“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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“KIN” movie review

Too little plot spread across too much movie. Although I have not seen the short film Bag Man on which this movie is based, it is clear that there were many good elements in the short but unfortunately not enough plot, character development, nor turning points were added to take this short, and turn it into a feature length science-fiction urban fantasy movie. The pacing is inconsistent. My friend who screened the film with me last night likes to refer to this concept as the accordion dilemma. Long, drawn out boring parts that are quickly pushed together for an exciting moment, then stretched out again. Personally, watching this movie felt like sitting on the I-4 between Orlando and Tampa. There is also the concern that the film is depicting the wrong image for young men. One can easily read this movie as a troubled young man, with an ex-con brother and grieving father, who only feels powerful when he has a firearm at his side. Not the kind of message we want to send to young people. Had the film focussed more on character development, and the relationship between the two brothers, then this may have made a solid drama. As it stands, the film sits at an uncomfortable crossroads between genres that ultimately fails to deliver a memorable movie.

When salvaging one of the hundreds of vacant buildings in run-down Detroit, Elijah (Myles Truitt) stumbles across the remains of a battle between futuristic-looking soldiers. Near the soldiers is a powerful ray gun that he claims as his own. At home, his father (Quaid) is still grieving over the loss of his wife and troubled over the return of his other son, now ex-con Jimmy (Reynor). When Jimmy asks his father for $60K to pay off a gang that protected him in prison ran by Taylor Bolek (Franco), his father tells him to get a job. When Jimmy executes a plan to acquire the money by arranging a heist with the Taylor’s gang, and things go wrong, Jimmy finds himself on the run. Fearful for his brother’s life, Jimmy persuades Elijah to come on a road trip to Lake Tahoe where the plan is to meet their father later on. Soon, both brothers find themselves running for their lives from a sadistic gang and other-worldly soldiers. Fortunately, Elijah has a weapon that will do more than simply protect and destroy.

The Baker brothers have included many effective elements for telling their story in this film; however, proper pacing, a sense of urgency, character and plot development are not connected fluidly. Furthermore, there are many sequences of just driving–endless driving. Much like the Hobbit movies featured lots of scenes of running. My favorite scene in the movie is when Jimmy is teaching Elijah how to drive, and has him doing donuts in the parking lots of a seedy motel. The look on Elijah’s face was priceless, and it was in that moment that a real connection was felt between the brothers. Otherwise, the rest of the scenes in the movie are forgettable. Even the “sci-fi twist” that is referenced in marketing materials feels more like a mechanical explanation than a resolution that packs a punch.

Visually, the film worked. Clearly, the Baker brothers have sufficient experience at communicating messages through imagery–and no mistaking it–that is incredibly important to a motion picture. This is likely due to their experience in directing commercials, which successfully tell stories in 30secs or less. Unlike other science-fiction films that rely almost entirely on digital effects, in a refreshing manner, the Baker brothers pair the practical with the digital to create a sense of realism in the film. Even the futuristic weapons and other technology feel grounded in reality–they play by the same rules of physics we do. The film may suffer from a terrible screenplay; but it excels in areas such as cinematography and editing. Not entirely sure what possessed a studio junior executive to green-light this, but I imagine they won’t be green-lighting projects for a while now. From what I’ve been told about the short film, the ending of this feature adaptation was changed. My guess is that it was changed in order to setup a sequel–a sequel that we will probably never be seen if the film does poorly this weekend at the box office.

If you enjoy science-fiction urban fantasy movies, then you may find some entertainment value in this. The movie works better as the pilot to a limited run series on Netflix, Hulu, or Prime than a feature film. Perhaps that is where this story will wind up. With changes to the screenplay, it could find a life on a streaming service; but as feature film, it did not deliver the simple plot and complex characters needed.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Black Panther” movie review

A groundbreaking new perspective on the typical high concept superhero movie. Marvel’s Black Panther directed by Ryan Coogler is the type of movie that began with the desire to make a bold statement and then a narrative was built around the message. If you’ve heard it’s unlike any superhero movie you’ve seen before, then you’ve heard correctly. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the Marvel universe (and DC by the same token) is the diversity of the characters. There are characters from a variety of backgrounds, creeds, cultures, ethnicities, etc that are represented in the characters. However, just because the characters were there does not mean they received reasonable screentime (or page time in comics). Up to this point, X-Men’s Storm (my favorite Marvel character) seems to be the only black character who receives comparable screen and page time to that of her white male or female counterparts. In a world that should teach us that our universe is a diverse place, filled with incredible people from a variety of backgrounds and origins, the representation of black heroes lagged behind. The beauty of Black Panther is not that is was simply created to finally give a predominantly black cast in a superhero universe the spotlight, the beauty is that the movie has something to teach everyone. There is a particularly strong message for young black boys and girls that their mythology is as fascinating as the Greeks and Romans, and that they can achieve greatness through teamwork, education, and loyalty.

Chadwick Boseman plays King T’Challa, of Wakanda, the fictional African nation housing secret sci-fi technology, who must step up and embrace the weighty responsibility of his birthright after the assassination of his father. When T’Challa returns home Wakanda to take his rightful place as king, a powerful enemy suddenly reappears and challenges T’Challa’s claim to the throne — and as Black Panther — T’Challa gets tested when he’s drawn into a conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people. (IMDb)

Although there is a lot of technology in Wakanda (and by extension, in the film), the focus is not on gadgetry or superpowers but on how T’Challa can be a better king than his father who made a poor judgment call that ultimately cost him his life and put the land of Wakanda at risk of rape, pillage, and plunder. That is a message that resonates with everyone–we all want to strive to be better as we go through life. Perhaps we are trying to be better than we were as kids or maybe you are trying to be a better parent than yours were. Whatever the case, we can all place ourselves in T’Challe’s boots. There is also a powerful message regarding how isolation can be detrimental to society at large. Not that the film is advocating the loss of sovereignty–Wakanda is highly sovereign–but there is the message that a country with so much to offer should return some of that to the world in order to help create a better society, more opportunities for growth, and the sharing knowledge that can heal and protect.

The cast is incredible! So many talented performers who truly bring their respective characters to life. My only negative critique regarding the cast is the underused Michael B Jordan as the main opposition character. His charisma shines brightly on screen! But sadly, he does not get much screen time. He is the type of opposition character that you love to see, but unfortunately, you don’t get that much time with him. Although many may be quick to liken Black Panther to Captain America—and for good reason, both shoot straight and almost piously righteous–there is a big difference between the two–and it’s a good one. Black Panther is humanized by his endearing relationship with his brilliant sister Shuri portrayed by the delightful Letitia Wright. Honestly, she was my favorite character in the entire movie. Every moment she was on screen was outstanding. She was the only one who wasn’t bruting–always positive–and has the BEST lines. Just her character alone is enough to give the movie rewatchabiity. On the topic of dialogue, I would like to have seen a powerful monologue that embodied the message of the film and evoked strong emotion. There are emotional parts, but I think an acute moment would have done the film well.

The film opens with a beautiful long tracking shot of exquisite editing that has a mystical feel to it. The opening alone is enough to hook your attention for the remainder of the narrative. No surprise here that all the technical elements were exemplary. There were only a few times that the visual effects felt artificial. For all the action movie tropes in the film, it plays as more of a character-driven story than action-driven. And that’s the brilliance of Black Panther. Simple plot, complex characters–that’s what I tell my screenwriting students at the University of Tampa.

Intensely riveting, Black Panther is clearly a standout Marvel film distinguished from the others in the MCU. All the elements that give it the fresh take on the superhero movie genre work to its advantage. You’ll certainly be left with a lasting impression.