This Is a Movie Review: ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ Keeps It Cool for the Summer

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CREDIT: Disney/Marvel Films

This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2018.

Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Abby Ryder Fortson, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Hannah John-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Michelle Pfeiffer, Randall Park

Director: Peyton Reed

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Large-Scale and Small-Scale Action Movie Destruction

Release Date: July 6, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp has left me feeling a lot more peaceful than other recent Marvel movies. I would it put about on the same quality level as Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok, but those blockbusters left me with nagging bits of emptiness, whereas Paul Rudd and company just give off good vibes. That is partly a function of my own expectations, but it is also a matter of how this franchise and its sub-franchises are promoted. The excursions to Wakanda and the garbage planet promised that they would be unprecedented game-changers. Whether or not they lived up to that hype, it is hard to match the buoyancy of their ad campaigns, and it takes effort for audiences to avoid every commercial. But with the original Ant-Man and now with The Wasp, you can just come in, be chill, and not have to worry about it being the best movie ever.

Director Peyton Reed and his team of five credited screenwriters (including Rudd) maintain those good vibes by allowing for some conflict, but avoiding true evil, and establishing that those who are at odds are ultimately really on the same team as each other. The main story thrust is the recovery of Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the “Quantum Realm,” a subatomic space where the normal laws of space and time do not apply. Her husband Hank (Michael Douglas) and daughter Janet, aka the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), have the science skills to track her down, but they need the help of Ant-Man Scott Lang, as his previous venture into and escape from the Quantum Realm has allowed Janet to establish him as a point of contact. Standing in their way is a black market dealer (Walton Goggins), who sniffs out a big potential profit, but he does not have the killer instinct to tear them down. More serious are those who represent the skeletons in Hank’s closet, but their threat is neutralized by the ultimate realization that they can solve each other’s problems together.

A-M and the W has genuine, successful humor to match its laid-back style. The comedy in Marvel movies often has the cadence of a joke without actually being funny, but here there is a cast that is trained to find the laughter. Rudd obviously has more of a comedy background than any other Marvel headliner. Michael Peña delivers another round of his motor-mouthed, very detail-oriented storytelling. And the most delightful subplot features Fresh Off the Boat‘s Randall Park as a fastidious FBI agent hounding Scott while he remains under house arrest. If their jobs did not require them to be enemies, they would be friends for the ages.

It is certainly odd that Ant-Man and the Wasp arrives in the apocalyptic wake of Infinity War, but die-hard MCU fans will be happy to discover that the connective tissue is clear and satisfying. And those who are tired of every superhero movie being about the end of the world will be happy that that connectivity does not get in the way of everyone just having a good time.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is Recommended If You Like: The Marvel Cinematic Universe but with lower stakes

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Quantum Realms

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Unlocked’ is Only for the Least Discerning Action Buffs

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in August 2017.

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Toni Collette, John Malkovich, Michael Douglas, Orlando Bloom

Director: Michael Apted

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rating: R for Bloody Double Crosses

Release Date: September 1, 2017 (Limited and On-Demand)

Unlocked is just like any other global criss-crossing spy intrigue action thrillers that the likes of Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme knocked out in their sleep in their heydays and probably still are cranking out (oh, the mysterious wonders of the home entertainment market). But instead of a hyper-masculine slab of meat singlehandedly saving the world from terrorism, this time it’s a tiny Swedish woman. So… progress?

While it is heartening to see a woman act competently in a traditionally male domain without anyone questioning her credentials, it is not as if Unlocked is otherwise compelling enough for those involved to be especially proud of. As cinema’s original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace is right in her comfort zone, so she does manage to acquit herself admirably. But this is cookie-cutter spycraft, with every beat of flashbacks to haywire past missions and predictable double crosses crossed off in the most vanilla manner.

Rapace is supported by a cast of co-stars that are incongruously big and classy. Not one, not two, but THREE Oscar-nominated actors pop up in pivotal roles. Toni Collette, John Malkovich, and Michael Douglas manage to maintain their dignity, but the movie gives them few opportunities to be interesting. Even the director is a fairly notable name. Michael Apted (perhaps best known for the Up documentary series) has action experience in his filmography, including 1999’s The World is Not Enough, but none of the style inherent to the Bond series appears to have rubbed off on him.

In Unlocked’s final act, it manages to stick in some thematic muscle that it probably meant to explore all along. It turns out that the terrorist plot at the center of it all may be the doing of government machinations. There is potential fuel here to fan the flames of 9/11 truther-style conspiracy theorists. But Unlocked lacks the conviction to be either legitimately controversial or hysterically entertaining.

Unlocked is Recommended If You Like: Steven Seagal/Jean-Claude Van Damme/Chuck Norris completism, but with a distaff twist

Grade: 1 out of 5 Global Viruses