“Creed II” Full Film Review

A truly heavyweight champion of cinema! Adonis Creed will hit you right in the feels. This brilliant installment in the Rocky/Creed franchise is an exemplary example of the power of cinematic storytelling. Creed II is a knockout! Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan’s respective performances are outstanding and Steven Caple’s direction is superb. Like with the original Rocky, this is not a film about boxing, it’s not about winning, it’s about going the distance supported by the inner drive to settle old scores, redemption, grief, loneliness, and the relationship between fathers and sons. Furthermore, it calls into question the reasons why we do what we do–the real reasons. So often we try to convince ourselves that we are determined to execute a plan for reasons other than the real ones, because the real reasons are too painful. The Rocky movies could so easily be about the sport of boxing, training, and winning; but they consistently include impactful, relatable, gritty themes that resonate with the audience. Whether you are familiar with boxing or not, this film will hit you with its powerful subtext and messages of redemption that we can all identify with. Whereas the original Creed did not feel highly connected to the Rocky cinematic universe, Creed II reminds us of the connection at every punch, block, and jab. The film also offers social commentary on the fickleness of glory and just how temporary and fleeting it can be. Sylvester Stallone and Cheo Hordari Coker’s screenplay follows the Rocky Way of doing things, much in the same way that Marvel has the well-known manner that Marvel stories are told. Even if you have not seen the Rocky movies or Creed, you will be moved and entertained by this film. Suspenseful, tense, and even comedic at times, Creed II is one to look for when Best Picture nominees are announced.

Recently crowned the heavyweight champion of the world, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) does the thing that makes him more nervous than the most intense fights–proposes to his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson). Encouraged by his coach, the former world champion Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), Adonis takes the leap and asks the love of his live to marry him. And upon a visit to his mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), Adonis and Bianca find out that they are pregnant. The family time and celebration are short-lived when the son of Ivan Drago challenges Adonis’ title to the fight of the century–the Creed/Drago rematch fight that the world is waiting for. Saddled with a new engagement and the pregnancy of his fiancee, Adonis must decide if he’s willing to risk his life to settle an old score because he knows what it’s like to grow up without a dad. Soon, this date with destiny becomes an obsession that invades Adonis’ every thought and action. Against the wishes of his mom, fiancee, and Rocky, Adonis accepts the challenge from Drago’s son who Rocky describes as a monster because he has nothing to lose, whereas Adonis has everything to lose.

For fans of the Rocky franchise, this is the sequel that you have been waiting for in the Rocky cinematic universe. I liken this sequel to the recent Halloween because it feels connected in every way to the original but provides us a new story within a familiar world told through gripping characters and conflict. Beneath the surface of this high-concept plot, beats the heart of a low-concept family drama that hooks you with its relatability and intense moments that consistently keeps you drawn into the story. Creed II has many heavy moments, and could have felt overwhelming if it wasn’t for the comedic relief provided by Sylvester Stallone’s legendary character of Rocky. There are certainly plenty of somber, heartwarming, and emotionally poignant moments, but Rocky injects a little lightheartedness when it is needed to keep the emotional roller coaster going. The themes of this film are dramatized and paralleled by the training and boxing matches. Heavyweight characters paralleling heavyweight themes. Adonis’ external goal is not to win; it’s to go the distance with Viktor Drago to prove that he is a champion in and outside of the rink and therefore worthy to be a father. But what drives Adonis and Ivan Drago’s son is their need to uphold a legacy–legacies of sons haunted by their fathers. Further subtext of the film suggests that both of fighters are seeking redemption in order to fill a hole in the heart left by varying degrees of loneliness and grief over loss of relationships. In addition to the goals of Adonis, Rocky is also on a journey that is driven by his involvement in the life and training of Adonis. Rocky’s goal is to reunite with his son whom he estranged. Lots of father and son relationship internal needs in this story.

The performances are incredibly authentic. All the way around. Michael B. Jordan is well-known to be a charismatic actor who has a wide range that makes him someone whom is fun to watch on screen. He can communicate so many emotions through his face. Talk about commitment to character. I was completely sold on his character of Adonis both in and out of the rink. Displaying genuine emotion, I cared deeply about his successes and failures. In many ways, I think of him as a superhero in the vein of Captain America. Perhaps he does not have “superpowers,” but he is a hero to his family and to his community. I cared about what happened to him. Interestingly, even Viktor Drago will tug at your heartstrings because of the circumstances from which he comes. He truly is the definition of underdog. While we are rooting for Adonis to win, we cannot help but empathize with Viktor due to his somewhat warped relationship with his father and being abandoned by his mother and the community after his father lost to Rocky. Despite his evil outward appearance and behavior, Viktor is ultimately trying to prove himself to his father, estranged mother, and the Russian people that he is a champion and worthy of their adoration and love. Rocky represents the loneliness and solitude of boxing. Beyond that, he is also the compelling moral compass of Adonis and the “wise old man” teaching our central character how to truly be a winner in both is professional and personal life. In one of the lighter, yet equally heartwarming scenes of the film, Rocky is sitting by Adrian’s grave, talking to her about how he feels like a “chunk of yesterday” who cannot reconnect with their son (and later we learn, grandson). Rocky, Adonis, and Viktor all have ghosts of their pasts that they are battling much like the fights in the rink.

The film is not without its strong female characters as well. In fact, we have two amazing women who provide so much substance to the story. Humanizing Adonis is his fiancee Bianca. Moreover, her role in this film can be likened to the one once filled by Rock’s Adrian. Her performance is excellent, and she steels a few of the scenes. Thompson delivers the same grit, gumption, and emotionally powerful performance that she gave in the original Creed. Thompson’s Bianca acts as the complement to Rocky’s moral compass. She and Rocky represent two different sides of Adonis that need coaching. Adding to the emotional baggage in Adonis and Bianca’s home, Bianca continues to lose her ability to hear and wonders if their new baby will suffer from the same physiological condition. She is a phenomenally strong character who refuses to let her encroaching hearing loss to affect her quality of life. The audience was extremely delighted–audibly so–when Phylicia Rashad appeared on the screen for the first time as Adonis’ mother. Her character never backs down to her son and the deathwish he has. Deathwish in that Ivan killed his father before he was born, leaving Mary Anne a widow and mother. So, death is a real possibility in this fight of the century. She is strong in principle and convictions, and stands up to what she feels is a poor decision. However, when Adonis makes the decision to fight Viktor, his mother is supportive as a mother is even when she disagrees or fears for her son’s life and now a negative outcome from the fight will effect his fiancee and newborn daughter. Her performance is exemplary; there are times that she steels the scene from Adonis. Mary Anne and Bianca deliver moments to the audience that remind us that this film is full of heart and there are moments worth audibly cheering for. Cheering is something that you will likely hear in the auditorium. The energy level was as high as it is likely at a real boxing match.

It’s not about a fight, the film is about what the fight represents in the lives of those affected by it. Beneath the fighting platform and behind the gloves are relatable conflicts and emotional burdens that serve as a foundation upon which the drama is build and plot is driven forward. On the surface, the plot may seem like something that has been done before, and to some extent, there is a lot of Rocky and Rocky IV in this film; but, this plot contains so much depth of character that truly allows the heroes journey to shine. Not all superheroes wear capes. If it was up to Edna Mode, none of them would. Triumphs, failures, and personal and interpersonal growth are experienced by Adonis and Rocky. While so many sequels fall victim to sequelitis, Creed II meets and exceeds expectations! It’s a compelling story that till have you hooked from bell to bell.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Southpaw” movie review

SouthpawA ‘champion’ of a movie! Move over Cinderella Man, and make way for an incredible story of prestige, loss, overcoming challenges, and triumph. Southpaw is a surprisingly fantastic movie with dynamic characters and an incredible story. Follow one man from being on top of the world to self-destructive behavior that costs him nearly everything. Ordinarily, I do not give sports-related movies a second thought because I don’t follow any particular sporting event; however, had I let this one pass me by, I would not have had such a great cinematic experience. To be honest, it’s not screaming ‘early Oscar nom contender,’ but there is the off chance it could get the recognition. Never having attended a boxing match before, I am unsure of the adrenaline that rushes through the bodies of the audience. But, if it is anything like what I experienced during the third act of the movie, then I can totally understand why sporting events, such as boxing, can be quite the visceral thrill.

Southpaw is about champion boxer Billy “The Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his triumphs and tragedies. Holding the Light Heavyweight title, he is on top of the world in his professional boxing career. Furthermore, he has a beautiful and loving wife Maurine (Rachel McAdams) and an adoring daughter Leila (Oona Lawrence). After he decides–well, after being urged–to take time off from the boxing circuit, his agent is hell-bent on getting him back in the ring and sign a contract with HBO. Finding it difficult to ignore the fame and emotional high of the eyes of the world being on him, Billy turns down the opportunity to focus on his family. Following a speaking engagement at a New York City children’s home (the home both he and his wife grew up in), a brawl breaks out in the lobby and Maurine is shot. Devastated, Billy takes out his anger on nearly everyone except Leila. But, one drunken night, after he crashes his car in the front yard of his palatial estate, the court finds him unfit to be a parent and sentences him to rehab. Having lost his wife, and now his daughter, and all of his possessions, he must rebuild his name and career in order to win back his daughter despite the odds being against him.

The movie opens on a gritty scene during the championship for the boxing light heavyweight title. This intense opening is quite indicative of the entire movie. This is the type of movie that will rock you down to the very core. In many ways, the story is told through various perspectives. Believe me, it’s mostly objectively shot; but, there are definitely times that the camera gives us a subjective or point-of-view perspectives and other times the subjectivity is implied. This is an important element to the narrative because, from what little I know about boxing, it is a sport that is personally intense and highly affects the boxer physically, mentally, and emotionally. Unlike other sports which are not nearly as violating or invasive, the boxing ring is one that requires amazing stamina, discipline, and courage. Unfortunately, throughout his career, Billy was never one to focus on his defense. And this is a character flaw that transcends the ring into his life. On the subject of the coverage of the boxing matches, the cinematography is crafted so that it truly feels like you have been transported from the cinema into a great ring-side seat. This greatly increases the realism of the movie and grittiness of the plot.

Not surprising, the main focus of the plot is on Billy’s character development. But, not unlike Billy, both his daughter and his new trainer Titus “Tick” Wills (Forest Whitaker) also go through their own respective developments. In many ways, Leila and Titus embody some of the very same struggles and challenges that Billy is going through. Although Billy made decisions that lead to his fall from fame and glory, the tragic death of his wife affected him in ways in which no one is ever prepared emotionally. The writers and director of this movie were very successful is transferring the pain of Billy, Leila, and Titus from the screen into the minds of the audience. However, despite the fact that there are many elements that I appreciate about the movie, I do feel the Billy’s recovery time should have been a little bit longer and taken him to darker places in order to truly get to the very core of what his character must have been feeling and to better support the more inspirational aspects to the narrative. He went from rock bottom back to the top a little too quickly.

One of the refreshing parts to the movie was the inclusion of humor here and there. Due to the dark nature of the subject and the mental anguish experienced by Billy, it would have been all too easy to allow the low places of the film to be filled with utter despair and anger, but I was quite pleased that the writers included a little bit of humor sprinkled throughout the narrative. Wasn’t over the top, or tasteless, or thrown in there, it felt very natural and added to the believability of the story. In fact, the dialog as a whole, was well-crafted and allowed the characters to become real for the audience.

If you enjoy movies about overcoming obstacles, metaphorically returning from the dead, and the feeling of being on the edge of your seat, then you should definitely check out Southpaw. Even if you’re like me, in that you don’t typically watch sports-related movies, you should still see this fantastic story with excellent acting and character development.