An Ant-Man Review – Cartoony, But Still Quality

Ant-Man (2015)TITLE: Ant-Man

STARRING: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pena, and Michael Douglas
DIRECTOR: Peyton Reed
STUDIO: Marvel


RUN TIME: 117 Minutes
RELEASED: July 17, 2015

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

The character of Ant-Man is blessed with slightly more fame and prestige than the Guardians of the Galaxy, but retains an inherent aura of silliness about him. Simply put, how does a superhero whose primary power is shrinking himself down to ant-size actually get anything done? Fortunately, Ant-Man embraces that aura with every ounce of energy it has, and combines it with the trappings of a heist movie. The result is probably the most original superhero film ever made.

Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang, a recently released cat-burglar who’s trying to go straight. He tries to find honest work. Meanwhile, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is rattled to discover that his former protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is developing his own version of the Ant-Man technology for military applications. Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) wind up recruiting Scott to don the Ant-Man suit and to “break into a place and steal some s—” one last time.

Ant-Man, image 1From the very beginning of the film, a tone is established that hasn’t been set since Iron Man. Instead of dramatic orchestral music, there’s fast-paced Mexican salsa music. It’s there from the very start. Scott and Luis are bantering back and forth, setting up jokes and keeping the air light. Hank Pym is an older scientist and retired superhero with a chip on his shoulder, sort of like Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond. The sheer life that Rudd and Douglas bring to their respective roles practically reverberates off the screen.

Iron Man was notable for combining action with comedy. If Iron Man did it a little, Ant-Man does it a lot. There are so many moments that are genuinely hilarious, often involving sight gags and dramatic irony. Likewise, the comedic atmosphere brought on by Rudd, Douglas, Pena, and the other bit-players infuses the entire movie with this fun, silly, unabashedly humorous vibe. Douglas in particular is a great straight man to Rudd, as is a special guest Avenger who briefly shows up in the middle of the movie as part of a silly interlude.

Ant-Man, image 2There are two specific actors who are particularly notable for different reasons. First, Evangeline Lilly, who plays Hope Van Dyne, brings a great deal of emotion to her role, nicely rounding out the cast with Rudd and Douglas. She has plenty to do and contributes to the story, in much the same way that Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Pots did in the Iron Man movies. Her romantic subplot with Scott is partly played for laughs, which is a pretty good way to handle it.

And then there’s Darren Cross, a.k.a. Yellowjacket. Cross is probably the most cartoonishly evil villain ever to walk on screen in an MCU film. He tortures cute-looking sheep. He openly complains about his company not being able to partake in blatantly illegal activities. He casually vaporizes people who may slightly hinder his plans. Oh, and he does business with Hydra cronies.

Ant-Man, image 3, Darren CrossI could write a whole review about how this movie is decidedly anti-corporation and anti-weapon, but I think I’ll let the audience find out for themselves. Cross here is just a Lex Luthor knock-off, with Corey Stoll apparently aping Kevin Spacey’s take on that character in Superman Returns. There’s an attempt to make Cross look like a victim of Pym’s neglect. It’s implied that his work with the Yellowjacket formula is messing with his brain, but there’s no foreshadowing at all. Cross is an evil jackhat at the beginning and an evil jackhat at the end.

But all told, Ant-Man manages to impress me in a way that few other superhero movies have. I got some good laughs, I was entertained and had fun, and it made me eager to see what a sequel would be like. Paul Rudd is great as Ant-Man, as is Evangeline Lilly as Hope. Michael Douglas as Hank Pym and Michael Pena as Luis know how to pull their weight too. As a quick heads-up, there are two after credits sequences. One is at the end of the fancy credits sequence, and the other is at the end of the regular credit sequence. Moviegoers, be aware!

RATING: 8/10

Images 1 and 2 from Image 3 from

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A Man of Steel Review – Superman Begins

Man of Steel posterTITLE: Man of Steel
STARRING: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, DC Entertainment
RUN-TIME: 143 min
RELEASED: June 12, 2013

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Man of Steel is one of the most polarizing fanboy flicks I’ve seen in recent memory. People either seem to have really enjoyed it, or really disliked it. Either way, things probably aren’t as good or as bad as they seem. But that passion is understandable, given all the struggles the Superman film franchise has gone through, even since Christopher Reeve was still in the suit. Superman fans have been dying for a film adaptation worthy of their hero. Is Man of Steel it? Eh…maybe. It depends on what you’re looking for.

We all know the story: On the distant planet of Krypton, Jor El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara send their infant son to Earth to save him from the planet’s immediate destruction. Once there, he’s adopted by a kindly couple in Smallville, Kansas. Earth’s yellow sun grants young Clark Kent with powers and abilities far beyond those of normal men. He becomes Superman (Henry Cavill), the ultimate champion of truth, justice, and the American way. In this film, our hero takes on General Zod (Michael Shannon), a survivor of Krypton who will stop at nothing to ravage Earth, and effectively make it a new Krypton.

Man of Steel, Superman, Henry Cavill, image 1When Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns came out in 2006, one of the major recurring complaints was that it was too low on action. There was nobody for Superman to punch or fight with. When Brandon Routh was in the costume, he spent most of the his time either putting out fires or trying to impress with special effects stunts. So when it came time to dump the game board over and start again, they made sure to fill the super-powered action quotient by giving the director’s chair to Zack Snyder, the man behind 300Watchmen and Sucker Punch. But wouldn’t ya know it, Man of Steel wound up having the exact opposite issue Superman Returns had: It overdoes the action to the point where it almost jumps the shark. And for some moviegoers, it did.

Most of the last 45 minutes of Man of Steel consists of an all out super-powered war between our hero and General Zod’s forces. With seemingly unlimited power and strength, they send each other flipping and flying through the air, crashing through countless structures and effectively reducing them to scrap. A large portion of Metropolis, one of the biggest and highest-populated cities in the DC Universe, is ripped apart. Skyscrapers literally crumble and topple over as civilians run for cover. To an extent, it’s actually really cool to see Superman unload on somebody, and actually unleash all his power. Some of us have been waiting to see this kind of thing for years. But unfortunately, Snyder stays at the party 10-15 minutes longer than he needs to. As such, the novelty and the shock value of all the crashing and smashing begins to wear off, and they’re basically fighting in a city made of building blocks. Considering this movie is 143 minutes, they could have afforded a bit more brevity.

Man of Steel, Amy Adams, Lois LaneStill, the movie manages to do one thing better than arguably any Superman film before it: Capture the essence of Superman’s moralistic mission and peaceful soul. I can’t stress enough that Superman is an idealist. He’s here to inspire us, instill us with hope, and teach us about the human spirit. Man of Steel illustrates this very well, and frankly I didn’t know Snyder had it in him. Because his abilities do to an extent make him a hazard to those around him, our hero is forced to learn the value of restraint and a cool head growing up, which the story uses to contribute to his career as Superman. It’s very well done.

From a performance standpoint, Henry Cavill isn’t going to win any Oscars for the role of Superman. But he does an adequate job. Oddly enough, in terms of getting us to care about Clark Kent, the heavy lifting is actually done by Cavill’s younger counterparts: Cooper Timberline (9-year-old Clark) and Dylan Sprayberry (13-year-old Clark). Their scenes with Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent) really sell the torment and anguish the character has endured for the sake of doing the right thing. In that sense, Cavill just has to take the baton and not drop it.

But to his credit, he IS believable in the cape and boots. He’s quieter and more subtle, which is what this movie calls for. But he nevertheless has a strong presence about him, which is what Superman should have. Unlike Brandon Routh, whose job in Superman Returns was to essentially impersonate Christopher Reeve, Cavill is his own Man of Steel. That being said, his scenes with General Swanwick (Harry Lennix) and Colonel Hardy (Christopher Meloni) do call back to some of what Reeve did. But to this day, Reeve is so closely identified with this character, and that’s to be expected on some level. So kudos to Cavill and his counterparts for making us believe again.

Man of Steel, Superman, Henry Cavill, image 2Surprisingly, Amy Adams runs into some trouble as Lois Lane. She’s not bad for the role, per se. But the character is missing some of her trademark confidence, ferocity and snark. The material is there in the writing, but Adams doesn’t fully capitalize on it. Her Lois feels more like a traditional damsel in distress, with some extra passion added in. The way I’ve always interpreted the Lois Lane/Superman romance is that the source of their mutual attraction is their shared ferocity and dedication toward truth and justice. We don’t necessarily see that here. Adams is more like the girl next door, who happens upon this extraordinary person and falls for him. She’ll need to work on that for Man of Steel 2, if we get that far (which I’m guessing we will).

Marlon Brando is a pretty tough act to follow, but Russell Crowe does very well as Jor El. The way he’s incorporated into the entire story, as opposed to just the first half hour or so, is similar to the way it was done with Brando and Reeve in Superman: The Movie, but different enough that it feels like a fresh spin. I found myself caring about the Jor El character, and the Krypton side of things more than I ever have. Michael Shannon also surpassed my expectations as General Zod. He’s menacing, creepy and crazy, but he’s not reminiscent of Terrence Stamp’s take on the character at all. I’d love to see more…

latestLongtime Superman fans will no doubt notice certain trademark Superman elements, which you’d expect to see in a reboot film, are missing from this movie. Lex Luthor is conspicuous by his absence, though we do see a few quick shots of the Lexcorp logo. Jimmy Olsen isn’t there, the big Daily Planet globe is missing. The classic Clark Kent glasses disguise is, for the most part, also absent. The cartoony Superman spit curl, which both Reeve and Routh sported, is thankfully gone as well. For most of this stuff, I assume it’s just a matter of waiting for the sequel, much like we had to wait for The Dark Knight to come out to get a lot of the stuff we were clamoring for in Batman Begins.

While I’ll stay spoiler-free here, Superman does something at the climax of the film that’s very un-Superman-like. It’s something we’ve seen in superhero movies before (Tim Burton’s Batman movie comes to mind), but it’s generally considered a no-no. It was a surprise to say the least. But it’s passable, especially given what had been established up to that point. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays into the next movie, if at all.

So is Man of Steel the movie Superman deserves? I think, much like Batman Begins, it’s a nice first chapter. The movie has its flaws. But show me a movie that doesn’t have flaws. It’s not necessarily what I expected, but that’s not a bad thing. Unlike what we saw in Superman Returns, our hero’s super-powered exploits were awe-inspiring at times, and the action was suspenseful. More importantly, Man of Steel seems to understand what separates Superman from every other hero in theaters today. At the end of the day, much of Man of Steel‘s legacy will depend on what comes next in the Superman film franchise.

So for now, I suppose the answer to that question is: To be continued.

RATING: 7.5/10

A Review of The Lorax – Slaughtering Seuss

The Lorax, posterTITLE: The Lorax
WITH THE VOICE TALENTS OF: Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White
DIRECTORS: Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda
STUDIO: Universal Pictures, Illumination Entertainment
RUN TIME: 94 min
March 2, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Lora Van Marel
Staff Writer, One-Woman Show

Every so often, a film comes along that is of such quality, such poise, such graceful execution, that it becomes woven into the very fabric of popular culture. Such a film never truly ages, as its nearly universal appeal transforms it into an instant classic that, like fine wine, gets better with age.

Then you have a film like The Lorax, which hits so many of the wrong notes it actually gets crappier with age. Considering how crappy it is now, that’s a scary thought.

Loosely based on the classic children’s book by Dr. Seuss, the movie is centered around Ted, a boy hoping to impress his neighbor Audrey by finding her a truffula tree. Such trees, and trees in general, are non-existent in the hyper-industrialized town of Thneedville, where the mayor, Mr. O’Hare,  has made a fortune on bottled air, and light-up electric trees are all the rage. Searching for a real tree, Ted seeks out the Once-ler, who famously destroyed the forest of truffula trees outside Thneedville. Remorsefully, The Once-ler tells Ted his story, and about the only creature who warned him of the error of his ways, the guardian of the forest, The Lorax.

86949_oriWhen you make a big budget movie based on a kids book, you often need to take a few creative liberties simply for the sake of stretching the story out. I get that, and I fully expected it. I’m certainly not one of those viewers who pans everything in a movie that isn’t a move-for-move duplication of the book. But when you do a movie like this, you need to make sure you: 1. Make the story a logical extension of the content that’s already there. 2. Stay true to the characters, especially if your movie is based on a classic. 3. Do it well. The Lorax does none of these, opting instead to try and make the story into a clowny musical with comedy akin to Illumination Entertainment’s last big animated hit, Despicable Me (the minions from that movie appear in the company’s video signature, a minion makes a quick cameo in the film, and Chris Renaud also co-directed that film). Most of the songs fall flat, especially the Once-ler’s downright painful number “How Bad Can I Be?”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a clowny musical for kids, and I liked Despicable Me. But that format doesn’t work for The Lorax, because while it’s filled with imagery from the joyously fun and wondrously individual mind of Dr. Seuss, the story really isn’t a funny one. In its own way it’s a tragedy. This beautiful, enchanting forest is destroyed by the greedy Once-ler, leaving only a bleak, barren, smog-filled wasteland. The Once-ler’s greed and selfishness destroy everything he’s built, until all he has left is his own loneliness. That’s pretty heavy stuff when you consider The Lorax is a kids book. But it works because there’s a certain blatant honesty about it. Dr. Seuss dressed the message up with his unique style, but he didn’t shamelessly pander to kids, or try to fit the story into a certain mold. This movie does both, and as such The Lorax loses a piece of it’s soul.

The Once-ler, The Lorax movieWay to go, movie. You sucked the soul out of a Dr. Seuss story. Shang Tsung would be proud.

The Lorax, and especially the Once-ler, are also reduced to shells of their literary counterparts. In the book, the Once-ler is a faceless, heartless bad guy who doesn’t care that he’s destroying the homes of these cuddly little creatures. In the movie, he’s a swell ol’ guy who promises the Lorax he’ll only cut down one truffula tree. But then his rotten relatives convince him to do it, though he’s still not quite sure about it. Kind of went the other way on that one, didn’t you movie? Oh, and this just in: the Joker only steals because his aunt goaded him into it. She needed the money to treat her scoliosis. When you meet him, he’s actually a cool dude. The true villain in this film, Mr. O’Hare, is an irritating amalgamation of Lord Farquaad from Shrek and Vector from Despicable Me. His time on screen basically consists of short jokes and over-the-top cartoon bad guy mugging.

As for the Lorax himself, he’s gone from being a wise, somewhat curmudgeonly cautioneer, to being…well, Danny DeVito. I understand why DeVito was cast. If he grows a mustache, he essentially IS the Lorax. And his portrayal does lend itself to an animated kids movie. But the Lorax didn’t necessarily need to be a clowny character. I might have made him into a fairly serious character and let the animals in the forest handle a lot of the comedy. Let the Lorax be the loving, almost fatherly creature that he is, instead of just an orange guy from New Jersey.

The Lorax movie, image 3Still, DeVito, Ed Helms and Betty White sound like they’re having fun. Zac Efron and Taylor Swift seem to be just reading their lines, especially during their first few scenes. The Mr. O’Hare character would have been irritating either way, so I can’t necessarily blame Rob Riggle for his vocal performance.

Little kids would likely enjoy The Lorax. The animal characters, specifically the barbaloot bears, are pretty cute and provide a lot of that minion-like comedy seen in Despicable Me. There’ a lot of goofy cartoon humor that they’ll like. As for everybody else, I suspect The Lorax film would be an improved experience if you don’t know any better, i.e. you haven’t read the book, or even seen the Lorax TV special from 1972. If you discount the fact that it’s based on a Dr. Seuss book, there’s really not much that sets it apart from the average CGI cartoon movies out these days, and that’s really a shame. If filmmakers wanted to make a Lorax movie, they should have made something more faithful to the story, as opposed to using it as an excuse to make another Despicable Me with some trees.

The most disappointing thing of all? It’s Dr. Seuss’ birthday this weekend. Needless to say, he deserves better.

RATING: 3/10

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A Review of The Muppets – Nostalgia, Sentiment, and Chris Cooper Rapping

The-Muppets-2011-Movie-Final-PosterTITLE: The Muppets
STARRING: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Jack Black
PUPPETEERS: Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Peter Linz, David Goelz, Bill Barretta
DIRECTOR: James Bobin
STUDIO: Walt Disney Pictures
RUN TIME: 120 min
November 23, 2011

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I find it very fitting that a new Toy Story short was attached to The Muppets. Toy Story 3 was such a huge hit last year with it’s central theme about growing up that made many a grown man cry. But it also had a $200 million budget, cutting edge computer animation and an A-list cast. Nothing against the Toy Story films, but The Muppets proves you don’t need all those bells and whistles to make a movie as heartfelt, tremendously entertaining, and at times genuinely moving as that. This film did it with less than half that budget and a bunch of felt puppets.

The first Muppet movie in over a decade takes place quite a few years after Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang have gone their separate ways. During a vacation to Hollywood, Walter (a new puppet character) and Gary (Jason Segel), two brothers and lifelong Muppet fanatics, discover that an oil tycoon (Chris Cooper) is preparing to bulldoze the building that The Muppet Show was performed in. Together with Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), they set out to reunite the Muppets and raise enough money to buy the theater back.

83361_oriIf there was ever any doubt that the Muppets still deserve their place of reverence in popular culture, this film shatters it. It hits just about every note it needs to hit to make it the perfect comeback movie for the franchise. There’s a significant nostalgia presence in the film, mostly for The Muppet Show and 1979′s The Muppet Movie. We also see the return of three classic Muppet songs, which should really warm the heart of old school Muppet fans like yours truly. Does that make me biased? Maybe, maybe not. I’d like to think it works well in the context of these characters being portrayed as entertainers making a comeback. Hopefully kids being exposed to the material for the first time find it as great as we did back in the day.

One of the great things about this move is that it’s essentially art imitating life. The Muppets have been around here and there, but since the property was purchased by The Walt Disney Company in 2004, nothing of great significance has been done with it. We got a couple of TV movies, some appearances in music videos and a some online content. But none of it seemed to generate enough interest in the franchise to really give it momentum again. As a result, the Muppets largely fell out of the limelight for awhile. It’s that touch of reality that gives this movie a bit more kick. When a network executive (Rashida Jones) tells Kermit and a room full of Muppets that they’re not famous anymore, your inner child squirms as you wonder if that’s actually true. As the characters are trying to raise the money, you’re rooting for them to succeed, just as many of us are rooting for this movie to be a success so we can have the Muppets back again. Had this movie not worked it would have been devastating for the franchise.

The Muppets, cast photoThankfully, it works as well as any of us could have hoped for. By touching on issues like family, love, friendship and finding your place in the world, while integrating some classic Muppet-style humor and music, this film becomes a piece of work I’d like to think Jim Henson himself would have been proud of. Frank Oz, who famously helped develop many of the Muppet characters, and puppeteered and voiced Miss Piggy and Fozzy Bear, allegedly opted not to contribute to the film because of how some of the characters were portrayed. As a fan, I’m not sure what his mindset could have been at the time. Kermit and the others are as great as they’ve always been, and now they’re being shown to a new generation of fans.

The world can be a pretty dark, scary place nowadays, and that’s exactly why the Muppets needed to resurface like this. Lord knows, this place could use a few more smiles these days. And who’s more qualified to make us smile as we try and find our own rainbow connection?

RATING: 9.5/10

Images from