Movie Review ~ Aquaman

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Arthur Curry learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world.

Stars: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Ludi Lin, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Randall Park

Director: James Wan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 143 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: In some ways, you have to have a little sympathy for the folks running the show over at DC Studios/Warner Brothers. Despite a strong run with their original Batman franchise and then Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, they’ve struggled mightily with finding their footing in future films. Man of Steel was a complex origin story that was ultimately too cool to the touch, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was savaged by critics even though it wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone remembers it to be, and Suicide Squad was just outright garbage. Then a minor miracle happened in the excellent Wonder Woman and it seemed like the beleaguered studio had learned their lesson and turned a corner…only to have those hopes dashed a few months later with the release of the box office turd Justice League.

Well, it’s been a year and another DC stand-alone superhero movie has come swimming along in the hopes it can make some waves in what has up until now been a fairly shallow pond. While Aquaman has its regrettable missteps and its fair share of groan-worthy dialogue, it’s not enough to sink it to the bottom of the DC ocean thanks to a director that brings a unique style and an eclectic cast willing to go the distance for some overly fishy material.

Though we’ve met Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) briefly in BvS and Justice League, this is his first time taking center stage which means part of the film mandates that this is his origin story. When his father (Temuera Morrison) rescues a mysterious woman (Nicole Kidman, Stoker) from the sea, he doesn’t know she’s a sea princess from Atlantis on the run from an arranged marriage to a rival king. The two fall in love and have a son before Atlanna is forced to abandon her family and return to the sea in order to protect them. Flash forward twenty-some years and Atlanna’s son has grown into a man of rippling muscles and tribal tattoos that can communicate with sea creatures and swim faster than a speeding torpedo. He’s also invincible to most mortal weapons, as evidenced in an opening battle between pirates aboard a hijacked submarine. The events that take place here will create the genesis of Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, The Greatest Showman), an enemy for Aquaman who will haunt him throughout the film.

Meanwhile, fathoms below the sea a plot is being hatched by Aquaman’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson, The Nun) who seeks to become the all-powerful Ocean Master by joining forces with King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren, The Expendables 2) and dominating the underwater kingdoms by any means necessary. When Mera (Amber Heard, The Danish Girl), Nereus’s daughter gets wind of the plan she reaches out to Aquaman for his help in returning to Atlantis, defeating his brother, and claiming the throne that is rightfully his. After a lifetime of turning his back on the undersea nation he feels took his mother away from him, helping out his people isn’t high on Aquaman’s list of priorities.

At 143 minutes and with multiple storylines to follow, Aquaman is certainly ambitious in his first time going it alone. Even if the script from David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall doesn’t contain the same type of rousing origin story executed so well in Wonder Woman, there’s a nice flow to the first and third acts of the film. It’s the second act where Aquaman and Mera start to globe-trot in search of a lost trident and are pursued by Manta where things start to get a little choppy. I get why the Manta storyline was included (stay through the credits to find out why) but it just felt extraneous to everything else going on in the film. Chucking all that and focusing on the contained story about Aquman’s conflict with his brother would have been enough to fuel the movie just fine.

Like Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, the movie succeeds largely on the screen magnetism of Momoa as Aquaman. While he relies too often on his hair and an over the shoulder glance to do most of the work for him, by the time he’s donned the famous orange and green Aquaman suit he had more than convinced me that he’s a born action star. Sadly, Heard is a bit of a dud as his leading lady as is Wilson who literally treads water for most of his scenes. There’s some unfortunate de-aging scenes with Morrison and especially Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) as an emissary of Atlantis playing both sides which actually make both men look like they’re motion captured holograms instead of flesh and blood actors. Kidman is really the one that makes the biggest impression in her short amount of screen time. The Oscar winning actress is at the point in her career where she can take whatever role she wants and this one seems like it was a choice made out of pure moviemaking fun. She strikes the right tone and never falls prey (like many of her costars) to take things to a heightened sense of camp even during moments like when she has a goldfish tail sticking out of her mouth.

Bringing in director James Wan (The Conjuring) was a smart move on the part of Warner Brothers. The director has a recognizable filmmaking calling card and it’s clear from the beginning of the movie that this picture is being overseen by a director interested in doing something different. Odd camera angles, carefully designed long-shots, and sequences that seem to jump over impossible obstacles in one smooth tracking shot are all Wan staples and they’re used to great effect here. Add to that some awesome visual effect work (see the film in 3D if possible…and I don’t say that lightly) and a retro-feeling synth-heavy score from Rupert Gregson-Williams (Blended) and you get a DC picture that actively tries to separate itself from the pack. Even if it doesn’t always work, it at least fails while trying hard and not by comparison to the films that came before it.

Now that this first Aquaman film is out of the way and with no other Justice League movies in the pipeline, I’m hoping that DC/Warner Brothers gets to work on a sequel and quickly. Feel free to take your time like Wonder Woman 1984 (due in 2020) is doing but now that Wan and company have established the world of Arthur Curry/Aquaman, they have a whole ocean of possibilities on where to take the next chapter.

Movie Review ~ Ant-Man and The Wasp


The Facts
:

Synopsis: As Scott Lang balances being both a Super Hero and a father, Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.

Stars: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Laurence Fishburne, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins, Randall Park

Director: Peyton Reed

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Now that we’re 20 movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s clear where every character sits in the franchise family tree. While Iron Man is the father figure, the Guardians of the Galaxy folks are the Cousin Eddie’s of the group and Spider-Man is the kid brother. Black Panther has been established as the cool uncle and that leaves Ant-Man as the fun-cle, the one all the kids run to when he arrives because they know he’ll be good for a laugh, a jolly distraction while the other relatives are busy setting the table. The problem is that fun-cles eventually have to sit at the adults table when dinner is served and that can be an awkward fit.

Same goes for Ant-Man.

Introduced in 2015 right after Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man came on the scene right when we needed him most. Things were getting too serious and some levity was needed to save the superhero series from wallowing in too many apocalypse-like battle royales. Director Peyton Reed and Paul Rudd’s first outing felt a welcome deep breath of air…it may not have been totally fresh but it zapped some energy at a critical point.

What winds up being too bad about the timing of Ant-Man and The Wasp is that it’s coming on the heels of two widely (and wildly) talked about entries (Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War) and the film can’t help but feel a bit diluted by its bigger and better siblings. Make no mistake, it’s a perfectly fine bit of popcorn entertainment that works more often than not…but it doesn’t feel like a solid enough chapter in the overall story Marvel is trying to tell.

Taking place around the same time as the events in Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and The Wasp opens with a flashback prologue that introduces us to Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer, Dark Shadows) and shows us how she winds up lost in the same Quantum Realm Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Rudd, Wanderlust) escaped from at the end of the first film. We learned in that movie no one had come back from this other dimension but with Scott’s return there is a possibility of the long-last Janet being saved. Now seemingly connected to Janet, Scott has to get an S.O.S. message to her husband (Hank Pym {Michael Douglas, And So It Goes}) and their daughter (Hope van Dyne, {Evangeline Lilly, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies}) before a thin opening of escape closes forever.

Standing in the way are several roadblocks the film juggles during its economical running length. Due to his involvement in the battle featured in Captain America: Civil War, Scott is under house arrest (a clever explanation of his absence from Avengers: Infinity War) and has just three days left on his sentence. The FBI is tracking Hope and Hank as well so how can the three join together to decode Janet’s message and bring her back from the Quantum Realm? Then there’s a toothy villain played by Walton Goggins (Tomb Raider) who keeps popping up at the most inopportune time and the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen, Ready Player One) with her own reasons for wanting to find Janet.

With so many characters running around the film can feel a bit overstuffed, especially considering none of the villains make much of an impression. I found the original film to be a nice little burst of fun and was able to feed off the manic energy of the proceedings. Here, the sequel tries to recreate that feeling to mostly the same results, becoming a movie that’s quick on its feet, but one that has less of an impact by the time the credits roll. While the stakes are high on a personal level for these characters there’s nothing that rises to the importance of anything on a global scale so in the end your enjoyment factor becomes a matter of how invested you get in the performances.

All the actors that have retuned for the film pretty much pick up where they left off. Rudd has had the benefit of another Ant-Man appearance under his belt so he coasts along nicely. Though Rudd isn’t your typical choice for a super-hero, like Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool and Deadpool 2 he’s mined his comic talents for good and made a believer out of me. Douglas, Lilly, and Michael Pena (End of Watch) all bring individual strengths but I was left scratching my head at Laurence Fishburne (Last Flag Flying) and his drastically underwritten man-splaining role. Goggins is a bit of a bore by this point, having played this type of smarmy dude in one too many movies. He’s easily outshone by John-Kamen as a more layered foe for Ant-Man and his pals. Though she disappears after the prologue for nearly 90 minutes, when Pfeiffer returns to the screen she arrives ready to play — I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Pfeiffer and this pfranchise.

Those who have been riding a Marvel high on the two previous movies released in 2018 are best directed to lower the bar a little when approaching Ant-Man and The Wasp. I can see why Marvel positioned it as they did but with the ending of Avengers: Infinity War causing such drama and emotion I found it a bit of a tough sell to go into a movie that’s so dramatically different in theme. Here’s your frequent reminder to stay for the credits…I found the mid-credit scene to be one of the more meaty and imperative-to-see sequences yet.

The Silver Bullet ~ Ant-Man and The Wasp

Synopsis: As Scott Lang balances being both a Super Hero and a father, Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.

Release Date: July 6, 2018

Thoughts: By the time Ant-Man was released in 2015, I was in major superhero movie fatigue so I’d be forgiven for not going ga-ga over Paul Rudd’s jokey take on the bite-sized Avenger.  While it had some nice Honey, I Shrunk the Kids style fun, Ant-Man just felt like another in a long line of average popcorn flicks featuring lesser characters that were positioned to continue the Marvel Universe while the more popular players took a breather.  After doing battle in Captain America: Civil War and just two short months after making a return appearance in May’s Avengers: Infinity War, Rudd (Wanderlust) returns to headline this follow-up that, I must admit, looks like zany entertainment. I was hoping to get a glimpse of Michelle Pfeiffer (Murder on the Orient Express) in this first trailer but chances are Marvel is saving her for a reveal closer to the release date.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Interview

interview

Synopsis: Dave Skylark and his producer Aaron Rapoport run the popular celebrity tabloid TV show “Skylark Tonight.” When they discover that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a fan of the show, they land an interview with him in an attempt to legitimize themselves as journalists.

Release Date:  December 25, 2014

Thoughts: Back in June of this year, The Interview was already in hot water.  A news agency in North Korea vowed retaliation against the studio distributing the comedy (Sony/Columbia), warning all involved of their plans.  Sony, undeterred from any potential backlash and encouraged by positive test screenings moved the release date from an early October bow to prime holiday real estate: Christmas Day.  In the last few weeks it seems the promise from North Korea was made good on when Sony suffered a massive hack of their internal e-mails, exposing the inner dealings of studio heads and filmmakers to public embarrassment.

Though deep down I secretly hope this is all a massive prank to promote the film, one has to wonder how worth the risk the film will end up being.  Even considering that I’m not a huge fan of James Franco (Oz, The Great and Powerful) or Seth Rogen (This Is The End) I have to say that the sheer audacity of the offensive premise of The Interview earns them some small credit in my book.  Will Sony be laughing all the way to the bank with egg on their face?