Screen Themes — Ant Man

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It’s time to suspend your disbelief as entertainment editor, John Turnbull, takes a look at a couple of recent action blockbusters, the diminutive Ant Man and the derivative Terminator Genisys.

Ant Man   directed by Peyton Reed

Along with Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange, Ant Man has long been considered one of the "riskier" films from Marvel studios. Featuring a hero that most people (even comic book geeks like me) don’t really care about, played by a guy who is known for improvisational comedy rather than action, Ant Man risked becoming a Green Lantern level failure.

While is this certainly a smaller, more personal film than franchise tentpoles like The Avengers or Captain America, director Peyton Reed delivers a satisfying, entertaining movie experience. Key to this is the presence of Paul Rudd, who brings an earthy charm to ex-con Scott Lang, a career burglar who is trying to go straight for the sake of his daughter Cassie. Rudd shines as the reluctant hero guided by the wisdom of Hank Pym, the original Ant Man, played with suitable gravitas by Michael Douglas.

Evangeline Lily from Lost plays Pym’s daughter Hope, a budding scientist who has never forgiven her father for the unexplained disappearance of her mother years before. Hope works for industrialist Darren Cross, played to sleazy perfection by Corey Stoll from House of Cards. It is the conflict between Cross and Pym that forms the basis of the plot, as Cross works to weaponise the Ant Man technology to sell to the highest bidder.

The supporting cast is also worth a mention, with Lang’s former criminal crew providing many of the laughs throughout the film. Michael Pena seems to be enjoying himself immensely as the loyal but not too bright Luis, David Dastmalchian has fun with accents as tech-whiz Kurt, and rapper turned actor Tip Harris (better known as T.I.) manages to keep up as wheel-man Dave.  Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale have slightly less to do as Cassie’s mother and step-father, although they do provide a nice feel-good moment towards the end.

With a PG rating, Ant Man is more family friendly than your typical Marvel movie, with some of the humour directed squarely at younger viewers. This is particularly apparent during the initial shrinking scenes, as Lang gets to know the personalities of different types of ants, even christening his favourite carpenter ant "Anthony". Despite this (or perhaps because of it), Ant Man manages to capture the simple joy of classic super-hero films like Superman (the Christopher Reed version, not the mopey hobo mass murderer played by Henry Cavill).

Ant Man’s journey from comic book page to screen has been somewhat rocky, with original director Edgar Wright walking away from the project due to rumoured interference from Marvel execs. The script is credited to Wright, Joe Cornish and a total of seven other writers, which would account for the occasionally uneven tone and the odd joke that sounds like it was written specifically for Simon Pegg.

As is customary with Marvel movies, there are two additional sequences during the credits that connect Ant Man to the broader Marvel cinematic universe. Without spoiling too much, the first sets up the introduction of another tiny hero, while the second is a flash-forward to the much anticipated Civil War storyline, which pits Iron Man against Captain America and forces heroes to choose a side.

Terminator Genisys — directed by Alan Taylor

Let’s get this out of the way to start — Terminator Genisys is not a good film. It may not be as bad as some critics would have you believe, but it’s pretty dire all the same. Just for fun, I’m going to take the Clint Eastwood approach to reviewing.

The Good

Arnie: Let’s be honest — the Terminator series is all about Arnie. Playing aged terminator nicknamed "Pops", the Austrian oak brings a level of humour to the film, although at times he seems to be playing a parody of himself.

Emelia Clarke: better known as Danerys Targerian in Game of Thrones, Clarke plays a young Sarah Connor, who grew up a badass warrior due to the influence of Pops. Looking both shorter and chubbier than her GoT character, Clark brings a level of spunk to the role that doesn’t quite reach the level of Linda Hamilton, but still feels believable in context.

Special Effects: The scenes of post-apocalyptic destruction look better than they ever have before, although this is to be expected given the movie was made in 2015 rather than 1984. Taking this into account, the"‘liquid metal" effect that debuted in 1991’s Terminator 2 looks pretty much the same, without the menace that Robert Patrick brought to the role.

JK Simmons: playing a Detective who survived the first Terminator film, Oscar winner Simmons seems to be in a completely different movie to the rest of the cast, having fun with the ridiculous concept and picking up a paycheck that probably far exceeded what he got for Whiplash. Nice work, Shillinger.

The Bad

Jai Courtney: This man is not a good actor. From his breakout role as Bruce Willis’ son in the risible A Good Day to Die Hard, to his limp performance in Divergent series and the travesty that was I, Frankenstein, this Aussie actor has demonstrated all the range of a damp sponge. He appears to have exactly one expression, which means that angry, devastated and hopeful all come across as slightly confused. Where is Michael Biehn when you need him?

The Plot: Where do I start? The baffling time travel elements? The massive plot contrivances? The confusing dual timelines? The bit where John Connor loses the horrible facial scarring he’s had for his entire life, but nobody who works with him even comments on it? The heroes poor decision to travel to ONE DAY before the launch of Skynet, rather than giving themselves a couple of weeks to solve the problem?

The Director: While Alan Taylor seems to be a competent TV director, having worked on series including Game of Thrones, Mad Men and The Sopranos, he seems unsuited to directing an action film of this scale. His only other big screen credit is Thor: The Dark World which I confess I haven’t seen, but his approach to what should be a spectacular movie event is pedestrian at best.

The Ugly

CGI Arnie: Looking like a reject from the Final Fantasy movie, CGI Arnie has serious problems with the uncanny valley. He doesn’t look right, he doesn’t move right, and there is no significance to his fight with Pops, because it feels like an old man fighting a poorly rendered cartoon version of himself.

Jason Clarke: Wow. And I thought Jai Courtney was a bad actor. Playing John Connor (better portrayed in the past by Edward Furlong, Nick Stahl and Christian Bale) Clarke is wooden, stilted and absolutely unconvincing as a leader who can motivate people to save humanity. When he makes the transition to super-terminator (spoiled in the trailer), things get even worse, with the biggest threat to his victory an unattended MRI machine.

The Verdict

With a post-credits sequence alluding to the impending Civil War storyline, Ant Man is a must-see for fans of the Marvel Cinematic universe and a good fun action film for families and fans of the superhero genre. The plot is engaging, the special effects well done and the cast really seem like they’re enjoying themselves.

Terminator Genisys, on the other hand, is a big pile of crap. This is not to say that you shouldn’t see it, because it does have a level of ludicrous fun to the whole thing, but the secret is managing expectations. If you go into Genisys expecting a film the level of Terminator or Judgment Day, you will be sorely disappointed. If you go in expecting a terrible movie with some enjoyable moments, then there is a chance that you might not hate this film as much as I did.

Or you could turn it into a drinking game. That might be fun.

Like what you read? John’s books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out!

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