Film Review: Creed II (2018)

Release Date: November 14th, 2018 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Steven Caple Jr.
Written by: Juel Taylor, Sylvester Stallone, Sascha Penn, Cheo Hodari Coker
Based on: characters by Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Ludwig Goransson
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Andre Ward, Brigitte Nielsen, Milo Ventimiglia, Russell Hornsby, Carl Weathers (archive footage)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, New Line Cinema, 130 Minutes

Review:

“Because of you… I lose everything. My country. Respect. You ever see stray dogs in the Ukraine? They go for days without food. People spit on them, they are nothing. No home. Only will to survive… to fight. I have son. All he knows… [raises his fists] …is this.” – Ivan Drago

I really anticipated and then liked the first Creed movie but I was even more excited for where a second one could go.

The reason being, is even back in 2015, I kind of knew they were going to revisit the Ivan Drago storyline that was Rocky IV. Naturally, it felt unavoidable, as Apollo Creed’s son becomes his own man in the boxing realm but the death of his father is still a very big chip on his shoulder. It’s the one thing that eats away at his soul and has to be conquered for the man to become great. Plus, Dolph Lundgren is still tight with Stallone and it made sense on every level.

So even though I liked the previous one, this chapter in the Rocky franchise is a bit better. The Drago story here was great and it had so much depth that it almost improves Rocky IV, which was severely lacking in narrative and character development. Ivan Drago isn’t just a Russian machine raising another Russian machine, here he is a man, a real character, broken, tired, angry and ready to get what he feels is justice for his honor.

Dolph Lundgren was absolutely superb in this. He has more lines and screen time than he did in Rocky IV and you get to see him vulnerable. Also, his relationship with his son is really good and by film’s end, you see this intimidating Russian monster become a real father. But that also gets into a bit of a problem I have with the film, which I’ll get into towards the end of this when I start talking about the few negatives this movie had.

As can be expected with Rocky films, especially after Rocky Balboa and Creed, the movie was solid in its writing, its direction, its score and its acting. From a technical and performance standpoint, there isn’t really anything bad you can say about how this looks and feels on screen.

One person that really captured my attention was Phylicia Rashad. I loved her in the first one but she had more time to shine here and she really takes over the scenes she’s in. She doesn’t overshadow the other actors but her presence and her spirit lifts up their already good performances. Every scene she’s in is meaningful and frankly, why hasn’t Rashad been in more films and television over the years? Maybe she doesn’t want to work as much after her long stint on The Cosby Show and Cosby but this role made her feel like a well aged Clair Huxtable, as I just felt like she was America’s mom once again. She is probably the strongest character in this franchise apart from Adrian, considering what she’s lost and how she still supports Adonis and Rocky, despite what she could lose in doing so.

I was surprised to see Brigitte Nielsen in this. It was absolutely great that she appears in two key scenes. The reason I was surprised by it, is I hadn’t heard anything about her participating and assumed she just wouldn’t be in it due to her divorce from Stallone a few years after Rocky IV. While she doesn’t really share scenes or dialogue with Stallone, I hope the two of them found peace with their divorce from three decades ago. Seeing her in this though, made me wish she had a real verbal exchange with Lundgren and Stallone on screen.

As far as the negatives go, there are only three and they’re minor.

First off, the speech scenes where a character is down and they need to be lifted up by someone else weren’t as strong in this film as they have been in Rocky-related movies of the past. They were okay but they lacked emotional impact and real oomph. None of them were really memorable, except for the scene where Ivan Drago has to get through to his son Viktor. In that moment, Drago has to swallow his pride, stop blaming Rocky and admits that he simply lost a fight, all those years ago.

That brings me to my second negative, as it also involves Ivan Drago.

The scene where Ivan and Rocky come face to face, Ivan unloads on Rocky about what Rocky cost him. Rocky kind of just sits there and takes it, not saying too much. Part of me was waiting for Rocky to tell Drago that he lost more: his best friend, his mind, his body, etc. Because if comparing notes, Drago took more from Rocky. But that didn’t happen and I felt like it needed to, to make Drago think and reflect on his loss and how he’s not just a victim.

The third negative is that you are obviously pulling for Adonis but as the final fight starts to come to its end, there are events that hit you emotionally for Viktor Drago. His mother abandons him, as she leaves her seat when the fight takes a turn. It’s a scene that is done so effectively that in that moment, you want Viktor to win. While I think empathizing more with the Dragos can definitely be explored, the way it’s done in that moment, sort of took the momentum away from the fight and the ending. It felt as if the film was going for a twist but then didn’t commit to it.

Now those negatives don’t ruin the film but they do prevent it from being a great motion picture. Still, I certainly want a Creed III and I want to see the Dragos find peace and to regain their family honor. I think the next natural step is for the two sons of the franchise’s biggest tragedy to both overcome the effects of it and find a bond with one another. And for Rocky and Ivan to embrace… but that’s probably asking a lot.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the first Creed, as well as all the Rocky films before it.

Film Review: Creed (2015)

Release Date: November 19th, 2015 (Regency Village Theater)
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Based on: characters by Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Ludwig Göransson
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Anthony Bellew

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, New Line Cinema, Warner Bros., 133 Minutes

Review:

“Time takes everybody out; time’s undefeated.” – Rocky Balboa

*written in 2015.

I was highly skeptical about Creed when I first heard about it. It is a spinoff/sequel to the fantastic Rocky franchise, picking up a few years after its sixth installment, Rocky Balboa. This film follows the son of former Rocky Balboa rival and best friend, Apollo Creed. The young Creed searches out Balboa in an effort to convince him to be his boxing trainer.

My skepticism subsided when I saw this film’s score on Rotten Tomatoes and read a lot of the reviews on the web, most of which were very positive. It also reunites its star Michael B. Jordan with his Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler.

I really enjoyed this movie. Out of the Rocky sequels, it is certainly in the upper echelon. It captures the energy and spirit of what worked in the original film and works as sort of a remake, even though it is a sequel. This time, Adonis Johnson, the young Creed, is in the role of Rocky Balboa and Rocky is in the role of his trainer, Mickey Goldmill.

Adonis faces adversity and has the need to prove himself, similar to Rocky in the original. Except Adonis’ story is much different. Those differences aside, it is a familiar tale that treads familiar territory. But Adonis’ journey is unique and its hard not to get caught up in the emotion of it all, especially if you’ve been watching Rocky movies your entire life.

The film also adds more to the Rocky legend, as it shows where Balboa is after the events of the last film in his series.

Creed also pulls at the heartstrings for those who have had a forty year or so investment in the character of Balboa. He has his own fight for his own survival in the movie and he also finds a sense of belonging and family after he has lost his wife, his two best friends, his mentor and his son, who moved to Vancouver – far away from his dad and the issues of being the son of a local legend.

The relationship between Adonis and Rocky is heartwarming, heartbreaking and a beautiful thing to witness. Rocky films have always been full of emotion and self discovery and Creed lives up to those earlier movies.

I don’t want to give too much away but if you are a fan of the Rocky film series, this is a must-see. You won’t be disappointed and it reignites some serious nostalgia.

But again, this is Adonis’ film. That being said, I hope we get to see what happens after the credits role. Adonis Johnson becomes Adonis Creed and, as a character, he deserves to stand proudly next to the icons: Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Anything within the Rocky franchise. Also, Ryan Coogler’s other films with Michael B. Jordan.

Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Release Date: October 10th, 2017 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost
Based on: The Mighty Thor by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins, Taika Waititi, Clancy Brown, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Sam Neill, Matt Damon (uncredited cameo), Stan Lee (uncredited cameo)

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 130 Minutes

Review:

“Last time we saw you, you were trying to kill everyone. What are you up to these days?” – Bruce Banner, “It varies from moment to moment.” – Loki

The Thor movies probably get the least amount of respect out of the solo Marvel films. I enjoyed the first two, more so than a lot of Marvel’s stuff. Chris Hemsworth is fantastic, as is Tom Hiddleston. So when I learned that the third movie would also feature a version of the spectacular Planet Hulk storyline, I was super excited. When I learned that it was going to be directed by Taika Waititi (What We Do In the ShadowsFlight of the Conchords), my interest went through the roof.

To put it bluntly, this is now my favorite Marvel film. It actually eclipsed the Guardians of the Galaxy movies in both fun and scale. It is hard not to make comparisons between the films, as both Guardians and this Thor movie involve outer space adventures and a real lightheartedness missing in other Marvel pictures. My god, man… this was so much better than the drab and predictable Captain America: Civil War and light-years ahead of those convoluted Avengers pictures. This also had villains that matter and that look cool, unlike Baron Zemo, who was just some guy, or aliens on flying jet skis or killer robots for the nth time.

Chris Hemsworth is absolutely dynamite in this and even though he has been great as Thor, thus far, this is the chapter in the massive Marvel universe where he really just shines and shows that he is not only the coolest Avenger but an actual friggin’ god. This is the film where Thor finally becomes Thor, the King of Asgard, the protector of his people and a guy that can actually take it to the Hulk.

Tom Hiddleston once again kills it as Loki and this is also where his road to redemption comes full circle. Sure, he’s got his tricks up his sleeves but when his big bad evil sister shows up to destroy his home, he can’t not be by his brother’s side when the chips fall.

Having the Hulk in this was also a real treat that just added weight to the actual threat in this film. This is the best that the Hulk has been and the movie really showcases his power and pits him not just against Thor but also Fenris, a kaiju sized wolf, as well as the mountain sized god, Surtur.

Speaking of Surtur, the first part of the film, which deals with Thor besting a weakened Surtur, was really cool. Ultimately, Surtur does appear in his full form by the end of the film. While he is Asgard’s version of the Devil and he brings about Ragnarok, which is Asgard’s version of Armageddon, Thor uses Surtur’s presence in the film to his advantage. I always wondered how they could actually handle and present Surtur in a film and Waititi nailed it perfectly.

Apart from Surtur, we get Cate Blanchett as the evil Goddess of Death, Hela. She is the older sister of Thor and Loki and has been locked away for eons. The death of Odin brings about her release and even united, the brothers cannot defeat her without additional help in the form of a newly assembled team of heroes.

Jeff Goldblum shows up as another villain, the Grandmaster. He runs a planet that has a massive gladiator coliseum. This is where the big fight between Thor and the Hulk goes down. Obviously, the two end up teaming up and taking it to every baddie in the film.

For what Thor: Ragnarok is, which is a fun comic book movie, it couldn’t be more entertaining. It’s really hard for me to give out a perfect 10 score when rating a picture but in the context of superhero movies and for the fact that it is a better Marvel film than both of the Guardians of the Galaxy outings, which both earned a 9, I have to give Thor: Ragnarok a 9.5 out of 10. It will take something quite exceptional to reach a 10 in this genre but maybe Waititi will give us an even better Thor picture in the future. He’s certainly capable of it.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Both Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Thor and Thor: Dark World.