‘Avengers: Endgame’ (spoiler-free) review: Marvel’s gratifying finale

‘Avengers: Endgame’ brings pride and joy to the fans who have invested in the MCU franchise, 11 years and 21 movies ago.

After the “snappening” in Infinity War, audiences, myself included, are left with our jaws on the floor as the Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) wipes half of the living creatures in the universe. It’s a superhero film where the supervillain wins at the end – it’s far from the crowd-pleasing ending expected, yet it’s something fresh that we can definitely dig. Serving as the culmination to Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 3, Avengers: Endgame assembles the surviving heroes one last time to avenge the fallen. The trailers, however, drop very minimal hints. What’s exactly going on in this solid 3-hour film? Are the ‘vanished’ really dead or are they just inside the soul stone? Will time travel through quantum realm be the means to undo their demise? I can neither confirm nor deny these fan speculations in this discussion. One thing I can guarantee for sure, this groundbreaking film exceeds the hype. It even retroactively deepens our love for the previous films. If this isn’t perfection, then I can’t even imagine how to make a more gratifying version than this.

The gang is back. (Half of them anyway). Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd and Scarlett Johansson in ‘Avengers: Endgame.’

Whereas the main attraction of Infinity War is its earned fan service spectacle, Endgame surprises as the most emotional and most contemplative MCU film to date. There’s plenty of fuel here – loss, grief and guilt are the prime ones to motivate our core six Avengers. Y’all should know them by now but since this will be their swan songs, I’d mention them anyway. There’s genius inventor Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), super-soldier Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), rage monster Bruce Banner/Hulk, god of thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth), deadly assassin Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and a vengeful marksman Clint Barton/Hawkeye returning from his absence in Infinity War. Rounding up the troop are Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Rhodey/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and newly-minted Avenger, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely once again deserve high merits for successfully juggling an overwhelming amount of characters, with the OG crew getting the lion’s share of show-stopping moments.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) drifts into space.

The character and ensemble work is better than expected, with every A-lister bringing their A-games to the table. Downey’s subdued grief and reliable cocky screen presence supplies much melancholy and joy. Evans finally gets to play with Cap’s lifetime of regrets from being frozen in ice several years ago. Ruffalo sells both the neurotic scientist and the rampaging Hulk. Hemsworth feels loose and natural as a self-deprecating comic god. Johansson lends an unexpected emotional weight to the film and Renner has so much soulfulness in his eyes. What most trailers don’t show is how much time is devoted to make these characters appeal as more than a team, but rather as each other’s adopted family. By this point, most of us see them as friends. We worry for their safety. We heavily root for them. Genuine emotional connection is the magic that MCU has built all these years.

“Even if there’s a small chance we can undo this, we owe it to everyone that’s not in this room to try.” – Black Widow

Endgame also serves as a testament to the majestic directorial skills of the Russo brothers, Joe and Anthony, in tying up a decade’s worth of storytelling into a poignant and hair-raising climax. The film bears plenty of callbacks from its franchise’s earliest entries, along with a top-notch cinematography and even the frenetic quality of the comic books. It’s emotionally-overwhelming and that’s because Endgame is a layered film at its best. It’s an epic superhero spectacle, an inventive heist, a dramatic tale of courage and loss, and most of all, an exploration of what it means to be a family and a hero. The hearty takeaway is this: heroism is not defined by superhero abilities, but by what one is willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) joins the Avengers in ‘Endgame.’

It’s true that Endgame will have a much deeper impact for the diehard fans. With its sense of finality pervading throughout, the film takes its viewers to a roller-coaster of emotions: I was gasping, laughing, crying and cheering (sometimes all at the same time). Its tragic yet uplifting. To say that Marvel has outdone themselves with their carefully crafted emotional beats, thrilling action sequences and heartbreaking farewells, is an understatement. No other movie franchise has done this feat in Hollywood history.

“Let’s go get this son of a b—–.” – Steve Rogers

MCU caps off an era by being more than just 11 years of entertainment. This is the cinematic superhero journey of a generation. Part of that journey is the end but with each ending comes a new beginning. The past is golden and the future looks bright. I give my heartfelt gratitude to all the characters and to all the true and unsung heroes of Marvel.

5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, ‘Avengers: Endgame’ stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Jon Favreau, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow and Josh Brolin. Based on ‘The Avengers’ by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. 181 minutes.

‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ review: Giant-sized fun from miniscule stakes

‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’, like its predecessor, remains to be a light-hearted yet unpretentious superhero film that holds together with its heartfelt universal appeal of family and extended families.

Temper your anticipation for Avengers 4, Ant-Man and the Wasp won’t answer any of your lingering Infinity War questions. Still, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for this size-shifting ball of sunshine to come out after such a harrowing epic. The story takes place two years after the all-star skirmish of Civil War and we quickly learn that Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) who began the first film in prison, has now been living under house arrest in this sequel. His term expires in a few days and when he’s not accompanied by his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) during his confinement, he keeps himself busy – that is, playing drums, mastering card tricks, reading sappy young adult novels and other activities that a grounded teenager might do. It’s funny to think that this is happening in the same timeline when the Avengers are out there trying to stop Thanos and his forces.

Scott’s former superhero team, Hope van Dyne/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and her father/the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) reconnects with him after he starts receiving messages from Hank’s wife/Hope’s lost mother/the original Wasp, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer). A brief prologue recaps that thirty years ago, she gets sucked into the subatomic quantum realm during one of her missions with Hank. For the uninitiated, the quantum realm is a trippy alternate dimension only accessible through magic (as seen in Doctor Strange) or tremendous subatomic shrinking (as Scott did in the first Ant-Man film). Having entered the same sphere, Scott and Janet are now quantumly entangled with each other – whatever that means. Not much exposition is delved into this bit, and frankly a lot of unanswered questions are left hanging on a pseudo-scientific standpoint, but the bottomline is, Janet can send signals to Scott from there. (On a side note, the discoveries here might play a key role in future Marvel Cinematic Universe films.)

Hence, the top priority of Hank and Hope in this sequel is to finally locate Janet after learning that it is possible to make a round trip to that realm. They plan to achieve it via travelling through a quantum tunnel – a project that Hank has been developing for decades now. “Do you guys just stick the word ‘quantum’ in front of everything to make it sound scientific?” Scott utters at one point to reflect the viewers’ confusion at all the mumbo-jumbo thrown.

Anyway, if Hank’s and Hope’s concern seems relatively small in the grand scheme of MCU’s planetary dilemmas, Scott’s concerns are even smaller: avoid alerting the FBI that he has violated his house arrest, discuss business plans with his chatterbox friend Luis (Michael Peña) and maintain a healthy relationship with his daughter. The gravitas of Scott’s and Hope’s situation are wittingly juxtaposed in one scene where Scott insists a ‘FaceTime’ with his daughter while being held in captive. Ant-Man and the Wasp makes no attempt to outscope previous Marvel films and that is an acceptable breather at this point.

Why so? Because every now and then, MCU needs to remind its audience that these superheroes are humans too that need to deal with their personal stuff first before heading on to save the world. True enough, the film heavily leans on its light tone – one can even classify this as a straightforward comedy. For the most part, it never gets tiring because there are different types of humor present in here. Rudd has an amazing comic timing when it comes to situational humor, Peña’s motor-mouthed storytelling under the influence of truth serum comes into play, and even ancillary characters led by their former ex-convict friends, Tip “T.I.” Harris and David Dastmalchian, nail their few scenes just like how Drax would do. While the comedy occasionally borderlines to sitcom level, it’s easy to look past at that because everything is just fun to watch.

Director Peyton Reed and his team of writers wholeheartedly embrace the silliness of Pym’s size manipulation technology. Buildings, cars, salt shakers – you name it, are all playfully manipulated for gags. The giant man effect is used to insert fun in a scene where Scott’s suit malfunctions and he decides to roll with it by using a cargo truck as a scooter. While the shrinking aspect simply amazes with the variety of stunt direction and camerawork present during a Wasp’s combat scenes.

Speaking of the Wasp, this sequel’s greatest achievement is to secure her spot in the roster of Marvel heroes. With Rudd taking charge of the comedy, Lilly exudes badass swagger in delivering more dynamic action set pieces, thanks to her wings and blasters. The film’s title is a landmark in itself – it features the first female hero to co-headline an MCU movie (much to dismay of Black Widow fans). The film does justice in giving them equal weight and even Douglas’ Hank Pym shines in being more of a multi-layered character. It is also worth mentioning that Marvel astounds with their de-aging technology in a flashback scene featuring a younger Hank.

Coming out the heels of Black Panther and Infinity War this film, however, falls flat in delivering a well-fleshed and formidable villain. Illogical communication drove most of the film’s plot and the two other opposing sides: low-level criminal marketeer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and scary, wall-phasing Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), all want to get their hands on Pym’s miniature lab for different reasons. Ghost is an interesting take on Marvel’s villain (if she really is); while she has an intriguing backstory and Kamen brings pathos and desperation to her role, the story does little to explore the character in the present to make her feel more than just one-dimensional. Goggins, fared even less as he’s somewhat relegated as a minor roadblock, so random and inconsequential that he’s mainly there to lead the film to its high-octane car chase. Also bogging Scott is FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) who’s been keeping track of his every move. Individually, the conflicts here seem disjointed and miniscule in stakes but the film does pile them one on top of another to be entertaining and momentous enough at the moment. In hindsight, it never really gets at that point.

Ant-Man and the Wasp, like its predecessor, remains to be a light-hearted, inconsequential yet unpretentious movie among Marvel’s bunch. Despite having a bigger and bolder action this time around, the film still holds it together with its heartfelt universal appeal of father-daughter relationships between Scott and Cassie as well as Hank and Hope, or just themes of family and extended families in general. This film should not be given merit merely because it’s a palette cleanser, but because it solidifies Ant-Man films’ spot as one of the comedic pillars in MCU – a reminder that the franchise is malleable enough to tackle diverse superhero tones but still coherent enough to link them together in the bigger picture. If you’re craving for a cosmic romp, go see Guardians of the Galaxy; if royal politics intrigues you, there’s Black Panther or Thor; but if you want a laugh-out-loud, easy-going yet grounded superhero film, Ant-Man films are there to entertain you.

4 out of 5 stars

Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ is now showing in PH cinemas starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, Walton Goggins, Hannah John-Kamen, Randall Park, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian and Abby Ryder Fortson. Directed by Peyton Reed from a screenplay written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari. Based on the characters by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby and Ernie Hart. Runtime: 118 minutes.

New posters of Marvel Studios’ ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ prove size does matter

Marvel Studios has just revealed two brand-new posters for its upcoming action-adventure “Ant-Man and the Wasp” trailer that prove going bigger is always better.

The one-sheets are specially created for IMAX and Dolby, and frame Ant-Man, The Wasp and the rest of the characters in interesting angles that highlight size and perspective.

Check out the new posters below and watch “Ant-Man and the Wasp” in Philippine cinemas July 4, 2018.

About Marvel Studios’ “Ant-Man and The Wasp”

From the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” a new chapter featuring heroes with the astonishing ability to shrink. In the aftermath of “Captain America: Civil War,” Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) grapples with the consequences of his choice as both a Super Hero and a father. As he struggles to rebalance his home life with his responsibilities as Ant-Man, he’s confronted by Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) with an urgent new mission. Scott must once again put on the suit and learn to fight alongside the Wasp as the team works together to uncover secrets from the past.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is directed by Peyton Reed and stars Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John Kamen, Abby Ryder-Forston, Randall Park, with Michelle Pfeiffer, with Laurence Fishburne, and Michael Douglas.

Kevin Feige is producing with Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Stephen Broussard, Charles Newirth, and Stan Lee serving as executive producers. Chris McKenna & Eric Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari wrote the screenplay.

‘The Falcon’ Anthony Mackie joins Sandra Bullock in ‘Our Brand is Crisis’

Most recently seen as The Falcon in this year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Ant-Man,” Anthony Mackie now stars opposite Sandra Bullock in Warner Bros. Pictures’ satirical comedy “Our Brand is Crisis.”

In the film, a Bolivian presidential candidate failing badly in the polls enlists the firepower of an elite American management team, led by the deeply damaged but still brilliant strategist “Calamity” Jane Bodine (Bullock).

Mackie’s character, is Ben, the campaign team leader, whom director David Gordon Green describes as “smart, energetic and good-willed, the likeable anchor in the film. When everyone else seems to be challenging their ethics and making you question where they’re coming from or what their agendas are, he’s the one audiences will look to as someone who may still have some perspective.

“From playing Tupac to the Falcon in the Avenger movies; he has such a range of memorable performances to his credit, I thought he’d be great as a clean-cut, solid, upstanding American navigating a political campaign in Latin America,” Green continues. “He understands that Jane has problems but comes to realize she’s powerful and capable. He’s not there to manipulate her. He wants to learn, and be good at his job, and he also wants the world to be a better place.”

Which is not to say that Ben isn’t a willing participant in the game, but he has his limits.

At the core of the multi-layered character, Mackie feels, “Ben is the guy who doesn’t have all the answers but he definitely knows how to impose his will on the circumstances and he has their candidate’s best interests at the front of his mind at all times. He takes his job very seriously. At the same time, he would hope the politicians he represents are actually addressing the people in their campaign as opposed to just lying to them and telling them what they want to hear.”

For Bullock, it’s that sense of equilibrium that defines Ben and makes him a fitting complement and contrast to Jane. Amidst the madness of the campaign, their brief and refreshingly candid conversations, so simple on the surface, prove increasingly enlightening. “He is a moral compass, the soul of the story,” she says. “He’s smart and ethical, but he’s also realistic, so he’s saying, ‘I know it’s about the people and the country but we have to stay cognizant that this is an election and it’s a business.’ He’s the man in the middle, holding the scales and trying to keep them balanced. Sometimes the scales tip, and you wonder which way he is going to go, but you want to feel he’s going to do the right thing in the end.”

Classically trained at the Juilliard School of Drama, Anthony Mackie is a great and talented young actor able to capture a plethora of characters.

Mackie was discovered after receiving rave reviews playing Tupac Shakur in the off-Broadway play “Up Against the Wind.” Immediately following, he made an auspicious film debut as Eminem’s nemesis, Papa Doc, in Curtis Hanson’s “8 Mile.” He also appeared in Clint Eastwood’s Academy Award-winning “Million Dollar Baby,” opposite Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman and Eastwood; and Jonathan Demme’s “The Manchurian Candidate,” alongside Denzel Washington and Liev Schreiber.

In 2009 Mackie was seen as Sgt. J.T. Sanborn in Kathryn Bigelow’s multiple Academy Award-winning film “The Hurt Locker,” for which he earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination.

In 2011 Mackie was seen in “The Adjustment Bureau,” with Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, as well as “Real Steel,” with Hugh Jackman. He was also featured in Timur Bekmanbetov’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” released in 2012. He starred in the 2013 crime drama “Gangster Squad,” alongside Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emma Stone, and Ryan Gosling.

Mackie is a member of the Marvel Comics family. He made his Marvel debut as Sam Wilson/The Falcon in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” The film, released on April 4th, 2014, opened at #1, earning over $96 million and breaking the record for an April release. Mackie also starred in the second installment of the franchise and his Falcon made an appearance in the recently released “Avengers: Age of Ultron” as well as “Ant-Man.” He is currently filming “Captain America: Civil War.”

Opening across the Philippines on January 20, 2016, “Our Brand is Crisis” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. (PR)

‘Ant-Man’ villain Corey Stoll plays good guy in ‘Black Mass’

He received wide acclaim for his performance as murderous scientist Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket in the superhero action adventure hit “Ant-Man.” Now, Corey Stoll’s new screen role couldn’t be more opposite: an incorruptible federal prosecutor in Warner Bros. Pictures’ new gangster thriller, Black Mass.

Based on a true story, “Black Mass” explores how a deal between ruthless gangster Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) and FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) enabled Bulger to expand his criminal empire with complete impunity.

In the film, the sands begin to shift for the unholy alliance between Bulger and the FBI with the new arrival of an federal prosecutor named Fred Wyshak. Played by Stoll, Wyshak is unimpressed by Connolly’s attempt to glad-hand him with favors and can’t be dissuaded by the agent’s double talk about his lead informant: Whitey Bulger.

“The previous federal prosecutor took a more hands-off approach and didn’t interfere with Connolly’s corrupt involvement with Bulger,” Stoll acknowledges. “Then Fred Wyshak takes over the office, and he can see that things are not adding up. Whitey Bulger is supposed to be this great informant, but he’s really not producing anything. If anything, information is flowing from the FBI to him, which is not the way it’s supposed to happen. The first conversation between them is about Wyshak letting him know there’s a new regime. He puts the first chink in Connolly’s armor.”

Stoll had the added pressure of having the real Fred Wyshak on set his first day of shooting. “It was a little nerve wracking at first,” he admits, “but it was also invaluable having him there.”

Stoll previously received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for his performance as Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” His latest film work also includes the thriller “Dark Places,” opposite Charlize Theron. In 2014, Stoll starred in three very different films: “The Good Lie,” with Reese Witherspoon; Shawn Levy’s dramatic comedy “This is Where I Leave You,” joining the ensemble cast with Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda; and Jaume Collet-Serra’s action hit “Non-Stop,” with Liam Neeson.

His other film credits include the Sundance competition film “C.O.G.”; Tony Gilroy’s “The Bourne Legacy”; “Salt,” with Angelina Jolie; Joel Schumacher’s “The Number 23”; and “North Country,” starring Charlize Theron.

Opening across the Philippines on October 21, 2015, Black Mass is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.