents are killed during the war. He is kept from enlisting because of how small he is but is given the chance when Dr. Erskine recommends him as a candidate for a special project. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Tone – The feel is that of an Historic Biopic mixed with Science fiction. The Tesseract is introduced at the beginning, giving us the sci. fi. and HYDRA’s energy weapons also play into that. But it also shows us the War Bonds, the lives of the soldiers and people and have it contrasted with modern day at the end…bringing the sci. fi. tone full circle.

Steve Rogers/Captain America – They made him way to small when he was trying out…he just didn’t look realistic…luckily Chris Evans playing him and writing make up for this. Once he gets the Super Serum he becomes the best part of this film. We see him in constant acts of sacrifice towards his fellow men and because of it being used by some for good (and for themselves) like the senator. His awkwardness with romance is great too since we see a kid who is not confident around women in the beginning and throughout the film. He is never used to attention and this adds humanity too him as well as his recklessness and ability to improve. He is what makes this film good.

Dr. Erskine’s – Is the man who believes in Steve because of his standing up for others and heart. He has a complicated past and is interesting too, since he invented the super serum that made Red Skull and makes Captain America.

Howard Stark – Tony Stark’s dad is awesome. We see how much of a nerd he is and he has a lot of respect for Captain America and loves invention and creation, even though he makes a fair amount of mistakes in his process of creation. You can see Tony in him as well as how different they are.

Colonel Phillips – It is Tommy Lee Jones, he is great as the no-nonsense Colonel who is skeptical but won over to Steve Roger’s side. He does is his part extremely well and makes the military relationships more complicated.

Freeing the Prisoners – Captain America goes behind enemy lines and frees his friend Bucky and tons of allied troops, who later rejoin him in the war. He also confronts Red Skull and learns of Red Skull’s origin as Johann Schmidt and the first of Dr. Erskine’s tests.

Captain America’s Commandos – Yes, “Bucky” is part of this team but as a character he is just kind of there. The team is much more interesting. It is an International group of Commandos who Steve saves from a HYDRA Camp and with them takes it out. They are Bucky, Jim, Dugan, James, Jacques and Gabe and the unofficial love interest Peggy. They deserved more exploration but the limits of a movie didn’t allow it.

Arnim Zola – Was Red Skull’s scientist and was more complicated than Red Skull. You never fully get if he believes in the cause or is doing it out of fear of Red Skull in this film…making him the only interesting and complicated member of HYDRA this film. He is the one who helps Red Skull harness the Tesseract’s power as a weapon for his machines of war.

The Present – When Captain America returns to the present and meets Nick Fury it is fantastic. It shows us how alien he feels in this new time period and gives us a twilight zone feel when SHIELD creates a room out of time to keep in when he wakes up.

Okay: Red Skull – He isn’t a bad villain but he is never good and I never feared for Captain America or his team. He kills more of his own men on screen than any of Captain America’s men. Hugo Weaving is great, but he wasn’t given much. At one point he is comedic too, pretty much yelling, “I’ll get you next time Captain America! Alas, foiled again!” When Captain America and his commando team destroy his weapon facilities. Because of this the final fight drags and isn’t all that interesting except for what happens after.

The Music – Is nothing special in this one. If you’ve seen any World War 2 film, you have heard this music.

Cons: The Romance – The romance with Peggy doesn’t exist…in that way it should have never happened since it serves no purpose but for a sad good-bye at the end.

Execution of Red Skull – He should have been much more threatening, given he created HYDRA which is the strongest organization we have witnessed so far in the Disney Marvelverse…that is made up of humans.

The Ending Battle – It goes on way too long, there are no stakes cause Bucky is already gone and we have had constant fighting up to this point. I honestly was bored during it. It looked great, but it meant nothing because the stakes didn’t feel real. We know Red Skull didn’t succeed because it would have been referenced in the other Disney Marvel movies…and nothing new happens except for the Tesseract revealing space.

“Captain America: The First Avenger,” was a good but not great film. It introduces elements that play a point later on…like the Tesseract as an energy weapon tied to Asgard, Howard being Tony’s dad and Nick Fury with the Avengers Initiative. It could have been shorter and would have been better as a mini-series to explore the character relationships better. It is still a good film I would recommend though.

A solid 8 / 10.