It’s been really interesting to see how opinions on the Marvel Cinematic Universe have changed in between Avengers films. After the overwhelming success of the first film the studio launched ‘Phase 2’ of production, which saw sequels for Captain America, Thor and Iron Man, as well as the debut of The Guardians of the Galaxy. Rather than taking the studio in an exciting new direction, each film (with the exception of Guardians) pretty much followed the same blueprint established in the pre-Avenger days. While still being big money draws at the box office, it seems now that new releases from Marvel are viewed out of a force of habit rather than with any sort of eager anticipation.
Jump forward to Ant-Man, the final chapter in ‘Phase 2’, and you can see them trying to shake off the shackles of their familiar formula. There is a comedic touch throughout which shows they are embracing the silliness of the character. In that respect, Paul Rudd makes for a good choice for the lead role. Confident and likeable, but enough self-deprecating humour to make him accessible. The shrinking superpower leads to a mission that is essentially a micro-heist, but also allows for some good physical comedy, particularly the final battle which takes place on a young girl’s train set (departed director Edgar Wright’s fingerprint’s are all over that sequence).
These nice flourishes aside it is still very much a Marvel movie; a charismatic lead get his powers, a couple of montages showing him mastering them, a fight with a baddie who has militarised version of said powers, and we’re home and dry. There’s enough of interest in Ant-Man for it to get away with this, but we’re going to need something new heading into Phase 3.
The story of a boy and his PTSD suffering dog. The reasons for this film being made are pretty obvious; American audiences love films about war heroes (see the $350 million domestic gross for American Sniper), and they love films about dogs (see all those bloody Air Bud movies). If you can bring the two together then surely you have a license to print money. Remember the Titans director Boaz Yankin is sadly not the man for the job. He oversees a lopsided affair, partly looking at the horrors of war and the toll it takes on both humans and their four-legged friends, partly a feel good story about a family who reluctantly take in a troublesome dog, with unlikely bonds being formed.
It is American Sniper meets Beethoven, with a bizarre subplot involving gun smuggling to Mexico thrown in at the last minute to create an action heavy finale. There is probably a really interesting and moving film to be made about dogs that are trained for combat, and what happens to them when the strains of the job mean they can’t do it anymore. This is not it.
Earlier this year, Al Pacino starred in a film called Danny Collins, in which he played an ageing singer who, after reflecting on his career singing the same catchy, Sweet Caroline-esqe tune, decides to jack it all in, move into a hotel, and attempt to connect with the son he never knew. The film was maddening, Pacino was insufferable in the role of this mega rich egomaniac, spending his time making insufferable banter with Annette Bening’s hotel manager, and giving us zero reasons to care about him.
With Manglehorn, Pacino plays another old man struggling with loneliness, only this time he is intentionally unlikable. This is where the similarities between the films end. David Gordon Green directs a reflexive, meandering think piece, the lead character becomes a vision of missed opportunity and regret, depicted in the letters Pacino dictates in voice-over to a long lost love. By creating a realistic character with relatable problems, Manglehorn succeeds where Danny Collins failed so spectacularly, in creating a sympathetic lead we actually give a damn about. Even if we don’t like the guy, we can at least feel some compassion for him. It is not a particularly accessible film- dual scenes often overlap creating a jarring effect- it is also a little obvious at times when delivering its messages. But it is also interesting and well shot, and gosh darn it, it’s just nice to see Pacino look as if he still gives a damn.
A film that wishes it received the apathy Ant-Man was met with, as opposed to the venomous slaughtering it got, even before most people had seen it. Admittedly, it doesn’t help when your director sends out a tweet on the day of release saying a year ago he had made a great version of the film, but no-one will get a chance to see it. This and other examples of negative word of mouth have proved to be the kiss of death on this $120 million reboot, which has taken a paltry $26 million Stateside over a disastrous opening weekend.
It is bearing the brunt of the always inevitable superhero backlash, which is a shame because even though the film isn’t all that good, it also isn’t really that bad either. The script is weak, but the vastly talented lead cast do their best with it. It is lacking in action and it ends just when it feels like it is gaining momentum, but with the superhero movie market becoming so bloated (and it’s only going to get worse), it’s nice to get a film that tries to do things a little differently. Then there’s Reg E. Cathey, who plays Franklin Storm (father of Sue and Johnny) and man with a voice so rich he makes Morgan Freeman sound like a smurf. Who better to preach the importance of the team working together for the betterment of humanity? I could listen to his pep-talks all day. That’s got to count for something. There’s little else there other than the potential for something special, should the film ever be granted a sequel.