Review of “Ant-Man and the Wasp”

(No video this week as I babbled more incoherently than normal.)

Following his actions in Berlin to support Captain America, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest for violating the Sokovia Accords. A team of FBI agents swarms his house if his electronic ankle monitoring bracelet gets too far away from the base station. His use of shrinking technology has also gotten Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) into trouble and on the most wanted list but they have avoided capture. Scott, Pym and Hope reunite despite that violating Scott’s probation. It isn’t a happy reunion as Pym and Hope are angry he used their tech and got them on the wrong side of the law. Following Scott’s brief time in the quantum realm Pym believes he can rescue his wife Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) by constructing a quantum tunnel. To do that he needs specialized parts that he purchases from a shady black-market operator named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins). During an exchange of money for a part Burch tells Hope he knows who she really is and wants to sell Pym technology to some criminal buyers he’s already arranged. She refuses and uses her Wasp suit to get the part. The fight for the part is interrupted by a person in a suit that can phase through solid walls. Called Ghost for this ability, the newcomer attempts to steal the part but Hope fights Ghost off with Scott’s help. Ghost then goes to the van where Pym is waiting and steals the miniaturized building that houses his lab. Ghost is a woman named Ava (Hannah John-Kamen) whose father used to be an associate of Pym’s at SHIELD. Pym got her father fired and he tried to continue his research on his own. That research was trying to access the quantum realm and an accident killed Ava’s parents and left her comprised of atoms that tear themselves apart causing her constant pain. The trio go to another of Pym’s former partners Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburn) for help in tracking the lab using energy emissions. Foster and Pym had a bad falling out and after decades apart they still don’t like each other. Ava needs the quantum tunnel to mend her molecules, so she doesn’t die in a few weeks but her needs and Pym’s efforts to retrieve his wife are at odds and they are both running out of time.

Ant-Man is one of those Marvel heroes that on the surface doesn’t seem like a character that deserves his own movie. He doesn’t have the flashy tech of Iron Man, the godlike abilities of Thor, the tragic backstory and green-tinted mayhem of the Hulk, the power, history and patriotism of Captain America and the magical powers of Dr. Strange. Ant-Man can get small (and infrequently very big) and communicate with bugs. Both are useful abilities at times but not exactly the stuff of blockbuster movies. With 2015’s “Ant-Man” Marvel showed how a little guy can be a big hero. Now “Ant-Man and the Wasp” proves the first film wasn’t a fluke. It also helps that this film serves as the palate cleanser after “Avengers: Infinity War.”

The most noticeable aspect of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is it is far more comedic than most Marvel films. A criticism of “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” was the humor felt forced and at times ill-placed. Moments that didn’t need to be tagged with a joke got one anyway. I didn’t see this as being a problem, but many did. Perhaps the lighter tone of “Ant-Man” means the sequel can get away with more jokes and running gags and there are plenty of both in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” We get a humorous thread involving closeup magic that weaves through the film. The character of FBI agent Jimmy Woo, played by Randall Park, gets some fun moments every time he’s on screen. And the thief of the film is Michael Pena as Luis, Scott Lang’s former cellmate and now business partner in a security firm run by ex-cons that’s called X-Con. Pena has the gift of a motormouth and that is put to good use in a scene where Burch and his henchmen give Luis a truth serum to find where the lab is located. It is a very funny scene of Luis recounting how he met Scott and his history with Hope. Seeing his words being acted out by Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly is one of the film’s high points.

The light and comedic acting of Paul Rudd is also a joy to watch. Rudd is a naturally calming presence in nearly every film he’s in. In scenes where his character is stressed and in danger Rudd manages to play the role in a way that says, “I got this” even if it turns out he doesn’t. Rudd is credited as a writer on both films and his humor and goofy charm can be seen throughout the script.

All this lightness also means “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is largely inconsequential to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Where the events of the movie occur in the timeline isn’t clear until the mid-credits scene which places it as happening just prior to “Avengers: Infinity War.” This brief scene is far more important to the MCU than anything that precedes it. It also offers a clue to how Ant-Man could affect the action in “Avengers 4.” Perhaps the movie gives us a future hero that can be folded into Phase 4 and it shows just how useful enlarged ants can be in a construction project and as security guards; otherwise, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is like that little bit of sherbet you get between courses at finer restaurants: It’s a palate cleanser following the events of “Avengers: Infinity War.”

While it isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement of the film it isn’t a severe complaint either. The MCU now totals 20 released films with two more in the immediate future: “Captain Marvel” and “Avengers 4.” Not every movie that’s part of the MCU has necessarily been instrumental in expanding the overarching story that leads to the ultimate clash with Thanos. I would argue “Iron Man 2” and “Thor: The Dark World” were just two of the mostly stand-alone adventures for these characters. Watching these heroes deal with their own issues can be as enjoyable as watching them band together and fight a demon bent on destroying half the life in the universe. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” gives us a brief respite as we prepare for what will likely be yet another emotional roller coaster in “Avengers 4.”

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence. The shrinking and growing technology is used to flip cars and cause motorcycle crashes. Hope Van Dyne’s Wasp costume has blasters that shoot out fire and cause a non-lethal impact. Wasp, Ant-Man and Ghost are proficient fighters in hand-to-hand combat. Ghost can also put her hand inside people and injure or kill them. There is some gunplay, but no one is shown getting shot. Foul language is scattered and mild.

It may not have the same impact as other MCU films but “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a lighthearted romp with a little romance on the side. Make sure you stay in your seat during the credits. The mid-credits scene is the one you want to watch while the post credits is just a joke that you can watch if you’re are a completist. Here’s a little spoiler: You’ve already seen part of it in the trailer. The film is fun and, at its heart, is about families being torn apart and the struggle to put them pack together. Perhaps it’s a little deeper then I gave it credit for.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” gets five stars.

This week there are a couple of new films that could both be considered cartoons…or cartoonish. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation—

Skyscraper—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming news available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “mother!”

Him and Mother (Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence) live in a secluded home in a clearing surrounded by woods. The wife has been renovating the home after a fire severely damaged it. Him is a writer and has some popular books published but is suffering writer’s block. He hopes the seclusion will help the ideas flow. One day a stranger knocks on their door. This stranger is Man (Ed Harris) who says he was sent to the home by locals that thought it was a bed and breakfast. Him insists that since it is so late Man stay the night but Mother thinks inviting a stranger to stay in their home is a bad idea. Showing Man around their home Him brags how Mother has redone everything by herself. In his office, Him shows Man his prized possession: A fragile crystal orb that came from the remains of his burnt home. Man wants to hold it but Him says no and puts it back on its display stand. Not long after Man arrives Mother begins to feel ill. She puts some medicinal powder in a glass of water, drinks it and feels better quickly. Man has some sort of illness that causes coughing fits that keep him and Him up all night; but the next morning both act as if they had a good night’s rest. Later that day the Man’s wife Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives and Him invites her to stay as well. Soon Woman gets drunk and begins asking rude and personal questions of Mother. Despite being told to stay out of the office Him writes in, Man and Woman enter and break the crystal orb driving Him into a rage and orders Man and Woman to leave his home. Not long after, Man and Woman’s Oldest Son (Domhnall Gleeson) and Younger Son (Brian Gleeson) arrive to argue over the Man’s will and what will happen to his money. The two sons fight and Oldest Son kills Younger Son. Then things get weird.

Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” is a challenging movie to watch and it’s challenging to figure out what it means. It’s a film that is so open to interpretation it could be accused of meaning nothing. As I write this I am just about 24 hours away from leaving the theatre and I am still questioning what I saw. Is that the mark of a good film? I don’t know. It certainly is the mark of an Aronofsky film as I have seen three of his other works over the years: “The Fountain,” “Black Swan” and “Noah.” If nothing else, Aronofsky is a film maker that doesn’t spoon-feed his audience. The images are up on the screen and what you do with them is entirely up to you. While it is an interesting experience I can’t say it was particularly entertaining.

In doing some reading online by other critics and movie websites, it appears that “mother!” is a biblical allegory for God’s creation of the Garden of Eden and Man’s fall from Grace. Once it is pointed out to me the correlation is painfully obvious. It may also be a metaphor on how man is given the beautiful gift of the Earth but uses its resources and fouls the air, land and water and must be punished for his arrogance. That fits as well.

“mother!” is a whirlwind of meaning with layers of symbolism stacked one on top of the other. It is almost sensory overload as you watch the film as it often keeps a very tight close up of Lawrence’s Mother as she moves from one room to the next doing chores or looking for Bardem’s Him. Lawrence’s face is frequently a blank slate in the early parts of the film. Only later does her face contort into confusion and pain. Lawrence is probably the best thing about “mother!” Her performance is the anchor and the access point for the audience. It may not be the doorway to understanding but Lawrence’s Mother is the most human and relatable of all the characters. She is a dutiful wife, a caring and hard-working homemaker and a skilled craftsperson bringing a burned-out shell of a home back to life. She has poured so much of herself into the renovation she can even feel that life pulsing through the walls. What do these scenes mean as she touches the walls, closes her eyes and sees and feels the heartbeat of the house? I haven’t a clue but Lawrence’s performance made me want to find out.

There are parts of “mother!” that are beautiful to look at and some of that dare you to keep watching. Late in the film one of the characters is being beaten. The impacts of the fists and feet seem to jump off the screen and pummel you in the audience. There are more scenes of violence and chaos as the world of “mother!” descends into utter madness. Is this more symbolism for a world consumed with greed, lust and envy? The biblical allegory could be stretched further into Genesis with the Great Flood washing away the evil of humanity. You’ll have to see the film yourself if you want to see exactly what I’m talking about.

The real question: Is “mother!” entertaining? For me it wasn’t. I was always interested in what would happen next and enjoyed some of the weirder and more twisted things in the film but by the end I was left with the question of if what I’d just witnessed improved my life and/or mood. Did it elevate my humanity or relieve any stress? I can’t say that it did. The ending is far from satisfying and left me wondering what exactly the point is? Is “mother!” art merely for art’s sake? If so, that’s fine with me but having experienced it I can’t say I have been enlightened or improved in any way.

“mother!” is rated R for some sexuality, nudity, language, strong disturbing content and strong violent content. We see a person alive and burning. Several people are shown shot in the head. There are some stabbings and at least one beating. General riot-like mayhem occupies most of the last 20 minutes of the movie. There are a couple of explosions. There is a brief scene of Javier Bardem getting out of bed nude. There is also a brief scene of Jennifer Lawrence’s breasts exposed but it is in a violent context. The remains of a baby that has been ripped apart are briefly shown. Foul language is scattered.

For the previous 1100 words I have pontificated on the meaning and qualities of “mother!” but the question remains: Is the movie any good? My honest answer is I don’t know. While it kept me interested for the full two hours I can’t say I enjoyed the movie; but I didn’t hate it either. This is one of those rare films that I simply cannot get my head around. It is an enigma wrapped in a riddle and I am not smart enough to work my way in between the words, the images and the meaning. In short, “mother!” has me stumped.

Simply because I don’t know what else to do, “mother!” gets three stars.

This week three new films open and I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Friend Request—

Kingsmen: The Golden Circle—

The LEGO Ninjago Movie—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast at WIMZ.com under the “podcast” tab, subscribe, rate and review on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, PodcastOne or anywhere you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan, follow The Fractured Frame @fractured_pod and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.