Marvel Cinematic Universe- Phase Two

MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE- PHASE TWO

IRON MAN 3 (2013)
Director: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey,Jr., Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce


Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) should really start keeping tabs on all of the people he may have crossed or ignored in the past. Then again, that list may get way too long. His previous foes, including Obadiah Stane and Ivan Vanko, were previously connected to Tony and his father. Back in 1999, Tony met Aldrich Killian (Pearce) at a New Year’s Eve party but brushed him off and neglected to join him in his business venture, Advanced Idea Mechanics, A.I.M for short. Killian is a scraggly, disabled, and worn down man working with the Extremis virus which gives strength and regenerative treatments to humans.

In present day, Tony is out of sorts often suffering from panic attacks and a lack of sleep due to the alien invasion in New York (see Marvel’s The Avengers for this story). His girlfriend Pepper Potts (Paltrow) who is now the CEO of Stark Industries is worried about him and is growing tired of the consequences of him being Iron Man. To make things even worse, a terrorist by the name of The Mandarin (Kingsley) is sending threatening videos of the destruction he intends to inflect on the United States. It is probably no coincidence that he bears a resemblance to Osama bin Laden. An attack outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre leaves Tony’s bodyguard Happy (Favreau) badly injured and hospital bound. Tony sends a pretty ballsy message to The Mandarin saying he is not afraid and goes so far as to give his address out over live TV threatening that he is ready for whatever The Mandarin has to offer. The Mandarin sends his team to Tony’s gorgeous Malibu residence and destroys the place. With the help of a ten-year old boy and his friend James Rhodes (Cheadle), who is also suiting up in his own gear as Iron Patriot, Tony sets out to destroy The Mandarin and find out the connection between him and Aldrich Killian.

Black takes over the director’s chair from Jon Favreau who helmed the first two. The series needed a boost of fresh air after Iron Man 2. Fans left quite disappointed as the second film was weak and quite boring compared to the energy of the first one. Downey and Black previously worked together in the noir hit Kiss Kiss Bang Bang so it was reassuring to hear that collaboration would be back as Downey would be particular about who would sign on board for the third entry. Black wrote the film with Drew Pearce and they definitely know how to play to the strengths of these characters and actors. Each actor has great moments to shine without ever feeling like they are wimpy supporting characters in Downey’s movie. There are a few clever little twists thrown in to up the ante for the series and what is to come in the Marvel universe. The film also boasts the addition of the best villain in the series. Ben Kingsley is no stranger to playing the bad guy, but his take on The Mandarin is diabolical, sadistic, and dare I say funny at times. Each of the action sequences and special effects are top notch and impressive. The Iron Man suit alone comes flying onto Tony in various parts that connect all together once they hit his body.

These movies would be nothing without Robert Downey, Jr. I cannot think of another actor that would have taken on this role and given him the dimension he has been able to use with playing Stark. He can play the cocky comedic one-liners in one moment, kick serious ass in the next, and then have touching dramatic scenes with Pepper in an another scene. I would not be as big of a fan of the Iron Man character if it was not for Downey. If this was the last stand-alone Iron Man film, it would end on a high-note. I hope Downey comes back for The Avengers 2, but that will most likely be the last time he dons the Iron Man suit.

It should probably go without saying that you should keep an eye out for the Stan Lee cameo and stay after the credits for the additional fun scene that is always tagged onto Marvel movies. Don’t worry. No spoilers from me on what it entitles! Just trust that it is well worth sitting through the names of hundreds upon hundreds of people involved with the digital effects of the film.

RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)
Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Christopher Eccleston, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård

Is it wrong that after three movies I still think of Vincent D’Onofrio when it comes to Thor? Other Adventures in Babysitting fans and I are still waiting for him to make a cameo in one of these. Chances are slim to none that it will ever happen but we can still hope for it. We do have the brutish Chris Hemsworth back to wear the red cape and throw that hammer around. Many moons ago a war broke out between the Asgardians and the Dark Elves whose ruler Malekith (Eccleston) sought to destroy the universe with a red liquid known as the aether. The Asgardians won and killed the Dark Elves, but unbeknownst to them, Malekith and some of his men survive and disappear into another realm. The aether was cast to Earth to stay hidden for centuries.

In present day Earth, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Portman) and her colleague Darcy (Dennings) investigate a bizarre finding in a warehouse when the dormant aether attaches itself to Jane causing her to disappear into another realm. Thor is informed of her disappearance and heads back down to rescue her. She reappears five hours later only to be scooped up by Thor and taken back up to Asgard. Thor’s father Odin (Hopkins) recognizes the aether and knows it is only time before Malekith returns. Thor must make the decision if he will turn to his imprisoned and deceitful brother Loki (Hiddleston) for help against Malekith.

With action happening on Earth, Asgard, as well as some other realms, there is a lot going on with the story. I applaud the production design and special effects teams for giving Asgard some actual dimension, depth, and culture behind it. There seems to be a bit of a Star Wars and Lord of the Rings feel to the look of it without it feeling overly CGI with a green screen behind the actors. At one point we see a burial ceremony after a battle sequence that was quite beautiful and touching. It took me by surprise as I was not quite expecting it nor was it even fully needed. I am glad director Alan Taylor kept the scene in as it gives some culture and reality to this world.

If you are up-to-date with your Marvel movies, you may know we are now into Phase 2. Along with Iron Man 3, the film follows the events in Marvel’s The Avengers. The writers know these characters a bit better, so there able to have a little more fun this time around. Now that we are done setting the stage and history, some of the smaller characters are utilized more. Dennings and Skarsgard are scene stealers at times given the comedic angles of their characters. Skarsgard spends the majority of the film without his pants on. He must have been prepping for his next movie, Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. Even Rene Russo as Thor’s mom is given a fight scene this time around instead of standing in the background behind Anthony Hopkins. Even though Thor is the title character and the hero, the film really belongs to Tom Hiddleston and his return to the diabolical Loki. Loki is such a juicy character that teeters back and forth on how villainous he wants to be and if you can trust him or not. It is apparent that Hiddleston is having loads of fun here as he toys with our trust. Any great villain with the right actor should make you feel that way towards him.

What is great about these Avengers characters is that they all come from different times in history and from very different worlds. Iron Man is very much set in the technological now, Captain America is more of the historical World War II era, and Thor is from the old Norse mythology on a different planet. One may appeal to you more than others. Thor is a bit tricky as he is not all that interesting as a character nor does he have an alternate personality like Tony Stark. I am not a big reader of mythology, so he does not really appeal to me like say Tony Stark/Iron Man or the X-Men. Loki is the better character in this series. Many people found the first film a bit iffy, and I know where they are coming from. I have grown to like it and these characters more with each viewing. Like I previously mentioned, Loki is a big factor in that. The film is definitely action packed, but not so drawn out like Man of Steel. There are references and jokes to both the first film and Marvel’s The Avengers, but you shouldn’t feel too lost going into this if you have not seen them. The film is naturally showing in 3D like everything else in theaters. Feel free to skip it and save the $3. Do NOT skip out on the mid-credit sequence AND make sure to stay after the very end of the credits for another brief scene. You should already know this if you have seen any of the other Marvel films.

RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones

For those who may not know, we we are in the middle of Marvel Phase Two following Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. These are the films and stories that happen after the events in New York that unfolded in Marvel’s The Avengers. We got introduced to all of our super heroes in the Phase One movies, and now we can have even more fun as we don’t need to worry as heavily about exposition and the set up of these universes. The Phase Two movies have been bigger and more explosive than their first outings, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is no exception. There are so many twists and turns here involving key characters and plot details that I will try to remain as spoiler free as possible.

At the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers (Evans), aka Captain America, finds out he has been “asleep” for the last seventy years after he awakens in the present day despite being a World War II fighter. Steve is still having troubles adjusting to the modern era as it is far different than the 1940s he remembers. There is a fun bit where he makes a list of things he is told to check out, like Marvin Gaye, Steve Jobs, and Star Wars/Trek. He continues to do missions for S.H.I.E.L.D alongside fellow director Nick Fury (Jackson) and agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson).

S.H.I.E.L.D is working on a secret project involving three massive helicarriers involving spy satellite technology and weaponry to combat incoming threats. When an attack on the S.H.I.E.L.D headquarters occurs, the agency becomes compromised and one of their own is gunned down. Steve witnesses the attack and is warned not to trust anyone. Captain America teams up with Black Window and their new partner in crime, Falcon (Mackie), to take down The Winter Soldier (Stan), the Soviet Assassin who seems to be the face of the organization behind the attacks.

One of the things that Captain America: The Winter Soldier proves is how versatile this character is and how he works in numerous settings and time periods. Screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus who wrote the first film, as well as Thor: The Dark World, are back under the direction of brothers Anthony and Joe Russo. Producer Kevin Feige wanted each of the Captain America films to feel completely different. He wanted the first film to be this World War II story told through the perspective of a superhero saga and for this one he turned to the idea of it being set in political, espionage, and conspiracy thriller. These are two completely different tones and genres to tackle for these characters, yet it completely works for Steve Rogers/Captain America. Part of the fun of his story comes with him feeling a bit out of place in this modern technological world.

Many of the other Marvel sequels work fairly well on their own if you hadn’t seen the others that came before it. They feel connected to the overarching series and universe, but each film’s story could be taken out of context and make sense for anyone coming in new to it. I feel like it is pretty imperative to see Captain America: The First Avenger before you see this one. I think it’s impressive that the screenwriters were able to successfully connect the two films despite the numerous decades that have passed and considering how different they are in style. While this has a new story with new villains, so much of this film is in direct correlation to the events, relationships, and people of the first film. I don’t mean a slight reference or nod to those from the past. The film centers around this connectedness to Steve’s past and the loyalties and friendships he had back in the 1940s.

Marvel really lucked out with its casting choices. Each one of these actors fits right in and feels comfortable with the responsibility that comes with playing these comic book characters. Chris Evans has that all-American, boy next door charm that is vital to Steve Rogers. This is Samuel L. Jackson’s sixth time popping up as Nick Fury. Luckily for the audience and for Marvel fans, it’s more than just a cameo. Sebastian Stan makes for a fantastic villain. There is a force and menacing look behind his eyes. Joining the series is screen legend Robert Redford as one of S.H.I.E.L.D’s senior directors. Apparently, he took the job because his grandchildren are big Marvel fans, and he wanted to do a film for them to see. Anthony Mackie is another excellent addition to the cast. Not only is he a great actor, but he gets a kick-ass costume. Here’s hoping we have not seen the last of Falcon.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier
boasts a run time of over two hours which may seem excessive, but it never feels long. The Russos keep the pacing and energy up without ever letting the action scenes feel too long or drawn out. The camera is so tight in on many of the action sequences. This tends to be a common trend lately especially after The Bourne series. I get the effect it has when the camera is that close up, but I would rather see the whole picture. Anthony Mackie has mentioned that they wanted to keep the action sequences as realistic as possible without relying too heavily on CGIed effects. This is an artistic choice I can definitely get behind. I have seen all of the Marvel films, especially the ones based the Avengers characters, multiple times, and I recently noticed how family friendly they turned out to be. The action and violence can be heavy duty without ever feeling gratuitous or relying on excessive gore or torture. The profanity is used at a bare minimum. Like the other Marvel films, make sure to check for the Stan Lee cameo and stay after the credits start to roll for two additional scenes.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? It seems like the summer blockbuster season has come early and it marks another win for Marvel. Make sure to see the first film first. You may feel a bit lost without a lot of that back story.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Ticket Stubs

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Benecio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou, Glenn Close, John C. Reilly
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Move over Avengers, because Marvel has a whole new set of heroes that are worth checking out and worth our money at the box office. This is the third Marvel release this summer after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Funnyman Chris Pratt suits up as Peter Quill, a.k.a Star-Lord, a pilot who was abducted into space as a kid on the same night his mother died. He now finds himself face to face with a mysterious orb and a bunch of hunters led by Korath (Hounsou). Korath is working for Ronan (Pace) who plans on using the orb to completely destroy the planet of Xandar. Peter is later imprisoned along with the beautiful and fierce warrior Gamora (Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Bautista), the wise-cracking and gun-toting Rocket Raccoon (Cooper), and a tree-like humanoid named Groot (Diesel). All five of them are outcasts and unique in their own special way. In order to save the universe, they band together to protect that little ball of power from the hands of the evil Ronan.

Right from the moment we see the adult Peter Quill, you get the sense that this has a very different feel and tone from the rest of the movies in the Marvel franchise. Whether it’s Marvel’s The Avengers destroying New York City or X-Men: Days of Future Past using Richard Nixon as a character, many of those stories are set in a more realistic world. The title of this film tells us that we are dealing with a completely sci-fi/fantasy realm with aliens, species, and creatures of all shapes and sizes. Director James Gunn co-wrote the screenplay with Nicole Perlman, and it’s evident that they were allowed to go to the extremes and bring us a fun, over-the-top ride. There’s a playful attitude that comes across in the wacky fight scenes, the characters, and witty dialogue. It’s great to see the comedic banter given to numerous characters in how they deal with each other. Drax the Destroyer takes everything at face value and doesn’t understand the concept of metaphors while Peter is always joking around and throwing out references left and right. Rocket is the loudmouth partner next to the almost silent Groot. Due to this approach, Guardians of the Galaxy is probably the most family friendly we have seen from Marvel to date. It has a Star Wars-ish vibe but with comic book characters that parents may find more suitable for younger moviegoers. The violence is cartoonish and there aren’t as many overarching life themes that would normally go over a young child’s head.

Chris Pratt is on a roll right now both on the big screen in Her, Zero Dark Thirty, and The Lego Movie as well as playing the goofy Andy Dwyer on Parks & Recreation. Even though Parks & Recreation ends next season, Pratt will not have that post-TV slump as he is currently filming Jurassic World and I’m sure future Guardians movies. He has stated in interviews that he originally turned down this role thinking he was completely wrong for it. I, for one, am thankful he reconsidered as he seems like the perfect choice for Star-Lord. Now, I’ve never read the comics, so I have nothing to compare his performance to in terms of the original source material. Maybe he infused the role with some Pratt-isms that we know from him, but they still work here. He has that nice blend of being believable as an action star and infusing his comedic charm on top of that.

I would never have thought I would find Vin Diesel to be so funny. Maybe I haven’t given those Fast and the Furious movies enough of a shot yet, but there’s a side of him that comes out as Groot that I didn’t see before. He only utters one line, “I am Groot”, but the comedy comes in with how repetitive he gets to be with it. He partners well with Bradley Cooper who voices Rocket. They have that classic comedic duo routine but with a tough edge where one does all the talking and tries to be the wise-guy. If I didn’t already know Cooper was the voice, I may not have recognized him right away. I applaud him for really going somewhere different with his characterization. Then there’s Lee Pace as Ronan who seems to be getting a lot of villain roles lately. I have no problems with this concept as he can always find the menacing side to any character of his. He’ll return as Thranduil in The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. Even though Glenn Close and Benecio Del Toro have smaller roles, they have great hair, make-up, and costumes to play around in.

I would not consider myself a comic book aficionado, but I do enjoy seeing the big screen adaptations. I had no idea what to expect with Guardians of the Galaxy. The trailer had a good sense of humor about it, but I didn’t want it to be hokey. Don’t worry, it isn’t. I will say that it took me a bit to get adjusted into this universe as I didn’t know the characters, source material, and how different it is than the other Marvels universes. Once I was in, it was a wild ride of fun. I laughed more here than I have in other Marvel franchises. This film continues to show the quality that this genre has on actors and moviegoers. It’s great to see Oscar winners and nominees like Bradley, Glenn, Benecio, John, and Djimon wanting to be a part of these movies. To top of it, it has a killer soundtrack that plays into the movie and provides for some slick Chris Pratt dance moves.

Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Marvel has a hot new series on their hands that will only get better with the next entries to come.

RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Paul Bettany

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Hulk, smash! And boy, does he ever in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The sequel to the biggest superhero movie of all time naturally has to be bigger than the first film. Expectations are sky high for writer/director Joss Whedon to bring back that magic and fun of the first one without suffering from sequel-itis. From the very first frame, we are catching our Avengers in the middle of an attack on a Hydra research base hoping to get their hands on Loki’s scepter. This attack also introduces us to two new characters, the twins Scarlet Witch (Olsen) and Quicksilver (Taylor-Johnson). They’ve been trained as enemies against our beloved Iron Man (Downey), Captain America (Evans), Thor (Hemsworth), Black Widow (Johansson), Hawkeye (Renner), and Hulk (Ruffalo). As Cobie Smulder’s Maria states, “He’s fast and she’s weird.” The battle ends with Iron Man obtaining the scepter, but only after the team is subjected to the twins’ powers of speed, magic, and telekinesis.

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Back at Avengers headquarters, Tony Stark/Iron Man is working on a new artificial intelligence project. He’s stuck at a breaking point and turns to Bruce Banner/Hulk and his scientific expertise. Their combined forces suddenly turn for the worst when this new A.I. generates itself and morphs into an iron body. It goes by the name Ultron (voiced by Spader) and becomes the Avengers’ greatest foe to date after he turns on his creators. All Ultron wants to do is save the world…and kill the Avengers.

 

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One would think that after the multitude of Marvel movies that have been released since Iron Man in 2008, the franchise would grow tired and repetitive. You could say that this franchise mirrors The Fast and the Furious in that it only gets better with age. Now that we’ve been with these characters for quite some time, they feel like old pals with each new movie. It’s like you’re getting together with a group of friends you only see once a year. You feel that chemistry between the actors pick right back up again. Whedon knows how to write for these characters, who were originally created by Stan Lee. He plays into their banter like crazy with running gags and constant witty one-liners. Did you know Captain America hates profanity? It provides a nice balance to the heavy action side of the film and shows that Marvel doesn’t take itself too seriously. Finding that balance is key in these superhero movies.

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Whedon takes the opportunity in Avengers: Age of Ultron to dig deeper into some of the other Avengers who haven’t had their own stand-alone films by this point. So far we have only seen Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye as a cameo in Thor and then he appeared in the first Avengers film. In this film, we see the Clint Barton life he also leads. We are introduced to his wife, played by the tough Linda Cardellini, and his two children. I really hope we see more of Cardellini in future films. Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson are given more to do as Whedon continues to develop the romantic relationship between Bruce/Hulk and Natasha/Black Widow. There is something really sweet and endearing about this Beauty and the Beast-esque subplot. The Hulk character may have not made for successful stand-alone films, but Ruffalo has been able to capture the two sides of this character and make them understandable and likeable in a way we haven’t seen before. Ruffalo partnered with motion-capture actor Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings) to bring more life into the character after he’s turned into the green CG giant. I was excited to see Serkis have a minor role in the film as well, and we actually get to see his face in a movie! Paul Bettany is another veteran to the Marvel Cinematic Universe after voicing J.A.R.V.I.S many times before, and he is treated with playing another character in this film. I would hate to spoil how his new character comes into play, but I will say that it’s great to finally see him on screen.

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New to this movie is three-time Emmy winner James Spader and hot young actors Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen. Taylor-Johnson and Olsen played a married couple in Godzilla and play the twins in this film. They are both fantastic here and make Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver worthy characters of being in this franchise. I was hesitant after seeing the first trailer that our main villain Ultron was a CG character, but I was on-board from his very first scene, as Spader knows how to make an entrance in a very Spader-like way. Like any good villain, he steals the entire movie.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron is a grandiose film for this genre. There are so many characters of new and old that come into play and the stakes are higher than ever. It’s great to see supporting players from the other movies like Anthony Mackie (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Don Cheadle (Iron Man 2 & 3), and Stellan Skarsgård (Thor) utilized this time around. There are even more, but I’ll let that be a surprise for you. There is a lot going on to fill the 2 hour and 20 minute runtime. Apparently Whedon’s first cut was three and a half hours. Here’s hoping we see that on the Blu-Ray. The biggest squabble I have comes down to those high-octane action sequences. In the first film, they felt clear, crisp, and easy to watch. With the plethora of characters in battle, the fights are so fast as they zip from place to place; I had a hard time focusing. Add in the unnecessary 3D, and the CGI starts to become very visible oftentimes making the actors look animated. It’s my continual battle with these types of movies, but I always credit Whedon’s work in the first film for making it work. Here it seems a little more muddled. That aside, there is so much to enjoy between the humor, the new badass villains, and the camaraderie of this cast. I already have my tickets to see it a second time.

Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? This is Joss Whedon’s last Marvel entry, and I’m going to miss his contributions to this franchise.

RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS

ANT-MAN
Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Michael Peña, David Dastmalchian, Tip “T.I.” Harris

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It’s time for another Marvel movie, thus concluding Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You may have thought that Avengers: Age of Ultron would have been the conclusion, but they’ve snuck this little guy in there and tied him into the story lines of what came before in terms of the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D, and Hydra. Scott Lang (Rudd) is seen enjoying his last few hours in prison by getting a goodbye ritual. He is looking forward to getting his life back together again and hopes to have a relationship with his daughter who is living with his ex-wife (Greer) and her fiancé (Cannavale). It’s hard for Scott to stay away from the tempting world of theft and larceny when he has trouble finding work and needs to pay child support. He feels no choice but to take on a heist involving the goods inside an ultra secure safe in a neighborhood home. The safe door opens only to reveal a strange looking leather suit and funny looking helmet.

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This suit is none other than the highly secretive Ant-Man suit created by Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas). Hank has long since given up those days of donning the suit, shrinking down to ant size, and saving the world. The powers were beyond dangerous and put his life in jeopardy. He feels that the time as come to bring the suit out of retirement when he finds out his protégé Darren Cross (Stoll), the CEO of Cross Technologies, is trying to steal his idea by making a copycat type of suit known as Yellowjacket. Hank and his daughter Hope (Lily) train Scott into being the Ant-Man and use his roommates/former convicts (Dastmalchian, Peña, and Harris) to help stop Cross and his diabolical ways.

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If you’re thinking this sounds all too familiar, it has a very similar feel to many of the other Marvel films when we got introduced to a new character who is given special powers. Up until this point, many of the recent Marvel movies were sequels where we could start having fun with the characters. We know them, love them, and can go on whatever journey they need to take to battle an even nastier villain than before. Overall Phase 2 has been more enjoyable than Phase 1. Due to the fact this is the first time we are meeting Scott Lang and his alter-ego Ant-Man, it feels like a bit of a step back to go and have to tell an origins story. Guardians of the Galaxy was tasked with the same idea of setting up a new universe with crazy characters but did it far more effectively. I get a bit restless when so much of one movie decides to tell the story of where they came from and how they cope when given a greater responsibility. There are whole scenes from Ant-Man that could easily been trimmed down or told through flashbacks to still get the point across. The story also suffers by using the old “mad scientist turns evil” plot where they create the same sort of invention or prototype used by our hero because they think they can create it better and use it against them. Didn’t we see that in Iron Man?

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I think part of the disconnect and unoriginal aspects of the film come from how it came into production. Originally Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Joe Cornish were attached to write it with Wright directing it. I think Marvel wanted to rush it into theaters shortly after the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron in order to tie it in with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I can only guess that this led to creative differences with Wright who then decided to leave the project. Maybe it was a mutual decision between both parties. They are still credited as two of the writers, but star Paul Rudd and Adam McKay came in for rewrites. Peyton Reed (Yes Man, The Break-Up) took over the directing duties. Reed, Rudd, and McKay come with comedy backgrounds and aptly fit the tone, which is needed for the film. It’s not slapstick, but you can’t take yourself too seriously when the superhero of the movie shrinks down to the size of an ant and has ants that he can manipulate to help him out. Ant-Man does have its funny moments, but didn’t quite have the zany feel that Guardians did. The humor comes out more once Scott feels comfortable with being Ant-Man. This also happens to be the time the movie gets really exciting as the structure of the climax is based around a heist premise. Marvel did something similar with Captain America: The Winter Soldier being an espionage conspiracy theory type story.

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The movie is by no means a train wreck and is saved by its cast. You have to give credit to the powers that be over at Marvel for continuing to line-up the perfect cast for each of their movies. They are hot commodities and can attract big time actors like Michael Douglas to play along. Paul Rudd is that perfect mix of being a good looking, funny leading man with charm and charisma but can be taken seriously in this sort of action hero. I don’t think anything here is outside what we’ve seen from him before, but that doesn’t really matter. Corey Stoll (This is Where I Leave You, “House of Cards”) nails the crazy scientist bit injecting 100% cockiness into the role right from the beginning. He’s also given one of the coolest costumes when he turns into Yellowjacket. The costume design is pretty clever for both he and Ant-Man. Michael Peña is another highlight who brings out many of the film’s laughs. Marvel regulars Hayley Atwell, John Slattery, and Anthony Mackie also pop up.

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Ant-Man would have been better under the complete creative control of Edgar Wright. It would have felt fresh, funny, and different. In its present state it’s passable and enjoyable, even if it isn’t as up to par as Marvel’s other films of late. At least, it’s still better than The Incredible Hulk. The character has a lot of potential now that we’ve gotten this obligatory origins movie out of the way. Rudd will be back as the character next year in Captain America: Civil War. He should pair well with some of our other Avengers who take themselves far too seriously. Don’t forget to look for the Stan Lee cameo, and there are two credit sequences you will want to stay for.

Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Die-hard Marvel fans will get a kick out of it.

RATING: 3 out of 5 TICKET STUBS

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