For a review of “AntMan and the Wasp,”
Ant-Man and the Wasp are busier than a couple of bees in the sequel that bears their names.
That offers some bad and some good, however.
That busyness can occasionally creep into any given situation in the film to make the audience feel as if they’re on a roller coaster. The good: most people believe roller coasters are fun
In this case, the amusement quotient is amplified to the nth degree and we all benefit from it. “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” the latest from Marvel Studios, represents the anti-Marvel film circa 2018.
In a year that gave audiences “Black Panther,” a movie that wears its message of social justice on its sleeve, and “Avengers: Infinity War,” where half the characters (avert eyes if for some inexplicable reason you have not seen a film that’s earned $672 million domestically and more than $2 billion globally) die, “Ant-Man” provides a welcome change of pace with an action punch to match.
Besides, not every superhero in the Marvel Universe could be on duty to fight Thanos in Infinity War, right? That fact brings us to Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), last seen changing to ginormous size in “Captain America: Civil War” as a member of Cap’s team.
That little adventure eventually netted him house arrest as we learn in the opening of “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” He’s passing the time being a good father, being a good friend and businessman to his goofy set of misfit ex-cons — his partners — led by the hyper Luis (Michael Pena) because of his agreement with the government. Although Lang is near the end of his sentence, he’s still closely monitored.
However, his prior activi- ties with the Avengers cost him the friendship and respect of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope/The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly). Pym and Hope have but one thing on their mind in his absence — trying to retrieve his wife and her mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), from quantum space. They’re also wanted by the feds and have been too busy to hook up with Scott until…
Lang starts to have dreams about Janet from his past visit to the quantum realm and they believe he possesses the key to help bring her back.
The trio work to dodge the FBI, Ghost, a mysterious villain connected to Pym’s past, and a shady black market technology dealer, Sonny (Walt Goggins), who’d like nothing more than to partner with or steal the Pym’s tech, including a portable lab.
Director Peyton Reed returns to helm the sequel and improves on the first film. His direction shows a comfort level not only with the actors and their characters, but with respect to having to upsize the ante here for special effects, some of which are downright jawdropping as scenes often flip between normal, small and bigger perspectives with the snap of a finger or, in this case, the flick of a switch. He keeps it all breezy, light and laced with humor.
That’s appreciated, but without the dry wit and playful sarcasm Rudd provides, Ant-Man would certainly suffer. His interplay with Douglas and Lilly, along with their performances, provide some of the movie’s best moments.
Then, as he did in the film’s predecessor, Pena’s motor mouth Luis receives his moments as well.
The buzz around “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is no mistake as this is not only an enthralling entry into the Marvel Studios canon, but proves a worthy summer release.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp,” a Disney/Marvel Studios release, is rated PG -13 for some sci-fi action violence. Running time: 125 minutes.
“The First Purge”
Warning: The following review contains references to the political content, rampant and pointed, in the “Purge” franchise begun in 2013. With these movies, there’s no way around what they’re really saying.
The latest “Purge” is an erratic, fairly absorbing and righteously angry prequel. It sets up scenarios in which African-American and Latino resistance fighters rebel against the dear white people exploiting them for bloody political gain. Honestly: There is no avoiding politics and messaging with that setup.
When last we purged, two summers back with “The Purge: Election Year” (2016), our current president was a few months away from the White House. In various degrees of bluntness, screenwriter/director/executive producer James DeMonaco had a few things to say about the fear-mongering tactics that would ultimately put him there.
Now, with a new DeMonaco script directed by secondtime feature filmmaker Gerard McMurray, “The First Purge” imagines what went down, and why, with the initial 12-hour crime-and-murder spree allowing an angry, disenfranchised U.S. citizenry to blow off steam with zero consequences.
For newbies: This is set a few short years in the future. The third-party American ruler represents the New Founding Fathers of America, backed by the National Rifle Association. The prequel has it that a nonpartisan behavioral scientist has designed the 12-hour societal “experiment” as a way of lessening the crime rate and providing a mass catharsis. Looking a little dazed, Marisa Tomei plays the scientist, Dr. Updale, so named presumably because Dr. Downhill was taken.
The experiment unfolds on Staten Island, N.Y., and those participating in the purge receive $5,000 plus a bonus if they ramp up the bloodshed personally. Via the characters’ creepy blue surveillance contact lenses, we, the audience, witness the havoc they wreak. The first few seconds of screen time belong to the story’s stone-cold psycho (Rotimi Paul, truly scary as Skeletor). I took no pleasure in the block-party sequence where Skeletor randomly selects his next victims. (It’s vicious in a morally inert fashion.) But the franchise lives (or dies) on its own hypocrisy, shaking its head at a society encouraging such sickness while relishing the narrative possibilities.
Neighborhood activist Nya (Lex Scott Davis, lately of “Superfly” and this film’s sole grace note amid the carnage) and her ex-lover, drug lord Dmitri (Y’lan Noel, beefy but indistinct) join forces under fire. They have neighbors and friends and business interests to protect. One of the wittier details in DeMonaco’s functional, largely generic script finds the slavish TV news anchors frustrated by the purge’s relatively sluggish start. Then the government’s own goon squads, to Dr. Updale’s alarm, enter the fray.
The bulk of “The First Purge” is pursuit and evasion, attack and counterattack, multiple, frenzied stabbings followed by multiple, frenzied rounds of automatic gunfire tearing through flesh. A key group of Staten Island residents seek sanctuary in a church, foolishly, while Nya’s little brother (Joivan Wade) risks his already-injured neck on the streets. “We are all Staten Islanders tonight,” the president intones at one point, waiting for things to start cooking.
Modestly budgeted, the “Purge” series has worked fast — four movies in six years. The new one’s the most violent, but also the least propulsive, with a deliberate, lurching, stop-and-start rhythm and subpar digital photography. Still, it’s notable how “The First Purge” puts its Trump-trolling instincts first, riffing on everything from the Access Hollywood tape to the casting of Patch Darragh as the string-pulling chief of staff. The actor bears a suspicious resemblance to onetime Trump communications director Sean Spicer. Once the Klan-hooded purgers show up, however, practically begging the people of color on screen for a comeuppance, the men sporting little American flag pins on their well pressed lapels cease to matter much.
“The First Purge,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated R for strong disturbing violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use. Running time: 97 minutes. ★★½
Lex Scott Davis stars in the new Universal Pictures release “The First Purge.”