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: Wall Street – Money Never Sleeps

(Note to filmmakers: If your movie is boring as shit, please for the love of god don't put the word "sleep" in the title. The last thing the audience needs is another reminder.)The original Wall Street is a wonderful time capsule of both the eighties’ yuppie mentality and the brief but memorable time when Oliver Stone was a competent filmmaker. Wall Street provided the viewer with three actors at the top of their game, delivering emotionally evocative and compelling performances within a framework of politically and monetarily charged perspectives. The movie works as both a satire of the times and a cautionary tale for the greedy young investor. Looking back on it now, the film feels as relevant as ever, in spite of its obsession with now-dated 80s fashions and the hilariously inappropriate inclusion of a “futuristic” robot waiter. In the same way, Wall Street 2 (yes kids, it’s a sequel) is a microcosmic love letter to the nineties and 2000s, metaphorically representing two decades of wasteful spending by providing its audience with another pointlessly indulgent double-dip franchise.

If the first Wall Street can be best described as a battle for Bud Fox’s (Charlie Sheen’s) soul, this meandering and belated follow-up can be described as a battle between the filmmaker and the audience’s good will. Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is already considered to be one of the greatest film villains of all time, so why does Oliver Stone insist on tarnishing his memory? Not only is this incarnation of Gekko half-assed and watered-down due to Douglas’ age and Stone’s inability to achieve the modest heights of his own archaic writing style, Gekko’s role in the film demands that the audience forget the previous movie in order to buy into the fact that Gekko is a changed man. It’s the equivalent of George Lucas making a new Star Wars where Emperor Palpatine applies for a job at a Day Care Center. “Surely, the kindly new caretaker with the sunken eyes and the weathered face will never turn against the children!” Not to spoil the ending, but this movie is a piece of shit.

Whereas the original movie was based on the concept that Bud was slowly devolving into a villain by following Gekko’s seemingly compelling advice, there is absolutely nothing at stake in Money Never Sleeps, thanks to its lackluster new characters being somehow less interesting than its broken but taped-together old ones. I know some of you vagina-havers out there consider this Shia LaBeowulf character to be quite the “hunka-dunk” (your words, not mine) but can you honestly give me an example of a movie where he isn’t just furrowing his brow with petulant indignation while shouting dialog at the other actors? I know he’s tiny like a stick insect in person, but his dumbass bully persona is as grating as any conversation with a too-tuff moron suffering from Short Man’s Complex. There’s a female lead this in this movie too, but she’s similar to Glenn Beck in that her evil grows each time you say her name, so I’ll just call her Voldemort from now on to save time.

The basic plot of the movie is this: Shia LaBeowulf and Lord Voldemort are hanging out at a lesbian bar and decide to get married. Gordon Gekko is released from federal prison but sentenced to the much worse punishment of existing in this movie. LaBeowulf is excited because Gekko is Voldemort’s dad (no surprises there) but Voldemort hates Gekko because she blames him for her brother’s suicide. LaBeowulf spots an opportunity for destroying his fiance’s life by exploiting her “formerly” evil father for personal gain. Meanwhile Frank Langella snaps out of senility for a brief enough moment to realize that he’s been cast in a sequel to Wall Street and not the original, forcing him to commit suicide by leaping in front of a train and making everybody late for work like a real asshole. LaBeowulf looked up to Langella like a non-molester uncle and decides to team up with Gordon Gekko to fight the evil train commissioner by riding his motorcycle against oncoming trains. (Okay, that part doesn’t happen, but the movie would be way better if it did.)

Instead LaBeowulf continues to ruin his fiance’s life by making Gekko a part of it, trading visits with his fiance for hot stock tips. There’s a bunch of way too on-the-nose commentary about the current financial crisis and the dot-com bubble that plays like a staged reading of a C-Span transcript, which makes up a majority of the film’s seven hour runtime. Josh Brolin arrives to remind us that between this and Jonah Hex he’s been having a real shit factory of a year. Brolin tries acting for a bit, then goes apeshit and leaves. There’s a crazy old man who makes birdcalls (this part I’m not making up) and he is apparently the world’s smartest investor, even though he never does anything to progress the plot or affect a character in any way. LaBeowulf takes some bad advice from Gekko and surprise, surprise (puppy surprise!) Gekko turns out to be not so nice, even though he like, totally said he was before. Um, dick.

Voldemort gets pregnant with LaBeowulf’s demon seed and LaBeowulf tries to use fetuses to leverage a business deal with a newly European Gekko. Gekko is unimpressed by fetuses and says no dice, running off with LeBeowulf and Voldemort’s money. But after staring at a fetus for six hours, Gekko realizes the true meaning of fetuses and returns to help the rest of the cast rip off the ending of As Good As It Gets for no reason.

I can’t begin to explain how meaningless and drama-free this film is. It’s worse than the first draft of your friend’s play from high school. There are no stakes and all the scenes contain expository dialog that hinges on the assumption that you like the characters enough to forgive the fact that nothing’s happening. It’s a goddamn shame considering that the only people surprised by Gekko’s evilness are the stupid fucks who walked into this tripe without seeing the original. And if they didn’t see the original, why the hell should they care about these characters at all? If the first movie were the main course of an expensive dinner at a five star restaurant, this second movie would be the after-dinner rape.

The single total effect of this movie is “nothing,” and I think that’s what Oliver Stone was gunning for. He was hoping that the basic facets of his universe were so fascinating that his listless and awful storytelling could be white-washed with a few crappy new Gekko quips and a couple special effects borrowed from a ninth grade chemistry video. The movie is so badly written and poorly conceived that Stone has to cut away from his new Gekko monologues with lazy montage fade-outs, as if we won’t notice that the major points of Gekko’s economic arguments are missing. Could it be that Gekko’s lost the pulse of Wall Street while he was in prison, or that maybe the crystal meth that Stone uses for inspiration lead him so far off the deep-end he forgot that satire is supposed to be poignant not redundant?

A breathtaking cure for insomnia, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a great example of why filmmakers revisit their former ideas (hint: first word of the subtitle) and also why they never, ever should. Sequels are supposed to be derivative, but not confusing to the point of retardation. The ending is so cheesy and forced that I expected the characters to shrug and smile before moronically intoning, “Here we go again!” By the time Bud Fox shows up for his obligatory cameo, you’ll realize there’s nothing this movie can do to save itself. Sans the heart provided by Martin Sheen in the first film, this flick is mired in vapid soulless characters with unclear motivations. Money never sleeps, but I did.