Ant-Man and the Wasp

antman_and_the_wasp_ver2_xlgThe sequel to the highly successful 2015 movie Ant-Man and the twentieth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a highly entertaining and creative film that takes itself less seriously than a majority of the other superhero movies and thereby is filled with much more humor and fun. The story takes place several years after the original in which the protagonist Scott Lang, played by the humorous Paul Rudd, is under house arrest after a mission as his superhero alter ego Ant-Man. He is a more sympathetic and well-rounded superhero because of his poignant relationship with his young daughter and having fairly usual problems in real life. Just days before his house arrest is over, he is in clear violation by getting in contact with the brilliant inventor of the Ant-Man outfit Hank Pym, played by Oscar winner Michael Douglas, and his smart and beautiful daughter Hope van Dyne, played by Evangeline Lilly, whose superhero alter ego is the Wasp. Hank discovers there may be a way to rescue his wife Janet, played by Golden Globe winner Michelle Pfeiffer, who is stuck in the subatomic quantum realm, and he must enlist Scott to become Ant-Man again to help develop a device to enter the quantum realm. However, the trio find themselves in trouble after trying to broker a deal with the black-market dealer Sonny Burch, played by the villainous Walton Goggins, who double-crosses them in order to steal Hank’s advanced technology. To complicate things even further, they encounter the mysterious Ghost, played by Hannah John-Kamen, who is suffering from quantum and molecular instability and is desperate to find the technology to alleviate her problem. Throughout the movie as the characters engage in the typical action sequences of any comic book superhero production, Scott along with his buddies, especially Michael Peña’s character Luis, bring a certain levity to the story through their often ridiculous and hilarious antics. Much of the humor derives from the conceit of the film: the filmmakers play around with the ability of the characters to shrink and enlarge themselves and everyday objects, including an entire building shrunk down to the size of a briefcase and a life-size Pez dispenser that becomes a weapon. Overall, I found it to be one of the more enjoyable cinematic experiences found in the innumerable Marvel superhero movies as a result of its lighthearted approach while still retaining thrilling CGI-enhanced action scenes.

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The fifth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise which started with the release of the original in 1993 and was rebooted in 2015 with the first Jurassic World movie, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a fairly typical popcorn summer blockbuster that provides some over-the-top thrills but ultimately feels unnecessary and obviously cannot rise to the occasion like the original Jurassic Park directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Following on the heels of Jurassic World in which the revamped amusement park featuring live dinosaurs closes under disasterous conditions, a rescue operation to save the dinosaurs is underway by a team of mercenaries under the guidance of Jurassic Park’s co-founder Benjamin Lockwood, played by Oscar nominee James Cromwell, and the head of Lockwood’s foundation Eli Mills, played by the conniving Rafe Spall. Eventually, former head of the park Claire Dearing, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, and Velociraptor wrangler Owen Grady, played by Chris Pratt, are brought in to help track down the remaining dinosaurs before the island where they are kept is destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption. Like the other films, there are a few action sequences in which the characters are running away from gigantic fearsome dinosaurs and this time is further intensified as the humans try to escape as the island literally explodes in stunning CGI sequences. Towards the middle of the movie, Claire and Owen along with a small team of dinosaur advocates realize that their objective in rescuing the dinosaurs is not for entirely altruistic aims as they were initially promised. Much of the action transitions to Lockwood’s large estate in Northern California where the protagonists must fight once again to save their lives and protect the dinosaurs. As a desperate attempt to bring back nostalgia for 1993’s Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum’s iconic character pops up in a superfluous Congressional hearing about the dinosaur’s fate. Overall, I did find it a fairly entertaining cinematic experience that brought back memories of the original that was released during my childhood; unfortunately, it did not add much to the first film’s originality and thereby the Jurassic Park series feels like it has run its course.

A Quiet Place

Directed by first-time filmmaker John Krasinski who is best known for acting in the widely popular TV show The Office, A Quiet Place is a terrific horror film that is notable for its creative writing and outstanding subtle acting performances. It relies on a rather simple yet extremely effective premise: a family is trying to survive post-apocalyptic creatures that attack when they hear any noise. The father and husband Lee, played by John Krasinski, along with his wife Evelyn, played by Golden Globe winner Emily Blunt who is Krasinski’s real life wife, do their best to protect their two young sons and deaf daughter Regan, played by the extraordinary young actress Millicent Simmonds who is deaf in real life, from the truly horrifying monsters lurking in the background. Lee has set up on the family farm elaborate defenses against the blind creatures with a hypersensitive ability to hear even the smallest sound. Even though it definitely has elements of a horror film with terrifying jump scares and gruesome monsters, the movie is able to appeal to those who avoid the horror genre, like myself, because of its innovative story and remarkable build-up of thrilling suspense. Transcending the typical horror flick, the film focuses on how one family copes with tragedy and perpetual fear and lays it out in a taut ninety minutes without superfluous gore. The dramatic ending, with a surprising twist involving the deaf daughter and warding off the creatures, is particularly brilliant and leads perfectly into the already planned sequel. Overall, although I was hesitant to see it at first, the movie is definitely worth seeing even if horror is not your thing, and it displays the remarkable talent of first-time director John Krasinski.

Rampage

Loosely based on the widely popular 1986 arcade video game of the same name, Rampage is nothing more than your basic Hollywood blockbuster full of cheap thrills and elaborate CGI action sequences with a story that does not really matter. Starring Dwayne Johnson as primatologist Davis Okoye, the flimsy plot revolves around genetically engineered animals who become destructive monsters after being exposed to a genetic experiment created in the labs of an absurdly villainous corporation. Working for a wildlife sanctuary in San Diego after serving in the military and an anti-poaching squad, Davis discovers that something is terribly wrong with his favorite gorilla named George after the animal becomes bigger and stronger overnight. Eventually, he teams up with Dr. Kate Caldwell, played by Naomie Harris, who used to work as a geneticist with the Energyne Corporation owned and operated by two malevolent siblings who are secretly trying to develop biological weapons of mass destruction. The United States government and military led by the mysterious and extremely exaggerated cowboy-like Agent Harvey Russell, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, becomes involved after George exhibits aggressive behavior and goes on a rampage indiscriminately destroying all sorts of buildings. As George becomes increasingly dangerous, the already ridiculous plot thickens with the appearance of a oversized wolf and crocodile also infected with the pathogen. The trio of fearsome monsters ultimately descend on downtown Chicago where Davis and Dr. Caldwell search for the antidote so that the animals are not killed by the gung-ho armed forces. Similar to the video game in which tanks and other war machinery are used to try and destroy the Godzilla-like creatures, much of the film is comprised of overwhelming action sequences intensified by CGI eye candy in which the animals are bombarded with all types of weapons to no avail. Overall, I found it to be exactly what I expected from a movie based on a retro arcade game and led by action superstar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; it was a rather dumb story that was a vehicle for over-the-top mayhem perfect for a popcorn flick.

Ready Player One

ready_player_one_ver2_xlgBased on the best-selling 2011 novel of the same name written by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One is entertaining science fiction fantasy that effectively recreates the video game experience with its frenetic pace and overabundance of CGI. The plot revolves around Wade Watts, played by Tye Sheridan, who lives in a futuristic Columbus, Ohio in 2045 and finds himself on an adventure in the so-called OASIS, a virtual reality world that most people tap into to escape their dystopian real lives. Wade whose avatar is named Parzival is what is known as a Gunter and searches for the Easter eggs that the creator James Halliday, played by Oscar winner Mark Rylance, hid within OASIS after his death. The person that discovers the three keys will become the sole owner and operator of the massive virtual world in addition to receiving $500 billion from Halliday’s estate. With the possibility of such immense power, the villainous CEO of the video game corporation IOI Nolan Sorrento, played by Emmy winner Ben Mendelsohn, enlists an army of indebted OASIS users to discover the clues left behind in order to take control. Wade races to discover all of the Easter eggs before Sorrento and eventually teams up with a group of other avatars known as the “High Five,” including the young and beautiful Art3mis whose real name is Samantha Cook, played by Olivia Cook, and Wade’s virtual best friend Aech, played by Lena Waithe who is best-known for her role in the Netflix series Master of None. The movie feels very much like the audience is alongside Wade as he battles through what is essentially an elaborate video game, with the telltale graphics of a modern first-person shooter and the presence of avatars and Easter eggs. Besides the spectacular and almost seizure-inducing special effects and action sequences, the film is remarkable for its nostalgia and homage to vintage and contemporary video gaming as well as past pop culture, in particular the 1980s and even to the director Steven Spielberg’s earlier movies. Overall, I found it to be a unique and creative cinematic experience that, for better or worse, feels like a video game nerd’s fever dream brimming with so much insider geeky knowledge to be almost too overwhelming for general audiences.

Pacific Rim: Uprising

pacific_rim_uprising_ver10_xlgProduced by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro who directed the original Pacific Rim released in 2013, Pacific Rim: Uprising is a preposterous yet sometimes entertaining sequel that falls short of the original’s creativity and fun. The film takes place ten years after the first movie when the extraterrestrial monsters known as Kaiju are defeated by the Pan-Pacific Defence Corps and their gigantic fighting machines known as Jaegers. The story follows Jake Pentecost, played by John Boyega of Star Wars fame, who as the son of the fallen hero and leader of the PPDC Stacker Pentecost is forced to reenlist as a Jaeger pilot instructor after he is arrested dealing in the black market. He must begrudgingly work with his former copilot Nate, played by Scott Eastwood, and train the young new recruits, including a young orphan named Amara, in case the Kaiju return to earth to wreak havoc. With the world at peace, the Jaeger program is under assault with the rise of a drone program developed by the wisecracking scientist Dr. Newt Geiszler, played by the highly entertaining Charlie Day, and the Shao Corporation based in China. Eventually, the Kaiju present an imminent threat and Jake and his cohorts are relied upon to pilot the Jaegers to prevent widespread destruction. The PPDC are assisted by the odd genius Dr. Hermann Gottlieb, played by the highly believable Burn Gorman, who discovers that Kaiju blood is highly reactive and could be used to kill off humanity. Similar to the Transformers movie franchise and the long line of Godzilla-like monster films known in Japan as Kaiju, the movie is chock-full of elaborate CGI fight sequences between building-sized creatures and robot in which wide swaths of cities are wiped out in over-the-top fashion. Overall, I found it to be a rather typical Hollywood blockbuster sci-fi movie overflowing with rather silly action scenes; the only true asset to the film is its almost tongue-in-cheek view of itself as a popcorn flick that should not be taken too seriously.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

The final installment in The Maze Runner trilogy that was first released in 2014, Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a fairly typical action movie based on a series of young adult books about a dystopian future, reminiscent of the wildly successful Hunger Games franchise. The plot follows a group of young people led by Thomas, played by Dylan O’Brien, who are immune to a virus that has killed off much of humanity and become members of The Right Arm rebellion against the all-powerful organization known as WCKD who experiment and torture those who are immune to find a cure. Thomas along with characters Frypan and Newt, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, go against the orders of The Right Arm leaders Vince, played by Barry Pepper, and Jorge, played by Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad fame, by breaking into the heavily fortified Last City, one of the few remaining uninfected cities and home to the headquarters of WCKD led by Patricia Clarkson’s character, to rescue one of their immune friends Minho. After meeting up with the resistance forces outside the city walls led by Lawrence, played by Walton Goggins, the group are reunited with their friend Gally, played by Will Poulter, who can help them fight their way in against the vicious leader of WCKD troops Janson, played by Aidan Gillen of Game of Thrones fame. They must also convince a previous member of the group Teresa who now works for WCKD to align with the rebels to undermine the malevolent organization. However, things get more complicated after Teresa discovers that Thomas may help lead to a cure for the deadly virus. Overall, I found it to be a somewhat entertaining film that helps pass the time but ultimately does not add much to the already bloated genre of young adult dystopian movies.