Creed II Review – The Best Film in the Rocky Series?

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Creed II is the best film I’ve seen this year. Some movies are extremely well directed, well acted, and come together perfectly. Others, like the recently released Venom, are done with seemingly the only intent of entertaining – and not in a smart way. Creed II, directed by Steven Caple Jr., continues the story from Creed back in 2015. It is a continuation of the overall Rocky series, one of the most iconic franchises in film. This was a production that was taken seriously by everyone involved, to make sure it was a worthy sequel to a great film and another chapter in the Rocky saga.

At this point, it can be tough to create a story that isn’t similar to previous movies. A common complaint is that Creed II is too similar to the movies before it. That is technically a legitimate complaint. Creed II features the protagonist thinking he’s ready for the fight, but is soundly defeated. He then goes into a depression, but is soon brought back to life and trains hard. In the rematch, he takes the advantage. It’s a comeback story, but not dissimilar to what we’ve seen before, preventing the film from feeling too unique among other Rocky films.

At the same time, I would argue that Creed II executes these “generic” tropes exceptionally well, to the point one can watch the film without the thought, “Well, that’s just too similar to Rocky III.” Creed II has a lot more going on other than the loss, and build up to the rematch. The relationship between Adonis and Bianca takes a center focus, and it’s wonderful. The Dragos’ part of the plot is fascinating. (We’ll talk more about that soon.) Finally, the ending is emotional and avoids a generic knockout trope, cementing the climax as the best in the series.

Creed II continues the story of Adonis Creed. He is now the heavyweight champion of the world, and things are looking good for him. He proposes to his girlfriend of three years, Bianca Taylor, and soon they learn that she will be giving birth to a baby. Meanwhile, Ivan Drago, the Russian antagonist from Rocky IV, has come to Philadelphia with an announcement to Rocky: Ivan’s son Viktor will beat Adonis in the ring. After a public declaration, Adonis has the choice of whether or not to accept the challenge and fight Viktor. This is something personal as well, as Ivan was responsible for the death of Apollo Creed, the father of Adonis. Adonis of course agrees, although Rocky does not want anything to do with it. From there, Adonis enters the ring enraged and doesn’t fight smart. He loses, and is crippled for a bit. After talking, Rocky decides to train him, and the road to the rematch begins…

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Sylvester Stallone steals every scene as the retired boxer. Any scene can be taken as a highlight, but one particular interesting one was Rocky attempting to talk Adonis out of the battle with Viktor Drago. Rocky talks from experience, not wanting Adonis to end up like Apollo. This is especially personal for Rocky because he could have thrown in the towel all those years ago, but chose not to, to respect Apollo’s wish to continue fighting. Rocky has great scenes throughout the movie; I would say this is Stallone’s strongest performance yet as the character. Rocky is so good in this movie, that the danger is that he could upstage Adonis. But, smartly, the director is careful to make sure that this is Creed’s movie, not Rocky’s. Rocky is there a lot, but he never upstages Adonis.

Adonis and Bianca had good chemistry in the first movie, and it’s only gotten better here. The two big plot developments are that Adonis proposes to Bianca, and they learn that a child is on the way. Boxing movies are more than just the fights; they are about the people within those fights, who they are and how they got to this point. In this regard, (and just about all other regards) Creed II triumphs. There is some interesting, tragic drama as Bianca worries that her child will be born deaf.

Let’s talk about the Dragos, perhaps the greatest aspect of Creed II. The film actually begins with Ivan and Viktor in Russia before cutting to Adonis’ fight with Danny Wheeler. Continuing with the knowledge that boxing films are more than just fights, Creed II shows the reasons why Ivan has Viktor challenge Adonis. As Ivan explains to Rocky at the restaurant (one of the best scenes in the film), after his loss at the end of Rocky IV, he lost everything, including his wife. We see later in a scene set in Russia that Viktor is being set up to bring boxing back to glory in Russia. Ivan’s wife actually shows up, but we see that she doesn’t actually care about Viktor; she just cares about the name Drago as a glorious name.

Regarding Viktor, he doesn’t talk all that much during the film, which might lead some to say he has little character. But, I believe that’s the point. This film is in many ways a mirror to Rocky IV. Ivan Drago in that film also said few lines. He had less “personality” than Apollo Creed and Clubber Lang, but that didn’t mean he had less character. Ivan in Rocky IV was displayed as an emotionless super boxer, whose only goal was to serve the Soviet Union’s cause. However, in the climax, Ivan turns to a Soviet Union leader and says, “I fight to win! For me! For me!” This was a key line showing Drago did have his own character rather than just being a machine for the Soviets.

With Viktor, we learn that he has had a tough childhood, with Ivan training him harshly. Viktor is raised with only one thing in mind: his fists. However, as the movie smartly shows, the two of them have an interesting relationship. Viktor never displays any hate or distaste for his father. In the Russia scene, we see Viktor distressed about his mother coming, telling Ivan that she is a stranger to them. Then, during the fight, when Viktor is clearly on the losing side, his mother actually walks away from the audience. This cements the fact that she doesn’t care about him. Despite that, he continues to fight. Ivan notices that his wife has left, and throws in the towel. We see briefly that Viktor is upset, with Ivan telling him that it’s okay. This shows that Viktor is a broken person, hoping to succeed in what his father trained him to do, and that his mother would come back into their lives.

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Since I just mentioned it, it would be good to talk about the climax. Instead of opting for a generic knockout win, Adonis wins by the towel being thrown. This is a key thing cementing this film as the best in the series. When Ivan notices his wife has walked away, and sees his son being beaten, he makes the call that Rocky didn’t in Rocky IV. He throws in the towel, stopping the match, and consoles Viktor. It’s hard to describe just how emotionally impactful the entire sequence was. When a scene can bring a tear to your eye, it did something right. In this case, we see that Ivan does indeed love his son, and didn’t want him to die in the ring. As part of the final scenes of the movie, we see Ivan running side by side with Viktor as they train in Russia. This is a great scene because earlier we saw Ivan training Viktor using a car, a rather impersonal approach.

Finally, Rocky reunites with his son. This was a great way to bring everything full circle. The Rocky film series could continue, but if it ended with Creed II, that would be fine. Creed II is the perfect sendoff for the franchise. It continues the storylines from Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa, and Creed. Everything comes together for a satisfying final fight. The acting is great all around from everyone. Dolph Lundgren steals every scene he’s in as Ivan Drago, and of course Rocky is always great. The fights are well choreographed as always, and the soundtrack is good. In fact, the classic Rocky theme returns, and it’s placed perfectly within the story. Creed II has one of the best climaxes I’ve ever seen. Simply put, the film is fantastic. It may have a technically generic storyline, but it’s done so well that it may even exceed the original Rocky.

 

10/10

 

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Black Panther Review

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Let me start this review by saying how unique of a film Black Panther is. It’s as if the viewer is transported to a different culture. We’re very used to seeing the New York setting in comic book films, so it’s refreshing to see a new setting. The African scenery is beautiful. There’s a scene late in the film where T’Challa shows N’Jadaka a view of Wakanda, showcasing the fictional country’s splendor. The unique setting doesn’t hide mediocre performances either. Some films have stylistic scenery, but mediocre writing. Not so in Black Panther, where almost every major character is well developed and engaging. It’s tough to say if Black Panther is the best made Marvel film to date with films like Captain America: The Winter Solider and Iron Man. It very well could be, because Director Ryan Coogler gives viewers a well paced, developed story with fantastic characters.

The story takes place shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War. In that film, King T’Chaka (T’Challa’s father) was killed and T’Challa assumed the mantle of Black Panther. Here in his titled movie, T’Challa officially becomes Wakanda’s king. Meanwhile, Ulysses Klaue, last seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron, is still on the loose and working with a black-ops soldier named Erik Stevens, nicknamed Killmonger. T’Challa makes a plan to capture Klaue, but Killmonger ends up being a bigger threat, because he has personal ties to Wakanda…

In Civil War, Black Panther’s character arc was that of revenge for the death of his father. At the end however, T’Challa let go of that desire for revenge. In his title film, we get to see T’Challa take on the center focus. With the revenge story out of the way, what would his character arc be? To put it simply, to display his love for his country as its new king. Chadwick Boseman is a standout as the title character. The performance is very likable. Unlike many of the other Marvel protagonists, T’challa is rarely sarcastic, instead coming off as more of a subdued character with just the right amount of humor. (If there was too much humor, it would have ruined the flow of the story.) T’challa is an engaging character, and viewers get a sense throughout of how passionate he is. A good scene demonstrating that passion is late in the story, when T’Challa shouts at his ancestors that they were wrong for not being more involved with the world outside Wakanda.

It’s always a treat when the whole cast is excellent. This is the case with Black Panther. His sister, Shuri, is a fun character throughout the story. She being something of the Lucius Fox to T’Challa made for an interesting dynamic, and the banter between the two siblings was organic and genuinely funny. Nakia and Okoye get substantial roles, and both are compelling characters. Nakia’s sense of duty to helping those less fortunate, and Okoye’s unwavering loyalty to the throne made for interesting dynamics. There are a lot of strong performances in this movie.

Klaue’s brief appearance in Age of Ultron was notable, because the titular robot ripped off his arm. In this film, Klaue has a chance to be seen as a compelling character. Aside from some forced, unrealistic dialogue like “That was awesome!”, Klaue is a fun character, with highlights being his scenes at the Korean casino and his interrogation with Everett K. Ross.

Klaue however is not the primary antagonist, that would be N’Jadaka/Killmonger. The Marvel films have a history with mediocre villains, but that isn’t the case here. Sure, some of Killmonger’s dialogue is generic. (“The world took everything from me!”) But overall, Killmonger is an interesting character with ties to T’Challa’s family. The opening scene set in 1992 is nicely tied into what motivates Killmonger to want to kill T’Challa. Similar to Thor realizing that Odin was not the perfect being he idolized in Thor: Ragnarok, T’Challa is given the revelation that his father made a controversial decision, thus ruining T’Challa’s perfect view of his father. Killmonger’s street type of talking makes for an interesting contrast to the more noble-sounding Wakandians One of Killmonger’s best scenes is his ritual battle with T’Challa. Here, Killmonger demonstrates genuine passion when mocking T’Challa in front of the onlookers.

There are some other named characters that should be mentioned. M’Baku, known as Man-Ape in the comics, was an interesting character. W’Kabi was decent, but needed more development. Finally, there’s the CIA agent, Everett K. Ross. While some may see him as an Agent Coulson stand-in, he was nonetheless fun to have around. He bordered on being unrealistic for the sake of laughs at times, but never quite crossed that border into the Erik Selvig land of no return.

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The sequences are extremely well done in this film. Perhaps the best part was the casino sequence. First, the build-up was interesting because of the change of scenery. T’Challa travels to Korea, which is in stark contrast to the vibrant land of Wakanda. The scenes in the casino are full of tension because the viewer knows something is about to go down. Black Panther does not disappoint in the action department, featuring well choreographed sequences such as the outbreak at the casino and the climatic battle at the heart of Wakanda.

If the review hasn’t made it apparent by now, I’ll summarize what makes Black Panther good: the writing. The characters and their interactions are excellent, and the overall tone is consistent. It doesn’t traverse into ultra-dark territory, but it lacks the constant gags of other Marvel movies. That’s not to say the tone of the other Marvel movies is negative, because it has worked for the most part. But, what’s special about Black Panther is that it doesn’t rely on gags or funny scenes; it relies on the core characters and story. The only discrepancy in the writing I found was right before the journey to Korea. Shuri asks T’Challa if he thinks it’s a good idea to take his ex on a mission. That line of dialogue didn’t need to be there, because it doesn’t become a focus at all when at the casino. Moving past that, the soundtrack is notable. As I said earlier, the film transports the viewer to a different culture, and the music is part of that, providing some unique sounds we don’t typically hear in these movies.

Overall, Black Panther is a great movie. Chadwick Boseman delivers a fantastic performance as the title character. He is assisted by an excellent cast of compelling characters. Nakia, Okoye, and Shuri are particularly strong characters, each with their own unique personality. Killmonger is an engaging antagonist. The action scenes are great, and the pacing is adequate. The film is a special one among the Marvel movies, worthy of acquiring its 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, the highest rated Marvel Studios film as of the publishing of this review.

9/10