Summer Movie Wrap Up

This was a pretty good summer for movies. The superhero offerings all failed to live up to their hype to some regard or other, but that was offset by a trio of capers (to use the term loosely) and the unbelievably good Mad Max Fury Road. Plus, this summer had Pixar unarguably jumping back on top of the animated pile. Aside from Fantastic 4, even the disappointing movies were enjoyable. Really, while I only really loved the top few, this is probably the most I’ve enjoyed a crop of summer movies from top to bottom in a long time.

9: Fantastic Four – Miserable. Simply miserable. There really isn’t anything good to say about it. *1/2

8: Jurassic World – Dumb, but really quite enjoyable. It is half monument to the original and over the top escalation. Either way, I like it quite a bit ***1/2

7: Avengers: Age of Ultron – This was maybe the biggest disappointment of the summer, if only because expectations were unreasonably high for it coming it. Not bad, but it is feeling the emptiness that first managed to avoid. ***1/2

6: Ant-Man – Another example of Marvel executing their formula. This is good popcorn entertainment, but there is nothing new here. I enjoyed it slightly more than Marvel’s other offering. ***1/2

5: Furious 7 – This one goes above the Marvel offerings just because it had more that I hadn’t seen before. Mostly because it was too dumb to put in a movie, but Furious 7 managed to entertain with the audacity of its stupidity. ***1/2

4: The Man from UNCLE – Light and breezy and perfectly fun. It really elevated my opinions of Cavill and Hammer. ****

3: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg are an entertaining pair. As long as they can keep the same essential cast together, with Cruise as an American Bond and Pegg as his more hands on Q, I’ll keep going to see them. ****

2: Inside Out – I am a big fan of even Pixar’s recent output. Monsters University and Brave were excellent. Inside Out, though, blows them away. It is excellent, a top 5 Pixar film. *****

1: Mad Max Fury Road – Not just the best movie of the summer, but maybe the best movie I’ve seen since I started reviewing movies on this blog. It is amazing. It may be the best movie I’ve ever seen in a theater. *****

So that was what I saw this summer, but what about the rest of the year? There are still a ton of interesting movies coming out in the latter part of the year. The fall and winter has a good mix of would be blockbusters and award bait. So what caught my eye while flipping through IMDB’s coming soon list?

Victor Frankenstein – A take on Frankenstein with McAvoy and Radcliffe. I like those actors and this story, this looks like it might be good.

The Jungle Book – Another well-known story with an interesting cast. Favreau has done good work with the Iron Man movies, but Cowboys & Aliens was drek. Still, this could be good.

Crimson Peak – I hate horror movies, but I love Guillermo del Toro, so I am torn on this movie. I really want to go see it, but I’m not sure I’ll have the stomach to sit through it.

Bridge of Spies – This is on here just because it is Spielberg. His best work may be behind him, but I’ve still enjoyed most of his recent efforts.

Jem and the Holograms – The trailer looked like they sapped everything interesting out of this in the process of making it. If some of the craziness of the 80’s cartoon makes it through it should be interesting.

Spectre – I may be a critic of Craig’s Bond movies (they’re good, not great) but still I will be going to see this. Hopefully it is at least as good as Skyfall, which was easily the best of Craig’s movies.

The Peanuts Movie – Peanuts is great. I hope this is as well. I don’t have much else to add.

The Martian – The trailer looked good, I still have a little irrational faith in Ridley Scott and I like Matt Damon. So I’ll likely be seeing this.

The Good Dinosaur – Another Pixar joint, another trip to the cinema for me. That’s all there is to it.

In the Heart of the Sea – Another good (at least occasionally) director, good cast and interesting story. I’m not certain, but I’ll like be there for this as well.

Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens – The big daddy of second half of the year movies. I thought I was over my Star Wars love, but I am getting caught in the growing hype for this. It looks and sounds really good. I can’t wait.

Sisters – Tina Fey can do no wrong by me. 30 Rock was great, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is great, Mean Girls was great. As long as she, and Amy Poehler, are involved I am interested. I realize they didn’t write this, but still, I’m in.

The Hateful 8 – Quentin Tarantino. Of course I want to see it. It might be hard to work it in around Star Wars, though.

Of course, it is unlikely in the extreme that I end up seeing all of these movies this fall, but they are the ones that look interesting. Are there any I’ve missed? If so tell me what else I should keep my eye on.

Admitting Defeat

As soon as I decided that playing through Bioware’s catalogue of games was a goal and not a happy coincidence, my failure became inevitable. I was never going to be able to keep it up and honestly, I never really intended to. I had wanted to beat Baldur’s Gate for a long time. I had played it in the past, but spent more time trying out new characters than actually trying to beat the game. Seeing it through to the end was a long time goal. I had also wanted to play Mass Effect. Once I was really starting to dig into my PS3 (or more specifically my brothers’ PS3) library, running into some of Bioware’s fairly prodigious output on the system was inevitable. I didn’t try to fight it; I just played them as they came up in my queue. However, the combination of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Dragon Age Origins, along with some personal problems, has ground away my desire to play anymore Bioware games at the moment.

It isn’t anything against the games, neither those two games specifically nor the company’s oeuvre. I like Bioware’s games, even with some of their idiosyncrasies. But there is no denying that for the most part they all play similarly. It is pretty easy to trace the gameplay traits all the way from Baldur’s Gate to Dragon Age Inquisition. One thing they all have in common is that they aren’t short games. Even Jade Empire, likely the briefest of their games, takes a good 25 hours. Playing the same sort of game, over and over, is a great way to kill any enthusiasm for them. I like Kotor, but I played through the first two thirds of years ago, doing it again, after doing something similar six times already this year, held little appeal to me. It didn’t help that my laptop has recently come up lame, with choking and wheezing itself into needing to be replaced before too much longer. I don’t really feel comfortable playing games on it right now.

As for Dragon Age Origins, it is just too much. Having played roughly half of it, I can now see why DA2 got the reception it did. The two games are as different as night and day. DA2 is concise and focused, Origins is epic and sprawling. I can see why coming from the big game to a much smaller one would turn off fans, but personally I appreciated DA2’s intimacy. It also hurt that my time has recently become much more strained. I don’t have the time to play Dragon Age Origins for 80 hours. Especially not in a month.

Trying to beat every Bioware game in a year was obviously a case of too much of a good thing. The only reason I decided to make it a thing is that I was almost halfway done on accident. I played through 5 just as a matter of course, doing another 7 didn’t seem like a big deal. As soon as I made it a goal, though, my work schedule changed and my desire to play evaporated. Instead of continuing to try to play the games and making myself hate them, I am giving up. I’ll get back to them eventually. Neverwinter Nights, KotOR, DA Inquisition, all of them. But not now, and probably not this year. I would rather play Etrian Odyssey Untold 2, or Super Mario Maker, Yakuza 4 or Metal Gear Solid V. Maybe late this year, or early next year, I’ll get back to them But for now there is no rush.

The Man from UNCLE Review



Coming off of the highly enjoyable Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, any sort of spy movie was going to be hard pressed to leave a favorable impression.  The Man from UNCLE, fortunately, was up to the task.  Like Mission Impossible, UNCLE is based on an old TV show.  Instead of modernizing it, something that would have been hard to do with a concept set so completely in the Cold War as The Man from UNCLE, the movie is set in the time that the show aired.  The result is a stylish, brisk caper that keeps the audience smiling the whole way through.

Guy Ritchie is a director that in past films was loath to let viewers forget his presence.  His finest films, crime movies Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, used a lot of quick dialogue and fast cuts to set an unmistakable visual style that Ritchie has retained in his later films.  What felt fresh and enjoyable in Snatch, though, felt a little tired in Sherlock Holmes.  His movies remained enjoyable, Swept Away aside, but they didn’t match those first two classics.  The Man from UNCLE has Ritchie at his most anonymous.  His style is still there, but it is not as omnipresent.  It is allowed to drift into the background, with split cuts and fast cuts saved mostly for action scenes. The movie feels not quite so completely his, but the slightly lighter touch makes the touches work all the better.

The Man from UNCLE stars Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo, a suave American thief turned spy. He charms his way through the movie affecting to be above it all.  Across from him is Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin, his taciturn Russian counterpart.  Facing an unthinkable threat, surviving Nazis getting their hands on the capacity to make nuclear bombs, the Soviets and Americans team the two up to stop them.  They are joined by the daughter of a kidnapped scientist Gabrielle Teller, whose uncle is one of the Nazis.  The three of them go to Italy to get to the bottom of things.

While Illya is clearly the more accomplished fighter, his short fuse occasionally endangers the mission.  Solo is unflappable, no matter how flippant his manner seems.  The two of them play off of each other wonderfully.  With Vikander’s character added to the mix things just sizzle.  The opening scene, where Solo extricates Gabby from Soviet controlled East Berlin under the nose of Kuryakin, is just about perfect. It maintains that unmatchable level of energy all the way through the two spies’ simultaneous infiltration of a hidden base, the highlight of the movie. Cavill, who was allowed to show very little personality in Man of Steel, is a delight in this and Hammer makes a great gruff counter point to his smooth charm. The rest of the cast is good as well, especially Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki, who plays one of the villains. The plot twists around, but it never feels cheap or convoluted.

The one flaw is the ending. The action builds and builds, but instead of a bang to cap it all off, it instead just sort of fizzles out. Our heroes feel just a little too good at their jobs and while the world is technically at stake the ending doesn’t really sell that notion. It is a bewildering note for an otherwise excellent film and since it comes so close to the end the movie has no opportunity to recover.

The Man from UNCLE also does that incredibly annoying thing where it sets the whole movie as something of a prequel to the concept. The spy organization UNCLE isn’t mentioned until the closing seconds. While it doesn’t actually hold back the concept, it does make the whole thing feel like set up. It is too bad that the box office results aren’t encouraging, if there is any justice this movie will see a sequel that continues right where this one leaves off. Still, the slightly deflating ending doesn’t change how good the rest of the movie is. I don’t know that I liked it quite as much as Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, but it is still loads of fun.


What I Watched in July 2015

July was a busy month, and I really didn’t make time for a lot of movie watching.  Even the ones I wanted to see in theaters I ended up missing.  I ended up only seeing a bare handful of movies, though at least three of them are widely regarded as classic movies.  My only trip to the cinema was to see Ant-Man, which was definitely worth seeing, even if it wasn’t the best movie of the summer.  I have some high hopes for next month’s cinema viewing.  I want and expect Mission Impossible Rogue Nation to be great, as well as The Man from UNCLE.  I will be seeing Fantastic 4, though I am still unsure of how that one looks.  I really, really want to see a good version of that superhero family, as well as Dr. Doom, but most of what I saw early suggested that this would not be it.  There might be another or two that tempt me, but I’m not too sure.


Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure – I think I might have had this on the list before.  It is completely delightful.  Bill and Ted are great characters, and their adventures through time never stop being fun.  ****

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey – With the sequel to Excellent Adventure, B&T went really weird. This movie is strange.  They die; get stuck in hell and heaven while evil robot versions of themselves try to ruin their lives.  It still mostly captures the magic of the first film, though it is occasionally a little more mean spirited.  I would call it one of the great comedy sequels.  *****

Rocky – I had meant to watch Rocky 4, my 4th of July ritual, but I couldn’t find my DVD, so I watched the first one instead.  It remains one of my absolute favorite films. *****

The Great Escape – Another classic that I just happened to watch in July.  It might be a little too long, running nearly 3 hours, but that doesn’t stop it from being completely amazing.  Really, that is a nit picking complaint.   Steve McQueen is the coolest guy ever.  *****

Ant-Man – review here ***1/2

Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – yup, I still love it.  I hope Ritchie still has it with The Man from UNCLE next month. *****

The Big Lebowski – I don’t think this is my favorite Coen Brother’s movie, but I couldn’t resist the chance to show it someone who hadn’t seen it before. I think people know what this is and why it is great.  They are right, it is. *****

TV Shows

Magnum, PI – Goodbye, greatest show of the 80’s. I hope you come back to Netflix soon, so I can finish up the last couple of seasons.  

Psych – Aside from being one of my favorite shows, this is also the show I use to fall asleep. Not because it is boring, but because it is comfortable.  It is so easy to just watch, especially as reruns.

Fantastic 4


The new Fantastic 4 reboot is embarrassed by its own existence. It is not embarrassing; the first half is a pretty solid set up for a second half that face plants as hard as any movie I remember. Still, this isn’t a Ninja Turtles or Transformers level train wreck. The biggest problem with Fantastic 4 is that is seems to be mortified anytime the makers remembered it was based on a comic book. It is an adaptation of that Fantastic 4 that shows nothing but contempt for the concept of the Fantastic 4. So it tries to morph it into something else and it just doesn’t work.

The movie starts off fine. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it works introducing Reed and Ben. Ben’s set up does have the first of many cringe inducing call backs to comics. The Thing’s famous catchphrase “It’s clobbering time,” can’t just be something goofy the rock man says before he punches somebody, it has to be gritted up. Now is what his older brother would say before he beat him up. It takes something fun and familiar and makes it bleak and sad. That is what this movie excels at. Eventually Reed’s genius is noticed and he goes to school/work at the Baxter building, working on interdimensional travel with a handful of other geniuses. One is the anti-social Victor von Doom, an anti-government computer guy and Sue Storm, who is amazing with pattern recognition. Though they work together, they rarely actually work together. There are a few fleeting scenes that show them interacting, but mostly they are together but isolated. They are soon joined by Sue’s bother Johnny, who is an engineer. When they finally crack interdimensional travel, Reed calls up Ben and they go through to the other dimension.

This is when the movie, which until this point had been fine, if dull, goes completely off the rails. This is when the superpowers are acquired. It started with the feeling of a horror movie; that it was about science that is going to go horribly wrong. It is a bad choice for the Fantastic 4, which is much more about adventure and exploration, but removed from the context of the team it is a good premise for a movie. After they come back, the movie has no idea how to deal with them. The first infuriating change is that Sue doesn’t go with them. For some reason, she is excluded in favor of including Doom. That is something even the previous movies go right. The team has to go through the traumatic events together; there is no reason to leave Sue behind. While the viewer doesn’t get to see it other than on a monitor that someone else is watching, they force the Thing to be a government killer while they train Sue and Johnny to do the same. Reed, meanwhile, managed to escape. His friends, that he barely knows other than Ben, think he’s abandoned them. After he is retrieved, they get to work recreating the teleporter. Then Dr. Doom arrives and the final battle happens.

It rushes through all of the interesting stuff, instead focusing on character building that is never exploited. They supposedly form a team at the end, but they have barely interacted before that. Much of is either based on the kind of terrible Ultimate Fantastic Four or created from whole cloth. Anytime the movie must reference the Fantastic Four that formed the backbone of the Marvel Universe, it does so with such an air of mortification that you can almost feel everyone making it cringe. Victor is called Dr. Doom only ironically, codenames are referenced fleetingly and jokingly and Johnny almost grumbles his one time saying “Flame on.” This movie seems scared that the viewers might crack a smile or enjoy the subject matter. It makes the somber Man of Steel feel almost jubilant. It is kind of crazy. This is how superhero movies were before Spider-Man just gleefully went with the comic feeling and even it couched some it in realism. X-Men tried to avoid a lot of its superhero trappings. I had thought we’d grown out of that, for better or worse. Marvel’s movies generally celebrate their comic roots, even if they do so with an ironic wink that they aren’t taking it that seriously. Even the more recent X-Men movies seemed to embrace the comics. This one rejects that connection completely. It sucks all the joy out of the concept and tries to sell as seriousness and it just doesn’t work. For all they were goofy and sloppy, at least the previous two Fantastic Four movies has their heart in the right place. This one is wrongheaded at every turn.


What I Read in July 2015

I didn’t get a lot of reading done last month. Again, I was working too much too much to get a lot of reading done. I did finish the last of the Star Wars books I was reading and I devoured the Harper Lee’s new book, despite having some serious misgivings about how it came to be published. Honestly, I had read into that situation more closely before the book was released I likely would not have bought it. In the end, as distasteful as its release may be, it is being released and it does no one any good for me not to read it. Next month I hope to get back on track with my reading.


X-Wing: Isard’s Revenge

Michael Stackpole

I had never read this book before. I wasn’t aware of its existence for the longest time.  Despite only coming out and being set 2 years after The Bacta War, Isard’s Revenge feels like a much later edition. It feels like Stackpole taking one last trip with the characters he created.  Despite being fairly action packed, it never feels that high stakes. This is a villain the team has not only already beaten; they completely dismantled her from a seat of power.  The specter of her that returns here doesn’t feel all that threatening.  Still, it is a fun romp with these characters.  Nearly every dangling plot thread from the first four books is dealt with in largely satisfying ways.  One in particular, though, feels like it is forced to set up some that is coming later. That is Asyr letting everyone else think she is dead to get her out of the life of hero that she is being forced into by eternal pain in the ass Borsk Fey’lya feels forced. It isn’t completely out of character, but it really feels like a choice made because her relationship with Gavin was going to be allowed to continue.  That is the one discordant note in an otherwise enjoyable but lightweight affair.


Go Set a Watchman

Harper Lee

(I am not going into the rancid background for how this book came to be published.  The story is out there, if you want to look it up.  It is gross, but it doesn’t really factor into the book itself.) This is a complex, conflicted work.  It certainly feels like the unedited draft that it is, muddled and formless. That’s what happens when you dig up a half century draft that became another novel completely and publish it with minimal editing. It also has a close, but unclear, relationship to To Kill a Mockingbird. It takes place later than that book, and features many of the same characters, but they aren’t quite the same characters. The differences between those versions of the characters have been the source of much consternation among readers. A lot of that comes from Go Set a Watchman being in many ways a more complex work.

To Kill a Mockingbird has Scout regard her father, Atticus, as almost superhuman. He is the epitome of good in her mind.  At no point in the book is that belief questioned. He is all that in To Kill a Mockingbird.  In Go Set a Watchman, the adult Scout must grapple with the fact that her father is not perfect, but a flawed and fallible person like everyone else.  Not only must she confront this, but so must readers who grew up reading Mockingbird also have to face it.  It is a hard truth to face, but it is also a more mature situation than the childish take in the previous book.  If only the rest of Go Set a Watchman was as mature and well-realized.  It is largely a collection of anecdotes that doesn’t really build to anything.  They are just there.  It is not unlike To Kill a Mockingbird, but everything comes together more satisfactorily there than it does here, where things happen and the book ends. There is no arc or conclusion, just a collection of loosely connected events. It isn’t a masterpiece, but it is well worth reading.

Now Playing in July 2015

A new job and some trouble with my laptop really hampered me doing much video game playing last month. Still, I managed to beat a couple of short games and make some good progress in a couple of Bioware games. I know I’ve fallen behind in my attempt to beat a Bioware game each month, but I think I have a good chance to catch up in August.


The Cave – tcave

I beat this just after it was released, but never went back like I wanted to see all of the endings and beat it with every character. I am doing so now. It gets a little tedious, what with having to beat it with each character twice and three parts of the game being the same every time, but each story is enjoyable the first time and the narrator is a hoot.  I can get a run done in under and hour now.  I really like it style of being an adventure game with platforming mechanics.  It is just a really good time, I hope we get something like it again.

Back to the Future – I picked up all five episodes of this Telltale adventure game for a buck during a sale and recently plowed through the first episode.  It is pretty great.  There are some fun puzzles and it perfectly captures the feel of the movies.  There really isn’t much more to say.  It is an adventure game and it plays like an adventure game.  I’m eager to get the other episodes downloaded and to see if they are as enjoyable as this first one is.


Pokemon Alpha Sapphire – This is the one generation of Pokemon game I have never beaten.  I’ve pushed about halfway through Emerald years ago, but I found the game tedious. I know a lot of people who hold this game and its twin in high esteem, but I’ve always found them to be the least engaging Pokemon games.  The remade version is in many ways the best Pokemon game, with improvements and conveniences all around, but I am still finding it slow going. A big part of that is that I shoved my 3DS in my pocket and managed to eject the cart, costing me a couple hours worth of play. Still, I was humming along and mostly enjoying it, even though I wasn’t taking to it with the gusto I have with many other games in the series.  I will likely put it aside for Etrian Odyssey Untold 2 next month, but I’ll have this finished sooner rather than later.

Dragon Age Origins – I didn’t manage to finish a Bioware game last month, but I did make significant progress on two of them.  In DA:O, I’ve cleared the town of Lothering and am ready to get the quest started in earnest.  I’m not sure how much I actually like this game so far, and I can’t tell if my gripes are about the game or due to me overloading on playing Bioware games.

KotOR – Steady progress.  I’m not sure if I’ll finish this game before Dragon Age or not, since lately I’ve been having some computer troubles.  I’d hate to lose another playthrough of this about the halfway point.

Elliot Quest – eq

 Another game I’ve only just begun. This is some kind of unholy mix of Cave Story, Link’s Awakening and Kid Icarus. So far it a greatly enjoyable.  My only problem is that it went on sale a couple of days after I paid full price.

A Boy and His Blob – this game is unbelievably adorable. I’ve only just begun and I’ve already fallen in love with the aesthetics of the game. I am enjoying the gameplay as well, but that hasn’t been quite as initially gripping. This is a gem I am sorry I missed originally.


Etrian Odyssey Untold 2 – This is all I’m looking forward to in August, unless I manage to get back to one of the numerous games I’ve abandoned over the last year or so.  Etrian Odyssey is my drug, and Atlus is a dealer more than happy to keep the hits the coming.  I hope they never stop.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation


I was not big fan of Mission Impossible before the fourth movie, Ghost Protocol, came out. The TV series is a couple of decades older than I am and the first movie, while enjoyable, didn’t really make me eager to follow up and I skipped the next two movies entirely. When Ghost Protocol was coming out, I was drawn not by Mission Impossible or Tom Cruise, but by Brad Bird and Simon Pegg. (I would have been all over the third movie had it come out just a year or two later than it did) I loved it; it was a delightfully kinetic action movie, with everything I could want from a fun spy movie. Fond memories of that, plus a rediscovery of how enjoyable Tom Cruise generally is, had me excited for the fifth film. Rogue Nation is another stellar outing for the series.

Not much has changed from the previous outing. Again Cruise’s Ethan Hunt must team up with his crew and get to the bottom of an evil organization that it out to destroy the free world. Again, they lose the support of the IMF, their spy agency. It is a good formula that has not come close to wearing out its welcome yet. This one plays a little more with the idea of divided loyalties. In Ghost Protocol, the good guys were the good guys and the bad guys the bad guys. In Rogue Nation, some loyalties are unclear and remain so for the bulk of the film. It makes some of the spy and counterspy stuff very tense.

The team of Hunt and Benji (Pegg) is delightful. I believe there is no one you could pair with Simon Pegg and not get an enjoyable performance. Hunt’s force of nature daring and energy blend perfectly with Benji’s enthusiasm and well-meaning bumbling. Cruise remains the star, but Pegg never feels superfluous. When Benji uses their friendship to force his way into the mission it doesn’t feel forced, these two actually interact like friends. The other teammates don’t get quite as much to do, though it is good to see Ving Rhames’ Luthor back, they are there. The fly in the ointment, so to speak, is Ilsa Faust, a British agent that is undercover with the villainous Syndicate. Or maybe she has defected to the Syndicate. Much of Rogue Nation’s tension lies in determining exactly who she is working for. The true villain, Solomon Lane, wheezes his way around as some kind of omnipotent super spy, being all the less interesting for his supposed but rarely demonstrated skills. He spends much of the movie two steps ahead of everyone else and it ends up feeling more cheap that anything else when he constantly snatches victory away from the heroes.

Rogue Nation is more interested in fun and its plot than in having any sort of theme, which is why it constantly backs away when it wanders into territory that might prompt some thought. Lane is a spy like Hunt, but he was pushed too far and started to question if the people he was spying for were any better than the people he was spying on. While there is plenty of room to find some points of agreement, especially once the rest of the mystery is unveiled, Hunt never does consider it. He never questions the rightness of his cause. Maybe he shouldn’t, but the question was raised and he simply ignored it.

Any flaws I find with this movie seem like nitpick in the face of how entertaining it is. No, the capers are not quite as intricate as those in the previous movie. Yes, the villain feels like a real missed opportunity, especially when it would have been easy to make him just evil James Bond. But the action is impeccable and it is complex without being convoluted. Mission Impossible Rogue Nation is a delight.


Smaller is Better: Ant-Man Review


Ant-Man is the perfect antidote to Avengers Age of Ultron. The first Avengers toed right up to the line where candy becomes a stomachache; its sequel blasted past that line into overwhelming nausea. It was still enjoyable, but it felt bloated, like it was bursting at the seams. Ant-Man is the opposite of that. It has a few moments where it forces its connections to the greater Marvel cinematic universe, but otherwise it is a peppy, light superhero movie.

After the gargantuan success of Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man became the movie that would end Marvel’s domination of movie theaters. It certainly had the making of a failure, a movie about a mostly unknown superhero that had lost its director midway through production. Disaster would not have been especially surprising. What we got instead is a small superhero film that makes in character for what it lacks in spectacle. I can’t help but be wistful about the true Edgar Wright version that never was; Wright has produced a handful of the best movies to come out in the last decade and losing him as the director was absolutely a blow to the film. However, the end result is still largely satisfying. It isn’t the best from Marvel, but I wouldn’t put it at the bottom either.

Instead of trying to untangle the Gordian Knot that is Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, this movie wisely decided to sideline him into a mentor role and focus instead on Scott Lang, he successor. The biggest problem with Pym would have been that his one memorable story is also the one that kind of makes him irredeemable (mostly because no matter how many times he is redeemed, comic writers keep coming up with was to undo or redo that redemption). Scott’s story, that he is a former criminal trying to go straight for the sake of his daughter, is much easier to handle. It also allows the film to set up as a sort of superhero heist movie.

For the bulk of its runtime Ant-Man deftly weaves Marvel history around the pair of Ant-Men that are its primary characters. It doesn’t stray too far from the usual Marvel origin formula, but does add a few interesting touches, namely those heist bits. The stakes are low for a superhero movie. Yes, if the Pym’s formula gets out it could be disastrous for the world, but it is mostly about Hank trying to reclaim his legacy while Scott finds redemption for his criminal past. There is plenty of humor, some hit perfectly, other jokes are a little to broad, but it comes together as a delightful, and oddly personal, superhero romp.

It is easy to see that the script went through a late in the game rewrite. Some great symmetry, which judging by his previous movies I am certain Wright would have managed brilliantly, is left sort of soggy. Both Hank and Scott are men with daughters. This obvious point of comparison is used a bit, but it is largely left unexplored. More time is spent with the comic relief of Scott’s heist team. There is a completely out of place, but not necessarily unenjoyable, diversion with Falcon from Captain America. It is one of Ant-Man’s only overt connections to the current status quo of Marvel’s movies, but it is even more distracting than similar scenes in Iron Man 2 that killed the middle portion of that movie. And Hank’s daughter Hope feels like another wasted opportunity for Marvel to actually have a superheroine in a movie.

Ant-Man’s greatest strength is that it doesn’t try to be more that it is. It stays small in contrast to Avengers Age of Utlron’s unwieldy bigness and works for it. Its greatest weakness is that it feels like it could have been more without sacrificing anything. Despite the inherent likeability of Paul Rudd, Ant-Man doesn’t quite nail either the humor or the heart. Both are near misses. It is a movie that does everything just about right and brings nothing new to the table. It is enjoyable, but forgettable.