Ant-Man (2015) is the final film of Phase Two in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It introduces Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man, and his passing the torch to Scott Lang (Paul Rudd).

What a fun movie! Paul Rudd is absolutely endearing and such a funny guy. His superhero persona channels Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord over the more serious Avengers superheroes in the MCU, but, jokes aside, he does have a serious motivation: his daughter. He’s a hero in her eyes, and he wants to prove to her and every one else that he isn’t a lost cause. Pym isn’t as messed up as he is in the comics, but there is a huge rift between him and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). She is a strong and focused woman, an expert in everything her father mastered — everything from fighting skills to communicating with ants. Lilly, as always, puts on a superb performance, transcending the script more than was perhaps imagined. Similarly, Judy Greer’s few scenes as Lang’s ex-wife are scene-stealers. Every thing she does looks perfectly natural and effortless. (Someone write a leading role for Judy Greer, please.)

I still have trouble grasping the idea of Ant-Man. It’s hard for me to accept a shrunken superhero who fights with normal-sized superheroes. I concede that I have seen giants fighting with normal-sized superheroes, like Juggernaut in X-Men and I suppose the Hulk, but going the other way is strange. Half the time I was laughing at how funny it is to watch tiny superheroes fighting, like on the train set. As fun as it is to watch, and as fun as it makes a movie night out, it’s hard for me to take seriously, which I get isn’t the point — but at some point Ant-Man (and Wasp!) will join up with the Avengers and I can’t even imagine how that will work out. But that’s my own issue. I look forward to Phase Three of the MCU, which starts with Captain America: Civil War where Ant-Man will make his next appearance. It’s also weird watching ants doing strategic missions. It’s both absurd and frightening — I might have ant army nightmares.

Ant-Man is a lot of fun, what with Rudd’s funny and sometimes awkward jokes and Michael Peña’s excellent storytelling; however, it is a pretty generic superhero film: origin, training, execution. Luckily, there are all the fun elements to make it not so pedantic, largely coming from the solid cast. When Iron Man came out, his was a character that was not very familiar outside of the comic books world, but now he is a household name. I like that Marvel is including less known characters, like Ant-Man and The Guardians of the Galaxy. Enjoy a summer night with Ant-Man, and make sure that you stay until the very end of the end credits hint hint nudge nudge.

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie (2014) is an animated film from Warner Bros. Pictures, directed and co-written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. It follows the story of an ordinary construction worker Emmett (Chris Pratt) who is thrust with the responsibility of saving the various Lego worlds from evil President Business (Will Ferrell).

The film is a testament to the evolution of the Lego legacy and where it stands now. Historically, Lego started off as a simple building block for mostly boys. Over the years, Lego has had to adapt its attitude about the various sub-groups that wanted to use Legos, primarily girls, as well as imaginative minds who wanted to go beyond the instructions and build other types sets and structures. That was a major conflict between the consumers and the company over the years, and that very conflict is a huge component in the film, illustrated by the live-action scene with the father/Big Man Upstairs (Ferrell), who is resistant to change, and his son (Jaden Sand), who has endless ideas on how to use the grandiose Lego city his father has built in his basement. Similarly, the master builders also fight the good fight by building vehicles and structures without any rules, much to the chagrin of President Business and Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neesom). As evidenced by the increasing creativity with Legos, including Lego retail stores, Lego video games, and now The Lego Movie, the company has firmly planted its feet in the innovative camp, willing to break down the rigid walls it originally built up, and, with open arms, welcoming a broad yet enthusiastic consumer base.

The film boasts an ingenuity and sense of humor just as sharp and forward-thinking as the present day image of the Lego company. The film’s time is quite serious amidst cascading jokes. The movie starts off making fun of the fascist utopian idea, brandishing a wickedly catchy parody song “Everything is Awesome!!” and a step-by-step rule book for how to live a happy (yet identical) life. They poke fun at the Lego civilization as they mispronounce the various “artifacts” that humans use on a daily basis, like Krazy Glue (Kragle) and X-Acto knives (the sword of Exact 0). The film’s sense of humor is a celebration of the fun and accessible works that Lego has assumed. When the master builders see Legos with corresponding part numbers, those are actual parts to actual Legos. With the exception of very unique character parts, all the Legos seen in the film are actual Legos consumers can buy and use. Even flowing water, roaring fire, and laser beams are created with Legos, to demonstrate a universe created entirely by Lego pieces. It’s a Lego fanatic’s dream, yet an experience that everyone can appreciate.

Along with the fantastic visuals and the fresh humor, the casting and voice-acting is perfect. Pratt brings some of his Parks and Recreation character’s vapid delivery to the ordinary Emmett, but adds layers of depth as the character breaks through the mundane. Elizabeth Banks plays the mysterious and formidable Wyldstyle/Lucy, who helps guide Emmett to be all that he can be. Morgan Freeman appears for the first time in an animated film, as a wizened Vitruvius, the prophet who predicts the coming of “The Special”. Will Arnett’s portrayal of Batman received so much praise that a spin-off film for Lego Batman will come to theatres in 2017, one year before the sequel to The Lego Movie releases in 2018.

The Lego Movie is a perfect storm of innovation, talent, finesse, and heart. The film has two important messages, the first learned by Enmett: you are not special merely because someone said so, you are special because of you. The second lesson is learned by the father/The Big Man Upstairs: it’s far more important to bond and connect with your son than stifle the relationship with a pristine toy model. Though, that second lesson may backfire for the son as his father says that if he gets to play with the Legos, his little sister gets to play, too — leading to some characters that may come up in the sequel.

The Lego Movie swept the nation with a sharp sense of humor, star-studded cast, and impressive visuals. They’ve set the bar very high; hopefully they can match those standards with the sequels.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is an American superhero film released by Marvel as part of its Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It’s directed by James Gunn and written by Gunn and Nicole PerlmanGuardians of the Galaxy takes place in a different galaxy altogether than the rest of the MCU films, introducing a more fantastical side of Marvel comic books and featuring an exciting and fresh new team of superheroes.

Guardians stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord, the rebellious bad-boy space pirate. He’s the only character in the film from Terra, who has a homey and charming quality we can all relate to — many times embodied by the 1970s and 80s music he listens to on his Walkman. It both reminds Quill of Earth and his roots as well as reminds the audience of Earth in a galaxy filled with unfamiliar worlds and peoples. Pratt has made quite the ascension to stardom. He consistently knocks it out of the park on NBC’s Parks and Recreation as the lovable but oftentimes clueless Andy Dwyer, yet he’s also been in a couple Oscar-nominated films like Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty and Spike Jonze’s Her. He’s an incredible actor, who has yet to be adequately recognized, in my opinion, for his flawless performance in Parks and Rec, but his charisma and finesse is finally getting acclaim in Guardians. He plays the rugged, rule-breaking smuggler that we can’t help but love. He mixes up a delightful cocktail of humor and badassery into his performance as he stumbles his way throughout the galaxy. He kicks ass and dances with proportionate ease. He’s stated that Han Solo and Marty McFly were inspirations for his portrayal, but there is a lot of Captain Malcolm Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion in Firefly, in Peter Quill, too — evidenced by his affinity towards guns and brown coats.

Zoë Saldana plays Gamora, the lethal adopted daughter of super villain Thanos (an uncredited performance by James Brolin). Saldana is firmly established in the science-fiction film genre, with roles in James Cameron’s Avatar and the rebooted Star Trek films. She champions strong female roles in a genre that’s very male-centric. She is a raised and trained assassin, but she also has a strong sense of righteousness. Saldana’s performance weaves together the hard and cold nature of a killer with the shy receptivity for goodness, which blossoms along with her friendship with Quill.

The rest of the Guardians are an eclectic and dynamic mix: Drax (Dave Bautista) the insanely ripped and heavily tattooed prisoner who takes things absolutely literally; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper and acting contributed by Gunn’s brother Sean Gunn) the genetically engineered and talking raccoon bounty hunter; and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) the nurturing yet lethal tree-like humanoid (AKA the Ent) who can only say “I am Groot”. There characters are absolutely amazing and bring such spirit to the film. The combination of all these characters make for an unusual fellowship, but out of it burgeons friendship and many, many laughs.

The universe of Guardians is colorful — both in its visuals as well as with its characterizations. It’s a marvel (no pun intended) to experience a world bursting with color — from nebulae-backdropped space battles to the Infinity Stone erupting in amethyst power, and from brightly tinted skin to effervescent worlds saturated in color. It’s beautiful to watch, comparable to the visually striking Pandora in Cameron’s Avatar. One of my favorite scenes is when Groot produces the fireflies to light up the darkness. The music and visuals intertwine so seamlessly to produce a tender moment in a mostly active and funny film.

Groot, while not “vocabulistically” gifted, is the heart of Guardians. While the rest of the team has baggage and motives, he’s mostly innocent and tags along with Rocket. He also contributes to a visual motif throughout the film. The Infinity Stone resides in the orb throughout the entire film. While ornately forged, the orb houses a tool of great power, a fossil of great creation but a threat of total destruction. The sphere shape in the film begins to signify that ominous doom, destruction in a pretty package. After Quill has seemingly killed Ronan (Lee Pace), the great monolith of a ship is tumbling out of the sky. Groot envelops the Guardians in a sphere of branches and leaves. He becomes an orb of warm natural beauty and heart, in an age of rigid technology and industry. While crudely made, his orb encircles friendship and righteousness, an inspiring icon in the face of death.

Guardians of the Galaxy provides an exciting and refreshing introduction to a new world of superheroes. Bringing together an incredibly talented cast, sharp and amusing writing, striking visuals, and engaging characters, Guardians is a completely entertaining experience. Can anyone really turn down an intergalactic ride with the lovable and hunky Chris Pratt?