After the kinetic insanity of Avengers: Age of Ultron, for the wrap-up of Phase 2 Marvel gave us this little (ahem) gem. The flavor of this coda is distinctly different from the last several films in the cycle; think Iron Man snark but without enough smirk to make you want to smack Rudd (Perks of Being a Wallflower) upside the head. In fact, he makes you like him from the outset, providing both humor and charm, but keeping his ego very much in check.
That shift is emblematic of the movie. The studio brought the histrionics back down several notches as they pivot into Phase 3 which kicks off next May. It was necessary after the overblown action of Avengers to reduce the level of shock and awe. You can’t just keep raising stakes or you end up with the 4th season finale of Doctor Who, where they’re stealing whole planets (it was still great, but where they heck do you go from there?). Or Supernatural or Buffy’s need to constantly avoid yet another apocalypse. You stay on that track and you just numb your audience or they start to make fun of it… or as was the case with those two shows, they acknowledge the absurdity of it, but continue on. But with another 5 years of movies planned, Marvel did the right thing here and pulled it back a little. There is still a good deal of action and fun story, but it is is quite a bit more contained even while staying tethered to the world of the Avengers.
Along with Rudd, Douglas (Haywire) and Lilly (The Hobbit) form a quiet little band of heroes, working well together, but not without friction. Despite their decidedly stock problems, they keep the interactions relatively adult, rarely going for the obvious cheap punch with one another. On the other hand, comic relief from Peña (Turbo), TI (Get Hard), and Dastmalchian (Prisoners) is almost nothing but cheap punches and, sometimes, uncomfortable ones.
Aligned against them, Stoll (Non-Stop) manages to create a mustache-twirling criminal, without too much of a nod and a wink. He stays just the human side of meglomania… until, of course, he can’t. While this ends up as a battle of super-heroes, it is one based on tech rather than seeming magic. OK, you have to squint on the science a lot, but you had to do that with the comic as well. But that focus, again, helps pull back the stakes we’ve become accustom to during the Infinity Stone cycle.
Small roles for Cannavale (Chef) and Greer (Tomorrowland) work, but felt a little cartoonish, more-so for Cannavale. My biggest surprise in that family unit, however, was yet another role for the very young Fortson, who has multiple projects running (Transparent, Whispers, and others). If she can make the transition as she grows up, she rival some of the longest performing artists out there… and her manager is picking well for her.
Director Reed (Bring it On) went into this project late in the game but clearly snagged the reins to guide it. The movie shows some of its troubled road to the screen (multiple directors and writers), but still delivers in fun ways thanks to the talents on and behind the screen.
If there is anything negative to say about this 12th installment of the cycle, it is that I was getting way ahead of some of the plot points because the formula is becoming somewhat of a template. This isn’t a horrible thing…you can still anticipate the moments and enjoy them in different ways; it is not much different from rewatching it later and I will rewatch this several times, I’m sure. So far they have kept the movies from seeming too much of a standard pop tune… we may know the basic template, but there is enough variation and surprise to keep it all interesting. As the completion of Phase 2, Ant-Man sets up the next push nicely, even while giving us a bit of a breather from the core Avengers characters and tensions we’ve become familiar with. My faith is still with Marvel.