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 ****

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Baby Groot

I have stated before that I never grew up reading a single comic book. My childhood knowledge of Marvel (as well as DC) came from movies and TV shows. Perhaps this maybe the reason why Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 did not appeal to me as much as the first (though it is still worth watching).

GOTG V2 starts off with all the Guardians (Peter/Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot) defending a battery source from a giant monster. This is all done as Groot dances to ELOs “Mr. Blue Sky”, providing one of the movies many pleasant scenes.

Eventually, the Guardians are persued by a group of Golden people called the Sovereigns, led by their High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). They are after batteries stolen from them by Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper, who gives us an even deeper character this time around). The Guardians are forced to crash-land, and are met by Peter’s (Chris Pratt) long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell).

Ego takes Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax (Dave Bautista, who gives the film some of its most immortal quotes) to his home planet with his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Staying with the ship is Rocket and (the ever cute) Baby Groot (still voiced by Vin Diesel) as they watch over Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). Eventually, they are tracked down by the familiar face of Yondu (the always underappreciated Michael Rooker). He is still after Quill, after being denounced by Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone).

What made the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie so endearing was the humor, and Vol. 2 is no different (the same can also be said for the immaculate soundtrack). I won’t ruin any moments, except to say the scene stealing belongs (again) to Groot. When sent to find an item, what he returns with goes from hilarious to even a bit disturbing.

My main issue with the movie is the villain. Without saying who it is (thought it will become rather obvious), the actor is indeed a far talented one. It just seems like the Guardians have more than enough character and spunk to deserve a much menacing villian. In Vol. 2, the villian is downright forgettable.

Parents, if you kids have seen the first movie, they are fine with this one. There is some action/violence (mild), swearing, and one awkward (though funny) scene about where babies come from.

I know there are probably a lot of nods to the comics that would make GOTG V2 very appreciated by comic book fans. Good for them. I am more of a movie fan. That being said, the movie does give us some good slow moments of reflection (especially at the end, which took me off guard).

While it is not as good as the first one, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has certainly started the 2017 movie season with a bang.

 

Overall: Three 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