“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