Ant-Man

Another Marvel Comics character comes to life in Ant-Man and has apparently birthed a new movie franchise.

Paul Rudd is a pretty boy actor from rom-coms and buddy movies—not your typical action hero. Rudd plays Scott Lang, just sprung from San Quentin where he did time for burglary.

When he can’t keep a job at Baskin-Robbins because of his felon past, his friend Luis (Michael Pena) guides him to a break-in gig. It turns out to have been a setup, arranged by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). When Pym sees that Scott is crafty enough to have busted into his safe, he drafts Scott to put the technology he developed into play and become Ant-Man.

With a press of one button he becomes ant size, with the press of another, he returns to full size. Ant-Man has a mission: to derail the work being done by Pym’s successor, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Pym developed the tech that made Ant-Man work. Now Cross is working to perfect his version of that tech to deliver a similar shrinking man he calls Yellowjacket, which he promises would allow its owner to control the world.

Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is Pym’s daughter who continues to work with Cross. As the film begins, it’s not exactly clear whose side she’s on, but it soon becomes clear that she’s daddy’s girl. Her sparring with Scott creates some low boil sexual tension.

Ant-Man takes its time getting to the real action while Scott’s family situation is examined. He’s a divorced dad who wants to see his young daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). His ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her boyfriend Jim (Bobby Cannavale) want him to stay away until he becomes solvent.

When Scott begins training as Ant-Man, the fun begins. He learns to run and leap through keyholes, timing his shrink/expand buttons to allow smooth passage. The film’s climax takes place in and around the lab that produced the technology and at the home where daughter Cassie lives.

Ant-Man is a fun film, thanks to script revisions by Adam McKay and Rudd. Ant-Man is notably lighter, less serious than your typical Marvel film. A highlight is a brief encounter with another character from the Marvel universe. Ant-Man is directed by Peyton Reed.

(FYI, Should a shot or two in Ant-Man trigger a memory of the 1989 film Honey I Shrunk The Kids, take note that Ant-Man first appeared in Marvel comic books in 1962.)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

 

Let’s get this out of the way up front. The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies is not at good as the first 2 Hobbit films. But it provides much to enjoy and, as it’s the end of the trilogy, it delivers resolution.

2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had a wonderful bit of light-hearted fun as the dwarves engaged Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to be their burglar. The mix of hilarity and peril was in perfect balance. The scene with Bilbo and Gollum (Andy Serkis) trading riddles is classic. Director Peter Jackson created a film that was beautiful to look at and set the table for further adventures.

2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ramped up the peril and introduced new characters, including the fearsome dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Legolas (Oliver Bloom) are brought aboard to provide eye candy. And the Laketown village was visually stunning.

The start of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings Smaug out of his cave to attack the Laketown village with fire and taunts. Without spoiling, I’ll just say that the dragon is decisively neutralized.

The film’s main course is battles aplenty. But there’s a problem: when all the various factions face off, you can’t always tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. It’s like in Syria, where so many factions are trying to gain traction. But, as in Syria where everybody opposes ISIS, so too in Hobbit III, everybody hates this one particular group of Orcs.

The final showdown up on the mountain involves several fierce one-on-one hand-to-hand battles. It’s classic, violent, enthralling stuff that provides the film’s real soul.

Afterward, Bilbo and Gandolph (Ian McKellan) hoof it back home where the locals are busy auctioning off Bilbo’s goods, presuming him dead. A brief coda flashes forward and provides a satisfying conclusion for the hobbit, setting him up for what’s to come in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

One could argue that lengthy battle scenes with director Jackson’s terrific effects are what the audience wants. And one could reasonably argue that it’s appropriate for the Hobbit films to get progressively darker. But I still like the first 2 better.

 

 

 

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The visual effects in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug are incredible. The movie looks great from first frame to last. But the movie lacks the perfect mix of peril and playfulness that made last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey one of my top ten movies of 2012.

The second movie of any planned trilogy has a primary function: to set up the concluding episode. TH: TDOS does that. And it entertains along the way.

The dwarves and their hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continue on their journey to reclaim their homeland, addressing dangers along the way. The Orcs pursue the dwarves on a river chase that is one of the all-time great movie chase scenes. A bit of welcome help comes from new character Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) who has excellent battle skills and looks gorgeous.

Tauriel adds tastefully sexy eye candy for the guys and offers real girl power for female fans. The appearance of Legolas (Orlando Bloom), a Lord of the Rings character, may be another ploy to make The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug more appealing to women.

Following a visit to the village of Laketown, the clever Bilbo manages to find his way into the mountain lair of Smaug. The dragon Smaug is frighteningly menacing in appearance and, importantly, in sound. (That’s Benedict Cumberbatch providing the Smaug voice.) While Bilbo deals with the dragon, the wizard Gandolf (Ian McKellan) is off on a different mysterious path, leaving the dwarves behind.

As with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, much is accomplished in this second segment, but plenty more is left unresolved. To be continued, as they say, in 2014.

I mentioned to a movie promotion person that, while I did not enjoy The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as much as last year’s Hobbit film, I can’t wait to see this new one again. Last year’s film felt somehow fresher, yet TH: TDOS has much to offer. See it and make your own comparison.