Darke Reviews | Ant-Man (2015)

Are you excited for Marvel Phase 3? Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Thor Ragnarok, Black Panther, Doctor Strange? Oh yeah and Ant-man is the kick off for this one. Haven’t heard of him? That’s fair. I am only barely familiar with the character before this, and specifically the Hank Pym version not the Scott Lang. So along with no spoilers, you will get no comparison to the comic character, story arc, etc as I have no basis. Ok, I am aware of one thing – a very controversial topic involving Pym that the movie wisely saw fit to act if it never happened and within it’s verse…maybe it didn’t.

(Editors Note: I received information that Ant-Man is actually the close to Phase 2.)

So how is the movie?

Let me start with the acting first and foremost. I, who has never seen, nor ever expected to see a Paul Rudd movie was incredibly dubious about the comic actor taking on the role of a Marvel hero. Granted I had the same reservations about Chris Pratt last year in Guardians of the Galaxy. He didn’t do bad. He was likeable, he was mostly an everyman, but at the same time I didn’t care about him. I think he was too much an everyman, so much so that he is forgettable. If you take Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, or even Bruce Banner, you will remember their personalities and just something more about them. Scott Lang, I can’t tell you much about him or his personality. I don’t know that I can blame Rudd there, but he doesn’t force more to the table through his own devices that maybe someone else could have.

Michael Douglas masterminds the plot as Dr. Hank Pym. Douglas does what he can here and the movie is absolutely better for him, though I would have paid extra for an interaction with him and Redford in some sort of flashback, just on principle. Evangeline Lilly (Lost, The Hobbit), plays Hope van Dyne and is a bright light in the film. She was hungry to do more with the movie and her role and brings it all to the table, even though a horrific haircut that was needed for her character. She plays with all the complexity of her character and lets the right emotions through in a way that most of the others don’t quite achieve. I knew she could act, but this just solidifies it. Corey Stoll (The Strain, House of Cards) plays Darren Cross, yet another scientific genius in the ‘verse. Slight tangent: with all of these geniuses how the heck is the world in the shape it is? Stoll, I know has some chops from his role in the Strain, so I have to wonder what the director was thinking. He reads every single scene as if he is in a late 90s early 2000’s Hero movie. I can’t help but try to compare him to Jeff Bridges Obadiah Stane. Stane, even at his most ridiculous held weight on screen. This is almost comical. So since I know the man can act, I must blame the script or director. The rest of the cast is largely just ok or making me wish they weren’t there. I love Michael Pena to death but he was channeling his early John Leguizamo for this one and it wasn’t good. Since again I know the actor has capabilities beyond what I saw, I must blame the script or director.

Let’s talk story for a moment, as there are two writing credits here. This means two people worked out the overall beats and structure for the movie together. Those two people are Joe Cornish and Edgar  Wright. Cornish, delivered fantastically on previous works, such as Adventures of Tin Tin and Attack the Block. He was also in Hot Fuzz, a creation of Edgar Wright. Wrights legacy, barring anything in the future, will be  his Cornetto Trilogy – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End. Sadly he will also be remembered for the flop Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – which I personally enjoyed far more than I should. In an 11th hour decision Wright left this project. Yes, this one. He was also slated to direct. Marvel was not pleased with some aspect of his script and gave it to someone else to work on and do touch ups to. The returning product was something that had him so dissatisfied he left Ant-Man behind.

That’s where screenplay credits come in. Cornish and Wright both are obligated to get theirs, but the additional credits go to Paul Rudd himself, and Adam McKay. McKay’s writing history includes Saturday Night Live, Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys. These are all movies I will never see and a show I haven’t watched since the 80’s.  This does not give me confidence. Now, as I have seen and enjoyed the Cornetto’s and laughed at them far harder than is reasonable, I think I have a good grasp on his humor and sense of dialogue. So that means the fact that nearly every single joke in this movie falls flat is not on Wright, but McKay. Seriously, there were only a few times I felt the barest urge to laugh vs. throat punching someone. That urge showed up more.

Part of that blame also goes to the incoming director Peyton Reed. Reed previously directed Yes Man, The Break-Up, and Bring it On. Clearly he is right to carry on the vision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kevin Fiege and the other heads at Marvel seem to think so, so maybe they see something I don’t. I know I didn’t see anything stellar in this movie from a directorial standpoint. The movie was so emotionally flat I was thinking *it* had used a Pym Particle and was too small for me to see the part where I was supposed to care.

Ok…not entirely fair. I cared about the animals. Seriously, they made me care about the ants. Part of what made the movie work was the visual effects. They were actually really well done and while the CG work and overall look was near unavoidable they did a solid enough job that I didn’t care. In that vein, they are successful, they made me forget or not care that the entirety of what was seeing was computer generated. A few of the fights were just messy blurs but overall the work was really well done. This is one of the few movies to benefit from 3D.

TL:DR?

I think the movie is better than Iron Man 3, for what faint praise that is. It was a bit more enjoyable than Thor 2, which upon reading my review I may have been too kind to. It is a highly flawed film that has moments of entertainment in it that kept me from actually hating it. Rudd, who I was dismissive of above, is good as the hero. Some of the more annoying beats from the trailer are missing from the film and we are all better for it.

Overall, the movie generates a solid….bleh. I don’t hate it. I don’t really like it, it’s just there. Ultimately I think that’s where it lands. On a solid, emotionless, take it or leave it and I won’t notice. Marvel’s star is dimming for me and things I would have forgiven before are quickly becoming more noticable and less likeable. I think they have forgotten what made the original films as successful as they were with the fans.

  • If you are a completionist – See it matinee and 3D. The 3D does alright by the film. Stay for the end credits – there are two scenes.
  • Anyone else – that’s a negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full. You can wait til Netflix as this will likely be out before the next movie is.

Sorry folks this was a bit of a downer, and we don’t have too much hope the rest of summer. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation has the best shot so far.

Darke Reviews | The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Alright as we begin this review let me remind people of the rules:

  1. No spoilers from me. Even if I want to.
  2. I don’t typically read the book. It’s rare when I do. This lets me judge a movie strictly on its merits as a film.

So where do I judge this film? I don’t think it will be long into this review before you know how, but let us go through the motions. I say go through the motions as much with Hunger Games, you are either 3 or 5 movies in and thus committed to this franchise. I have absolutely no illusions I will keep anyone from seeing this or encourage someone to see it who is not already invested. The reality is I was just as invested, which is why I saw this. I am freelance, no one pays me. I see what I want, when I want, and review what I want. Phenomenal cosmic power, itty bitty budget.

I think there was a time that Peter Jackson was heralded as being the savior of the Fantasy Genre. We have come here not to praise Jackson, but to bury him. Bury him in the mounds of money he has made on our faith. Bury him under the weight of his own misguided creativity. Jackson has stepped over the line from savior to damnation. He has saved us from films such as Eragon only to deliver us into the hands of a three movie franchise for something that at most should have been two. George Lucas has stepped aside from franchise and good will destroying madman to allow the King of Hobbits to take the throne. Any goodwill that Jackson built with the first franchise has long since been thrust into the fires of Mt. Doom. The movie with Jackson at the helm and at the pen, fails on so many levels.

But if you are still with me, allow me to explain:

Peter Jackson is director, producer, and screenplay writer.  With his collaborators (and wife) Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro. This is a fantastic combination for two things – cranking out the works of Tolkien into something digestible to the mass market and not being able to say no to each others ideas. I am sure there was some disagreement in the writing circle, thats inescapable. But if you are a writer like me, your friends can be the worst people to have read your work. They will support bad ideas (usually) and tell you how great it is when what you really need is the one friend who says “No.” I don’t think this crew had that. I don’t think they put limits on themselves and the studio certainly wasn’t about to after the dragons hoarde of money they have raked in over the past decade.

Background done, the movie fails on the simple level of evocative storytelling. A writer must have an understanding of the rollercoaster that is their story. There are rises and falls. Beats and pauses. This movie lacks that. I grew up in Maryland with my grandparents and due to that I watched probably more war movies from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s than most kids my age. I have seen all the greats. I have seen all the new greats in that genre as well. What they all have in common is the action beats are interrupted by relatively long pauses to let you breathe, to let you grasp what is going on, and most importantly to make you care and get to know the characters that are in this plight. Let me take you to Saving Private Ryan for a moment. A modern classic and that is an opinion that is hard to argue. I would be willing to bet most people have a character they remember and like. For me it was the sniper. I got him and his death was powerful and meaningful. Another film. Enemy At the Gates, under rated movie of Russians vs. Germans about one of the greatest snipers that has ever lived. Again everyone on both sides you get to know them and care or wish for their death. Classic film from a time before mine – Battle of the Bulge. Fantastic (in more ways than one) movie. You meet both sides and even can learn sympathy for some of the Germans in it, which is nigh unheard of at the time.

Not so here. I couldn’t tell you who half of the people were in the over an hour of battle this movie gives you. I also couldn’t care. Filli, Killi – which is which? It doesn’t matter. The movie doesn’t let you care. There was no stake in this film. There was no passion to the story to let me care beyond a cursory level if *anyone* lived or died. The movie had no risk because you knew some characters couldn’t die. The ones beyond that you couldn’t care about, with few exceptions thanks to the actors. The story didn’t do them justice.

Second major failure. If you want to introduce things not in the book, by all means do so. I *encourage* it. You will be damned if you mirror the book near perfect (Zack Snyder) or deviate wildly (Jackson here). Might as well take the risk and do something fascinating; just make sure it is fascinating and for the love of all that you hold dear – have a plan. If you want to introduce all these new elements make sure you know what to do with them when you have to wrap the bow around the whole package. There were too many stories started here and so few of them were closed. There won’t be another film so why leave them hanging?

Now these two failures combined pretty much left me bored and not caring. There are other factors I will get too in a minute. The movie succeeds in two places. The first is Martin Freeman. I know he is not at risk, but at all times he makes me care. He manages to strike the chords that make me feel something while watching this. His acting is fantastic end to end without ever missing a beat that he is on screen. The second is Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel. Yes I know she is created for the film, but again she actually makes me care.  I wish there was more to her and for her to work with because it actually worked.

No one else did. Really. They didn’t. Even Armitage a Thorin just doesn’t really do it. He gets close, but he almost tries too hard.

From a technical standpoint please allow me to say: DEAR GOD WHAT HAPPENED TO BIGATURES?! CGI IS NOT THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING!!!! It along with your high frame rate and 3D makes every single flaw look even worse. It isn’t good. If Manu Bennet (who is awesome in person) is wearing a make up while playing Azog its a really bad make up because it looks CG. If the make up is only enhanced by CG, then they failed. It looked bad. It looked really bad. Honestly, not a single shot in the movie looked good. They were trying too hard. They tried so hard they hit the ridiculous barrier. It wasn’t SyFy movie of the week bad, but it was way too much money spent on it bad. With all that WETA digital has done over the years, they apparently have not mastered light. It made every shot “enhanced” by the artificial light look worse. The CG horseback ride, was easy to see the green screen!

Creature design. What. The. Frak. It was patently ridiculous. I remember the first time you gave us a Cave Troll. It was bloody terrifying, even if it doesn’t hold up. The Battle of Helms deep?

TL;DR

As I said before you will see this anyway if you were going to. If you were on the fence, please heed my advice – Don’t see it.

I don’t actually hate the film, but I can’t give it more than an Ok. It didn’t make me smile. It didn’t actually entertain with only a handful of scenes as an exception. It gave me a solid meh and only a few eye watering moments to show for it.

If you absolutely must see this movie; if it is a moral imperative of Chris Knight proportions then go see it. Avoid the high resolution/frame rate, there were times it almost made me nauseous. 3D is ok, but you can save SOME money by catching the 2D and I don’t think you’ll be too upset.

So there it is…the end of a trilogy (hexology?). It started epic and ends with a whimper.