ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018) – Light, Fun, Another Marvel Hit

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Evangeline Lily and Paul Rudd in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018), the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a comedic vehicle that will have you chuckling throughout, which is just what Marvel fans needed after the devastating AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) earlier this year.

After breaking the law by teaming up with Captain America in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), Scott Lang/Ant Man (Paul Rudd) finds himself under house arrest. He sees his young daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston), and he’s visited by his business partner Luis (Michael Pena), but he cannot leave his house, which explains his absence from AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Speaking of which, the events in this movie take place just before the events in INFINITY WAR.

Scott’s also not supposed to have any contact with Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) or her father Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) since they designed the Ant Man suit which he wore when he fought against Iron Man and half the Avengers when he joined Team Captain America. Hope and Hank are considered fugitives from justice. And Scott wants no part of seeing them since his house arrest ends in a matter of days.

But that all changes when Hope and Hank extract Scott from his house, telling him they need his help to find Hope’s mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) who was lost years ago in the subatomic realm and considered dead, but since Scott had been reduced to a subatomic level and returned, Hank now believes it’s possible his wife is still alive. Scott reluctantly agrees to help them.

But along the way they find resistance from a shady business contact Sonny Burch (Walter Goggins) and a mysterious being with super powers greater than their own, both of whom want to steal Hank’s technology.

So, as you can see, the plot here is nothing heavy.  Ant Man is not trying to save the world, and after AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, that’s fine with me.

How does ANT-MAN AND THE WASP compare to the first ANT MAN movie?  It’s as good if not better.

One of the strengths of the Marvel movies has always been that they have very strong scripts, and the screenplay here by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari is no exception.  It goes all in on the comedy and is light and funny throughout. Writers Barrer and Ferrari are new to the Marvel Universe, while Rudd worked on the screenplay to the first ANT-MAN (2015), and McKenna and Sommers were on the team that wrote the highly regarded SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017).

The other strength of these Marvel movies is the impressive casts they always assemble.

Paul Rudd returns as Ant Man, and he’s about as likable a superhero as you’re going to find in a movie, mostly because he’s an unlikely superhero. He doesn’t see himself as much of a hero. In fact, he knows he usually messes things up pretty bad.  Rudd is fun to watch because of both his easy-going personality and his sharp comedic timing.

Rudd’s scenes with Abby Ryder Forston, who plays Scott’s daughter Cassie, are precious. The scene where she says she wants to be his partner is a keeper. And Forston also gets plenty of comedic moments as well.

Rudd enjoys fine chemistry with both Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas.  Lily is perfect as Hope/Wasp, as she’s both bitter and in love with Scott, and their scenes together have the necessary sexual tension and honed humor. Lily also makes for an impressive bad-ass superhero.

Michael Douglas gets plenty of opportunities to shine as Dr. Hank Pym. When he’s not chastising Scott or saying lines like “are we going to get out of here or are you two going to stare at each other all day?” to Scott and Hope when they become preoccupied with each other rather than escaping, he’s devoted to finding his wife.

And it was fun to see Michelle Pfeiffer back on the big screen in a superhero movie, something she hadn’t done since her phenomenal performance as Catwoman in BATMAN RETURNS (1992). Pfeiffer’s not in this one much, but she appears early on in a flashback as the first Wasp, thanks to some CGI/motion capture effects, looking years younger.

The rest of the cast is largely there for comedic relief.

Michael Pena has a field day as Scott’s business partner Luis, and as the movie goes along, he becomes more involved in the plot. Luis, along with associates Dave (T.I.) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian), form a team who when helping Scott are about as useful as the Three Stooges.

Likewise, Walter Goggins, who’s played some very serious villains in his day, in films like DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) and THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015), plays baddie Sonny Burch strictly for laughs. The scene where Sonny and his goons capture Luis, Dave, and Kurt and plan to use “truth serum” on them is hilarious.

Judy Greer returns as Scott’s ex-wife Maggie, and Bobby Cannavale returns as her new husband Paxton, and their scenes are comic as well this time around. And Randall Park plays lawman Jimmy Woo, also, you got it, for laughs.

The emphasis on humor would be bad if the film wasn’t funny, but it is, very much so, and all these actors excel in their roles. The result is a highly entertaining two hours which fly by incredibly quickly.

About the only two folks in the film not playing things for laughs are Hannah John-Kamen as the mysterious Ghost, and Laurence Fishburne as Hank’s former colleague Dr. Bill Foster. Hanna John-Kamen is okay as Ghost, but the character, in spite of an interesting background story, isn’t developed all that well.

Laurence Fishburne fares better as Dr. Bill Foster. He’s a man who’s often at odds with Hank Pym, but he’s trying to do the right thing. The scene where he puts his foot down with Ghost when she suggests they go after Scott’s daughter for leverage really resonates. When he tells her in no uncertain terms that going after children is wrong and that he will not be a part of using a child to get what he wants, it’s a telling moment.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP was directed by Peyton Reed, who also directed the first ANT-MAN movie. He handled both films very well, and I think he outdid himself with this second film, as he pretty much got everything right with this one. The humor works, the action scenes are edited well and fun to watch, and the pacing is perfect. The special effects are also spot-on.

If there’s any flaw it’s I would have liked more Wasp.  I really enjoyed Evangeline Lilly as Wasp and would have loved to have seen her in even more scenes as the bad-ass superhero.

And while comedy ruled the day in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, the events from AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR which have not happened yet loom like a cloud over the proceedings, which makes this story even better.

In the Marvel movie tradition, there are two after-credit scenes. The first is the big one, the one you definitely do not want to miss, while the second, at the very end of the credits, reverts back to the comedic.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP is yet another high quality superhero movie from Marvel, as the studio continues its amazing run of entertaining movies, and it shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, the studio is having an extraordinarily exceptional year, as all three of their releases so far in 2018, BLACK PANTHER, AVENGER: INFINITY WAR, and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, are among the best films of the year.

And since Ant-Man wasn’t involved in the devastating conclusion to AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, he’s suddenly a very important superhero going forward. Be sure to catch him in this light adventure now, because the next time we see him in the next AVENGERS movie, things no doubt will be a bit darker.

Yup, the next time we see him he’ll be going up against Thanos.  Gulp!

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Blu-ray Review: Danny Collins (2015)

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In DANNY COLLINS (2015) Al Pacino plays an aging rock star.

I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to wrap my head around Pacino playing a Neil Diamond-type— his onscreen persona just seems too intense— and after seeing this movie, I’m still not sure, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying him or the movie.

Al Pacino is Danny Collins, a Neil Diamond-type rock star who is in his waning years and has let his life pretty much go down the toilet.  He does drugs, he’s married to a trophy wife who he doesn’t love, and he barely has the stamina to get through a performance anymore.

His life changes when his agent Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer) presents him with a gift:  a letter written to him from John Lennon nearly 40 year ago.  Lennon’s letter was written to him in response to a magazine interview Collins had given early in his career where he had expressed doubts about his music.  Lennon’s letter offered him personal encouragement.  Lennon had sent the letter to the magazine, and the editor had kept it rather than give it to Collins.  After the editor’s death it had gone to a private dealer, where it remained until Grubman tracked it down.

The letter inspires Collins to make some life-altering changes, and number one amongst them is to finally reconnect with his estranged adult son Tom (Bobby Cannavale) and his family.  And this is what DANNY COLLINS is ultimately about, and is why it becomes such an enjoyable and rewarding movie.

Al Pacino, in spite of my misgivings, is terrific as Danny Collins.  I still can’t picture him as a rock star, but that doesn’t really matter because in this movie he’s playing a rock star who just doesn’t have it anymore, and in that regard, he pulls it off just fine.  But more importantly,  this story is about him reconnecting with his son, which is no easy task since his son wants absolutely nothing to do with him, and it’s here where Pacino shines.

My favorite part of Pacino’s performance here is that it’s much more understated than his usual work.  He plays Danny Collins as a man who is weary and tired, and yet when he needs to be fiery, he rears back and pulls energy from deep within, and in scenes where he has to break through his son’s defenses, he does it with ease.  He exudes sincerity and caring, and from a character who’s reputation is anything but, he makes it all very believable.

Pacino receives fine support from the rest of the cast, led by Bobby Cannavale as his son Tom.  Cannavale is perfect as the working-class husband and father who wants nothing to do with his rock star father who basically disowned him for his entire life, and when Collins shows up at his door to make amends, it’s not pretty.  However, Collins is persistent and makes it clear he really does want to become part of his son’s life, and as this persistance gradually chisels through Tom’s hardened construction worker exterior, Cannavale effortlessly handles these nuanced changes.

I’ve enjoyed Cannavale in films like LOVELACE (2013), CHEF (2014), and ANT-MAN (2015) to name just a few, but I don’t think I’ve seen him better than here in DANNY COLLINS.

Annette Bening also adds fine support as Collins’ new love interest Mary Sinclair, who runs the hotel where Collins is staying.  They hit it off instantly and share a flirtatious chemistry throughout.  Jennifer Garner is also very enjoyable as Tom’s wife Samantha.  Garner, from the TV show ALIAS (2001-2006) is very good here as the lovable mother and wife, who takes to Collins immediately and helps ease the tensions between father and son.  And young Giselle Eisenberg  makes for a very cute and entertaining little daughter Hope.

And Christopher Plummer enjoys a scene-stealing performance as Collins’ agent Frank Grubman.  It’s the type of wise-cracking role Alan Arkin has played recently.

DANNY COLLINS was written and directed by Dan Fogelman, who wrote CRAZY, STUPID LOVE (2011), one of my favorite comedies of recent years, which starred Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone.   Fogelman keeps the tone of DANNY COLLINS light, and as a result the film in spite of some of serious moments remains playful and fun throughout.

You also can’t beat the music score, as it’s peppered with John Lennon songs.  How cool is that?  Original song “Hey Baby Doll” which is supposed to be Danny Collins’ signature tune and the one that his aging audience always wants him to perform, sounds just like a Neil Diamond ditty and is perfect for this story.

I’m still not sure I buy Pacino as an aging rock star.  But I certainly buy him as a once absent father desperately trying to reconnect with his adult son.  And in the story that DANNY COLLINS has to tell, that’s all that really matters.

—Michael