Avengers: Endgame Movie Review

**There’s really no way to write a review of Avengers: Endgame without some minor spoilers. You may wish to read this post viewing…

The word “epic” can be overused by those who review movies like me, but it unquestionably applies to Avengers: Endgame. It’s epic in its running time (none of the other 21 MCU pics run three hours) and epic in the number of well-known thespians reprising their superhero and villain characters. It doesn’t seem feasible that so many characters could manage to coexist in this vast universe without seeming like a gimmick. If you happen to think predecessor Infinity War was overcrowded, you’ll get whiplash here. Truth be told, there are moments when this borders on playing like a greatest hits reel based on what’s preceded it during the last eleven years.

Yet Endgame figures out a rewarding way to stick the landing and honor the dozens of faces that we’ve spent billions of dollars visiting since 2008. At the conclusion of Infinity War, bad guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) had collected his precious Infinity Stones and decimated half the intergalactic population into dramatic looking dust particles. What’s left is mostly the core of the OG Avengers – Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). There’s others as Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) is the sole surviving Guardian of the Galaxy. And we have the two notable characters that were MIA last summer – Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).

One might think this whole saga might be about the original band and some newer friends taking on Thanos. You would be wrong. Endgame has plenty of time bending tricks up its endless story arch sleeves. The first is an unexpected resolution that comes very early. However, that climax is just a set-up to further complications.

This is indeed a time travel movie in which the screenwriters almost sheepishly concede the contrived nature of such a device. The survivors set upon a course of multiple back in time ways to retrieve the Stones and bring back their loved ones. It doesn’t happen overnight and the lengthy nature of the plan coming together provides funny and poignant moments. Tony is off the grid with his beloved Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a new addition. Bruce is in full Hulk mode, but kindler and gentler. Thor is rounder and drunkenly grappling with his losses. Hawkeye is a full-blown vigilante. When the gang revs up their figurative DeLoreans, it gives us a chance to revisit lots of MCU personnel. And it’s a LOT of former players. Some are genuinely surprising. During this lengthy stretch, the film walks a fine line of not devolving into nostalgic sugar shock amidst the action sequences. By the final act, it rises above it.

We know the battle scenes will be well choreographed and well-directed (with the Russo Brothers handling duties once again). The final one is rather jaw dropping with the mixing of so many known quantities. Thanos is one of the stronger villains in MCU history and he remains so here, though there’s nothing fresh to add about his character. His daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), on the other hand, continues her evolution as a fine addition to the roster.

The comic relief comes more from Thor as opposed to Ant-Man or Rocket and Hemsworth is up to the task. Captain America and Black Widow are given their emotional moments that we’re invested in from their backstories. To this writer, it’s Tony who’s always been the damaged beating heart of this franchise. The Marvel Cinematic Universe simply wouldn’t exist as it is without Downey Jr.’s brilliant work. That’s never changed. The quality of the movies he’s appeared in has. His performance has always been fantastic. If we’re ranking, I would put Endgame as an overall experience just under the first Avengers in 2012 and Infinity War. I can’t promise that thinking about all the shifting time plot points might raise as many questions as answers. I won’t deny that its emotional payoff is real and we have Downey and an amazing group of technicians bringing these comics to life to thank for it.

***1/2 (out of four)

Best Year’s Ever

As one year turns to the next in short order, it got me thinking. What are some examples of actors and directors who had remarkable calendar frames over the past few decades? The guidelines are pretty simple – the individual must have had two (and in a couple of cases, three or more) pictures that made an impact during 19(fill in the blank) or 20(fill in the blank).

And wouldn’t you know it? My ruminations quickly turned into a lengthy list that I’ve paired down to a top 25. Let’s call this Best Year’s Ever and count down from #25 to #1!

25. Channing Tatum (2012)

It was a busy year for the performer to say the least. Tatum was in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, but three major roles made him the star he is today. There was the hit romance The Vow, hit comedy 21 Jump Street, and his signature and semi-autobiographical title role in the summer sleeper Magic Mike (also from Mr. Soderbergh).

24. John Travolta (1996)

Two years following his major comeback in Pulp Fiction and a year following his Golden Globe nominated lead in Get Shorty, Travolta’s hot streak continued with three hits: John Woo’s action thriller Broken Arrow and fantasy dramas Phenomenon and Michael.

23. Clint Eastwood (1971)

The last two months of 1971 were fruitful for the legend. In November, he made his directorial debut with the well-reviewed psychological thriller Play Misty for Me. This began a career of dozens of behind the camera works, including Best Picture winners Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. In December, Eastwood starred as Dirty Harry which spawned his lucky cop franchise.

22. Sigourney Weaver (1988)

Weaver won two Golden Globes 30 years ago – Best Actress (Drama) for Gorillas in the Mist and Supporting Actress for Working Girl. She would be nominated for two Oscars as well, but come up short. All part of a remarkable decade that included Ghostbusters and Aliens.

21. Joe Pesci (1990)

Pesci won an Oscar for his unforgettable supporting work in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas. That same fall, he was a burglar terrorizing Macaulay Culkin in the holiday classic Home Alone.

20. Kevin Spacey (1995)

Current scandals aside, there’s no denying Spacey was the movie villain of 1995. He won an Academy Award as (spoiler alert!) Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects and as a demented serial killer in Seven. Earlier in the year, he costarred with Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman in  Outbreak and headlined the critically approved indie comedy Swimming with Sharks.

19. Nicolas Cage (1997)

Leaving Las Vegas awarded Cage his Oscar two years prior. By the summer of 1997, he was a full-fledged action hero with two blockbusters in the same month: Con Air and Face/Off.

18. Will Ferrell (2003)

Ferrell’s transformation from SNL favorite to movie star happened here with the spring’s Old School as Frank the Tank and in the winter as Buddy in Elf.

17. Morgan Freeman (1989)

The nation’s Narrator-in-Chief had a trio of significant roles nearly three decades ago – his Oscar nominated chauffeur in the Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy, a dedicated and stern principal in Lean on Me, and a Civil War officer in Glory.

16. Steven Soderbergh (2000)

The prolific filmmaker made two Best Picture nominees with Erin Brockovich and Traffic (he would win Best Director for the latter). Both surpassed the century mark at the box office and Julia Roberts won Best Actress for Brockovich and Benicio del Toro took Supporting Actor in Traffic.

15. Halle Berry (2001)

Ms. Berry had a revealing role in the summer action fest Swordfish. She then became the first (and thus far only) African-American to win Best Actress for Monster’s Ball. This was all sandwiched between XMen hits.

14. Hugh Jackman (2017)

Berry’s XMen cast mate Jackman retired his Wolverine character to critical and audience admiration with Logan in the spring. At the end of the year, his musical The Greatest Showman was an unexpected smash.

13. Leonardo DiCaprio (2002)

Five years after Titanic, the jury was still out as to whether DiCaprio’s leading man status would hold up. His roles in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can left little doubt. He’s been one of Hollywood’s most dependable stars since.

12. Francis Ford Coppola (1974)

In 1972, Coppola made perhaps the greatest American film of all time with The Godfather. Two years later, its sequel came with enormous expectations and exceeded them. Like part one, it won Best Picture. As if that weren’t enough, he made another Picture nominee in ‘74 with the Gene Hackman surveillance thriller The Conversation.

11. Michael Douglas (1987)

His signature role as greedy tycoon Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street won him an Oscar and gave him one of the most famous cinematic speeches ever. He also lit up the screen in the blockbuster thriller Fatal Attraction, which was the year’s second largest grosser.

10. Julia Roberts (1999)

She started the decade with a smash star making turn in Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts ended it with two romantic comedy summer $100 million plus earners: Notting Hill with Hugh Grant and Runaway Bride (which reunited her with Pretty costar Richard Gere). She’d win her Oscar the next year for Erin Brockovich.

9. Tom Cruise (1996)

1986 wasn’t too shabby either with Top Gun and The Color of Money. Yet it’s a decade later that serves as Cruise’s year with the franchise starter Mission: Impossible in the summer and Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire, which earned Cruise a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nod. They were the third and fourth biggest hits of the year, respectively.

8. Sandra Bullock (2013)

Nearly two decades after her breakout role in Speed, Bullock had a banner 2013 alongside Melissa McCarthy in the summer comedy The Heat and her Oscar nominated turn as a stranded astronaut in the fall’s Gravity.

7. Sylvester Stallone (1985)

Sly was the undisputed champion of the box office (not to mention sequels and Roman numerals) in 1985, notching the second and third top hits of the year behind Back to the Future. They were for his two signature characters with Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV.

6. Robert Downey Jr. (2008)

A decade after all the wrong kind of headlines for his drug addiction, Downey Jr. pulled off perhaps the most impressive comeback in movie history. 2008 saw him as Tony Stark in Iron Man, the film that kicked off the MCU in grand fashion. Later that summer came Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, which earned Downey a rare Oscar nod for a comedic performance.

5. Tom Hanks (1993)

There’s more than one year to consider for Hanks… 1995 (Apollo 13, Toy Story) comes to mind. Yet 1993 saw him with Meg Ryan in the now classic Sleepless in Seattle and winning an Oscar in Philadelphia as a lawyer diagnosed with AIDS. His status as a romantic and dramatic lead was solidified in a matter of months. A consecutive Academy Award followed in 1994 for Forrest Gump.

4. Mel Brooks (1974)

The director managed to make two of the most beloved comedies of all time in one year… Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. The two features combined contain some of the funniest scenes ever filmed.

3. Jennifer Lawrence (2012)

Already an Oscar nominee two years prior for Winter’s Bone, Lawrence’s road to superstardom was paved in 2012. In March came The Hunger Games, the year’s third top earner that spawned three sequels. In December came Silver Linings Playbook, where she won Best Actress.

2. Jim Carrey (1994)

In 1993, Carrey was known as a great cast member of Fox’s groundbreaking sketch show “In Living Color”. By the end of 1994, he was the most bankable comedic star in America as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber all hit screens.

1. Steven Spielberg (1993)

In a list filled with lots of choices, the #1 selection was rather easy. The highest grossing filmmaker of all time’s 1993 was astonishing. Dino tale Jurassic Park in the summer was a marvel technical achievement that began a franchise. At the time of its release, it became the largest grosser in history with the top opening weekend yet seen. Six months later, Holocaust epic Schindler’s List won seven Academy Awards (including Picture and for Spielberg’s direction).

I hope your New Year is your best yet, readers! Have a happy one…

Ant-Man and the Wasp Movie Review

Size matters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the decade old multi-billion franchise reached its most epic heights in Avengers: Infinity War. The only superhero who’s had their own stand-alone pic not to appear in that gargantuan production was Ant-Man, the character brought to life by Paul Rudd in the summer of 2015. Sequel AntMan and the Wasp follows a traditional Avengers tale like the original did. To say it feels smaller in scope is an understatement. Part one often failed to strike a satisfying mix and surprisingly struggled to make Rudd’s title character a memorable one. Whereas Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord were instantly iconic heroes, it didn’t work that way in AntMan. That’s despite its star’s well-known ability to mix comedy and drama and some nifty visuals that made the third act a treat.

Rarely do we find an MCU effort without parental issues involved and they’re here. Scott Lang/Ant-Man is nearing the end of a two-year house arrest bid based on the events from Captain America: Civil War. His former love interest Hope/heroine Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and science wiz dad Hank (Michael Douglas) are hiding out as well while conducting experiments to find their mom and wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). She’s been stuck for three decades in the quantum realm that Ant-Man briefly visited in the original. His experience there leads Hope and Hank to believe she’s alive and the search is on. The technology that leads to that mystical place is sought by a low life criminal (Walton Goggins) and his crew. The FBI is curious about it, including the main agent (Randall Park in amusing turn) tasked with monitoring Scott. And then there’s Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a molecular challenged young lady who has her own reasons to gain powers. She teams up with a former colleague of Hank’s played by Laurence Fishburne.

If you’re thinking that’s a lot of characters to follow, I haven’t even mentioned Scott’s returning daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), ex-wife (Judy Greer), and current husband (Bobby Cannavale). There’s also his business partners and occasional fellow crime fighters including Michael Pena and T.I. So while there’s plenty of action to follow, the MCU knows how to make it easy to follow. Compared to Infinity War, the amount of subplots seems practically minuscule.

Wasp finds Rudd settling more comfortably in the role and more humorously. That’s an aspect that was oddly not around much in 2015. Finding Scott with Pfeiffer’s character in his head in one scene provides some genuine laughs. Like in the original, Mr. Douglas appears to be having a ball. He gets his own chance to save the day at one point while his counterparts are engaged in a visually impressive car chase in the streets of San Francisco. Lilly doesn’t just share title credit here. She does have more to do.

AntMan and the Wasp is an improvement over the first. That’s a trait shared by other MCU sequels, especially in the Captain America and Thor series. Peyton Reed returns as director and the whole production feels more confident. It also doesn’t have the burden of being an origin story… something we go through a lot with this constantly growing genre. Like many of its subjects, the importance of what happens in these two hours feels small compared to the grand scale of other stories in this universe. More so than in 2015, however, Ant-Man’s existence in it feels welcome.

*** (out of four)

Ant-Man and the Wasp Box Office Prediction

The 20th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe crawls into theaters next weekend with AntMan and the Wasp. The sequel to the 2015 original, Paul Rudd is back in the title role along with Evangeline Lilly  as his partner in heroics (aka Wasp). Peyton Reed returns is back directing along with returning cast members Michael Pena, T.I., Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, and Michael Douglas. New faces joining the MCU include Walton Goggins, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Laurence Fishburne.

This has been a banner year for Disney’s multi-billion franchise as Black Panther just hit $700 million domestically and Avengers: Infinity War not far behind. While AntMan was certainly a hit, its numbers three years ago weren’t quite on pace with numerous other MCU titles. It opened to $57 million (18th of the 19 series pics) with an eventual stateside gross of $180 million (17 out of 19).

That said, the MCU is on a roll and early word-of-mouth for this follow-up is encouraging. In the past decade, we’ve seen three examples of a direct MCU sequel making $20-$30 million more than the first during opening weekend. They are:

Iron Man 2 ($128 million), Iron Man ($98 million)

Thor: The Dark World ($85 million), Thor ($65 million)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($95 million), Captain America: The First Avenger ($65 million)

I feel there is a very strong chance AntMan and the Wasp will do the same and possibly hit that mark of close to $30 million higher than part 1. That would put it at #14 out of the 20 MCU movies between Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: The Dark World.

AntMan and the Wasp opening weekend prediction: $86.4 million

For my The First Purge prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/06/27/the-first-purge-box-office-prediction/

Ant-Man Movie Review

Since 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has continually exceeded expectations with the product they’ve put out. This was true no more so than in 2008 with the first entry Iron Man, which turned a superhero considered on the B list to A level material. The casting of one Robert Downey Jr. certainly helped. It held true in 2014 when Guardians of the Galaxy, considered the studio’s biggest risk to date, was a comedically charged thrill ride that turned Chris Pratt into a superstar.

We arrive at Ant-Man, directed by Peyton Reed, with some of the same skepticism that surrounded those pictures. This time expectations are not necessarily exceeded. They are merely mostly met and the choice to cast the supremely talented Paul Rudd in the title role doesn’t pay off as much as hoped for.

Rudd is Scott Lang, an expert burglar and safecracker who just got out of prison for some Robin Hood like corporate thefts. His felon status can’t get him a steady job and this estranges him from his beloved little daughter. He reluctantly accepts a theft job “one last time” but all it yields is a strange looking outfit that he believes to be motorcycle gear. It turns out the suit belongs to former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who purposely had him lift it. Scott learns the suit is that of the Ant-Man and it has the ability to shrink him to a tiny size. This breakthrough technology was discovered by Pym, who has kept it secret for many years because of the potential danger it could wreak. Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) works at Pym’s old company along with his former colleague Cross (Corey Stoll). It’s Cross who wishes to use the scientific breakthrough for nefarious warfare purposes and Pym enlists Scott (someone expendable with nothing to lose) to make sure he can’t.

This entails the Ant-Man to learn how to be the Ant-Man and that means getting to work with the actual insects who become his team. It means a number of super cool visual effects as he shrinks to minuscule size. A bathtub being drawn is The Perfect Storm to our hero. And as we also see in the MCU now, they are references to what’s occurred in other films and we get some Avengers exposure, however limited.

As with Iron Man and Thor and Captain America and the Guardians of Marvel’s past, this is the obligatory and needed origin story. The doubts that were expressed upon the film’s announcement centered on whether Ant-Man was a strong enough character to base a movie and hoped for franchise on. I can say the jury, for me, is still deliberating.

Ant-Man is not a straight out comedy yet dabbles into that genre in the same manner Guardians did. The latter did it better. Rudd is a gifted comedic and dramatic performer as we’ve seen time and again yet he never quite makes the instantly gratifying impression that Downey’s Tony Stark or Pratt’s Star Lord did. Douglas seems to be the one actually having the most fun. Lilly isn’t given a whole lot to work with other than her daddy/daughter issues with Pym. Stoll is a serviceable villain at best. Scott’s team of thieving buddies that include Michael Pena and T.I. are given a couple humorous bits.

The whole affair seems to pick up steam in the third act, especially with a delightfully amusing climactic train sequence. Ant-Man is not on the grand scale of what we typically expect from the MCU and that’s ok. Often, however, it can mean its thrills feel minimized. One also wonders how interesting this material may have been had its original director, the highly creative Edgar Wright, not dropped out due to reported creative differences. Having said that, here’s to hoping this sometimes workmanlike production will improve with its sequel like the Captain America and Thor franchises did.

**1/2 (out of four)

Ant-Man Box Office Prediction

Next Friday, the 12th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is unveiled as Ant-Man makes its debut. Unlike some of the more recent entries like the Avengers and Captain America and Thor sequels, there is uncertainty as to how well this one will perform.

The title character (played by Paul Rudd) is certainly not one of the better known comic book heroes in Marvel lore and the film is said to be more comedic than anything previously contained in the MCU. It’s also said to feel smaller in scale than what we’re used to, especially compared to the gargantuan scope of the Ultron pic from two months ago. With that said, early reviews have been mostly solid and it stands at 71% on Rotten Tomatoes. Several critics have noted it should be an audience pleaser.

Peyton Reed directs with Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly backing up Rudd in the supporting cast. Ant-Man will attempt to bring in both action fans and families as the studio has done with these pictures on an amazingly consistent basis. In some ways, Ant-Man has some similarities to last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Its box office prospects was met with skepticism for quite a while with some of the same complaints lobbed at it. Too light, too comedic, not enough name recognition for the property. That’s until Guardians picked up scorching word of mouth prior to its release and the result was it became last summer’s biggest grosser.

It would be rather shocking to see Ant-Man approach the $94 million roll out that Guardians enjoyed. There could be a wide range for how this opens. It could exceed projections and see low to mid 80s or it could compete with 2008’s The Incredible Hulk’s $55 million opening for lowest start to any pic in the MCU.

My gut says the more probable scenario is Ant-Man just managing to outdo the premieres of two other Marvel franchise openers, 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor, which both made $65 million out of the gate. That puts my estimate in the low to mid 70s, which would be considered a very nice beginning for this next potential franchise.

Ant-Man opening weekend prediction: $73.3 million

For my Trainwreck prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/07/10/trainwreck-box-office-prediction/

Todd’s 15 Most Anticipated 2015 Summer Movies: Nos. 10-6

This evening on the blog, part II of my Top 15 Most Anticipated 2015 Summer Movies!

If you missed part one covering numbers 15-11, you can find it right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/04/09/todds-15-most-anticipated-2015-summer-movies-nos-15-11/

We move forward into the Top Ten with numbers 10-6 before my final installment tomorrow revealing the top five.

Let’s get to it!

10. Ted 2

Release Date: June 26

Seth MacFarlane’s Ted was the comedic hit of summer 2012 with its foul talking teddy bear. Mark Wahlberg is back, though Mila Kunis is out with Amanda Seyfried in. Comedy sequels are a risky proposition, but let’s hope MacFarlane can recapture the magic he made three years ago (and couldn’t duplicate with last summer’s mediocre A Million Ways to Die in the West).

9. Straight Outta Compton

Release Date: August 14

F. Gary Gray, the man responsible for several music videos featuring the film’s subjects as well as Friday and The Italian Job, directs the musical bio of NWA – the highly influential gangsta rap group that included Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy-E. Dre and Cube serve as producers.

8. Trainwreck

Release Date: July 17

Judd Apatow had a one two punch of comedy classics with 2005’s The 40 Year Old Virgin and 2007’s Knocked Up. His follow-ups, Funny People and This is 40, were just OK. Trainwreck is said to be a return to form based on word of mouth, with comedian Amy Schumer primed for a breakout starring role. Bill Hader and Lebron James (!) co-star.

7. Ant-Man

Release Date: July 17

The last time Marvel Studios had a feature thought to be outside the box and risky, it was last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy and it turned out to be the season’s biggest hit. This studio knows what they’re doing and here we have Paul Rudd playing the title character with Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly in supporting roles.

6. Aloha

Release Date: May 29

For the past decade, Cameron Crowe’s filmography has been unimpressive with Elizabethtown and We Bought a Zoo. Let us not forget, though, that this is the man that brought us Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, and Almost Famous. Crowe’s latest is a romantic comedy with a truly impressive cast – Bradley Cooper (hot off American Sniper), Emma Stone, Bill Murray, Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin, and Danny McBride.

And that’ll do it for now, folks! Top five coming at you tomorrow…