There is no denying that Marvel Studios is on a winning streak at the moment with their franchise being both critical and commercial successes. Their previous film Avengers: Age of Ultron is currently the sixth biggest movie of all time. But Ant-Man has had a troubled start with the original director Edgar Wright leaving the project after being involved with the development for 10 years (although he and writing partner Joe Cornish still having writing credit alongside Adam McKay and Ant-Man star Paul Rudd). Can new director Peyton Reed rescue the movie from a troubled production?
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has just been released from prison for theft. When Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) recruits Scott to help him steal technology from his evil protegé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). To do this he will have to wear a special suit and become Ant-Man.
While perhaps not as offbeat casting as when Marvel picked Robert Downey Jnr as Iron Man back in 2006, Paul Rudd still seemed like an odd choice for Scott Lang at first, known more for his comedies like This is 40 than any action/heroic lead roles. However Ant-Man is very funny and it helps to have an actor with known comedic timing and delivery. He also makes Scott, a criminal-in a Robin Hood kind of way-more likeable and sympathetic than he might have been otherwise. His characters arc is satisfying and his parallels with Douglas’s Hank Pym are not over egged.
It may start off a little slow as we get Scott’s back-story and the obligatory scene with his ex-wife and her new husband who are predictably not thrilled to see Scott back in their lives. The film soon picks up though once Scott finds the Ant-Man costume. I also found Scott’s heist team hilarious especially Michael Pena as Scott’s former cellmate Luis. It was also great to have the climax of a Marvel film that doesn’t end with the destruction of a whole city! There is also a few cameos to keep Marvel fans happy and a random, but great use of Thomas the Tank Engine.
The film is able to juggle its subplot well. We go from heist film to comedy to emotional father/daughter and back again. Luckily the film is able to handle these shifts in tone so it does not feel jarring and humour underlies most of the scenes.
Evangeline Lily is also a welcome addition to the Marvel Universe as Pym’s daughter Hope. A good three-dimensional character that’s flawed and complex, but also able to kick ass. The only problem is that the film makes her so capable you can’t help but see her point when she says she should be wearing the suit not Scott. The film does try to come up with a reasonable explanation as to why her father chose Scott over her but it’s still a niggling fact, though not one to stop my enjoyment of the movie.
Some critics may be trying to dismiss Ant-Man due to it having grossed lower than most of the Marvel movies but it was always going o be a more difficult sell compared to the big scale spectacle of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Ant-Man also had a lower budget compared to the other movies in the franchise. Besides it still managed to be Marvel’s 12th consecutive number 1 opening film even with all the behind the scenes trouble. Hopefully this will leave the door open for Ant-Man 2.
Rating 4/5 – proof that moving things to a smaller scale is sometimes a good idea
And now the end is near…finally! One children’s book has been spread out across three films and now the last installment is here. Can Jackson prove his critics wrong (i.e me) and show us that splitting the The Hobbit into three films was worth it?
After Smaug cause chaos and destruction over the Laketown, the aftermath has potential to cause just as much carnage. With the Dwarfs held up in the Lonely Mountain and keeping all the gold for themselves they find themselves up against armies determined to have their share of the gold. But with Thorin going mad from the gold can he come to his senses in time to stop all out war?
When The Lord of The Rings Trilogy came to an end in 2003 I was excited and sad to see the franchise come to an end. With The Hobbit it’s more a sense of relief that it’s finally over. That’s not to say this last installment is bad or that the trilogy as a whole has been bad. It’s just that, as with the other two movies, there is a lot of filler and padding in this film that feels like it’s there for no reason. When it’s released on DVD I would like to see-rather than the deleted scenes we normally get-an edit of all three movies into one lean movie, cutting out the hours of filler and make it the one movie it should have been in the first place.
As ever the cast gamely give their all. Martin Freeman often feels like he’s being sidelined in a movie where he’s the title character but he’s still as effective as ever as Bilbo. Richard Armitage seems to be enjoying going full on gold mad as Thorin. While not essential its nicely nostalgic to see Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee reprise their roles again, and it will be sad to see the last of Ian McKellen as the always excellent Gandalf. While I don’t always buy the relationship with Turiel (Evangeline Lily) and Kili (Aidan Turner)- considering they are declaring their love after spending about a day in total together-they at least bring some emotion to the proceedings, Lily in particular promoting her anguish well.
Rating 3/5 – a good if not particularly outstanding farewell to Middle Earth
P.S Merry Christmas everyone, hope you all have a lovely holiday!
So we come to the second part of the trilogy that no one asked for –The Hobbit!
Following on from the events of An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo and the dwarves fall foul of Orcs, Elves and giant spiders as they prepare to meet their most dangerous foe yet-Smaug the dragon.
Ok first the positives. There are some great set pieces in this film, such a very scary-especiallly for arachnophobes like me-encounter with some giant spiders, and the part where the dwarves and Bilbo escape from elves and Orcs in wine barrels down a river. The fight scenes are good. Although he may have been shoehorned into The Hobbit films it was still good to see Legolas again and I remembered how much I enjoyed seeing Orlando Bloom fighting Orcs with a bow and arrow in a blonde wig. Martin Freeman again is brilliant as Bilbo and when he is the centre of the action the film really shine. Newcomers Evangeline Lily (Elf Turiel) and Luke Evans (Bard the Bowman) fare well enough in the mix of all the action and Lily in particular is great in her fight scenes. And as you expect from Peter Jackson Middle Earth looks as beautiful as ever.
On the downside it’s soooooo long. There is so much padding in this film you could easily have cut out several scenes and it would make no difference to the overall film. Freeman’s Bilbo is a great central character but it sometimes feels like Peter Jackson has forgotten this film is called The Hobbit as there are so many characters vying for attention. I have no problem with the adding of some much-needed estrogen with the inclusion of Turiel but I do have a problem with her being saddled with such a lame love triangle with Legolas and hot dwarf Kili (even if it does mean we get to more screen time for the lovely Adian Turner).
Although I love Jackson’s take on Tolkien I can’t help but think during this film that it would have been good to see another filmmaker’s take on Middle Earth. Everything just feels so familiar here. It was always going to be tough to follow The Lord of The Rings films but its a constant shadow over The Hobbit films that I think it would have been better if another director had given us his version of The Hobbit. Imagine what the Guillermo del Toro version would have been like.
Luckily there were enough good parts to keep me interested in the film and the Smaug (excellently voiced by Freeman’s Sherlock co-star Benedict Cumberbatch) and Bilbo encounter was worth the long wait. I shall still be looking forward to the final part of the trilogy, but with lower expectations this time.
Rating 3/5-a mixed bag but it’s worth a another visit to Middle Earth
(PS. As I’m mentioning Freeman and Cumberbatch, I have to just say that I saw the new episode of Sherlock last night and although a few bits annoyed me, generally I thought it was a great episode. Cumberbatch and Freeman play against each other so well. The opening was especially brilliant-and I bursted into uncontrollable laughter when Derren Brown appeared on the scene.)