Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

It takes two to tango…

[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OR MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW, ONLY WHAT WAS REVEALED IN TRAILERS AND INTERVIEWS]

If anyone has any suggestions for how to survive 8 whole months without an MCU movie, I’m open to ideas. Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good…

Ant-Man and the Wasp is the 20th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is a direct sequel to Ant-Man (2015), both movies being directed by Peyton Reed. It also serves as a nice catch-up with Scott Lang himself after the last time we see him in Captain America: Civil War (2016). We pick up with Scott on a house-arrest as punishment for being involved in Captain America’s crusade that violated the Sokovia Accords. Not only does this lead to a fallout between him, Hank Pym, and Hope Van Dyne, it also complicates his situation of wanting to be a better father to his own daughter.

Just like the previous Ant-Man movie, this one feels like a huge breath of fresh air after the MCU just came off of a much more intense movie, and it also does what I liked about the last one where it touches on how the drama of such larger than life figures like the Avengers can affect regular people like Scott who are just trying to do better. Its why I appreciate that the MCU went with Scott Lang instead of Hank Pym as their designated Ant-Man, as I feel Hank would’ve just been “science bros” with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, or be too similar of a character.

So how does the actual movie stack up in a year where Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War already have made their impact on audiences and the box office? Admittedly, it is tough to keep up the momentum from two groundbreaking films such as those, but Ant-Man and the Wasp succeeds in giving us a positive, fun, and real look into its themes of family, partnership, and friendship. There no other way to put it: This has probably been the most successful year for Marvel Studios creatively and financially.

To get some criticisms out of the way first, the movie follows multiple “antagonists” (not to be confused with henchmen, they actually had their own agendas) to go along with the main one, which fell a little flat for me in a year where we got such focused villains as Killmonger and Thanos. Its not that having multiple is a bad thing, but the movie had Hannah John-Kamen acting incredibly well alongside Laurence Fishburne, only to spend time with Walton Goggins playing a throwaway “bad guy” with poor motivation. I would’ve rather spent that time exploring the dynamic between the other two or giving the time to Randall Park’s FBI character, who knocked it out of the park for the comedic aspect of the movie. The best thing done by Goggins’ character was the set-up for Luis (Micheal Pena) to go on one of his signature monologues, which was even funnier than the ones he does in the previous Ant-Man.

Piggybacking off of that point, I think most of the actors disappeared into their characters in this one and that really made the movie keep its positive and up-beat momentum. Paul Rudd is fantastic as always, but I have to give major props to Abby Ryder Fortson, who plays Scott’s daughter Cassie. All of her scenes with Paul Rudd made the audience feel like their father-daughter dynamic was real. Evangeline Lily played Hope with less of a “faux-intense” feel and seemed more present as a character. I also liked Scott’s “crew” of Luis, Kurt, and Dave more so than the last time we saw them. Not only are their lines and delivery just better, but the humor feels organic in the sense that I can actually believe that these are three friends hanging out and joking with each other. The humor also didn’t undercut emotional moments as badly as it did in the previous Ant-Man, and there’s one scene in particular (no spoilers obviously) where there is a nice character moment that is being supplemented with humor due to the situation, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out at first…and it ended up being one of my favorite scenes after it was over because the choice of the humor made actually worked.

I guess my only big thing is that the third act did the “MCU thing” in the sense that there was a lot happening, it got a bit messy, and it was only carried onward through the elements of fun and some surprise. Compared to what we’ve seen recently too, this one felt a bit inconsequential. That’s me nit-picking, because this still genuinely was such a blast in theaters and I actually look forward to another Ant-Man/Wasp movie later on in phase 4 or something to give us breathing room after the dramatic closing of the Infinity Saga that is sure to follow. If that’s the role that these characters are going to serve in the MCU, I don’t really have a complaint with that. It’s nice to take a break from super-geniuses, Demigods, sorcerers, and assassins to follow some very human characters.

Ant-Man and the Wasp gets an 8.5/10

So Low: A Box Office Story

I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This

Let’s wind our clocks back to December 17th, 2015. This was the day that I, and fans everywhere, would finally see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which would soon become the highest grossing domestic film of all time (not adjusted for inflation). As of this piece being written, the top 10 in that list also includes Star Wars: The Last Jedi at #8, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at #10. All three of these films were distributed by Disney after their acquisition of Lucasfilm and its assets in 2012. It was safe to say that, at least in terms of revenue and popularity, all was well.

So what the hell could’ve possibly happened for it to end up like this?:

Capture

If you haven’t heard by now, Solo: A Star Wars Story was a huge box-office bomb. Even if you want to say that the movie has barely been out for a month, Look at those opening weekend numbers! It performed so poorly that Disney and Lucasfilm have, allegedly, put all other anthology films on hold. This includes, most notably: the slated Boba Fett film (set to be directed by James Mangold who helmed Logan, a fantastic film which I’ve reviewed here), and the highly anticipated (depending on the involvement of Ewan McGregor) Kenobi film.

I will repeat the question: What the hell happened?

Many have tried to answer it with some of the lazy criticisms you would expect: about the actor playing Han, about the directors quitting, about how “they’re doing it like Marvel”, etc….but it can’t be that simple. You mean to tell me even with Donald Glover and Emilia Clarke doing TONS of press beforehand, after post-red carpet reviews seemed vaguely positive, and after the Tomato-meter never went rotten, that a STAR WARS MOVIE would open this badly on Memorial Day Weekend? Before continuing, I’d like to take this time to briefly summarize my thoughts on the movie.

It was very okay. I think it was fun, had cool elements, and nothing stood out as glaringly negative, but it held no importance. I KNOW this story because I’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back more times than I can count. We know Han was a smuggler, we know how Han meets Lando, we know he is the way he is because he was betrayed, we know he won the Millennium Falcon from Lando in a game of sabacc. Any of the extra stuff (i.e. how Han got his dice or his blaster)…I didn’t really need. If I DIDN’T use my moviepass and actually paid full price for a ticket, I would’ve had some buyer’s remorse. I think if this movie was instead released as animation or a book, it would’ve been more appropriate, had more room to expand, and maybe even more praised.

Regardless of how I feel, this is still a Star Wars movie and those numbers are preposterous. So, once again, what the hell happened? We can look at this from a few angles:

THE LACK OF A TARGET AUDIENCE

When discussing Star Wars in any capacity, I believe it is fundamental to acknowledge the generational aspect of the franchise. By that, I mean the idea of “what was YOUR Star Wars“, a concept often used in discussing the 007 franchise or various Batman actors. Presumably: The Original Trilogy (OT) was first enjoyed by younger Boomers and mostly Gen-Xers, The Prequel Trilogy (PT) was prominent when Millennials like myself were growing up, and the Sequel Trilogy (ST) has found their solid fan base in Gen-Z.  It also should be noted that everyone eventually becomes very familiar with the OT, as it objectively contains the quintessential installments of the franchise. Millennials went to Blockbuster (RIP) to rent the older films on VHS (also RIP). Gen-Zers have their Gen-X parents showing them the OT to catch them up, as the ST contains the 3 main characters from the OT anyway.

Rogue One had the appeal to all fans: it promised that we would see a major point in the Rebellion’s effort that wasn’t expanded on yet. We know the Rebellion got the Death Star plans, but we had so many questions. What was the war like before that? Where was most of the fighting taking place? Why was there such a convenient hole in the Empire’s space station? Who stole the plans? Rogue One answered all of these questions and more, and since the characters didn’t have as much depth as the ones in the saga films, we could focus more on the conflict at hand and connect it to the OT easily.

A Kenobi film with Ewan McGregor would bring out the Millennial audience in full force. It could also bring out the other crowds because whatever Obi-Wan was doing between the PT and OT isn’t common knowledge (it is briefly touched on in the Star Wars Rebels animated show).

Similarly, the OT crowd will live and die as Boba Fett fans. When you ask me, the dude had roughly five lines and fell into the Sarlacc pit like an idiot. He could’ve been replaced by a talking flying bantha for all I care. However, a Boba Fett film still appeals to various markets because the OT crowd will be nostalgic and the PT/ST crowd will see something new.

So who was Solo meant for? They alienated the OT crowd who wont accept anyone but Harrison Ford as the character, the PT crowd doesn’t feel much nostalgia towards Han, and the ST crowd knows Han as old, defeated, and more of a plot device than a main character. On top of all of that, they made a movie that all three crowds already know the main events of. It only adds irony to the fact that Han’s son is now famous for his “Let the past die” line.

MISLEADING MARKETING

This disappointed me like crazy, and I know it all too well (remember when we thought Joker was going to be the primary antagonist of Suicide Squad?). The public was meant to believe that this movie was going to center on Han, Qi’ra, and Lando, with a lot of screen time for Chewbacca. Instead, it was more about Han and Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), and the others just felt like part of the larger setting for Han to be himself and be “mentored” by Tobias.

Word eventually got out that Glover and Emilia weren’t that prominent in the film, most likely Because of The Internet. The problem with that is that they were the “aces” the project had. I myself went on opening weekend almost entirely out of support for Glover, and when Lando had one cool scene, about 7 other lines of dialogue, and ends up being the biggest loser in the end, it pissed me off.

Qi’ra was just reduced to “Han’s girl”, despite being a new character with more backstory than Lando, Chewbacca, or Tobias. However all of this resulted in a few moments where the audience is forced to connect extremely vague dots, and the last time we see her on screen just ends up more confusing than anything. I suppose they weren’t in it for your character development, Princess Khaleesi.

BACKLASH AND FATIGUE 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since December 2017, you probably know that The Last Jedi was an extremely divisive movie. I’m not going to get into it because it isn’t even fun to talk about anymore, and fans have gotten toxic to the point of negatively impacting those who worked on the film (a topic further discussed in this episode of the “Overrated” Podcast).

The point here to be noted is that the ST films were slated for the Decembers of 2015, 2017, and 2019, giving fans ample time to digest each one and properly anticipate another. While the MCU releases films only months apart, it changes its setting, characters, and conflicts with every movie and simply connects them to each other, Star Wars has always been more of a “previously in our story…” type of deal. Many fans were opposed to the idea of anthology films such as Rogue One in the first place.

Regardless, Rogue One came out in December 2016, a year after The Force Awakens and a year before The Last Jedi. Solo came out in May 2018, and the fans are STILL processing The Last Jedi. I don’t understand why anyone thought it was a good idea to release Solo at that time, especially with trouble behind the scenes, and the clash against both Infinity War and Deadpool 2. Delaying Solo until December 2018 would’ve made perfect sense to me.

A MISSING SENSE OF WONDER

For most people, Star Wars has always been about the characters, the idea of the Force, the larger conflict, and the vastness of the Galaxy. Han himself barely got any development throughout this film, I can’t even exactly point to what he learned or if there was a major change in personality. So when a Star Wars film ignores characterization, has no mention of the Force, doesn’t connect to a larger theme or conflict, and barely explores the planets it takes place on…well, you get the idea.

The point is: Maybe someone should’ve told them the odds on this one.

 

Guest Post – Movie Review: Ready Player One

Don’t Think Too Hard, “Ready Player One” is Just a Video Game

[THIS IS A GUEST POST BROUGHT TO YOU BY MY GOOD FRIEND (and my co-host of the “Overrated Podcast”) UDAY MEHTA. SHOW HIM SOME LOVE AND FIND HIS COLUMN, HIS SOLO PODCAST, AND OUR PODCAST AT HIS WEBSITE]

I remember seeing the trailer for Ready Player One. I was in theaters, absentmindedly on my phone waiting for the actual movie to start. It was upon hearing one word that my eyes flickered to the screen. Parzival. An alternate spelling of Percival, Parzival is the titular character in the story of the Holy Grail, and one of the Knights of the Round Table. It was a strange tidbit to recall in that moment, but it was enough to pique my curiosity. A sci-fi movie that made semi-obscure historical reference?

 I promptly forgot about the entire thing until a few weeks later when I found out it was a Steven Spielberg-directed movie. Yes, Steven Spielberg, best known this decade for his work on films such as The Post, Lincoln, and War Horse, was directing an adventure role playing movie. Now that was enough to get me to the theater.

The Plot

 The movie follows a lonesome teenager with an alliterative made-for-film white-dude name (Wade Watts) and his avatar (the aforementioned Parzival) in the Oasis, a virtual world whose creator James Halladay has since passed. Halladay is revered in a Jobs/Musk-like fashion, where his followers pore over every aspect of his life. By participating in fights and other competitions, you can earn coins, make customizations to your avatar, and purchase weapons. There’s one catch – if your avatar dies in the Oasis, you lose everything. Your money, your weapons, your upgrades, all of it. You’d respawn as a bare-bones character and have to work your way back up.

 Parzival’s crew is a bunch of lovable misfits, including the beefy mechanic Aech, steely swordsman Daito, and some dude named Sho (they don’t really spend a lot of time on him). The primary driver is the presence of an Easter egg – depicted as an actual Egg in the Oasis – hidden somewhere in the game by Halladay before his passing. Accessing the egg requires the successful completion of three challenges blah blah blah. There isn’t much overall depth to the plot, as we collectively proceed from challenge to challenge, with one of our heroes finding a way to complete each one. The crew is opposed by a faceless corporation “Innovative Online Industries” (IOI) headed by generic boss Nolan Sorrento. IOI has access to plenty of money and weaponry, but they naturally lack the innocence and spirit that make Parzival and co special.

Parzival – and by extension, Wade – is your average guy, no cool upgrades or abilities, just someone looking to find an escape from his life of poverty and bad family dynamics. Pretty relatable, right? Oh, and there’s a love interest, Art3mis (the Greek goddess of hunting), who Parzival falls in love with by virtue of healthily cyber-stalking everything she does. He’s a really nice guy, you just have to get to know him! She warns him that he’d be “repulsed” if he saw her in real life, which is slightly disingenuous because they cast an attractive actress with… a birthmark?

The Verdict

Despite its predictability, even with the tired tropes, it’s still an incredibly fun ride. The movie is relatively self-aware of the stereotypes it’s playing out – from the wise wizard avatar Anorak that represents Halladay, to the guy in a suit that represents CEO Sorrento, to the random-person-you-encounter-on-your-quest-that-turns-out-to-be-an-important-ally. It’s good for what it is, a dystopian action film which focuses on the enduring importance of friendship and its triumph over greed. Like with any book-to-film adaptation, there are facets of the story on which they didn’t have time to spend (the loyalty centers, the death of Wade’s family, Ogden Morrow’s background), but elements that are definitively improved (hacking Sorrento’s headset, the use of TJ Miller’s I-R0k). It’s not a set of puzzles where you as a viewer are trying to figure out what’s coming next, but rather a relaxing journey through the furthest reaches of a virtual world. You may not care about the “war for control of the future”, but you want to find the Easter Egg just as much as Parzival does.

 This is the movie that Adam Sandler’s 2015 shithole ‘Pixels’ should have been.

Pacman, Galaga, Centipede, Tetris, Duck Hunt, Frogger – all these classic arcade games were built into the film as characters, which just might have worked if some other minor details (plot, dialogue, character development) were better. But Ready Player One incorporates the nostalgia trips in an inconspicuous, blink-and-you-miss-it fashion. While Pixels sets up Donkey Kong as Sandler’s final villain behind a ‘We Will Rock You’ soundtrack and a weirdly placed dick joke, Ready Player One flashes through its homages, from a Tron motorcycle during a race, to the magic spell from Excalibur, to a brief costume change into Clark Kent. Avoiding using these references as plot devices – apart from an extended sequence from The Shining – is what helps this film invoke the desired amount of hazy nostalgia.

The Memory

To me, the basic construct of the movie was evocative of a reference they didn’t even mention (or didn’t have the rights to) – Megaman. In the mid-2000s, it aired as a TV show (Megaman NT Warrior) and was released as a long series of video games (Megaman Battle Network). The main construct of the show is a virtual ‘net’ that humans can log into with their ‘net navi’ (short for navigator), where humans interface with their navis by uploading battle chips and weapons. A later season has an arc where humans can fully synchronize with their net navis . The show’s antagonists were textbook villains that wanted to take over and/or destroy the net, headlined by Dr. Wily, an original creator of the net. There’s even a reddish-pink love interest and a big buff friend! Vaguely familiar, isn’t it?