“People Like Me, We Live In The Past. You Got People That Need You Now. You Got Everything To Lose, This Guy Has Got Nothing To Lose…”
Boosting the career of Ryan Coogler into the international stratosphere, 2016’s Creed remains arguably the most entertaining and thrilling entry into the Rocky franchise since the Oscar winning original, one which brought the leading boxing film series back into the eyes of critical admiration and most crucially, managed to place Everton’s beautifully old fashioned Goodison Park onto the big screen. With Coogler too busy to return to directorial duties, American filmmaker Steven Caple Jr. takes the reigns for a sequel which sees Michael B. Jordan’s (Black Panther) Adonis Creed be crowned as the new heavyweight champion of the world after a successful win against former foe, Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler, a title which is soon challenged from across the East when Creed is called out to partake in a high profile grudge match against the son of Dolph Lundgren’s (The Expendables 3) Ivan Drago, the Soviet Union muscle machine responsible for the death of Creed’s father in Rocky IV. With stakes higher than ever before, Creed II follows a very familiar and welcome filmic sensibility to Coogler’s re-shuffling of the tried and trusted boxing genre back in 2016, with Caple Jr. using the most cinematic of sports as a secondary measure to a story which centres on notions of grief, regret and ultimately redemption within a movie which wonderfully offers once again a much deeper and thematically complex narrative backbone than one would expect from what is essentially a big budget Hollywood sporting blockbuster.
By immediately accepting its’ role and responsibility of the Hollywood sequel with welcome arms from the offset, Creed II utilises a two hour plus runtime to balance expanded characterisation with gorgeous sporting spectacle, and with a central key narrative arc regarding the pressures of living up to individual legacy running parallel within both the tightly wound Creed party and the fiendish Drago camp, Caple Jr.’s movie impressively manages to focus enough on both protagonist and antagonist to allow an empathetic view into the trials and tribulations of their individual lives, ones separated not only by country but by lifestyle too. Offering bolder and bigger orchestrated set pieces, including not one, but two superb fights involving Creed and Drago, the narrative at times does sway into cliche, particularly to audiences already well versed in the ways and means of the Rocky franchise, but with beautiful dialogue and complex character development which carries on from the groundwork already put in by Coogler and co in the film’s predecessor, emotional involvement is achieved with astounding ease, resulting in you peering through your fingers as you witness the young Creed battle through broken ribs and busted eyes against the intimidating and physically mountainous presence of Florian Munteanu’s similarly youthful Drago. With the choreography of the central fights executed to an excellent degree and the long awaited ringside reunion between Stallone and Lundgren as gleefully exciting as the diner scene between Pacino and De Niro in the masterful Heat, Creed II is everything I expected from a follow-up to one of my favourite films of 2016 and even without the presence of Ryan Coogler, the latest Rocky picture is superb sporting cinema.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Are A Good Man, With A Good Heart. And It’s Hard For A Good Man To Be A King…”
Whilst it is now common practice for Disney to hire critically acclaimed and subversive filmmakers in the ilk of Taika Waititi, Shane Black and the Russo Brothers to helm tangent releases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe post The Avengers, the decision to choose Ryan Coogler as the leading light behind Black Panther, the eighteenth release within the ever-expanding superhero franchise, is a real stroke of genius, a talented filmmaker with the likes of Fruitvale Station and Creed in his back pocket and most importantly, a director who knows full well the balance between script and spectacle when given the chance to helm pedigree franchises and big budget releases. Utilising an astounding array of raw talent to convey the first standalone depiction of the superhero widely recognised as the first character of African descent in American mainstream comics, Coogler’s latest stars Chadwick Boseman (Marshall) as T’Challa, the titular king of the fictional East African nation of Wakanda, who reprises his scene-stealing appearance in Captain America: Civil War as he returns to his homeland in order to address the ceremonial tradition of becoming his country’s ruler after the untimely passing of his father, King T’Chaka, but with the emergence of a long lost royalty successor, T’Challa’s reign is immediately threatened and challenged, resulting in the possibility of detrimental effects to the outside world that the Wakandan way of life has always refused to become an integral part of.
With eye-widening spectacle in abundance, a successful blend of drama and humour, and a cultural exploration unlike any world before it, Coogler’s latest is one of the most fist-pumping releases in the MCU, a joyous ride of popcorn entertainment with an array of substance and depth, with Coogler’s movie undeniably the most thematic based superhero release since Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece, The Dark Knight. Working on a script by both Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther explores a wide range of captivating ideas, beginning with T’Challa’s sudden rise to power and moving through notions of power sharing, the isolation from the perils of the outside world and with the introduction of Michael B. Jordan’s (Creed) physically imposing, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, societal comments regarding the empowerment of the powerless in a world overran with tyrannical rulings and unjust treatment of the voiceless. Celebrating the world of Wakanda in gorgeously designed detail after only being passingly mentioned throughout previous Marvel releases, the visual splendour of the country and the exploration of otherworldly technology is thoroughly entertaining and indulgent, with Letitia Wright’s (Black Mirror) Princess Shuri essentially a hipper, suavely comical Q to Boseman’s Bond-esque hero figure, with a superbly measured action set piece in South Korea demonstrating the blockbuster scale of tools the people of Wakanda are used to and reluctant to let go.
With Andy Serkis (War For The Planet Of The Apes) fleshing out his role as the ruthless arms dealer and all round nasty piece of work, Ulysses Klaue, after his minor stint in Age of Ultron, the character’s hatred of Wakandan privilege and greedy need for the power of vibranium, the strongest metal on Earth and the core of Captain America’s indestructible shield, allows for the introduction of Jordan’s Killmonger, the primary antagonist of the piece whose hidden familial ties and lust for revenge sets him on a path of destruction and idealistic plans of world changing possibilities, a narrative point which aside from failing to adhere to the bog standard cliche of world domination is too a scheme which remarkably does seem inherently understandable, offering a conflicting battle between who and what is truly on the side of what can be deemed sufficiently right or wrong. With the CGI at times a tad iffy and an opening twenty minutes which somewhat disjoints the pacing of the action which follows, Black Panther is no means a superhero masterpiece, but with an organic cultural sensibility which opens the door to engaging and overly exciting new characters and a empowered outlook on the Wakandan way of life in which the most brave and bad-ass just happens to be led by The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira as Okoye, an actress so brilliant in last year’s All Eyez on Me, Coogler’s addition to the Marvel franchise is a riveting and overly cool action adventure, and with Infinity War to come, 2018’s superhero calendar has started with a superhero sized bang.
Overall Score: 8/10
“One Step At A Time. One Punch A Time. One Round At A Time…”
If last year’s Southpaw was an example of cinematic cliches at his finest when it comes to live-action takes on the world of boxing, then the return of Philadelphia’s finest in Creed proves that the final nail in the coffin is not entirely sealed in place within both live-action takes on the sport itself and the everlasting Rocky series in which many thought had died all those years ago with the less-than impressive Rocky V. Then Rocky Balboa happened and everyone suddenly pricked up their ears again, wondering whether there was still life in the old dog yet. Now we have Creed, the second feature from director Ryan Coogler, the man behind the critically acclaimed Fruitvale Station and the upcoming Marvel addition, Black Panther, who, reunited with Michael B. Jordan, has succeeded in regaining popular interest within the land of The Italian Stallion through the age-old winner of adding deep substance over style, with Creed being a exciting and engaging sports drama which attempts to delve deeper into the characters rather than focus detrimentally on that of the sport and the twelve rounds that tend to follow.
Estranged from birth from his biological father Apollo Creed, Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Jordan) is eager to follow in his deceased fathers’ footsteps without the need to rely on his fathers’ reputation to gain success and exposure. Travelling from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, Donnie locates the aged Rocky Balboa (Stallone) and asks to be trained and supervised under his arm. After success at a local fight, Donnie’s hidden identity as a Creed is revealed, resulting in a chance to fight the fiery “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), the world light heavyweight champion, yet Donnie’s initial enthusiasm slowly turns to reluctance in fear of damaging the reputation of his father as well as letting down the one man his father new best, Rocky Balboa. Where Creed ultimately succeeds is in its’ similarity to the formula used to make Rocky II, which happens to be my own personal favourite in the entire Rocky canon, with the dramatic final fight being possibly the greatest to be seen throughout the series so far. Adding to the drama of the first sequel within the series is a deeper sense of characterisation and a tightly woven comedic element that was strangely absent from its’ predecessor and it is these elements that Creed seems to abide by in its’ many successes. Interesting characters with complex emotions, a desire to channel between the dark and light subject matters, and two fights that earn the right to be shown on the biggest screen possible. It’s cinematic sport at its’ peak.
Although fundamentally a Rocky flick, the films’ core is with the rising star that is Michael B. Jordan, an actor who after tasting success with HBO’s The Wire has gone on to much bigger things, although not always good, with last years’ Fantastic Four being a triumphant disaster, yet his performance in Creed is that of a man who has taken his character to heart, using the big emotional speeches to enhance an understanding of a character who without a father figure in his life has attempted to form his own fate. Add into the mix Sly Stallone as the ever-aging Balboa, and the films’ father figure is presented, with the relationship between the two being ultimately the cornerstone of the movie with arguably the sport coming second. Is Creed the best film in the Rocky canon? Arguably, with its’ reliance on similarity, particularly in the fundamentally limited conclusions that can occur within a boxing match, being the one major criticism, as harsh as that ultimately sounds, yet that alone does not thwart the chance that Creed is perhaps the single greatest sports film of the last few years. Welcome back Italian Stallion.
Overall Score: 8/10
Dan – With my local multiplex offering the chance to watch a preview screening of Marvel’s new offering in the form of Fantastic Four, a reboot of the widely panned Chris Evans/Jessica Alba films released ten and eight years ago respectively, it was one of the rare occasions in which I went into a high-profile release without a sense of whether it was set to be a masterpiece or a complete turkey due to the miracle that is social media, something of which I believe results in a much more reliable and fresh opinion in one’s opinion of that film. One thing that has always impressed me about the abundance of Marvel movie releases and the subsequent Cinematic Universe, harking back to the release of Iron Man in 2008, is that throughout its long list of releases, all the films within such a universe have always tended to be in the positive spectrum when it comes to a critical stance, where although some are much better than others (The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy), nearly all have also been rather solid, if rather formulaic, without one seemingly sticking out and declaring itself as the black sheep of the bunch. With the release of Fantastic Four however, although not being a part of the MCU in terms of the bigger picture, it seems that this particular run of good Marvel fortune has seemingly come to an end, with Josh Trank’s reboot being a complete mess from beginning to end, resulting in a movie on par with the widely panned original releases ten years previous.
When boy genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller, Whiplash) is given the opportunity to further his studies into the boundaries between parallel dimensions by Professor Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey, House of Cards), he and his team of like-minded scientists including Sue Storm (Kate Mara, House of Cards), Johnny Storm (Micheal B. Jordan, Chronicle) and the reluctant Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell, Dead Man’s Shoes) successfully gain access to the parallel world known simply as “Planet Zero”. One drunken night, Reed, Johnny, Victor and close friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell, Jumper), decide to be the first to venture into the unknown plant and inadvertently witness Victor seemingly fall to his death, whilst bringing back with them a range of powers that have not only changed their own genetic structure, but that of Sue who was attempting to help them return from Planet Zero. With their new-found powers and abilities, the team not only must adjust to their radical changes, but the threat of impending doom from something they thought they had once lost but has now returned with a vengeance. So, in terms of the premise of Fantastic Four, it is pretty much what we all expected, with a redesign of the origin of our four main heroes and an influence of their biggest enemy, Doctor Doom, in an attempt to give them their first taste of heroism, all of which was given away in the rather overplayed trailers. So with a solid, if rather unsurprising, story to helm it, Fantastic Four was never set to be anything as good as previous superhero entries but the completed picture can only be classed as something of a complete disaster with a wide range of faults and issues that succeed only in making it one of the biggest disappointments of the year so far.
With recent superhero movies attempting to redesign the notion of what such a film entails, helped by the success, both critically and financially of The Dark Knight trilogy, Fantastic Four seemingly has decided to completely disregard such ideas, with the added depth that has been highly prevalent in recent comic-related movies missing entirely, resulting in characters that I don’t overly care for and a story that is completely off the chains to say the least in terms of its’ narrative structure and discipline, evidenced by a final act that not only is rushed completely off its’ feet, but has no dramatic or logical impact whatsoever aside from the fact that a big-budget Hollywood movie like this has to have at least some sort of scene whereby destruction and only destruction is the key concept. I mean come on guys, did your editing or production team simply bypass watching the film as a whole before releasing it, or were they just not bothered about the critical appeal of such a film and instead took the Micheal Bay approach in that big explosions and fire results in making big money? Well if that is the case, unfortunately for you, Fantastic Four will not take Avengers-like levels of cash and instead will only be seen for what it is; a fantastic disaster from start to finish which not only will anger cinema viewers who will no doubt pay to witness such drivel, but the Marvel fans who were waiting for at last a solid take on one of their most beloved comic creations, something of which they definitely did not get this time around.
Adding to the mediocrity of Fantastic Four is its’ fundamental contradictory in what it wants to see itself as. Is it a dark, adult, comic film in similar vein to Watchmen, or instead a light-hearted, comedic take on the superhero movie like Guardians of the Galaxy? Too many times the film seemingly flipped in and out of its’ true intentions with cheesy one liners being offset with scenes of shocking violence whilst the calm and collective beginning being transposed with a shoddy collapse at the films’ conclusion all resulting in a film, which although must have had good intentions, seemingly being made without a care in the world, something of which angers me deeply as lover of film. The one saving grace of the film? The cast, with Miles Teller leading the way in doing the best he can with the script he was handed, whilst it is good to see Reg E. Cathey getting more of a shot in Hollywood after his heart-braking performances in House of Cards. But in terms of the good, that’s just about it. Ironically, director Josh Trank has come out this week stating that the reason for Fantastic Four sucking so much is due to the input and influence of 20th Century Fox, and that his version would be receiving much better reviews if not for their desire to edit and change. Well Mr, Trank, if that is the case then you have my sympathies, but for now we are left with a shoddy, out-of-place, disaster-ridden raspberry that not only will be quickly forgotten, but will hopefully be lost in the vaults of cinema completely and left to die along with its’ equally as bad predecessors ten years previous. Want my advice? Watch Ant-Man again.
Dan’s Overall Score: 3/10
Pete – Lets put it this way, Fantastic 4 is as fantastic as an empty bottle of Fanta filled with lukewarm piss. Its as if Josh Trank wanted to make the worst Marvel movie in history. How someone can actually enjoy this, I will never know. We can’t even class it as a child’s entrance film into the MCU because there is so little substance, you may as well let your kid watch paint dry.
Let me make one thing clear, these actors suck. They suck more than Kim Kardashian. The casting was just awful. Pretty much every incarnation I’ve seen of FF source material has involved adults. The group were of a serious age to be taking part in space age opportunities, not borderline psychopathic children that where clichés from High School Musical. The teen angst drips from this and it has to be one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching. Oh, big spoiler here, Doom dies. Deader than a doornail. Sucked into some power hunger hole that tore him into pieces and it was probably for the best. Hopefully he will never come back to grace the screen with his awful costume that looked more like a morph suit than it did the real Doom. Don’t insult the source material with such an awful depiction. Although, this is honestly the only action that happens in the film. The last 10 minutes of the film is occupied with it while the rest of the experience is tortuous attempts at storytelling.
Dan speaks of the indecisiveness of the plot from gritty and dark to ‘comedy’ and I couldn’t agree more. Every attempt at character development was removed, deaths were played off as something not relevant and these “incredibly smart children” are fucking morons. I’ve watched many movies in my time and more so with the creation of this blog but I don’t think I’ve ever felt like throwing faeces at the screen and swinging out like fucking Tarzan 10 minutes into a film. Sure, The Counsellor was bad, like real bad; but Christ, at least they tried.
You know what made it worse? The acting. Even the extras were awful. Often you would catch one staring at the camera lens like its some sort of mythical creature with a creepy grin slapped across their face. Obviously they’re just extras who somehow landed a quick role in the flick but when the main cast can’t type on a keyboard in a convincing manner, is almost an indefinite sign that they have no idea what they’re doing. At least put a little effort into what you are ‘doing’. Perhaps write an essay on how you’re such a terrible actor and that you really don’t want to be on a film that everyone will see because you don’t want your reputation to sink any further into the precipice of Josh Trank’s vacant mind than it already has.
I’m not going to argue against Dan. I’m in fact, going to congratulate him on such restraint. The awful composition, shots, music, story, acting, character development, design and visuals were trash for a Marvel film. Perhaps if 20th Century Fox actually worked with Marvel on this, we could have finally got the FF we deserve but noooooo. I’m almost tempted not to give this a score. Giving it score would acknowledge is actually exists and I don’t feel like it even deserves that. Dan’s score says it all and heed these words, we do not want another. I saw you had it scheduled, stop it. Now. For the love of god, kill it off now and please don’t fuck up X-men…