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Posts Tagged ‘Evangeline Lilly’

Even in our experience-intensive modern world, it turns out that people can go through their lives without ever having one of those normal, routine experiences that most of us take for granted. I’ve never ridden a bike, for example (well, to be honest there are many physical-type pursuits which are completely alien to me, mostly due to my total lack of coordination); I know other people who have never had a curry or flown on a plane. Nevertheless, the film-following contingent where I work were surprised to discover that in our midst was someone with a startling secret that they eventually decided to disclose. ‘I have never seen a Marvel Comics movie,’ our colleague announced.

I know, hard to believe, isn’t it? Well, we are a compassionate bunch and rallied round, providing advice and flow-charts about how best to rectify this, which films to watch first, and which ones to possibly skip (tougher than you’d think to decide on this stuff: personally, and I know this is controversial, I think Iron Man 3 is one of the studio’s most entertaining films, but it’s hardly essential to the ongoing meta-plot). It almost goes without saying that when the next Marvel film came around – and , let’s face it, it’s not like the wait is ever a particularly long one, even when the UK release gets delayed, as has been the case here – we took our colleague along to see it. ‘I can’t believe I’m finally going to see my first Marvel film!’ whispered our friend as the lights went down. There was much clasping of shoulders and smiling; we may actually have shared a moment, swept away on a tide of heady anticipation and self-regarding smugness.

The film in question was Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, the follow-up to the same director’s Ant-Man from 2015. Of course, much water has flowed under Marvel’s bridge since then, which the film does a decent job of attempting to accommodate. As things get underway, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, who also co-wrote the film) is coming to the end of a lengthy stretch of house arrest, as a result of his role in smashing up that airport towards the end of Captain America: Civil War. He is estranged from his former mentor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who are on the run from the authorities for providing him with the Ant-Man suit in the first place.

But Hank and Hope are not just quietly hiding: Scott’s visit to the quantum realm of the micro-universe at the end of the first film has given them hope that Hank’s wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) may still be alive down there somewhere, and having been working on a plan to rescue her. It turns out that in order to do this, they need Scott’s help, and so he is quietly extracted from house arrest and whisked off to assist.

However, it turns out that many people are aware of the potential value of Pym’s shrinking technology and keen to get their hands on it, which will inevitably complicate proceedings quite considerably. Around to help or possibly hinder the trio are Scott’s old cell-mate Luis (Michael Pena), criminal and restauranteur Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), Pym’s old associate Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), and an unstable young woman known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) – she’s not really evil, just going through a phase. Luckily Hank has provided Hope with her own (somewhat more capable) suit, and she has taken up her mother’s mantle as the Wasp…

Ant-Man and the Wasp is Marvel Studios’ twentieth film, although strictly speaking it should probably be the nineteenth: attentive readers may be wondering just how the plot outlined above meshes with the state of affairs pertaining at the end of Infinity War, the previous film in the series. Well, suffice to say that Marvel have got a little bit creative with the chronology of their films, and all is explained before the end of the credits (one can only hope that Ant-Man actually appears in the Infinity War follow-up). Possibly more important is another aspect of the relationship between Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp – to my mind, the first film rather benefited from being released immediately after one of the studio’s less accomplished and purely entertaining films (Age of Ultron), for its breezy lightness was a refreshing contrast. Infinity War, on the other hand, is a great summation of what Marvel have achieved over the last ten years, and surely Ant-Man and the Wasp runs the risk of seeming just a bit small-time and disposable in comparison?

Well, to some extent this is true, at least – there are only a handful of characters with your actual superpowers in this film, as opposed to a couple of dozen (Fishburne does not actually get to appear as Goliath, who’s one of those characters most notable for the circumstances of their death anyway). And, like the first film, this is as close to being a pure comedy as anything that Marvel has released – although, to my mind, the films have generally been getting lighter over the last few years.

In many ways this one put me in mind of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, in that the key change behind the scenes is that different writers are responsible for the script. My main problem with the second Guardians film was that it didn’t feel particularly well-structured or cohesive as a story, and the same is really true here. The film kind of plays out as an extended farce or sitcom, with Scott more than once having to rush home to fool the FBI into thinking he hasn’t breached the terms of his house arrest – it’s much more about overcoming obstacles and minor antagonists than actually defeating a villain. Ghost (quite well-played by John-Kamen) isn’t actually malevolent as such, and may even strike some viewers as being somewhat sympathetic.

Certainly it’s not quite the radical development of the first film that the title might suggest: the movie still feels very much focused on Scott, although the Wasp does get some good action sequences. You might just as accurately call it Ant-Man, the Wasp, and the Wasp’s Dad (who was the first Ant-Man), because Douglas is doing good work in a prominent role. On the other hand, though, there’s a kind of conceptual progression here, building on ideas only touched on in the first film. The film’s plot may be a little underpowered and lacking in focus, but what keeps it very watchable and entertaining is the way in which the concept of things being grown and shrunk to the wrong size is explored. There’s a delightfully fantastical quality to it, particularly in the closing chase, with people, vehicles and even buildings undergoing rapid changes in scale at a frantic pace. And, of course, the film’s more comedic moments are solidly written and performed by people who are simply very good at that sort of thing. A lot of people in Marvel movies have been trying to be funny recently, but none of them are quite as good as Paul Rudd, if you ask me: one can only hope the studio makes more use of him in this respect (the campaign starts now: put Ant-Man in the Avengers!).

So, in the end, is this one of the essential keystone movies in Marvel’s project? No, absolutely not. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an entertaining and very inventive addition to the MCU canon. I’m not quite sure where they can take these characters next, should a third movie prove forthcoming, but for the time being this is a fun, accessible, undemanding film that most people will probably enjoy.

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A few days ago I found myself thinking back to the heady days of Summer 2000, which don’t really feel like that long ago (not if you’re my age, anyway). The big event at the cinema was the release of the first X-Men film, and I recall my genuine sense of excitement and anticipation: after so many years of half-hearted TV movies with people like David Hasselhoff, someone had finally made a proper full-blooded adaptation of a Marvel comic book! I could hardly believe it.

These days, of course, we live in a different world – it’s been a long time since a blockbuster season has gone by without a Marvel adaptation making its cash-hoovering debut, and you could readily argue that superhero movies, and in particular the ones from Marvel Studios itself, are the defining influence on summer films in general.

ant-man

Things have got to the point where virtually all of Marvel’s most famous characters have some kind of established screen presence, with the company turning to really quite obscure second- and third-stringers for new movies. Thus we have the release of Peyton Reed’s take on Ant-Man, starring and co-written by Paul Rudd. Rudd plays Scott Lang, an electronics engineer turned Robin Hood-ish burglar, who as the flm starts is being released from prison in San Francisco. The world being as it is, Scott finds it hard to find a legit job, but he desperately needs money if he is to get access to his young daughter. This leads him to contemplate one last extra-legal excursion, breaking into a vault in the basement of a retired millionaire. But all he finds within is a very peculiar suit…

It turns out the millionaire in question is Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), ex-SHIELD agent and scientific genius, who back in the 80s was rumoured to be very tiny special forces operative Ant-Man. Now Pym is concerned that his less principled former protege (Corey Stoll) intends to duplicate his research into shrinking technology, and needs someone to take on the mantle of Ant-Man and steal the prototype of the new equipment. Hank’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) is somewhat aggrieved at not being offered the gig herself, but the trio nevertheless set about preparing Scott for his mission…

You would think, given the only place that Ant-Man is really prominent is in the A-Z index of the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, that this movie was conceived relatively recently – certainly well after the start of Marvel Studios’ rise to dominance. But no: I distinctly recall having a conversation about the fact it was in development while going to see Casino Royale at the back end of 2006 (the general tenor of the conversation being ‘why on Earth are they making a movie about Ant-Man…?). This film has spent a long time coming to the screen, with a development process you would have to describe as troubled.

For a long time this was going to be Edgar Wright’s Marvel movie, with a script co-written by him and Joe Cornish, but director and studio parted company due to an inability to agree on the tone of the film. This was taken by many observers as an indication of the meat-grinder nature of Marvel Studios’ operations, with genuinely creative directors not being allowed to bring their own sensibilities to what is at heart a corporate franchising operation.

And yet it would seem otherwise. Wright retains not just a story and screenplay credit, but is listed alongside Stan Lee as executive producer on the film (how much he was genuinely involved it’s hard to say, of course), and there are sections of this film which genuinely do feel like they have his fingerprints on them: mostly some drolly comic scenes concerned with Scott’s largely useless team of accomplices, but also some inspired sight gags as well. Visually, this film does seem genuinely inventive – having a protagonist who spends much of the film only half an inch tall does allow for a new perspective, of course.

On the other hand, there are other elements of the film which do feel very much like business as usual for the company: I’d be prepared to bet that a sequence in which Ant-Man takes on one of the Avengers never appeared in any draft written by Wright and Cornish, while certain aspects of the central conflict do recall elements of the original Iron Man, flipped and twisted around a bit. But on the whole, elements of the wider universe are handled with a light touch – many of them are handled very subtly indeed, with some of the cameos and references possibly slipping by unnoticed by the casual viewer.

The film handles Ant-Man’s somewhat tangled history with commendable skill, as well, finding a way to incorporate the original Ant-Man (Pym – also, in the comics, the creator of Ultron) and his replacement, without it all feeling needlessly complex and involved. Some have grumbled about the non-appearance of the Wasp in this movie, but the door is left very wide open for the future.

In short, a few moments of tonal uncertainty excepted, there really isn’t very much wrong with Ant-Man at all: the balance of characterisation, humour, action, and spectacle is almost perfect, resulting in a film which is simply great fun to watch. It has a lightness of touch that simply wasn’t there in Age of Ultron, which often felt like it was in danger of collapsing under its own weight. Even if Ant-Man looks set to do only relatively modest business by the company’s standards, it is – as with Guardians of the Galaxy – the more obscure and off-the-wall property which has provided Marvel with its most creatively successful film of the year. Get going with that Squirrel-Girl adaptation, guys!

 

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If you’re going to write about films with any kind of objectivity, one of things it behooves you to do is to try and separate the film itself from the context in which you see it – you shouldn’t let the lousy sound quality, or the poorly-racked screen or inadequate rake of the theatre get in the way – even the French tourists behind you talking noisily all the way through should not be a factor when it comes to giving your considered opinion.

Obviously this is not always as easy as it sounds, and most weeks the release of a movie in which Hugh Jackman must bond with his long-estranged young son by training a robot as a boxer would be greeted by a cry of ‘What fresh hell is this?!?’ But following my recent experience at the hands of Paul Anderson and his minions, I’ll try anything to get a cheap popcorn rush, even if that means going to see Shawn Levy’s Real Steel.

Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, an ex-fighter now wheeling and dealing in the lower reaches of the robot boxing circuit of a near-future America. He is feckless and irresponsible, to the despair of old friend-and-maybe-a-bit-more Bailey (Evangeline Lilly), but also, and more importantly, his numerous creditors. But luck smiles on Charlie when he learns he is the owner of an eleven-year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo), whose maternal relatives are very keen to adopt him. A deal is struck where Charlie signs away his custodial rights in exchange for money to buy a new robot – but part of the arrangement is that Charlie has to look after Max for the summer, something neither of them is very pleased about.

Things do not work out with the new robot, and, on his uppers, Charlie is forced to use an ancient old machine salvaged by Max which appears to have been welded together out of spare plumbing supplies. Can their new fighter Atom shock the world and challenge for the title belt? And can Charlie and Max build some kind of father-son bond?

If you can’t guess the answer to both of these questions, then all I can say is – Hello. A cinema is a big dark room where moving pictures are projected onto a wall, normally telling a story – because you have clearly just escaped from an Amish colony or somewhere similar. There are films I’ve been watching for the second or third time which were less predictable than Real Steel.

The big danger for me as far as this film is concerned is to compare it too closely with Steel, a very different adaptation of the same Richard Matheson short story which aired on The Twilight Zone in 1963. In that version, Lee Marvin plays the lead role, and when his boxing android blows a gasket just before a fight he has to go into the ring himself against an opponent he has no chance of defeating. It’s a simple story but it does say something about the courage and determination of a boxer that rings true, and the conclusion genuinely surprised me.

Well, there’s nothing like that here – we get the archetypal father-son bonding story welded effectively enough to the archetypal boxing-underdog story, all slathered in a gloss of CGI-heavy no-brainer SF. And it looks very slick, and tells the story proficiently, but that’s really all it does.

The problem is mainly that the emotional story at the centre of the film is trite and hackneyed and quite simply doesn’t ring true. I think this may be down to Jackman – hugely charismatic he undoubtedly is, but it increasingly seems to me that he is an actor of extremely limited range. At the start of the film Charlie is a loser on the skids, who sells his own son without a second thought, and Hugh Jackman isn’t convincing for a second. He does a certain kind of laconic toughness and integrity very well, but outside this comfort zone the quality of his performance drops off dramatically. That said, no-one in this movie is really able to distinguish themselves, which is hardly surprising given the material they have to work with.

Real Steel is arguably a good fifteen minutes too long as well – it’s a loooong time before the man-and-boy-and-crapbot-take-on-the-world plot really gets into gear, and the film seems to be trying to be a sprawling emotional epic rather than the genre movie that would suit it much better. As a result, Atom’s ascension to the robot boxing big-time seems a little too rapid, with not enough incidental fights along the way. (We don’t get the scene where success goes to Atom’s CPU and he’s caught disporting himself in a hotel room with a couple of spin-dryers high on WD-40, either – maybe this will be in the sequel.)

The actual robot fights are the only time the movie really comes to life, with plenty of whangs and clongs and ka-dongs per minute. The import of boxing cliches and imagery into an SF context is amusingly done and the CGI itself is state of the art, or very close to it. And such is the power of the underdog-makes-good story that you really don’t care how cliched it all is, or that every fight has basically the same plot – Atom gets paddled around the ring for a while before pluckily battling his way back into it. Something which is cheesily uplifting is still uplifting on some level.

But anyway. This is not an actively bad film, but certainly not a very good one either. If as much thought and effort had gone into the script as the robot designs and choreography, then it might have been a different story. As it is, Real Steel is a film with a lot in common with its robotic protagonist – some signs of having a good heart, but overall really just mechanical.

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