Reviews of Antman; Trainwreck; Mr. Holmes

Part superhero movie, part caper film, part dysfunctional family movie (everyone’s got issues), Antman is a nice surprise, an enjoyable entry in the Marvel superhero series that is seemingly taking over the cinematic galaxy.

A brief prologue set in 1989 introduces Michael Douglas as a visionary scientist who leaves SHIELD after he realizes they’re trying to duplicate his prototype—namely a suit that can shrink people (as well as restore them to their former size—among other more innocuous qualities). Douglas suspects others want to utilize it for more nefarious pursuits. Fast forward to the present with Paul Rudd is a recently paroled thief trying to make good for the sake of his daughter (we haven’t seen that plot thread before). Douglas, who has been ousted from his own firm by his daughter (Evangeline Lilly) and his former protégé (Corey Stoll), persuades Rudd to break into his own former company in order to steal the Yellowjacket—a new shrinking suit devised by Stoll. This Yellowjacket is close to being perfected and sold to the highest bidder , which in the Marvel universe is usually Hydra. Assisted by Douglas’ wary daughter Lilly, Rudd trains hard (though not without pitfalls),“ants” up, and evolves into a hero to both men and ants.

As opposed to the overstuffed recent Marvel productions, Antman has a loose feel to it, with time for some quirky comic interludes, courtesy of a finished script boasting no less than four writers, including Rudd, Adam McKay, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. There are some serious and would-be touching moments to be sure, but they’re knowingly undercut with some humor, preventing these moments from becoming cloying. The action scenes are generally well-done, especially the first time an unsuspecting Rudd makes use of the ant suit, and the climactic sequence depicting the “heist” is both tense and humorous (with Rudd’s other allies such as Michael Pena coming through), with the fate of the world taking place on a child’s train set.

Corey Stoll is a good villain, not your usual diabolical sort, but a fellow who is past seeking the approval of his mentor/father figure Douglas and instead wants to show how far he has surpassed him. Douglas and Lilly provide good support (though there could be more sparks between Lilly and Rudd), Bobby Cannavale does well in a limited role as a cop who is also on the verge of marrying Rudd’s ex-wife, while Rudd is likable and engaging as the newest, albeit quite reluctant Marvel hero.

One hopes he will retain his appeal and humor in the inevitable sequel.

I wasn’t familiar with Amy Schumer’s comedy prior to seeing Trainwreck, but if the movie, which she scripted is any indication, I may make more of an effort in the future. Schumer is Amy, a hard-living, hard-drinking reporter who makes it her life’s mission to live up to her father’s (Colin Quinn) maxim that monogamy never works. She has a sister Kim (Brie Larson) with a husband and a stepson—and another on the way. Amy also has a muscleman boyfriend (John Cena—with a great scene where he tries to “talk dirty”) and the requisite best friend Nikki (Vanessa Mayer), with whom she works at the men’s magazine S’nuff. After Amy is forced by her boss (Tilda Swinton) to interview a renowned sports doctor (Bill Hader), she is surprised by how much she finds herself falling for him—causing her to rethink her formerly hedonistic philosophy even while her impulse toward self-destruction threatens to take over.

Trainwreck has many of the qualities of your basic romantic comedy, which may surprise (or concern) some viewers, given Schumer’s success with Inside Amy Schumer; it also retains many aspects of the typical Judd Apatow comedy, including plenty of lewd, rude behavior and a tendency toward overstaying its welcome. Yet there are many things I enjoyed about Trainwreck. Amy Schumer is an attractive, engaging screen presence, not afraid to make a fool of herself, yet capable of moving you (as is in her speech about her father late in the film). What I really liked about her script, and Apatow’s direction, is the generosity toward her fellow actors. Hader is terrific as Amy’s new love interest, earnest, devoted and occasionally conflicted; Colin Quinn gets a number of good scenes as Amy’s irascible, crude father (nice to see Norman Lloyd as Quinn’s old friend. Amy’s comrades at S’nuff also have some moments to shine, especially Tilda Swinton and Randall Park. And who would have thought LeBron James would come thisclose to stealing a movie, playing himself as a wealthy, vain sports figure who will dicker over the bill and get a little peevish in friendly one on one’s. He is also Doc Hader’s good friend and quite concerned about Amy’s intentions toward the good doctor. There are some other inspired guest bits, notably from Daniel Radcliffe, Marv Albert, Matthew Broderick, and Amari Stoudemire, and an ending that feels mostly right, as it follows the conventions of romantic comedies while adding a little spin—no less than what might expect from the talented Schumer.

Mr. Holmes reunites Sir Ian McKellen with his Gods and Monsters director Bill Condon for another elegiac study of a twilight figure, this time a 93 year old Sherlock Holmes, living in a farmhouse with his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her son Roger. Holmes has just returned from Japan, circa 1947; his memory has been failing, he’s some thirty years removed from his last case—and anxious to remember the details of that case which led to his retirement from detection. Holmes possesses a faded picture of a lovely young woman, some faint memories, and some “prickly ash” that he acquired in Hiroshima to help jumpstart his memory. The game is afoot indeed, only slowed by the encroachment of age.
While neither the mystery at the center of the film nor the film itself is a major work (too much emphasis on bees and the boy), Mr. Holmes succeeds as a meditation on mortality, choices and consequences–and because of McKellen’s masterful portrayal of Holmes as a man railing against infirmity. He is equally convincing as the ninety-plus Holmes and in flashbacks as the aging detective who discovers that all his skill with clues can’t lead him to master the mysteries of the human heart.