Movie Review: Ant-Man and The Wasp

Trash. Utter unmitigated trash.

Those were my thoughts during the first forty or so minutes with the laughless and listless pairing of Ant-Man & The Wasp. Chief among its many problems is that it barely lives up to that uninspired title. There are remarkably few scenes in which Ant-Man & The Wasp do something as simple as kick butt together in costume, and so many dull-ass-dead scenes where characters explain what happened last movie or fifty years ago. Performances by Paul Rudd and Hannah John-Kamen get stretched beyond their breaking points, untethered to the flimsy words that make up this painful excuse for a script. After the surefire blockbuster success of Infinity War, this feels like a fart in the wind.

Paul Rudd seems to be a font of youthful charm normally, but here he plays backseat to the ongoing events around him. Nobody thought to give Ant-Man something to do or care about in his own movie, beyond wanting to vaguely rekindle friendship/romance (unclear) with The Wasp, aka Evangeline Lilly, and of course, as he reminds us every fifteen seconds, he needs to get home to his daughter who doesn’t even live with him, because she’s in the loving stewardship of the effortlessly more charismatic Bobby Cannavale, who is used so poorly it almost made me want to scream- why is he not the star of his own hero movie? Then again, if it was scripted by the five (5) brilliant minds who crafted this gem, it might be a turd too.

The most insane detail of the movie is also the most constantly rehashed, as if the screenwriters were so pleased with how badly they buried the evidence they decided to roll around on the bones like a dog in the yard. The entire movie hinges on Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man being under house arrest because he was captured by the FBI after the events of Civil War (which again, feel Marvel-wise like fifteen years ago). Old Ant-Man (Michael Douglas) and his daughter The Wasp 2.0 are on the lam because of their association with Paul Rudd. They are also very peeved that they weren’t invited to Civil War (no joke) and hold this against Paul Rudd for three-quarters of the movie. Just thinking about the details of this movie, of which there are many, is breaking my brain.

Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are on the run from the FBI. They have a shrinkable building (which becomes the fucking Maltese Falcon of this piece of shit movie) that looks like a prop from a Ninja Turtles toy commercial that they have the audacity to roll around like a luggage suitcase just to further emphasize how lame it is. They have the power to shrink to the size of ants, which is a pretty good power to use if you are in hiding. So what do they do? They set up shop right in San Francisco, right where Paul Rudd still lives, so they can keep an eye on him, even though he is on house arrest with an ankle bracelet, and has the FBI swarming him every fifteen seconds as a running gag and a way to put Randall Park in the movie.

So Ant-Man, who again, has the power to shrink to the size of a fucking ant, that’s like his main power, gets immediately caught by the United States government and rather than put into prison- in spite of being an ex-con already and associating with known terrorist Captain America- is put on house arrest in an ankle bracelet as a slap on the wrist. This is of course, insane. If you have the power to shrink, how would you EVER get caught? You could get away from situations so easily, especially if you could control ants and fly away while small. Granted, the seagull problem this movie presents is frightening- and a seeming nod/blatant theft from The Simpsons bit where the puppies keep eating Homer’s chips- but beyond that, I’m saying the premise of the movie, the set-up for everything that happens, makes no sense. How did Ant-Man get captured so easily? Why didn’t he tell his pals he was going to help Captain America- as if he was good at keeping secrets- when another plot point of this movie hinges on the fact that he compulsively tells Michael Pena where they are hiding so it can be extracted by the villain later? So he loves to blurt this stuff out sometimes, and loves to keep schtum other times. There’s no emotional journey to justify this switch. It’s just bad writing. The writers of this movie want us to buy Paul Rudd’s depiction of a bumbling security expert, which isn’t a thing.

It’d be one thing if Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man were Don Knotts and his incompetence were played purely for laughs. But Ant-Man isn’t Ron Burgundy, and if he’s going to be the hero of his own movie you should probably focus on making him have an interesting personal journey. Even wack-a-doo Marvel fare like Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 managed to shoehorn in some comic book melodrama that felt just the right level of overblown to be compelling. Here everything is played for laughs that never materialize, like a bad episode of a tv series. This movie is nobody’s passion project. It’s just everybody’s fifteenth superhero movie, and it reeks of old cheese.

Visually Ant-Man and the Wasp has more in common with Spawn or The Power Rangers Movie than a regular, more expensive Marvel movie (including the first Ant-Man). Action sequences are shot from the point of view of someone who wanted to make sure they could break for lunch on time. The lack of attention to detail in the script is present in the cinematography as well. There’s a shot of Lawrence Fishburne walking across the room that looks like it was filmed on someone’s cell phone. There’s a fight sequence in a kitchen that makes the one in X-Men: Days of Future Past look even more brilliant by comparison. The one moment of shine in this dubba-dubba-WB wannabe is a first person shot of our heroes (?) traveling into the quantum realm a.k.a. the realm of really tiny things, which looks like a better version of the 2001 or Avatar zooming into a time tunnel effect. Otherwise, blah.

Michael Pena delivers the movie’s first laughs about forty-five minutes into the movie, and they are such a relief. He is the most wasted performer in a sea of them. His lines about wanting his own hero suit seem more justified than the movie itself. It’s not that he is purely a better performer than Rudd (though he very well might be) but that Rudd is asked to do both everything and nothing, while Pena is offered the easier and more snugly fitting role of showing up to make us laugh and say, hey, it’s not all that bad right? At least I’m here to cut a few jokes that sometimes work. When you are about to fall asleep in the theater, Pena becomes the good cop holding you hostage, the one who wants to be your buddy. Rudd is more like the bad cop who wants you to watch him reenact Mommy Dearest in full.

The plot of the movie, beyond the we’re bad at shrinking things thing, is that Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly want to save the original Wasp, Douglas’s wife and Lilly’s mother, portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer in what can only be described as a bittersweet performance. It’s great to see her, and so sad to see her wasted, much like Karen Allen in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. When they finally do save her- spoiler alert, please don’t see this movie- she is somehow wearing perfect eye make-up, in spite of being trapped in a hellish floating dimension with tardigrades for decades. This is a nit-pick, but the hair and make-up folks on this movie did an atrocious job. I know it’s ridiculous for a bald man like myself to comment on hair, except to say how jealous I am of those who have it- treasure your locks, people!- there is something so weird about half the hairstyles in this movie. Evangeline Lilly’s hair is less cartoonish than before, but somehow looks like a weirdly styled wig rather than the more natural (stranded?) look of Kate from LOST. Everything just feels a bit off- like whoever they hired had fifteen minutes to get these actors to set and was struggling to manage updos with a donut in their mouth. And because the movie is so boring, you sort of get lost focusing on the details that really stick out to you, because, what else is there to do?

I’ve described this movie for what feels like an eternity, and in that I’ve done the movie justice, as it also feels like an eternity. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Walton Goggins plays a ‘southern gentleman’ who is a bad guy for some reason. I think he has some piece of technology that Evangeline Lilly needs? Unclear. He keeps showing up and hassling our heroes like a Beverly Hills Cop side plot, and even when his henchmen provide the for-some-reason necessary truth serum, it’s the other villain, Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost, who benefits. Yes, the “real” villain is Ghost, who is another unrelated tangential plot line stemming from a weird relationship Michael Douglas had in the past with a scientist he fired who started doing experiments in a third world country and accidentally exploded his daughter during bring your daughter to unregulated science lab during potential explosion day. That little girl becomes Ghost, an assassin who worked for the government and then went rogue, and is slowly phasing out of existence. This is another one of those special effects that looks like it probably could have been done the same way in a made-for-tv-movie, along with the hot wheels cars and everything else that’s supposed to be cute that just comes off as tired and hollow and cheap.

There’s a good moment of performance from Hannah John-Kamen when she confronts Paul Rudd, a good hero/villain exchange. The only problem is the two characters have nothing to do with each other. Her beef is with Douglas, who is unconscious nearby. So she has this whole sexually charged little speech that brings in a weird thriller element of the movie- is this villain a toxic fan? Is this a moment of commentary? Did this movie just slow-burn being interesting? Nope, she’s just doing a good performance to make a go-nowhere exposition scene more compelling. It works, and will be great for her reel, but this scene ultimately ends in Lawrence Fishburne explaining a lot of psuedo science and our heroes and villains realizing that they really have different goals, and that they really are quite different, you and I.

This movie sucks. That’s the tl;dr. It’s only notable in that it is such a shift in quality from normal Marvel fare, which even when boring can be at least competent filmmaking or have a few good jokes or something going for them. This is just a phoned in, lifeless sequel to fill a summer slot. I’d claim this was Marvel’s Batman and Robin, but at least that movie had the excuse of camp to back up its awfulness. This is just lazy, bland filler. Hey- maybe James Gunn can come over to this franchise and turn it around! Oh wait.

Review: Shutter Island

Shh, don't tell anyone how much this movie stinks...

So that's what happened to the "Where's the Beef" Lady.

I really wanted to like this movie more than I did.  Truly.  You have a lot of great components working together- Martin Scorcese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sir Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo- but at the end of the day Shutter Island is a two-hour boat ride toward a disappointing twist that fails to justify the movie’s existence in any way.  The audience is led around confusing curves in typical b-movie fashion, where cryptic nonsense masquerades itself as clues and “intrigue” abounds, only to later undercut itself when the riddles are finally solved.  There’s some beautiful cinematography going on here, and some great casting, a particularly skilled performance by Leonardo DiCaprio- which we’ve come to expect at this point- but nothing amounts to anything, and aside from a strikingly dark final sequence, there’s absolutely nothing to write home about.  And that’s a damn shame.  There could have been something special here, but there just isn’t.

Everything about the physical landscape and geography of Shutter Island is compelling, and all the costuming and make-up crew really did their job.  The dream sequences in the movie are vaguely psychedelic and a reminder that Scorcese still has a few tricks up his sleeves in his autumn years.  The real problem is that the story is so bland and listless that it ends up undermining all the polish on the exterior.  Leo’s character wanders from situation to situation aimlessly, sharing more in common with Tim Burton’s incarnation of Wonderland’s Alice than a hard-boiled detective.  One of the major necessities in a movie with a twist is to lead the audience down a red herring path so that the twist blind-sides everybody.  There’s literally no red herring in this movie, aside from the fact that the previews suggest some supernatural element in the film’s proceedings that never comes to be.  I felt a little misled, hoping that there would be something thrilling at some point, but beyond the second-to-last-scene, a flashback sequence that further extrapolates the nature of the movie’s so-called mystery, there isn’t really anything surprising to be found.

Some of my friends have claimed that they saw the twist coming.  I, for one, did not see it coming, but still found it equally dissatisfying.  As you can probably tell, it is very difficult to discuss this movie without revealing the nature of the climactic turn in the final act, but really, if you knew the truth it would be damned hard to get you into the seats.  It’s not that the twist is ridiculous or inappropriate- it’s that it’s incredibly boring and doesn’t serve to elevate the movie in any way.  Instead you’re left with disappointment and the sense that every single character you’ve met along the way is probably somebody else, and a less interesting version of the character you thought you knew.  It’s incredibly frustrating, in the same way as reading a story where the ending is “all a dream” or a bad improv scene where someone announces at the very end that the characters have secretly been on a submarine the entire time.

There’s a beautiful subtlety in the final scene of the movie, where it seems like Leo’s character makes a serious decision toward the redemption of his soul, but I have a feeling it’ll be lost under the blaring badness of the “surprise” moment one scene earlier.  And frankly, it still feels like it’s too little-too late in a situation where subtlety and grace would have aided a much better screenplay to begin with.  Again, I really wanted to enjoy this movie, but the conclusion makes the whole thing stink worse than the rat at the end of The Departed.  (And if you loved that rat, there’s about fifty million more in this movie, Willard-style.)  Brief moments of color and flair can’t distract from the fact that the story is dull as a sack of bricks, and the good will that permeates the first act is endlessly squandered by the third.  And speaking of squandered, if you’re going to put Jackie Earle Haley in your movie, at least give him something to do.  The same goes for Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo and everybody else that this movie pointedly misuses for the sake of narrative ambiguity.  Kudos to Scorcese for barely making a watchable picture in the same washed-out color scheme as Peter Jackson’s deplorable King Kong, but at least having the decency to make his movie less than sixteen hours long.

The further I get from Shutter Island, the less inclined I am to ever visit it again.  It’s the narrative equivalent of the Sixth Sense, if the twist at the end of that movie was that Bruce Willis was secretly a fisherman the whole time.  A twist, to be sure, but honestly, what’s the point?  Once the movie blindsides you with its ham-handed moral about psychiatric care, the somniferous effects have already taken hold, and you’ll be sentenced to your own psychotropic dream sequence, complete with more interesting plot developments than anything you saw onscreen.

Grade:  C-