Size Does(n’t) Matter

I had my doubts about Ant-Man. At first I was excited about it, since it was going to be directed by Edgar Wright, one of my directorial heroes who made the epic trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End.

Then Wright dropped out of the project due to “creative differences” or whatever, and was replaced by a director I’ve never heard of, and my enthusiasm dimmed. Still, I figured I’d see the movie anyway, though more out of curiosity than anything else.

What a surprise to discover that Ant-Man is quite a fun movie. It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but it’s a good dose of summer fun that I ended up enjoying quite a bit more than I had anticipated.

ant-man psotre

The main character of the film is Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd, an ex-con recruited by Dr. Hank Pym to wear a suit that makes you really small in order to…hang on, let’s back up a bit.

Dr. Hank Pym is played in the film by Michael Douglas, and he’s an important character in Marvel lore (I think he was one of the founding members of the Avengers in the comics) making his big-screen debut.

Pym is a brilliant scientist who has invented a suit that allows its wearer to shrink to the size of, you guessed it, an ant. Turns out this has more practical applications than you might think, as it increases the user’s strength by a large amount (there’s some explanation for this that currently escapes me, but I remember thinking that it kind of made sense, you know, under the circumstances) and being really small makes it quite a bit easier to sneak around in sensitive areas unseen.

Pym has also invented a device that’s a sort of earpiece that allows its user to control ants, which again comes in handy more often than you might think.

man of ants

Pym chose Lang to wear the suit for a couple of reasons. First, Lang is a skilled cat burglar whose skills will come in handy for the job Pym has in mind for him, and second, Lang is motivated not by personal greed but by the need to help provide for his daughter Cassie, who idolizes him.

Pym wants Lang to break into the headquarters of one Darren Cross, Pym’s former protégé, who has invented his own version of Pym’s superpowered shrinking suit (although his version has more laser guns and looks meaner), which he calls the Yellowjacket, and intends to sell it to the highest bidder.

jacket of yellow

The meat of the film is structured like a heist movie, sort of like Ocean’s Eleven with superpowers. You know: the plan, the setup, the crew, the practice, the execution, the escape. This is all executed pretty well, and is quite a bit of fun to watch.

One of the film’s greatest strengths is that its makers were clearly aware of how inherently ludicrous its premise is, and must have had a lot of fun coming up with inventive sight gags. It really is completely unlike any other Marvel movie.

ant of mans

It’s not a movie about saving the world, and that’s kind of refreshing. I mean, it kind of is, since Pym doesn’t want his former protégé to sell his weaponized shrinking suit to bad guys, but its story is more contained than the somewhat bloated narrative of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The movie does tie in to the larger Marvel universe (there are brief appearances by Peggy Carter and Howard Stark at the beginning of the movie, as well as references to S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers – there’s even a cameo by an Avenger, although I won’t spoil which one), but is still easy to follow on its own.

It’s also quite funny, although it does seem like it’s trying a bit too hard to be funny at times. There are almost too many jokes actually, sometimes I wanted it to lay off the jokes a bit. None of the jokes are in bad taste or anything (this is still a mostly family-friendly film) but sometimes I wanted it to lay off the jokes a little.

Still, the action scenes are fun. The special effects look a bit computery at times, but oh well. There’s pretty much no way this film could have been made without CGI, so I can forgive the slightly cheesy special effects.

i love retro movie protres

I did enjoy the film’s climactic battle. Hero and villain battle on top of a speeding train, and use their super-strength to fling train cars at each other as the massive machine lumbers along the tracks. The twist is (slight spoiler alert) that all of this takes place in a little girl’s bedroom, and the train is Thomas the Tank Engine. So as hero and villain are engaged in an epic battle, to the outside world, Thomas the Tank Engine is just going around and around his little track. It’s hilarious and kind of adorable, and is nothing you would find in any other movie. It’s hard to be original these days, but Ant-Man’s ridiculous premise lends itself to originality very well.

The film’s acting is also solid. Paul Rudd is an actor known mainly for comedies, and he demonstrates great comedic timing and is very likable. Michael Douglas is, well, Michael Douglas. To be honest, I’ve never been a huge Michael Douglas fan, but he’s well-suited to this kind of role (rich, grumpy, eccentric, brilliant inventor/businessman).

The love interest is Pym’s daughter Hope, played by the lovely Evangeline Lilly, who recently played the badass elf warrior Tauriel in the second and third Hobbit films. Hope has some pretty severe daddy issues, and unfortunately falls victim to the movie-cliché of calling her father by his first name, which is something that always annoys me. But I still liked Hope despite some of the clichés in the writing of her character and Lilly and Rudd have some enjoyable back-and-forth banter.

her hair is severely styled

Even though the movie wasn’t directed by my hero Edgar Wright, the film’s replacement director, Peyton Reed, still did a good job with the outlandish material. There are several sequences that seemed like something Wright could have directed, which made me happy. Wright still has a screenwriting credit and an executive producer credit on the movie, so his contributions to the project are still there.

Overall, Ant-Man is a lot of fun. There are some clichés, but there’s also quite a bit of originality, although the villain didn’t get much personality, which is too bad. Overall, I think I liked it more than Age of Ultron, which is shocking to me. It’s less busy than the bloated Avengers sequel, and is actually quite refreshing. So go see it, you might just be surprised. And this probably goes without saying, but make sure you stay ALL THE WAY through the end credits. Trust me, it’s important.

Original-Opening-For-Ant-Man

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Come With Me If You Want to Not Die

It’s complicated.

It’s really, really complicated.

It seems like every movie involving time travel has at least one instance where one of the characters says something along the lines of, “holy crap this time travel stuff sure is complicated, huh?”

Perhaps Jeff Daniels’ character in Rian Johnson’s twisty time travel thriller Looper sums it up best when he says, “this time travel crap, just fries your brain like an egg.”

It’s best if you don’t think about it too much, if you want to avoid said brain-frying.

Such is the case with Terminator Genisys, the fifth film in the venerable Terminator franchise, and the first to star Arnold Schwarzenegger since 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. The fourth film, Terminator Salvation, released in 2009, had a CGI-assisted Arnold cameo, but that doesn’t really count.

terminator-genisys-poster

The new film takes a similar approach to last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which similarly used time travel to undo the events of a couple of widely-disliked sequels.

Genisys substantially rejiggers the timeline established by the previous films. I’m sure this decision will anger some fans, but it didn’t really bother me.

First, a quick refresher. In James Cameron’s original 1984 film The Terminator, an evil robot played by Arnold Schwarzenegger is sent back in time by an evil artificial intelligence called Skynet to kill a woman named Sarah Connor. Sarah Connor’s unborn son John is the leader of the anti-Skynet resistance in the not-too-distant future, and Skynet has sent a killer robot back in time to kill John’s mother before he can born. Anticipating this, John has one of his most trusted lieutenants back in time to protect his mother.

Genisys uses all of this as a jumping-off point. One of the things I liked about it is that the filmmakers clearly have a lot of respect for James Cameron’s original films. There are some scenes early in the new film that are practically shot-for-shot recreations of the same scenes from Cameron’s original. But rest assured, Genisys is not a remake.

It’s hard to say exactly what it is, really. I guess I’d call it a reboot. I hesitate to call it a sequel, since I feel that would imply that it follows the previous films’ continuity, which it really doesn’t. Instead, it rewrites that continuity almost completely.

In Cameron’s original film, Sarah Connor is an ordinary woman, who has no idea that her son will be the leader of the resistance in the future and is understandably skeptical when she meets Kyle Reese and he tells her about the whole “robots from the future” thing. She doesn’t become a badass until Terminator 2.

But when Kyle and the audience meet Sarah in Genisys, she is already a badass. In this timeline, she already knows all about the future war, and has been raised and protected for most of her life by a robot from the future (played of course by Arnold Schwarzenegger), whom she affectionately calls Pops.

terminator-genisys-sarah

From there, Kyle, Sarah, and Pops set out to save the future. This involves more time traveling (forward instead of backward this time), a lot of gunfire and explosions, and one major plot twist that would have been so much more effective had it not already been spoiled by literally every single piece of the movie’s advertising.

terminator-genisys-spoilers

I guess you could consider this next part a spoiler, but then again maybe not, since as I said it’s already been spoiled in the movie’s trailers and posters (such as the one pictured above, in which the big plot twist is front and center). The main villain in this film is once again an evil robot from the future, but the twist is that this particular evil robot from the future is none other than the savior of humanity, John Connor himself, whom Skynet has transformed into a sort of human/robot hybrid (although I guess that’s kind of what a cyborg is to begin with), and sent back in time to ensure Skynet’s own existence.

Well, that’s a novel approach. Taking the savior of humanity and turning him into the movie’s main antagonist is actually pretty cool. But the problem is that the movie’s spoiler-filled advertising robbed the twist of much of its impact. It’s really too bad, since it’s not a bad twist at all. I kind of liked it just for its sheer audacity.

Evil John Connor is also a different kind of robot from other Terminator robots we’ve seen before. I think he’s composed of nanobots or something, and is able to transform himself, heal injuries, and is just generally really hard to get rid of. I guess his abilities aren’t all that much different from those of the T-1000, the iconic liquid metal robot played by Robert Patrick in Terminator 2, but he looks very cool visually and I like the actor who plays him.

He’s played by an actor named Jason Clarke, who’s a guy I like more and more with every movie I see him in. He gives evil robot John Connor a genuine sense of pathos, and I kinda felt bad for him. He seemed like he didn’t really want to be an evil robot, but he had no other choice. I also liked the actress who played Sarah. Sarah is played by the lovely Emilia Clarke, yet another Game of Thrones veteran (this is actually the second time a Game of Thrones actress has played Sarah Connor, Sarah was previously played by GoT alum Lena Headey in the short-lived TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).

terminator-genisys-robotjohn

As far as I know, Emilia Clarke and Jason Clarke are not related, although it is kind of ironic since they play mother and son in this movie, even though the son is older than the mother, due to the time travel shenanigans.

One of the things I liked about Genisys is that it doesn’t stop to let its characters have boring conversations about the way that time travel works. Seriously, it always kills the pacing of the movie whenever the characters have boring conversations that are supposed to explain things to the audience. Talking down to the audience is never a good idea, and Genisys benefits greatly from avoiding it. The movie just keeps rolling along, and is all the better for it. Besides, when you’re on a mission to save the future, you don’t have time to stop and talk about it. World ain’t saving itself.

It’s also fun to see Arnold playing one of his most iconic roles again. He’s certainly looking a bit long in the tooth at this point, but he still plays a badass robot. The movie’s special effects are solid, and there are a lot of fun action sequences, including one that involves a school bus dangling precariously from the Golden Gate bridge, because time travel. The movie was directed by Alan Taylor (yet another Game of Thrones veteran, although as a director instead of an actor; he also directed Thor: The Dark World), who capably handles the special effects and action scenes.

Genisys got terrible reviews and only did modest box office business, which makes me sad because I liked it a lot more than Jurassic Mediocre World. It seems to have been liked more by audiences than by critics, so that’s something I guess. It’s not a perfect movie by any means but I still enjoyed it and if you liked previous Terminator films there’s a good chance you’ll like this one too.