Ant-Man and the Wasp is a weird little movie. Well, alright, maybe “little” might be a bit of a too much, but it feels smaller. Not just because Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) can shrink down to the size of an ant either. For once the fate of the universe does not hang in the balance and mercy somehow wins the day.
Scott may well be the single greatest father in the comic book universe. I know of no one else who while under house arrest constructs a maze of cardboard boxes, builds giant paper mache ant puppets, and installs a slide on the side of his house, solely to entertain his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). At the very least he deserves to be in the top five.
I never once cared about the Avengers or where Scott was when the last movie went down. Instead, I got a lovely little movie about a nice guy who’s a good Dad, who sometimes makes the wrong choice but then tries to do the right thing in the end. A novel idea for a superhero movie. No mission, no grand scheme, just people being people and the odd occurring quantum tunnel.
Hank (Michael Douglas) and Hope Pym (Evangeline Lilly) are in hiding. They are also not talking to Scott since Scott took off to fight with Captain America and broke international law, lost Hank’s suit, and put Hank and Hope on the FBI’s most wanted. But while Scott is busy trying his best to be a father to Cassie, Hank and Hope have their own problems.
Years ago Hank’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) disappeared into the quantum zone when she shrunk down to the size of a quantum particle. Now he believes he has a way to get her back. Hope is ecstatic to retrieve her long lost Mother. The last thing they need is Scott.
What makes Ant-Man and the Wasp so much fun is the little things. The character that ties this whole rickety thing together is a mid-level fence Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins). A man who knows to seize an opportunity when he sees it. He has the component that Hank needs to finish the quantum tunnel to get Janet back. Scott has a dream about Janet and calls Hope and Hank who bring him along for the rendezvous.
Walton Goggins is a character actor who is rarely used to the best of his abilities. Often found in lazy, shallow fares such as Maze Runner: The Death Cure or Lara Croft. Goggins has the ability, not unlike Eric Estrada, to smile so you see every tooth. A gregarious performer he has a charm and a joyous wild-eyed zeal about him which Reed wisely channels for Sonny.
The deal goes awry and Hope debuts a suit like’s Scott only with wings. But just before Hope can walk away with the vital component, a new player steps into the game. A phantom-like apparition dressed all in white in a mask more at home in Star Wars than a Marvel movie. Ghost, for she seems to disappear and reappear like one, catches Sonny’s eye, and steals the thingamajig vital to running the whirligig.
My friend and co-host Thad, once said that he thought that superhero movies felt as if “..they were trying to come up with a good excuse for why the bad guy had to be killed.” He has a point. For a genre thickly populated with heroes and villains geared towards children and designed to allow for as many recurring characters as you can fit into a contract-the mortality rate of villains in these movies is staggering.
So often the villain’s plan or motivation only vaguely makes sense. More often than not the plan makes sense in that way that comic book motivations make sense, which is to say in of themselves, yes, but once you start applying logic, the plans fall apart. The best villains are the ones that have motivations connected to a reality we recognize. Thanos may be popular, but I’ll take Vulture or Killmonger over that big galoot anytime.
Ghost is in actuality, Ava (Hannah John-Kamen). She is in constant agony. As a child, her father attempted to build a quantum tunnel, and it exploded. She was told to run, but because she didn’t want him to die alone, she ran back to him. Her mother and father died, and she survived, sort of. Due to the explosion, her molecules are constantly being torn apart and put back together again.
A lifetime of never-ending pain has caused her to seek a cure at any cost. Even if that cost is sucking the quantum energy of someone who has been trapped in the quantum zone for decades and possibly killing them. Someone like say, Janet?
Peyton Reed has a lot going on, and to his credit, it never feels as if it’s getting away from him. The script written by five men is oddly coherent and doesn’t feel cobbled together. Five may seem a bit much but look at this way, four more and they have a ball club.
Reed infuses all of this with a sense of fun. He treats the insanity of Hank Pym’s inventions with a straight face. Giant ants, little people, and men growing to the size of the statue of liberty- all of it taken in stride. The comedy comes from the characters.
When Sonny attempts to track down Hank, Hope, Scott, and the Pym’s incredible shrinking lab he goes to Scott’s best friend, roommate, and business partner, Luis (Michael Pena). The two have started a small upstart security business that is on the verge of collapse. Sonny sees an opportunity and marches into their office building with his hired thugs.
What follows is a truly funny tight five minutes, wherein the thugs and Luis co-workers debate the pedantic usage of the word “truth serum,” Luis misunderstanding of the question Sonny has asked him, the realization the business is going under, and the reaction of everybody when Ava shows up.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is just fun. The action with all the Pym like gadgets and the shrinking and enlarging has a playfulness about it. Superhero action scenes usually devolve into two CGI characters punching each other while buildings crumble. Reed makes the action less like a climatic junction of the story and more like he’s a kid playing with his action figure.
All the fun may come at the cost of the drama, but luckily Reed has a cast of professionals. Douglas plays a persnickety know it all grouch without breaking a sweat. Lilly is an action star waiting on a franchise. John-Kamen brings emotional pathos to her tortured Ava. And Pfeifer reminds us that she is a movie star for a reason and that our pop culture is a little poorer for not using her as much as it could.
Pfeiffer and John-Kamen have a small scene together filled with tenderness and mercy. The moment doesn’t land as big of an emotional punch as it should, but that it exists at all is a miracle. The character of Ava, much like Michael Keaton’s Vulture, is refreshing because her motives are taken from real life. The heroes are trying to stop her both to save Janet but also to save Ava.
Reed is not an exceptionally stylistic director. But he and Dante Spinotti, his cameraman, understand how to keep the pace up and while it’s not as emotionally complex or satisfying, it is breezy. Paul Rudd is a likable enough actor, but I don’t normally like him in the starring role. But Reed manages to elevate Rudd to a leading man status. He curbs Rudd’s more comedic sensibilities and grounds it into Scott’s relationship with Cassie.
Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t a masterpiece, and it doesn’t push the genre of superhero movies forward. It doesn’t push it back either. We’ve been slowly conditioned that for a movie to be fun it must be big and dumb.
But that’s not necessarily true. Ant-Man and the Wasp is neither big or dumb, but it is fun and sweet. In its own weird way, it’s the best type of movie a movie like Ant-Man and the Wasp could hope to be. The world is never in danger, heck neither is San Francisco, for that matter. But it has stakes enough for what it wants to do.
Image courtesy of Marvel Studios
Disney Unveils First Look at ‘Toy Story 4’
It’s the franchise that started it all for Pixar, and now with a fourth installment set to drop in theatres next summer, Disney has treated Toy Story enthusiasts to a small look at what some of our favorite characters are up to.
Up to meaning dancing hand in hand in a circle formation to Judy Collins’ seminal hit “Both Sides” now. They look happy, considering the song is far more introspective than most of the scene showcasing the toy family shows. Granted, there’s always a catch, and that comes in the form of a kid-crafted spork utensil turned into a toy, and having a serious case of the wiggins about its identity and hysterically screaming it’s not a toy before running away and causing a circular collision of all the other toys. I’d say there’s an opportunity there for some identity symbolism to be explored in the movie, but that’s probably expecting a tad too much.
Still, it’s nice to see the friends many of us have literally grown up with for over two decades. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are both back as Woody and Buzz, and they’re joined by regulars like Joan Cusack and Jeff Garlin. Bonnie Hunt, Laurie Metcalf, Annie Potts, and Patricia Arquette also lend their voices to the film.
Toy Story 4 premieres in theatres on June 21, 2019.
Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios
‘The Grinch’ Doesn’t Skimp on Charm
The Grinch is a harmless, but charming, remake of the beloved television classic. The third attempt to tell a story that no one really thought needed to be retold. The original 1966 television special is so perfectly preserved in popular memory as being near perfection it bothers the brain as to why a remake is even necessary.
Thankfully, the latest version of The Grinch understands a very profound and delicate thing: how to tell a story for kids. Dr. Seuss stories succeed because they play with the boundless wonder of a child’s imagination, while also trusting in the simple but potent faith each child possess. In other words, The Grinch doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel so much as add some spokes.
The story is still the same as we remember it. The Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) lives atop the mountain overlooking Whoville. A giant green oval shaped creature with an expressive face he is as his name implies, not a happy being. Every year, around Christmas, the Whos down in Whoville begin their annual celebration of Christmas and it drives the Grinch mad because he was born with a heart two sizes too small. So he steals Christmas.
Like all characters, he eventually realizes the error of his ways; his heart grows three sizes, some say. Look, the original animated special was some twenty-six minutes with credits included. The Grinch is a scant eighty-six minutes, with credits. I mention this only to say, yes they added filling, but not necessarily padding. The directors Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney show a great faith in the Seuss original.
For instance, Cindy Lou Who (voiced by Cameron Seely) has a story all her own. As some of you may know, Cindy Lou Who is the little girl who catches the Grinch in the act of stealing her Christmas tree. In this, her story is simple and in fact, adds to Cindy Lou Who’s character and her relationship with the Grinch.
Cindy’s mother, Donna Lou Who (voiced by Rashida Jones) is a single working mother of three. Cindy wants to get in touch with Santa so she can wish for some happiness for her Mother. Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow have hammered the script into such a shape that we understand Donna isn’t unhappy. But Cindy sees her Mom struggling one morning and is sad she can’t do anything to help. Swerdlow and LeSieur lay the groundwork in a clever roundabout way.
As Cindy is trying to deliver a letter to Santa she runs into the Grinch, who is in town shopping for food. Being the Grinch he yells at her and comes dangerously close to doing something one of the most unforgivable things one could imagine: tell Cindy that Santa isn’t real. He doesn’t tell her, but he does imply. So when Grinch is disguised as Santa and he meets little Cindy once more, well let’s just say the Grinch was not the only person whose heart grew three times that day.
Mosier, Cheney, LeSieur, and Swerdlow allow The Grinch story as a whole to be visually expressive. From the Grinch’s sparse, cold, and granite home to the warm embracing circular geography of Whoville, the universe of the Grinch looks and makes sense. Well, sense enough. Blessed be the script never tries to overreach and explain logistical fallacies or complex municipal services. They simply allow Whoville and the Grinch to exist.
The animation by Illumination Studios is, far and away some of the best they’ve done. The studio’s movies such as Sing, Despicable Me, and Smallfoot have all been nice to look at but The Grinch has texture and depth that the other movies were lacking. It’s one thing to look good, but it’s another to understand camera placement and cleverly figuring out comedic gags that don’t feel forced.
Cumberbatch Grinch is impressive for its lack of vanity. You could argue that Cumberbatch has been working towards his role his entire career considering all his characters tend to be akin to either the Grinch or Oscar the Grouch. His voice work is so complete I had to remind myself who was doing the voice. Notice the timber of his voice as he realizes Fred, the reindeer, who he’s captured to help pull his sleigh, has a family.
Keean Thompson has a small role as the jolliest Who in Whoville, Mr. Bricklebaum. Thompson walks a fine line between playing him as naive without mocking him or making him a fool. Thompson’s Bricklebaum is a man so in love with life and Christmas that he can’t understand how anybody could be so happy. His faith in people is such that he somehow believes the Grinch and he are the bestest of friends. A fact that the Grinch is as baffled by as we are.
Pharrell Williams takes place of Boris Karloff and Anthony Hopkins as the narrator. His laid back smooth voice anchors The Grinch. He handles the Seussian rhyming scheme with aplomb and even gives his own remix of the classic You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. A perfect fit, Williams narrates without treading on the words. Being a musician he treats the words as Seuss intended; music to the ears.
There’s not a lot to say about The Grinch. It’s a simple straightforward and charming children’s movie which never panders. For being the third attempt at telling this story, it is remarkably free of any cynicism. The humor is both sly and broad and the emotions are genuine. After sitting through the cynical tripe of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, The Grinch feels like a soothing balm. It’s not Christmas yet, but at least with The Grinch, I didn’t mind celebrating a little early.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures
Vince Gilligan to Make Breaking Bad Movie
Five years after “Felina” ended the landmark, all-time great show, Breaking Bad is set to return in film form. Details are scarce, with the plot mostly unknown and no confirmation yet whether the movie will release in theaters or on television. Obviously, it’s also unclear whether this will take place before or after the series’ timeline.
Does this matter at all to me? Nope. I’m the kind of hesitantly excited that’s bordering on speeding past hesitancy.
What little we do know is that Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan will write, produce, and possibly direct. Better Call Saul producers Mark Johnson and Melissa Bernstein will also be involved. The rumored plot right is said to “follow the escape of a kidnapped man and his quest for freedom.” This has everyone (obviously) thinking the movie will feature Jesse Pinkman post-series as he escapes his kidnapping by the white supremacists Walt kills in the finale.
This sounds like a very, very good idea, even if I’m worried to see Jesse suffer more. Can this movie be about him changing his name, moving to LA, ending up on the couch of a former sitcom star, and going on a series of wacky adventures?
Whatever my natural worry, about taking Breaking Bad to the big screen, Vince Gilligan’s heavy involvement deserves optimism. After five fantastic seasons of Breaking Bad, he and Peter Gould have gone on to create another brilliant show in Better Call Saul. Gilligan clearly knows this universe. If he says he has a story to tell, then I want to hear it.
The Breaking Bad movie will be the first project of a three-year overall deal Gilligan signed with Sony TV this past July.