Tag Archives: Michael Pena

‘Ant-Man’ Should Just Embrace Its Essential Silliness

Ant-Man
Two and a half stars (out of four)
PG-13 (sci-fi action violence)
117 minutes

Of the countless costumed superheroes Marvel has brought to the big screen, Ant-Man is one of the silliest.

A guy who wears an outfit that’s like a cross between an old-fashioned scuba suit and something out of the closet of G.I. Joe’s Cobra Commander is no match for Iron Man in the fashion department.

This is a dude who shrinks to the size of an insect and somehow that’s supposed to make him a deadly weapon. His sidekicks are six-legged creepy-crawlies he controls with his mind. He rides on the back of an ant, for Pete’s sake.

It’s kinda hard to picture him hanging with Thor and Black Widow.

Ant-Man’s early adventures include surviving a bathtub full of water and navigating a dance floor made lethal by an abundance of platform heels. Even The Cap, in all his homespun cheesiness, is far too majestic to hobnob with this would-be mini Avenger.

I say this not as a slam against Marvel’s newest and tiniest recruit, but to point out that “Ant-Man” the movie would work better if the studio just embraced the silliness and left it at that.

The signs of “Ant-Man’s” troubled production history are evident in the film’s uneven tone, which swings like a pendulum between pure, unapologetic fun and some “serious” — and seriously cliche — relationship drama.

“Ant-Man” appears to be aiming for the cool, irreverent, goofy vibe of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but what’s missing is “Guardians” director James Gunn’s precise vision.

It’s tempting to attribute “Ant-Man’s” identity issues to the dueling visions of original writer-director Edgar Wright, who shockingly left the project after almost a decade of script development, and Wright’s replacement, Peyton Reed, who primarily works in the romantic comedy genre.

No less than four screenwriters are credited with penning the flick, including Wright, “Attack the Block” director Joe Cornish, “Anchorman” director Adam McKay, and star Paul Rudd.

Marvel is fortunate to have Rudd. With his easygoing nice-guy charisma, the actor goes a long way toward making this confused comic book romp feel a little more cohesive.

That’s another issue with Marvel’s movie Ant-Man: He’s not a very interesting character.

Scott Lang is an electrical engineer fresh off a stint in San Quentin for a daring, well-intentioned cyber crime. All he wants to do is spend time with his young daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), but he’s lost custody after failing to pay child support.

(Poor Judy Greer pops up as exactly the kind of no-nonsense, anxious mom she portrayed earlier this summer in “Jurassic World.”)

After losing a thankless job at a popular dessert chain — in what has to be one of the weirdest product placement stunts ever — Scott attempts one last score, breaking into the house of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), scientist, tech company founder and discoverer of the mysterious “Pym Particle.”

Scott cracks the safe, absconds with a seemingly worthless helmet and leather suit, and soon learns he’s been recruited by Pym to retrieve a piece of dangerous, stolen technology from Pym’s former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll).

At this point, “Ant-Man” bogs down in exposition detailing the history and properties of Pym’s strange, black and red suit. Scott’s initiation into its uses, and his subsequent tutorial on how to ally himself with various species of his namesake insect, play like something out of another Disney property, the 1989 Rick Moranis comedy, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

The special effects are great, but there’s little at stake in the film’s early action sequences.

While Rudd does his best to endear us to Scott and his ant-colony cronies, Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are stranded in suffocatingly obvious scenes of father-daughter discord. Lilly plays Pym’s emotionally distant daughter, Hope, and is saddled with the same dominatrix-style bob worn by Bryce Dallas Howard in “Jurassic World.”

This leaves plenty of opportunity for Michael Pena to virtually pick up the movie and run away with it. As Scott’s ex-cellmate, Luis, the actor presides over a zany, if stereotypical, Greek chorus of criminal types who specialize in reviving the film whenever it shows signs of expiring.

I suppose the simplicity of “Ant-Man” could be considered refreshing after the complicated pomp and circumstance of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Aside from a few references to “Ultron,” a cameo by one of the lesser Avengers, and a prologue featuring some famous S.H.I.E.L.D. alumni, “Ant-Man” remains relatively unentangled by Marvel’s sticky web of intrigue.

Oddly, it’s in the last 20 minutes or so that the movie hits its stride in a hilariously hair-brained finale involving a private jet, The Cures’s “Disintegration,” a bug zapper, Thomas the Tank Engine and several other inspired elements that capitalize on the shrinkage and expansion possibilities of Pym’s amazing particle.

If only the entire film was this peculiar.

Photo: es.gizmodo.com

 

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‘Fury’ as Subtle as, Well, a Tank

Fury
Two stars (out of four)
R (strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, language)
134 minutes

There is nothing subtle about war, so it follows that there’s not much subtlety to be found in war movies.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in the case of writer-director David Ayer’s “Fury,” the film is so desperate to shock and awe, watching it feels like being barreled over by something big, heavy and unwieldy. Like a tank, for instance.

I know that’s a cheap and easy metaphor for a movie about an American tank crew barreling their way suicidally through Nazi Germany in the last, grim days of World War II. Nevertheless, it’s an apt comparison for a film that prizes force over finesse and sprawling, simplistic themes and imagery over convincing relationships and emotion.

That’s not to say a tank movie isn’t a brilliant idea. It’s gotta be one of the most novel war story angles Hollywood has come up with in a long time. And when Ayer focuses his pen and his lens on what it’s like to be inside one of those gigantic, creaking hunks of metal, rolling its way inexorably through a nightmare landscape of smoke, carnage and death, “Fury” is fascinating.

Unfortunately, the director’s focus too often roams to the kind of wartime sequences we’ve seen before in more compelling visions of World War II, including “Saving Private Ryan,” “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”

“Fury” takes its name from its most imposing star — the one that isn’t married to Angelina Jolie — a battered bruiser of a Sherman tank, manned by the seasoned, war-weary Sgt. Don Collier (Brad Pitt) and his faithful crew.

The movie makes a point of telling us that the average tank crew only survived for about six weeks. Collier’s gang has bucked that trend, managing to stay alive and stick together for four years.

The sergeant’s goal is to keep it that way, not an easy task considering his new crew member, Norman (Logan Lerman), is a baby-faced clerk who has no combat experience and has never seen the inside of a tank.

“Fury” may appear to be an ensemble film, but don’t let that fool you. This is Pitt’s show. It’s almost as if the actor is reprising a less comical version of his character from “Inglourious Basterds,” the Nat-zi-hating Lt. Aldo Raine.

Collier schools young Norman in the ways of war and utters the movie’s choicest monologues. “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent,” he informs his scared-stiff, stubbornly pacifist protege in a jaded Southern drawl.

Don’t get me wrong. Pitt is a fine actor. His hair buzzed into a crew cut, his face scrawled with scars, he deploys his signature blend of toughness and torment like a weapon. If only the other members of the cast were given a chance to show their stuff. Instead, they’re made to embody war movie stereotypes.

Shia LaBeouf plays Boyd, the religious one who quotes scripture and refrains from partaking of the spoils of war. Michael Pena, who was excellent in Ayer’s “End of Watch,” provides the comic relief as driver Gordo. Jon Bernthal, so memorable on “The Walking Dead,” is assigned the role of Fury’s resident redneck, the brutish Grady.

None of these characters are particularly likable, so Lerman is there to soften them up as the GOOD guy. In case, we don’t get that he’s the GOOD guy, one of the actors is kind enough to point it out to us. But even though he is the GOOD guy, Ayer isn’t content until Norman is killing Nazis just as gleefully as his battle-hardened comrades.

Lest we feel any sympathy for those dagnabbit Nazis, the Germans are depicted as goose-stepping ghouls who chant so operatically and in perfect synchronization, they may as well be the Orc army marching out of Mordor in “The Lord of the Rings.

Ayer’s last film, the cop drama “End of Watch,” was equally grandiose, but soared on the strength of the relationship between a pair of LAPD officers played by Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal. If only the interactions in “Fury” were as solid, but truth is we know very little about the characters or what connects them.

The director resorts to stirring up phony conflict between these brothers in arms in a bizarre, deeply uncomfortable scene in which Collier and Norman hold hostage/seduce/befriend — it’s disturbingly never clear — a pair of German women after securing an enemy town.

On a purely technical level, “Fury” fares better. Ayer obviously took great pains to ensure the film’s authenticity and delivers several suspenseful, horrific scenes of combat, illustrating both the power and limitations of the World War II-era tank.

The movie’s finale ramps up the heroism to almost ridiculous extremes.

Funny thing is, the heroics of everyday life inside the tanks, with their claustrophobia, tedium, close quarters and forced intimacies, probably would have proved more profound.