Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Abby Ryder Forsten, Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Tip ’T.I.’ Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, Randall Park, Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale
If Marvel Studios are going to release franchise instalments at the frequency they do – twenty superhero movies in ten years, five in the last 18 months – they can’t stick to the traditional blockbuster strategy of trying to outdo themselves with each film, of constantly striving to raise the bar with bigger stories and more extreme spectacles. Such an approach would be unsustainable, not to mention exhausting for fans. Instead, they opt for variety and modulation. Of scale, of tone, of stakes. The Ant-Man series is, fittingly, the smallest scale of the various strands of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it is some canny forethought from Kevin Feige’s team to offer up Ant-Man and the Wasp as a modest, low-stakes breather for superhero movie fans after the epic Avengers: Infinity War. Continue reading
Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Abbie Rider Fortson, Judy Greer
You just can’t bet against Marvel Studios at the moment. Every time they announce a new project based on some obscure comic that raises your eyebrows and makes you think, “Surely this is the one that they makes them stumble,” they find a way to make it work. Boy did it work with James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy last year and it has worked again, albeit not to quite as drastic an extent, with Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man, a light, funny and surprisingly heartfelt superhero movie.
Decades ago, when working with SHIELD, Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) invented the Pym Particle, a formula that alters atomic relative distance, reducing the space between atoms while increasing their strength. Using his discovery he became the original Ant-Man. However, after a terrible accident he gave up the superhero life and, concerned by the potential weaponisation of his technology, vowed to keep his formula secret. But now his former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who took over his company Pym Technologies and voted him out, is on the verge of unlocking the secret of the Pym Particle, Continue reading
Director: Judd Apatow
Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Megan Fox, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Jason Segal, Chris O’Dowd
In the last ten years, Judd Apatow has really established himself as the comedy auteur of the moment, through both as a director and as a producer (his most recent success being backing Lena Dunham in the production of the HBO series Girls which just cleaned up at the Golden Globes). One of the defining features of Apatow’s work as a director, and what differentiates him from, say, Todd Phillips (Old School, The Hangover, Due Date), is that Apatow’s films combine big laughs derived from sexual and sometimes stoner humour, with a real human sincerity. Apatow’s best films, namely The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, are surprisingly heartfelt and honest and you really care about the characters. Interestingly, when Apatow is slightly below his best, as he is in This is 40, it is the laughs which tend to be missing rather than the sincerity.
The film was marketed as the “sort of sequel” to Knocked Up. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprise their supporting characters from Knocked Up. It’s a few years down the track, Pete and Debbie’s little children are a bit older, their marriage is a bit more dysfunctional and they are both on the cusp of turning forty. That’s the scenario and it is all you really need to know because this is not a film about narrative and plot, it is a film about characters. Rather than a structured storyline we just get a series of vignettes, some funnier than others, taking place over a period of a couple of weeks.
In Knocked Up Rudd and Mann were fantastic. While they were only supporting characters, the little glimpses we got into their lives were fantastic and funny because they seemed so real. For Allison (Katherine Heigl) and Ben (Seth Rogen) they represented everything that was terrible, but at the same time everything that was appealing about the prospect of having children. The problem that This is 40 has is that while Debbie and Pete become the focus of the film, we don’t really gain any further insight into their characters. Instead, the shtick which was funny for the 30-40 minutes of screen time they got in Knocked Up is just dragged on and repeated, stretched over 135 minutes which is half an hour too long.
This is 40 is a bit one-note. Because there isn’t a storyline as such, we don’t get real character progression and development. The fights and arguments you see at the 90 minute mark of the film are very similar to the fights and arguments you saw 15 minutes in. This lack of progression, lack of sense that either character is learning from their experiences means they actually start to become very frustrating in certain situations. This is quite an achievement given Paul Rudd has to be the most likeable man on the planet.
The “sort of sequel” thing is problematic too, because it raises certain questions. Primary among them is where are Ben and Allison, our protagonists from Knocked Up? In reality we know that there was a massive falling out between Apatow and Katherine Heigl which meant that there was not chance she was ever going to appear in the film, but still, at a narrative level it is an awkward absence. Particularly as Alison is supposed to be Debbie’s younger sister, which makes her unreferenced absence from the birthday party at the end of the film notable. Jason Segal is back, again playing a character called Jason who I think we are supposed to assume is the same character as he played Knocked Up, though he has progressed from being Ben’s stoner housemate to being a personal trainer.
This has all sounded a bit negative so far, but This is 40 isn’t that bad. As has been the case in much of his previous work, it is the supporting characters which really bring this film to life. You have great supporting performances from Albert Brooks and John Lithgow as Pete and Debbie’s respective fathers. Brooks in particular is a treat as a mooching father. I love when Judd Apatow uses his daughters, Maude and Iris, in his films. He writes really funny dialogue for them. While Maude’s character Sadie suffers a bit from being a one-dimensional angry teenager, Iris’s Charlotte is lovely and the one character that you consistently side with and feel for. There are also great cameos from Chris O’Dowd, Melissa McCarthy, Megan Fox, Charlyne Yi, Jason Segal and Lena Dunham.
This is 40 feels much closer to Funny People than it does to 40 Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up, which is a shame. It probably suffers a bit from audience expectations that it is going to be a riotous comedy, which it isn’t trying to be. The humour in this film doesn’t come from gags or crazy situations. It comes from recognising some element of our own lives on the screen. There are a number of laugh out loud moments in This is 40, but most of the time they are jokes that make you smile or jokes that make you nod rather than jokes that make you laugh.
Rating – ★★★
Review by Duncan McLean