Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Movie Review: The First Purge

The First Purge *** / *****
Directed by: Gerard McMurray.
Written by: James DeMonaco.
Starring: Y'lan Noel (Dmitri), Lex Scott Davis (Nya), Joivan Wade (Isaiah), Mugga (Dolores), Patch Darragh (Arlo Sabian), Marisa Tomei (Dr. May Updale), Luna Lauren Velez (Luisa),  Kristen Solis (Selina), Rotimi Paul (Skeletor), Mo McRae (7 & 7), Jermel Howard (Lorenzo), Siya (Blaise), Christian Robinson (Capital A), Steve Harris (Freddy), Derek Basco (Taz), D.K. Bowser (Sharpie), Mitchell Edwards (Kels), Maria Rivera (Anna), Chyna Layne (Elsa), Ian Blackman (President Bracken).
There has never been anything subtle about The Purge movies – which are genre movies with a political message it doesn’t even try to disguise. The first film was basically a white panic story – where the rich white family, who has profited off of violence and fear, gradually realize that there privilege will not protect them. The films have grown increasingly blunt from there as they have expanded their point of view (the first was essentially a home invasion film – the rest have taken place throughout a city). The films know that if a premise as outlandish as The Purge was actually put in place, it would be the poor and the minorities that would most be targeted – and suffer. The rich get richer, the rest pay the price. This is the first purge movie made in the Trump era – and make no mistake, the filmmakers no it.
The movie is a prequel, flashing back to the rise of the New Founding Fathers of America, a political party that grew out of dissatisfaction with Democrats and Republicans (something that seems increasingly plausible). Their new idea – of 12 hours with no laws – will be tested this night, in Staten Island only. Anyone who stays will get $5,000 – and if they participate, they’ll get even more. This is all the brainchild of Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei) – who thinks this will be healthy. The NFFA want to use it as a way to thin the herd.
Basically the film concentrates on Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), the local drug kingpin and his ex-girlfriend Nya (Lex Scott Davis), a local activist. They both grew up in the poverty of Staten Island, but have taken increasingly divergent paths. When the night starts, all Dmitri wants to do is lock down his crew, survive the night with his money, stash and territory intact. Nya wants to help protect those staying – including her younger brother, Isaiah (Joivan Wade). Both will see their best laid plans go awry – and Dmitri will eventually rediscover his humanity – and how much he cares about this community.
Like the other three Purge movies, The First Purge is effective mostly as a blunt instrument used to beat you over the head. There is nothing subtle about the film, or its politics – it rubs your face in them pretty much from the start. The film does have a little more exposition than the other films off the top, and takes a while to really get going. There are some scares early on Purge night – mostly involving Isaiah as he wanders the streets (and a crack house) with glowing eyes. The last third is much more of an action movie than a horror movie however – and a skillfully done one for the most part.
I have to admit, I have a soft spot for this series. None of the movies have been particularly good, but they are all involving, well-made and even if they beat you over the head with their politics, at least they have them. I’m not going to say that the film have been increasingly plausible, given the rise of Donald Trump, but – no, maybe I am. I’m not suggesting that Trump will institute the Purge – but they certainly make the NFFA sound like Trump – so you can see the slippery slope there. Like the others in the series, The First Purge is a blunt instrument – but an effective one.

Movie Review: Where is Kyra?

Where Is Kyra? *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Andrew Dosunmu.
Written by: Darci Picoult and Andrew Dosunmu.
Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer (Kyra), Kiefer Sutherland (Doug), Suzanne Shepherd (Ruth), Sam Robards (Henry), Bradley W. Anderson (Owen), Celia Au (Eve), MaameYaa Boafo (Casey), Elizabeth Evans (Becky), Gabe Fazio (Mitch), Marc Menchaca (Vine), Anthony Okungbowa (Detective Brennan).
As movie stars age, they often have to find a way to evolve if they want to keep working. This is especially true of women who are often seen as past their prime by 30, and positively ancient by 40 – that’s just part of the nature of this sexist industry. Perhaps that partially explains why Michelle Pfeiffer took four years off between movies recently – not appearing in anything after 2013’s The Family  - until last year when she returned with a vengeance in films like The Wizard of Lies, playing Bernie Madoff’s wife and mother! essentially playing both the snake and Eve in the Garden of Eden (she was also in Murder on the Orient Express and Ant-Man and the Wasp – but neither quite makes use of her talent). Still one of the most stunning women at the age of 60, Pfeiffer delivers one of the best performances of her career in Where is Kyra – a film that requires Pfeiffer to disappear into her role in a way that few – if any – previous Pfeiffer films have asked of her. It’s an interesting trick that Pfeiffer is able to pull off in this movie – where she seems more anonymous than ever before.
The film takes place in Brooklyn, and finds Pfeiffer’s Kyra has newly moved there, in with her ailing mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd) to help care for her as she slowly withers away. She has been trying to find a job – even a part time one – but nothing seems to be available. Gradually we learn about her life – a recently failed marriage, a layoff, a move from Virginia, etc. She and her mother don’t have much money – but they are getting by. Once her mother dies however, it becomes a different story. With no income of her own, Kyra goes to increasingly desperate lengths to keep her head above water, a roof over her head. She is a woman without a support system – she knows no one in Brooklyn, and is cutoff from her life in Virginia. Her only friend is Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a nice man who lives in the same building, who she meets in a bar. He has had his own problems – not unlike Kyra’s – in the past, but has found a way to survive. Their relationship is quiet and rather sweet – but Kyra keeps her cards close to her chest here, as she does with everyone.
Where is Kyra is a quiet film – a very quiet one. Director Andrew Dosunmu, whose Mother of George (2013) got great reviews (somehow, I missed it) and the great cinematographer Bradford Young have crafted a dark movie – literally – painting with shadows. The shots last a long time in the movie – often just concentrating on Kyra as one disappointment after another befalls her. They often hold the shots an uncomfortably long period of time – trapping us alongside Kyra as she becomes desperate. In the most difficult scene to watch, she returns to her ex-husband – and his new, pregnant wife – asking for money she knows he doesn’t have either. The shot concentrates on Pfeiffer’s face minute after minute as she makes this uncomfortable request, and doesn’t let anyone off the hook.
The film may in fact be a little too slow for its own good – and a little to repetitious, as we have to watch Kyra in one situation after another, but many are the same. Part of this is the strategy of the movie, of course – but it’s still a little too drawn out, a little too much a parade of misery. There are few things in the movie I had trouble believing (she would need to go to a bank teller anymore to cash a cheque for example).
Yet even with that flaw, Pfeiffer is able to keep the movie interesting and engrossing throughout. She has always been a great actress – although I fear sometimes she wasn’t given credit for that because she is so stunningly beautiful. Here, doing a small indie for one of the first times in her career, she more than proves that she has a lot left to give – and can do so in a completely new gear if she wants to.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Movie Review: Skyscraper

Skyscraper ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber.
Written by: Rawson Marshall Thurber.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson (Will Sawyer), Neve Campbell (Sarah Sawyer), Pablo Schreiber (Ben), Noah Taylor (Mr. Pierce), McKenna Roberts (Georgia), Noah Cottrell (Henry), Kevin Rankin (Ray), Roland Møller (Kores Botha), Byron Mann (Inspector Wu), Hannah Quinlivan (Xia), Tzi Ma (Fire Chief Sheng), Chin Han (Zhao Ming Zhi), Adrian Holmes (Ajani Okeke), Elfina Luk (Sergeant Han).
I’m starting to think that we’re really not doing right by Dwayne Johnson. He is one of the biggest action stars in the world right now, but the vehicles he gets are very much like Skyscraper – generic and forgettable, fun while they last, and then forgotten on the drive home. Just a few months there was Rampage – which had a giant gorilla fight a giant crocodile AND a giant wolf, and we’ve already forgotten that one. We’ll forget Skyscraper even quicker. It’s not that the movies are bad – it’s just that they’re good enough – or ridiculous enough – to be truly memorable.
The story of Skyscraper involves Johnson’s Will Sawyer, a former FBI agent, missing one leg below the knee (we see how he lost the leg in the opening scene, in order to give the character a traumatic backstory, but also to provide some action before 30 minutes of exposition). Now, he runs his own private security firm, and he’s been hired to verify the security of the new tallest building in the world – The Pearl, located in Hong Kong, which as Sawyer calls it is essentially a vertical city. He needs to give his okay before the insurance policy can be finalized (pretty sure that would be taken care of before they spent years and billions of dollars building the thing, but I digress). There is a silly McGuffin of course – a tablet – that terrorists eventually steal from Sawyer that allows them to control the security system of the building – which they promptly set on fire in an effort to get something from the billionaire owner of The Pearl Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). Sawyer doesn’t much care about that – he cares that his wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell) and his twins – George (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell) are trapped inside the burning building – which he now has to get into and save the day.
The movie is basically The Towering Inferno meets Die Hard, except not quite as good as either (although mercilessly, the film is about an hour shorter than the hugely long Towering Inferno). Johnson is basically doing what he does in every film – play a normal everyman – except with hulking muscles. As always, he is charming and funny and relatable – the stuff that all great action movie heroes do, he does it just as well. The best parts of the movie are, of course, the action set pieces as Johnson has to do ridiculous things to get inside the building (climb a hundred story crane for instance) and then smash through, or dangle out of various windows. The terrorists – led by Kores Botha (Roland Moller) are merciless – never hesitating to shoot dozens of people, unless of course it’s Johnson’s family, in which case they never quite get around to it.
Skyscraper is a huge, expensive B-movie – the type of thing designed to make money, but also be rather forgettable. It’s obviously targeting the large Chinese market in addition to the American one – the Hong Kong setting, the various Chinese stars in significant roles, are the signs that the movie is about synergy and cross promotion as much as anything else. That doesn’t mean it cannot also be good – but when the film is kind of as dull as Skyscraper is – at least when not involved in the action scenes – it stands out.
I did appreciate one other thing about the film – other than Johnson, who can make this sort of thing passable entertainment – or at least watchable – and that’s that they don’t make Never Campbell’s Sarah a damsel in distress, constantly waiting for her man to save her. She doesn’t get to kick quite as much ass as Johnson does – but she holds her own, and is smart and resourceful as well. It’s a small, but noticeable thing.
Overall though Skyscraper is more forgettable than anything else. I keep thinking that Johnson will find the right project – or perhaps the right director – that will make better use of him. He needs to find the James Cameron to his Arnold Schwarzenegger – because if he doesn’t, we’ll keep getting disposable and forgettable films like this.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Movie Review: Sorry to Bother You

Sorry to Bother You **** / *****
Directed by: Boots Riley.
Written by: Boots Riley.
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield (Cassius Green), Tessa Thompson (Detroit), Jermaine Fowler (Salvador), Omari Hardwick (Mr. ____), Terry Crews (Sergio), Kate Berlant (Diana DeBauchery), Michael X. Sommers (Johnny), Danny Glover (Langston), Steven Yeun (Squeeze), Armie Hammer (Steve Lift), Robert Longstreet (Anderson), David Cross (Cassisus’ White Voice), Patton Oswalt (Mr. ____’s White Voice), Lily James (Detroit’s White British Voice), Forest Whitaker (Demarius), Rosario Dawson (Voice in Elevator).
Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother is one of the most daring and innovative films of the year – an extremely confident debut film that takes big risks, and for the most part pulls them off. It is a high concept comedy and social satire – a “message” movie wrapped in a delirious package that entertains you, makes you, but leaves you shaken and with a lot to think about. It’s an insane little film – I’m not sure it all comes together, but when it does so many things, does that even matter?
The film stars the talented Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius Green – a young man living in his uncle’s garage in Oakland, just trying to make enough money to survive. His girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson) lives with him. She’s an artist, so at least she has an outlet for creativity – Cassisus has nothing. He finally gets a new job – but it’s one of those soul crushing ones at a telemarketing firm, selling crap to poor people who don’t need it. On the advice of a senior worker, Langston (Danny Glover) – Cassius discovers the secret to selling – using his “white voice” on the phone. He rises up the ranks quickly – becoming a “Power Caller” on an upper floor. There, they don’t sell crap to poor people – but sell things you shouldn’t be selling.
Sorry to Bother You takes place in a world that is very much like ours, but not quite – perhaps it’s just a few years in the future, or in some kind of mirror universe. From the beginning, there is something not quite right about this world. For the first two thirds of the movie, a lot of this has to do with Riley’s direction – it is inventive in a way that doesn’t let a small budget get in the way of complicated shots and sequences. There is an delightful animated sequence (about not so delightful things) – commercials for the new company “Worry Free” essentially marketing themselves to people to turn themselves into slaves – but doing so with a smile. The office in which Cassisus makes those calls looks like a drab, corporate hellhole – but at times, it’s more of a surrealistic nightmare. In nearly every scene, Riley is doing something innovative and inventive visually in his film – pulling from many different influences, but making them all his own.
A lot rides on the performances in the film – and Riley has cast well. Stanfield gives the film’s most complex performance – one that simultaneously grounds in the film in some kind of recognizable reality – but also takes it to extremes. In some ways, Cassius is a victim – but he’s a willing victim for much of it – a man who makes a kind of Faustian deal for success – one that costs him everything. Thompson’s performance helps a great deal as well – turning the typical supportive girlfriend role into something a little deeper. The entire supporting cast is great as well – a highlight is probably Armie Hammer, going full rich guy asshole (a mode I like him in). The film’s most obvious, innovative choice is one that pays off brilliantly – instead of getting Stanfield to do a Dave Chappelle like “white voice” he actually dubs in another actor (David Cross) doing the white guy voice when Stanfield is doing it – something he repeats with another character (using Patton Oswalt) and even Detroit (using Lily James, an British White voice to up the ante even more). Everyone is doing such great work, that you ride along with the film even as it gets weirder and weirder as it goes.
The last act of Sorry to Bother You is undeniably the weirdest – and it’s weird in a way I don’t know if it entirely works. I don’t doubt that when the twist comes, some audiences will immediately kind of rebel or shut down to the movie – and I didn’t have that experience. I admire Riley to take his film to the extreme – to examine just how far things can be pushed, and all of us just willing go along with it (or as they say in the movie, if you present people with a problem they cannot solve, they find a way to live with the problem). In order to get there, Riley needs to push things to the extreme – which he does well. Yet, the last act is still the weakest – perhaps because it gets so weird in some ways, Riley pulls back in others. I definitely want to see the film again – knowing the twist that is coming, to see if it works better without the shock value to it.
No matter what, Sorry to Bother You is still one of the best, most inventive films I have seen this year – and one of the most exciting debut films to come out in years. It announces a major new talent to the film world. I cannot wait to see what he does next.

Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation ** / *****
Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky.
Written by: Michael McCullers & Genndy Tartakovsky based on character created by Todd Durham.
Starring: Adam Sandler (Dracula), Andy Samberg (Johnny), David Spade (Griffin), Selena Gomez (Mavis), Kathryn Hahn (Ericka Van Helsing), Steve Buscemi (Wayne), Mel Brooks (Vlad), Fran Drescher (Eunice), Keegan-Michael Key (Murray), Kevin James (Frank), Molly Shannon (Wanda), Chris Parnell (Stan the Fishman), Chrissy Teigen (Crystal), Joe Jonas (The Kraken), Genndy Tartakovsky (Blobby / Baby Blobby), Joe Whyte (Puppy), Aaron LaPlante (Captain Gremlin / Gremlin Stewardess).
It’s hard to hate the Hotel Transylvania movies – they are kind of dull, but innocuous with enough in them to keep them from being painful to sit through, but not really enough to keep you fully engaged. They are designed for kids to enjoy – and for there to be just enough in them for their parents that the sit is not painful to endure. The third film in this franchise is now out, and it kind of feels like the filmmakers didn’t really have a plot for this one, so they kind of threw one together on the fly. The background detail and character design is the best thing about this movie – it’s true of the other movies in the series as well – but this time out it was only the throwaway details that really worked for me at all.
The third film in the franchise finds Dracula (Adam Sandler) lonely and overworked running his hotel for monsters. His daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez) decides that what her dad needs is a vacation – so she books him, and all the other popular characters in the series, on a monster cruise. After the best extended sequence in the movie (by a long shot) – a flight on “Gremlins Airways” – where the entire crew is made up of those little guys from the classic Twilight Zone episode – everyone arrives on the cruise ship – not know the whole thing is an elaborate trap set by Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) and his great granddaughter, Erica (Kathryn Hahn). Complicating things is that Dracula “zings” on Erica – meaning he falls in love with her at first sight.
The biggest problem with Hotel Transylvania 3 is that this has always been a series that is better around the edges than it is at its main plot – and this time, the main plot pretty much takes up the entire narrative. There really is no reason for any of the characters who aren’t Dracula to be on the cruise – other than they are popular, and it is a cruise ship so they need a lot of monsters around – but we really go through long stretches where we don’t see the other characters (two of them literally get locked in a closet for almost the entire film). The film is still at its best around the edges – other than the Gremlins flying the plane, my favorite moment was a complete throwaway involving the Chupacabra that is over in about five seconds.
It is clear that the filmmakers – including director Genndy Tartakovsky – have a genuine love for the old monster movies, and enjoy bringing them to animated life. The characters look great here – as they always have. What’s lacking is really any reason to care about what’s happening in the film. It’s such a dull story that the film doesn’t even provide much in the way of set pieces to add some visual excitement – something beyond the design of the characters and the backdrop to be interesting.
The film will likely remain popular with its demographic – my 6 and 4 year olds had a fine time at the movie. And, like the previous installments, the time passes pleasantly enough as you watch. There’s just not as much here as there was in the previous two films – and even those felt flimsy.

Movie Review: Beirut

Beirut *** / *****
Directed by: Brad Anderson.
Written by: Tony Gilroy.
Starring: Jon Hamm (Mason Skiles), Rosamund Pike (Sandy Crowder), Dean Norris (Donald Gaines), Shea Whigham (Gary Ruzak), Larry Pine (Frank Shalen), Mark Pellegrino (Cal Riley), Idir Chender (Karim Abu Rajal), Ben Affan (Jassim/Rami), Leïla Bekhti (Nadia), Alon Abutbul (Roni Niv), Kate Fleetwood (Alice), Douglas Hodge (Sully), Jonny Coyne (Bernard), Mohamed Zouaoui (Fahmi), Mohamed Attougui (Raffik).
It really wasn’t that long ago when a director like Brad Anderson could have carved out a nice little career for himself. He has never been an auteur, but he has skill behind the camera in films like Session 9 and The Machinist. He knows how to craft a film, to slowly build suspense, and get fine performances out of his cast. 30 years ago, he likely would have had a string of mid-budget movies on his resume – and been seen as a solid craftsman. But those mid-budget movies have mostly vanished, and with it, the kind of steady work someone like Anderson could count on. He still makes films – but now there is years and many TV directing assignments in between them. His latest film, Beirut, is the type of film that they don’t make all that much anymore. It’s got movie stars and a budget – not a huge one, but more than most indies, but it isn’t trying to be a blockbuster either – it just wants to be a solid, smart, exciting thriller for adults – and by that measure, it mainly succeeds.
The film opens in 1972 in the title city, with Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) a young, hotshot diplomat with a beautiful wife living the high life. One night, everything goes horribly wrong – all because of the brother of the local boy he and his wife are sponsoring – Karim. A decade later, Mason is back in the States, a functioning alcoholic who has given up his fancy diplomat career to resolve local labor disputes. He is miserable, and doesn’t seem to want to get any better. That’s when he gets an odd request – something he knows has come from the CIA. They want him to return to Beirut – but won’t tell him why. When he gets there, he finds out it’s because an old friend of his – Cal (Mark Pellegrino) has been kidnapped – and the terrorists have specifically requested Mason. What follows is a fairly standard thriller, in which Mason has to figure out who he can trust, and who he can’t, and do what it takes to get his friend back.
Hamm really is quite good in the role of Mason. Those brief opening scenes sees him in full movie star mode – relaxed, charming, confident – but he’s better later on, slouched over in a dirty suit, practically sweating alcohol, but still exudes that smart cool he does better than anyone. He anchors the movie with his performance – he’s pretty much the center of every scene – and it’s the type of performance I expected to see more from him after Mad Men, but he hasn’t quite gotten. The supporting cast is all fine – but you kind of wish that when you have the likes of Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Shea Whigham, Larry Pine and Mark Pellegrino that they would give at least one of them something more interesting to do than they do here. Pike is particular is mainly wasted here as Mason’s babysitter – until the final act when she finally gets to step up.
The screenplay is by Tony Gilroy – and while it doesn’t rival his work with Michael Clayton or one of the Bourne movies, it still moves with ruthless efficiency. It assumes the viewer has some working knowledge of Beirut at that time- the looming war with Israel wanting to invade, the PLO and other Muslim factions at odds with them, and each other, and just keeps plowing through the story. Because the movie wasn’t actually shot in Beirut – it was done in Morocco – the city never really becomes much more than rumble and sand and dimly lit rooms in the background.
The whole thing moves along at a quick pace, and has several plot twists and turns – most of which, in all honesty, you will see coming before they get there. But the film is mostly smart, mostly engaging, mostly well made – and has a great central performance from Hamm. It’s the type of film we used to get dozens of a year, and now sadly we get very few. This is an unambitious programmer for adults – and we could use more of them.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Peyton Reed.
Written by: Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari and Paul Rudd based on the Marvel comics by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby.
Starring: Paul Rudd (Scott Lang / Ant-Man), Evangeline Lilly (Hope van Dyne / The Wasp), Hannah John-Kamen (Ghost), Michael Douglas (Dr. Hank Pym), Michelle Pfeiffer (Janet van Dyne), Judy Greer (Maggie Lang), Walton Goggins (Sonny Burch), Michael Peña (Luis), Laurence Fishburne (Dr. Bill Foster), Abby Ryder Fortson (Cassie Lang), David Dastmalchian (Kurt), Randall Park (Jimmy Woo), Joshua Mike (Derek), T.I. (Dave).
It was probably smart of Marvel to follow-up Avengers: Infinity War with Ant-Man and the Wasp just a few month later – before taking a long (for them anyway) nine month break before Captain Marvel next March. Avengers Infinity was a big, dark movie that ended in tragedy – even if no one is really buying that the tragedy will be permanent and irreversible. Still, it was dark and it was heavy – which are two things Ant-Man is not. Like the original Ant-Man, the sequel is mainly fun and lightweight entertainment – a heist film of a sorts, but really almost more like a game of hot potato as the various characters spend a lot of time in the film toss a lab back and forth between them (if that doesn’t make sense, well, see the movie – it will). The stakes in the Ant-Man films are always smaller than in the other Marvel films – more personal, less world altering. And that allows them to be a little bit more laid back and fun.
As Ant-Man and the Wasp opens, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) only has a few days left of his house arrest before his sentence for violating the law by going to Germany and fighting alongside Captain America in Civil War comes to an end. He has tried to do right under his two years of house arrest – he has opened a business with his partners Luis, Kurt and Dave (Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian and T.I.) and made a loving second home for his beloved 10-year-daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). His relationship with his ex-wife and her new husband (Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale) has even massively improved (they are prone to group hugs). He has destroyed his relationship with Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and her father Hank (Michael Douglas) though –taking their suit to Germany, even without their permission, has made them fugitives from the FBI. They’ve spent the past two years in hiding – working on a super-secret project to try and retrieve Hank’s wife – Hope’s mother – Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Zone (trust me, when this film hits Netflix, college kids are going to give themselves alcohol poisoning by playing a drinking game where they drink every time the word quantum is said in the film). Of course, they’ll need Scot’s help eventually. And of course, there is not just one, but two villains who also want to get their hands on their technology – the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who can disappear and reappear, phasing through solid objects, and black market dealer Sony Burch (Walton Goggins, doing a Southern accent, probably to keep himself entertained while playing a role so far below his actual talent).
The movie moves quickly from one inventive and fun action sequence to the next. Peyton Reed, who also helmed the first film, has great fun making things that should be small big, and things that should be big small. He also has a lot of fun with a recurring joke about Ant-Man’s malfunctioning suit that sometimes traps him the size of a small child.
Paul Rudd’s Lang is probably the most human and relatable of the heroes in the Avengers movies. In some ways, he is essentially a well-meaning man child – someone whose heart is always in the right place, and who tries his very best, but finds one way after another of messing up – which always results in those he loves getting hurt. The film gives Rudd plenty of chances to do what Paul Rudd does best – be funny and sweet and charming in ways you cannot help but like, even if you know you probably shouldn’t. I think Evangeline Lilly is given more to do this time than last time – when we severe bob cut told you that you were supposed to read her as humorless (they even make a joke about that in this film, courtesy of one of Luis’ great run-on stories). She’s Scott’s equal this time, and gets to be less of a nag than last time out. She could carry her own film, should Marvel decide they want that.
The actual story of Ant-Man and the Wasp is kind of secondary – it functions as a way to get the characters together, and string together action sequences, without ever really feeling urgent – which is odd since everyone always seems to need to do something right now, or be screwed forever. It’s effective, but my guess is I’ll forget most of the plot points in a week or two. But the film doesn’t really need them. These movies are about fun than anything – an excuse to hang out with characters you like doing fun things. While it’s hardly groundbreaking stuff here – and it lacks the ambition of something Black Panther or even Thor: Ragnarok – it delivers what you would want from a sequel to Ant-Man.