Creed 2 (2018)

Creed 2

Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) stares into the face of the son of Ivan Drago, Viktor (Florian Munteanu).

As in all great sports films (including the 2015 predecessor), Creed II is not about boxing but about development of character. Perhaps the only reason why it is not as great a film as the first is because it is not as fresh, but it still packs a whallop.

The film begins as Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, who is having a great year with this and Black Panther) has just won the belt and is more than in his prime. He has proposed to his longtime girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), whose music career is still going steady (despite the fact that she has in fact lost her hearing due to illness), and both are on the verge of starting a family. Even outside the ring, he is still looking for advice from his mentor/friend Rocky (Sylvester Stallone). There is still a vibrant electricity in their scenes together, filled with humor and heart.

All of this takes a back seat when Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby, who was recently in The Hate U Give) is set to promote a fight between Creed and Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the infamous killer of Apollo. There is indeed intensity bubbling on the screen when we see the meeting between Rocky and the elder Drago. Ivan has been an outcast ever since his loss in the fourth film, and needs to win not only the promoted fight, but the respect of those he once considered family.

There is so much emotional baggage going into the ring for the audience (let alone the characters) that it is pretty impossible not to be invested in the action on-screen. Director Steve Caple Jr. handles the script as if it were a Hollywood relic (and rightly so). That is not to say the boxing scenes are boring. Far from it. He is smart enough to handle them with as much care as he does what happens outside the ring as well.

Parents, as long as your kids have seen the original films in the series (except number five), they are fine here. There is one mild scene of sensuality at the beginning, and some swearing (not to mention obvious violence), but I would say middle school and up is fine.

I left the film with one concern: where do we go from here? Topping off this face-off will be a hard act to follow, but one I will gladly pay for in a heart beat.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther

The Black Panther sticks another landing for Marvel

Perhaps it is late for me to say, but Marvel Studios is starting to mirror that of Pixar, in that it is hard for them to have a flop financially or critically (it helps when you partner with Disney). A decade after the universe was launched with Iron Man, Marvel Studios is still going strong, and now delivers one of their very best in Black Panther.

Introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther takes place just after those events, where T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is being crowned King of Wakanda. Wakanda is a country steeped in poverty, but only in the eyes of the outside world. We learn it is truly flourishing with technology that is beyond anything we have yet seen in a Marvel movie (or any other). At first, I was afraid it would be too much like Asgard (the home world of Thor), but Wakanda still manages to stand out as its own environment.

Before he can take his place as king, T’Challa/Black Panther must stop Ulysses Klau (the always reliable Andy Serkis) from stealing Vibranium (the key substance to Wakanda and its economy, not to mention weapons and armor). Helping him is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who manages to make a name for himself along the best of Marvel’s baddies.

What makes Black Panther so wonderful is the same formula that makes nearly all other Marvel films great as well. The actors take the roles seriously, but are still managing to have a lot of fun (especially Andy Serkis). Director Ryan Coogler (who also directed Jordan in Creed and Fruitvale Station) never has moments (well, maybe one or two) that drag on. We are enticed from the word go.

It also helps that, despite lack of screen time, every actor is giving all they got to the roles they play. Such actors include (but are not limited to) Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead‘s Michonne), Daniel Kaluuya (recent Oscar nominee for Get Out), Angela Bassett, and Sterling K. Brown (This is Us). When you see them on-screen, you know talent is erupting.

Parents, this is another Marvel movie, so if your kids have seen at least one (I don’t know many kids who haven’t), they are fine here. There is some swearing and violence, but no sexual content or nudity (despite some female characters wearing some revealing clothing, but nothing bad).

Is Black Panther the best Marvel movie? The vote is still out, but it is definitely in the running. It says a lot about an action/adventure movie when the action free scenes are as engrossing as the action scenes are (which are superb).

It is clear that 2018 now has its first great movie. And what a movie.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2

Creed (2015)

Creed

Stallone shows Jordan the ropes in “Creed”.

Creed is easily the  biggest surprise to me of 2015. I had a feeling it would be good, but not as great as I thought it would be.

I guess I should not have been so surprised, since it is from director Ryan Coogler (who also wrote the screenplay), responsible for making the wonderful film Fruitvale Station in 2013. Here, he brings the star of Fruitvale Station Michael B. Jordan, proving again he is a wonderful young talented actor.

Jordan stars as Adonis Johnson, who was kicked around youth detention centers as a kid. He never knew his parents, but one day is introduced to Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), the widow of the late Apollo. He is not her son, but the result of an affair that Apollo had (his fatal bout with Ivan Drago in the fourth Rocky movie happend before Adonis was born).

He eventually quits his job (despite a premotion and his mother not wanting him to) because he want to fight. The gym in which his father’s trainer started will not take him anymore, so he has one last idea: go to Philly to see the legendary Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, in case you did not know who played him).

Balboa now runs a restaurant (called Adrian’s, after his late wife), but never goes back to Mickey’s’ Gym. Eventually, Adonis (who does not want people to know who his father really was, hence the last name change) convinces Rocky to take him under his wing. We all know it will eventually lead to a ending bout with a big time boxer (Tony Bellew). What we get along the way is a character study that deserves comparisson with the original Rocky (I have only seen the first, second, fourth, and sixth from begining to end, with enough bits and pieces from the third to know how it goes. I am told to stay away from the fifth.)

The acting here is stellar. We see great chemistry between Michael B. Jordan and Stallone (who was nominated for an Oscar nearly forty years ago for the role, and may very well be again). There is also nice work from Tessa Thompson as Bianca, Adonis’s love interest who is battling her own life battles as well.

Parents, the PG-13 rating is justified. There is some swearing (I believe I counted one F bomb), and there is a scene of sensuality that does not become too “R” material. Also, there is (obviously) a little violence (I mean, it is a boxing flick!). 13 and over is the right age for the film (although if they know nothing about the original films, they will be not only confused, but robbed of a chance at nostaligic moments).

I end with a comment that is cliche, but I don’t care: Creed is a knockout. It will be on my top ten list of the year.

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2