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Ant-Man – Review

26 Jul

Every years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe just keeps getting bigger and bigger, which I guess meant that the next hero had to be the smallest one of them all. Before watching this movie, I really had no prior experience with the characters of Hank Pym, Scott Lang, or Ant-Man. Just a few minor detail and notes were all I had to go on, so I didn’t really know what to expect, and I was actually a little bit nervous about the whole thing. Luckily, Ant-Man is a welcome addition into the MCU, and aside from a few minor complaints, this is one of the most fun films of the franchise that dons the same kind of feel that Guardians of the Galaxy did.

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After being released from prison, professional thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is working hard to find a job in order to pay child support for his daughter so that he can finally spend time with her again. He is finally backed into a corner and decides to take a job given to him by his friend Luis (Michael Peña), which involves breaking into a house to rob a mysterious vault. Turns out that this job was actually set up by former S.H.I.E.L.D agent and scientist Hank Pym (Micahel Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). They explain to Scott that they need him to don a special suit and become Ant-Man in order to break into Pym’s old research facilities and steal a prototype for a Yellowjacket suit that will be used by the villainous Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) to wage world wars. Of course, it’s never as easy as it seems with job culminating in a fight to the death between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket.

Just a few months ago I was writing my review for Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is probably the most epic film in this franchise thus far. So, we’re going from that to Ant-Man, which is (no pun intended) a lot smaller. Luckily, the creative talent behind this movie was more than capable for making up for all that. This is a Marvel movie the likes I’ve never seen before. It’s a lot more than just a good guy against a bad guy. In fact, I would argue that that isn’t even the main focus of the movie. The main focus is actually the planning and execution of the heist to secure the Yellowjacket suit. The bottom line is that this is a heist movie starring a superhero. How cool is that?

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Like with Guardians of the Galaxy and both of The Avengers movies, the writing in Ant-Man is really sharp and quick. I credit a lot of this to the original screenwriter and director Edgar Wright, but I can’t discount the rewrites done by Adam McKay and Paul Rudd. All of these guys have shown their talent for both comedy and drama, and all of that comes together in a nice clean package here. This film is both funny and often dramatic, but never overwhelming in either of these departments. There’s a healthy balance between the two ends of the spectrum, and between those two ends is a lot of really great and inventive action. The character of Ant-Man may seem a little silly, but seeing him in action, wether he’s riding on ants or shrinking down to utilize his super strength, is just a joy to behold.

I just want to take a moment to address some of the not so great parts of this movie, because unfortunately there are some. For example, Darren Cross isn’t exactly a great villain. They just sort of explain that his brain has been poisoned by the formula that can make the suits shrink, but they don’t actually dive into that and examine him as a character. All you need to know is he’s bad and Scott Lang is good. That’s kind of disappointing. Also, there gets to be a point in the movie where things just start to happen so the story can keep progressing. I get that that may have been done to make sure the movie didn’t get overly long, but it also just felt kinda weak at the same time. These are, thankfully, pretty minor complaints overall.

So in a world where superhero movies have flooded theaters all over the world, I’m happy to say that Ant-Man is a more than welcome addition. It’s filled with humor, action, nice drama, and all of the references you would come to expect watching a movie that’s part of the MCU. Not only is it a great stand alone film, it also makes me really excited about what’s to come. Don’t miss out on this one.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Review

30 Dec

Last year, I was thrilled beyond belief to return to Middle Earth in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Upon leaving the theater, I was pleased with the film, but was kind of disappointed with some of the pacing issues. It felt way too long and dragged in too many scenes. The Desolation of Smaug, however, is a huge improvement over its predecessor and is packed to the brim with excitement, action, adventure, and a dragon that will go down as one of the best villains in the history of cinema.

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Picking up directly after the events of An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Thorin (Richard Armitage), and the brave band of dwarves are being chased by a group of orcs led by Azog (Manu Bennett). Sensing a dark trouble, Gandalf separates from the group and moves to investigate Dol Guldor which may house the evil spirit of the Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch). Meanwhile, the dwarves encounter the Elves of Mirkwood, two of them being Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), both of whom begin hunting the orcs who are hunting the dwarves. Finally reaching the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo and the dwarves meet Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch again!) the dragon who has been sleeping on an immense pile of gold for many years, and the fight is on to kill Smaug and win back the kingdom of Erebor.

So much happens in this movie, it’s almost ridiculous. This film is dense with characters, action set pieces, battle sequences, villains, returning characters, references to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, etc., etc. This makes for a lot of awesome moments in The Desolation of Smaug, but it also is the cause of a run time that made me fidget a lot more than it should. I remember when I saw Return of the King when it first came out. I was still in grade school when I saw it, which is hard enough to believe, but I also never got fidgety. That’s because that movie, for as long as it was, was covering the content of an entire book. The Desolation of Smaug is covering about five chapters. I never read Tolkien’s book, but I know that a lot was added in, and despite all of the awesome adventure, there are a lot of really boring scenes that didn’t need to exist, thereby trimming the movie down a great deal.

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And that is where the problems with The Desolation of Smaug end. The rest is an outstanding adventure through Middle Earth that Peter Jackson has brought to life in such vivid detail. Jackson and his entire team have brought a fantasy world to life in a way that no one has ever done before. Mirkwood Forest, Erebor, and Lake-Town all have very distinct personalities and are a marvel to look at with so much happening on screen at one time. Even the all of the Middle Earth creatures look fantastic. The CGI created orcs, wargs, and, of course, Smaug look better than ever. Still though, Smaug steals the show in this department as well. He is huge and moves like you would expect a psychotic dragon to. Cumberbatch studied the movements of different kinds of lizards in order to perform the motion capture as well as he can.

As if just being in Middle Earth again wasn’t enough, seeing Bilbo and the rest of them all again feels like a great, big reunion. We’ve come to care about these characters, especially the ones that we already know from the Lord of the Rings. Jackson couldn’t have found a better young Bilbo Baggins than Martin Freeman, but I think I said that in my review for An Unexpected Journey. Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage play their roles great as always, and I was surprised with how much I enjoyed Lee Pace’s performance, even though he wasn’t in the movie all that much. My two favorite characters, however, were Smaug (obviously) and Legolas! Orlando Bloom is back again and even though he’s pretty shoehorned into the movie, he provided some of the coolest parts of the movie that made the whole auditorium give “oohs” and “ahs” of appreciation.

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I feel like The Hobbit movies are never going to live up to the excellence of the Lord of the Rings, but The Desolation of Smaug sure has come close. I stick by my opinion that these films might have worked better if there were only two of them. The fact that this is meant to be a trilogy based off of a book that really isn’t all that long makes for some really bad pacing problems that hurt this movie in ways that I wish didn’t. Still, despite some fidgeting, The Desolation of Smaug is a major improvement over An Unexpected Journey, complete with an ending that robbed me of any breath and makes me demand a quick 2014 so I can return to the theater once again for the final installment of this trilogy.