Ant-Man (Peyton Reed, 2015)

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The Top Secret World of Ant-Man

I kept thinking. That this could have been funnier like Shaun of the Dead. That this could have been geekier like Scott Pilgrim. That there could have been more inventive fight scenes—had Edgar Wright stayed to finish what he started. Just take Luis’ (Michael Peña) crafty way of telling his stories, for example, or the many times where Ant-Man fights, shrinks and puffs up—all of which could have been much much more engaging with Wright at the helm. I was thinking of things Marvel could have done to address this issue—this lack of panache on the director’s end. Perhaps, they should have made poor Scottie steal some sugar cubes like Arrietty and her Dad in that Ghibli movie. And made this a heartwarming children’s movie. Or better, made him watch Ms. Marvel (Brie Larson) while she . . . she . . . wait, she isn’t even introduced yet in this universe, so that would not be possible.

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What we got is a movie that follows the basic premise of Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man (a version of the movie that, sadly, we’ll not be able to see). Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and a scientist who distrusts Howard Stark (and by extension Iron Man and his cohorts), wants to pass the torch to a protege. And that protege is Scott Lang, a well-meaning thief, an ex-con who needs to secure a job for his young daughter Cassie. And it’s also a heist film that has Lang and lots and lots of ants break and enter a highly secured facility to “steal some shit”. And of course he has to fight the villain Darren Cross, who’s easily the most convincing bad guy in the Marvel universe (he turned one co-worker into a sushi earlier in the movie, in a scene probably inspired from the original RoboCop).

But that’s only half the movie, more or less. The other half is what Peyton Reed, Adam Mckay and Paul Rudd, contributed to the script: the music, Luis’ tip montage, Falcon, Quantum Realm, adding more of Hope Van Dyne in the story, and streamlining the whole movie to make it more fit to the pre-existing bigger story. Allegedly, all this in lieu of the crazier stuff, the more far out ideas Wright and Joe Cornish had originally. Still, the movie ends up like a B-side—disconnected but not totally unrelated—to all the towering destruction from all the other Phase Two movies. Which only adds to the disappointment—that we didn’t get to see the crazier stuff—given this wouldn’t have much impact on either the crossover or the other standalone series.

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It all boils down to a certain set of rules, imagined or otherwise, that restrict all movies set on Earth from having deeply varying tones. I get it. With Wright, this would have ended like the fourth installment in the Cornetto trilogy than a Marvel movie. Right.

Surprisingly . . . it actually works. Ant-Man is an enjoyable romp. And it’s better, even if only a tiny bit better, than the other MCU movies with household name heroes. Thanks in no small part to Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly and the rest of the cast. After all the massive destruction, billions worth in collateral damage, and unaccounted casualties in Age of Ultron, The Winter Soldier and Iron Man 3, Ant-Man is a welcome change of pace, a refreshing retreat. A movie capable of going really small, without sacrificing a big heart in the middle. In the end, this isn’t much about being a superhero or saving the world, as it is about fathers and daughters, mentor and mentee. It’s all about Hank and Hope, Scott and Cassie, one interrupted kiss and that “messed-up looking dog” (a giant ant) Cassie kept, at the end of the movie.

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Captain America: Civil War (The Russo Brothers, 2016)

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‘Civil War’ should have ended with that mid-movie orgy, not with the Tony-Cap-Bucky threesome.

Captain America: Civil War finds the Earth’s mightiest heroes split in two. One led by Captain America and the other headed by Iron Man—two evenly matched teams going head-to-head in a mid-movie battle seemingly inspired by the opening sequence of the X-Men cartoons from the ‘90s. While Iron Man got Spider-Man, Captain America’s team is the more exciting one, with Wanda, Hawkeye and Ant-Man on his side. Still, this doesn’t make it significantly more interesting than the other similarly themed summer flick from DC, especially when most of the superheroes left to team up with either Cap or Tony, are the predictably dull side characters in the Marvel Universe—War Machine, Falcon, Winter Soldier, Vision and a likewise banal newcomer in Black Panther.

I thought we should at least have Nick Fury in the middle, make him give long Tarantino-esque monologues that would illuminate why Cap and Tony were on different sides. (Looks like Tony is just jealous because Cap’s got a new boyfriend and he’s got no one else since Pepper left him.) Also, they could have given Agent 13 more screen presence this time, because honestly, they couldn’t make Black Widow any more alluring and her signature takedown gets tiring already. Another thing, the camera tends to get too shaky during her fight scenes—actually, most of the fight scenes, not just those with Black Widow.

Captain America: Civil War starts with The Avengers foiling a terrorist attack somewhere in Africa. They were able to retrieve the biological weapon from the terrorists, but not without collateral damage—something they might have avoided, if only Vision wasn’t so busy in the headquarters kitchen. So Tony Stark has to do a Bruce Wayne this time; taking fall for the death of innocent people when they tried to save the world from Ultron. Captain America, on the other hand, just can’t afford to lose Bucky for the third time, even if his disagreement with Stark could lead to Civil War.

Of course, it didn’t. No Civil War, just a smaller version of Mark Millar’s serial, which has twelve superheroes fighting each other in Leipzig/Halle Airport. With Hawkeye just being funny, delivering one-liners in between punches; Ant-Man getting inside Iron Man’s suit, then later turning into Giant-Man; and Spider-Man throwing banters while webbing up Falcon, sparring with Cap, and swinging around Giant-Man. Then, there’s Elizabeth Olsen, who gives Wanda Maximoff the vulnerability—both emotional and physical—that’s kind of rare in this type of movie. Olsen’s Wanda is both fragile and fierce, like a kitten with special powers, caught in the middle of a slugfest.

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Said airport scuffle is easily the best part of this movie. But since it happens somewhere in the middle, right before the “more” important events are about to unfold, it makes the last third of the movie drag, not just a bit. And I couldn’t even care less, especially after Wanda, Ant-Man and Spidey left off the screen. And I think, it asks too much of its audience when they killed Rhodes. Almost. It’s not like he (almost) died trying to save people. And both teams seem to be having a fun pick-up match just right before that, with Spider-Man referencing Star Wars and Ant-Man asking for orange slices (probably to nurse a massive headache) after he gets knocked down. Unlike the death scene in Joss Whedon’s Age of Ultron, the tone here is just, off.

At long last, the final fight between Cap and Iron Man boils down to Tony doing another Bruce Wayne—as he turns vengeful for the death of his parents. The fight gets a bit clearer near the end—lesser camera movements, lesser cutting but in the same gloomy blue-grayish tone (would have been nice to see Cap’s bright costume contrasting nicely with Iron Man’s metallic gold and red). And in case you forgot, in the pure Marvel tradition of having boring half-villains, this movie also got one: Baron Zemo, who gets to carry out his very complicated plan, just because the plot needs him to.

Again, that airport scene is probably the coolest thing ever…or maybe, just until the next Marvel movie comes.

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