Movie reviews: 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' marred by excess
Published Friday, July 6, 2018 6:00AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, July 6, 2018 7:03AM EDT
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: 3 STARS
“Do you guys put the word quantum in front of everything?”
That’s the question Paul Rudd, playing Scott Lang / Ant-Man, asks in the new Marvel movie “Ant-Man and The Wasp.” Having seen the film I wonder why he didn’t speak up earlier, like when the screenwriters were scribbling about quantum physics, quantum realm, quantum void, quantum this and quantum that. These movies are supposed to be about a smart alecy guy who can shrink himself down to the size of an ant to solve crimes, not the Heisenberg principle.
The movie begins as Lang has just three days left on his house arrest following the events of “Captain America: Civil War.” Trapped in his apartment he has a strange dream. He sees Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), wife of scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), mother of Hope van Dyne a.k.a. Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), trapped in the quantum wormhole she disappeared into three decades before. Meanwhile Hank and Lilly are perfecting a method to rescue their loved one from the quantum hike she now calls home.
Trouble is, they can’t do it alone. They need any information that may be trapped in Rudd’s head and money from a grubby bad guy. Time is of the essence as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a spectral presence who can walk through walls, also seeks out Janet’s quantum power to heal her cellular disorder.
From the kitschy sounding title to the size-shifting characters to the scientific mumbo jumbo that takes up much of the screen time, “Ant-Man and The Wasp” is a throwback to drive-in movies of the 1950s. It’s been updated with better special effects and more authentic sounding science jargon, but make no mistake, for better and for worse, this has just as much in common with flickers like “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” and “Them!” as it does with the Avengers.
Like the 50s b-movies that were undoubtedly an influence, this is a loud-n-proud genre film but like many of the Avengers films that are part of the Ant-Man family, it is marred by excess. Too many characters, too many story shards—a rescue mission, two sets of baddies chasing down the quantum technology, a romantic subplot, a family film angle—too much exposition and too much quantum theory.
There is a funny scene about an hour into the movie where Michael Peña, playing Lang’s former cellmate and current business partner, recaps the story so far. It takes two minutes, is laugh-out-loud funny and completely negates the need for much of the exposition—people in this movie love to ask things like, “What have you done?”—that comes before it. Move that to the beginning of the film and they could have saved pages of dialogue and juiced up the film’s fun factor by at least fifty per cent.
“Ant-Man and The Wasp” does plough some new ground—it is the first time a female superhero’s name is in the title of an MCU film—but feels scattershot in its execution.
BOUNDARIES: 2 STARS
The trouble with making a feel good movie about a scoundrel is twofold. Either the scoundrel is neutered, which makes them less interesting, or remains a scoundrel, which complicates the feel good vibe. “Boundaries,” a new film starring Vera Farmiga and Christopher Plummer, tries to have it both ways and ends up in the mushy middle.
Farmiga is Laura, a single mom with son Henry (Lewis MacDougall), a house full of rescued animals and daddy issues. “I’m so messed up I can’t even tell my therapist everything,” she says. She’s been working at setting up boundaries with her father Jack—when he calls the name display reads, “Don’t Pick Up!”—but when he gets kicked out of his nursing home due to his “unorthodox“—i.e. “illegal”—ways of making money she agrees to help him by driving him to Los Angeles to live with his other daughter Jojo (Kristen Schaal).
The formerly estranged father and daughter, along with Henry and a backseat full of stray dogs set out for what should be an uneventful trip. Trouble is, Jack is the above-mentioned scoundrel and a drug dealer who fills the trunk with $200,000 of marijuana he plans on selling along the way. When he isn’t dealing they detour to visit old friends, like Stanley (Christopher Lloyd), a nudist art forger and other ghosts from Jack and Laura’s past. As dad gets up to his old tricks Laura sees a different side of the man she thought she knew. But can he really change or is her ex-husband Leonard (Bobby Cannavale) right when he says, “An elephant will always be an elephant. He will never be a monkey.”
“Boundaries” has a fine cast trapped by a conventional script.
Farmiga battles through the family dramedy clichés to portray Laura as vulnerable and protective, a woman who has filled the hole in her heart with her stray animals and a fierce love of her Henry.
MacDougall is strong as a troubled youth who, when he isn’t drawing nude portraits of his friends and teachers to reveal their true souls, is caught up in the adventure of getting to know his untraditional grandfather.
It is Plummer, however, who brings the charm. He’s likely too old to be playing Farmiga’s father but his trademarked twinkle shines through. When Laura says, “You make people fall in love with you and then you leave,” she sums up both Jack’s appeal and his selfishness.
Plummer, at 88, is a formidable actor whose mere presence elevates this Cliché-A-Thon from “Old Codger on a Road Trip Part XXII” to “Skilful Actor Transcending the Material.” It’s a terrific performance that nonetheless rings hollow. Jack is a man who only ever cared about himself, who abandoned his family and calls his relationship with henry “a temporary situation,” and is the square peg rammed into this round hole of a feel good story.
In movies like “Boundaries” (MILD SPOILER!!) everyone gets a happy ending but Jack would have been more interesting if writer-director Shana Feste had allowed the scoundrel to remain a scoundrel.
LEAVE NO TRACE: 4 STARS
The things Will (Ben Foster) does to protect his daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) in “Leave No Trace,” a new film by Debra Granik, director of “Winter’s Bone,” may be the things that endanger her.
When we first meet Will he is a vet with PTSD living way off the grid with Tom, his only daughter. Their home is a makeshift camp in an Oregon state public park. Home schooled, Tom has never experienced the outside world, and only knows what Will has taught her about life. “Where is your home?” she’s asked. “My dad,” comes the answer. When she is spotted in the park, social services are alerted. Father and daughter are taken in, housed and reintegrated into society.
Tom drinks the new experiences in, making friends at school and church, as the realization sinks in that her father is not cut out for life around other people. “The same thing that’s wrong with you isn’t wrong with me,” she says. Hoping to regain his lost independence Will convinces Tom to hit the road in search of a more fulfilling life.
The questions at the heart of “Leave No Trace” are based on whether or not Will is a good father. Is he doing what is right for Tom? Their needs are so different, is he self-serving, prioritizing his needs over hers? The answers lie in Granik’s beautifully told story about the connections between people and the value of relationships.
Much of the film’s power comes from the lead performances. Foster is more reserved here, less bug-eyed and edgy, than we’ve seen him in the past. His take on Will is gentle with a deep reservoir of pain that bubbles just below the surface. It’s formidable stuff equalled by newcomer Harcourt McKenzie. Granik has an eye for casting, discovering Vera Farmiga in “Down to the Bone” and Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone,” and here she does it again. The young New Zealand actress gives Tom empathy and wide-eyed innocence mixed with curiosity. She is never less than natural and never less than believable.
“Leave No Trace” is an emotionally potent story about finding a path in life, even if it differs from the ones you love.
ALWAYS AT THE CARLYLE: 3 STARS
“Always at the Carlyle” can’t rightly be called a documentary. It’s more of a love letter to one of Manhattan’s great hotels. Plump with celebrity interviews, glamorous people and the attentive—if somewhat secretive—staff who coddle the one percenters who stay there, it’s a glossy, uncritical look at a hotel whose rooms can cost as much as a car.
Director Matthew Miele lines up a who’s who of a-lister types to talk about the hotel’s special charms. George Clooney and the late great Anthony Bourdain wax poetic, while Harrison Ford grouses, good naturedly, about not ever being housed in the hotel’s $20,000 a night suite. Sophia Coppola describes what it was like to live there when she was a child and rich people you’ve never heard of describe the hotel’s upwardly mobile ambiance in hushed reverential terms.
Miele provides a peak at the colourful murals in Bemelmans Bar, painted by Ludwig Bemelmans, artist of the “Madeline” books, and tells of the legendary Bobby Short’s musical contributions to New York nightlife via his work at the equally legendary Carlyle Café.
It’s not very deep, but it is all very swanky, as crisp as the monogrammed pillowcases that adorn every bed. “Always at the Carlyle” works best when it recounts the hotel’s sophisticated history, told by former guests and employees with eye candy photos for illustration, but like the best hoteliers the doc chooses discretion over gossip. That’s good for the guests, but not good for the viewers of the film who might want something more. If only those walls could talk—they might tell a more interesting story.