‘Creed’ Review

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Director: Ryan Coogler

Writer: Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Tony Bellew, Ritchie Coster, Graham McTavish, and Phylicia Rashad

Synopsis: The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Rocky has been defined, by some, as one of the best sports films of all times and one of the best underdog stories of all time as well. You can’t really disagree too much since it’s a story and film that is still passed down today and the characters are still talked about and cared for. So when a new film was announced many were, reasonably, concerned, but when it later found out that the film wouldn’t follow titled hero Rocky Balboa, and instead follow the son of his rival and friend Apollo Creed, fans wondered if the idea was a smart one. Turns out, it was.

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Creed isn’t really a passing-of-the-torch kind of film or even a true blue continuation of the story, but rather a spinoff in its own right that keeps the history of the previous Rocky films and keeps Rocky Balboa (Stallone) involved in a lot of ways. The new central character is Adonis Johnson (Jordan), the child of woman that Apollo had an affair with years before. The film actually starts in 1998 with a young Adonis fighting some kids in the juvenile center he’s in when Mary Anne Creed (Rasha) tracks him down and decides to raise him as her own. We jump forward to 2015 where Adonis has a respectable job, but he is following in the footsteps of his legendary father and boxes in small rooms down in Mexico.

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Eventually he wants to prove himself – but not taking the Creed name as he doesn’t want things handed to him – and moves down to Philadelphia and seeks out his father’s rival and friend, Rocky Balboa to train him. Rocky turns him down at first telling him that he’s out of the boxing lifestyle and doesn’t think Adonis should go into the sport that his father died in. However, with Adonis begging him on and Rocky seeing that Adonis has tremendous potential, Rocky reluctantly agrees and the two start the journey and fight their own personal battles to leads to a speculator finish.

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While Creed follows a new path in Adonis, Rocky still plays a major role in the film. Rocky is going through his own personal battle that is natural and doesn’t seem forced to the sake of trying to make us feel for his character, and even more credit should go to Stallone. He pours himself into Rocky and gives a tremendous performance like we haven’t seen in a long while. But what makes his performance even better is his chemistry and scenes with Michael B. Jordan. The film elevates itself more when the two share scenes together and is probably the only reason Creed works and would have ever worked.

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Michael B. Jordan continues to prove that he’s one of the best young actors working today and doesn’t try to repeat the same performance or even emulate what Carl Weathers did as Apollo Creed, he plays the role his own way. Jordan manages to balance the chip on his shoulder attitude and being extremely likeable. While he is the “hero” of the film, it doesn’t really mean we have to like him and root for him. However, Jordan makes us root for Adonis. We see and feel his journey, so we know what he is going through and what his motivations are. For all intent-and-purposes, Jordan carries the film on his shoulders and he comfortable doing it.

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The supporting cast is good, but they’re overshadowed by the great performances of Jordan and Stallone. Tony Bellew plays the “villain” of the film as ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan, the boxing champion that – not really a spoiler – Adonis fights at the end. Bellew doesn’t have a lot of screen time and his story is just okay. Tessa Thompson plays Bianca, a singer that Adonis falls for. The love story isn’t anything new in the Rocky films, but the Bianca and Adonis relationship arc doesn’t feel forced and unnecessary, it’s actually a nice counter-balance to the boxing story and shows us the other part of the boxing lifestyle. Thompson’s Bianca thankfully isn’t the typical girlfriend/love interest, she has her own personal story that works for the film and, again, a nice counter-balance to Adonis’ story. Phylicia Rashad coming back to play Mary Anne Creed was great to see, but she doesn’t have a ton of screen time, but when she does it’s awesome to watch.

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Besides the performances, what makes Creed work is the direction by director Ryan Coogler. Coogler’s only other big screen effort is Fruitvale Station which Jordan also lead, and what got both of them the job to do this film. Coogler manages to bring the same sense of spirit and heart that the original Rocky had, and while he pays homage to the original series he isn’t beating us over the head with it and it’s all done respectfully to build this potentially new series of films. The other great thing that Coogler does great is the boxing scenes. The highlight is definitely the boxing match in the middle of the film. Coogler really puts in the middle of the match in a way that I haven’t really seen a boxing match done before. I thought the boxing scenes in Southpaw earlier this year where done well, but Creed could very well beat them out.

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All in all, Creed is definitely a must see film. Filled with a great story and performances by Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, Creed feels like another great installment to the Rocky franchise, but also its own standalone film.

 

Creed

5 out of 5

‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ Review

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Dir: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Aidan Turner, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, Dean O’Gorman, Lee Pace, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee and Cate Blanchett

Synopsis: Bilbo and Company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the Lonely Mountain from falling into the hands of a rising darkness.

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review. As much as a spoiler free review goes on a movie based on a popular book and a prequel to popular series.*

 

 

Peter Jackson has done it. He has bought the world of Middle-Earth that J.R.R. Tolkein created to life on the big screen. Of course, he added in another whole movie that really seemed unnecessary but, hey what the hell right? The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies should have felt – and for some part does – as a grand finale to another ambitious trilogy that we could have only originally only imagined. The film has great moments but after a while the final film of The Hobbit series is slightly an underwhelming one.

 

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug left things on a cliffhanger with Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) flying toward Lake-town to cause havoc. The Battle of the Five Armies picks up right after that as we see Smaug raining down fire upon the citizens of Lake-town. It’s a great set-piece to start off but judging how short the scene was I really couldn’t see why they decided not to put it in as the finale in the last film. Yes, more money, but even so, I really couldn’t see any reason they couldn’t have squeezed in an extra ten minutes.

 

The “real” beginning of the film would have been a great start, which is the rescue of Gandalf (McKellen), by Galadriel (Blanchett), Elrond (Weaving), and Saruman (Lee). The scene is cool because it gives Blanchett, Weaving and Lee more to do than just sit around a table and talk about the “Darkness that is coming.” Also, the scene is a bit anti-climatic, which can be said for the whole film series in some way. It is a prequel after all, and while I’m good at suspending disbelief, I couldn’t help but have the thought in my mind: “they’re going to be okay!”

 

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But this is the problem with prequel series and older fans. We know how the story is going to, so we do have to suspend our disbelief a lot more than fans that maybe don’t know about the original series (I’m looking at you Star Wars prequels!). However, one of the great things that Peter Jackson has done with The Hobbit films is that he has created a series that is some way is new and creates great moments that you forget the previous films. Desolation of Smaug is a great example of that but The Battle of the Five Armies juggles that throughout the whole film. When the film is on full cylinders it’s an amazing experience, but when it starts to slow down and gives the audiences some winks to the future (or is it past, I don’t know) it becomes a little jarring.

 

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Anyway back to the film. Thorin (Armitage), Bilbo and Company have finally secured their homeland and have gotten the room full of gold. Unfortunately, their celebration is cut short by Thorin, who becomes obsessed on getting the “Arkenstone.” So much that he starts to act like his grandfather before him. The obsession is described by Balin (Stott) to Bilbo as “dragon sickness,” as Thorin starts to turn on his own thinking one of his own people is hiding his birthright. Thorin starts to act brash and when the people of Lake Town come for shelter and some of the gold that was promised to them by Thorin himself in the previous movie, he tells them to leave or else. Things don’t get any better when Thranduil (Pace) comes and wants to claim the mountain as well.

 

Hobbit Thraduil

 

This puts the sides on opposite ends as Bard (Evans) tries to reason with Thorin, but again he’s having none of it. Thranduil sees this as an act of war and the Elvin army is ready to attack when Thorin’s cousin Dain (Billy Connolly) comes to help him. But before any of them can attack each other, the Orc army makes itself known and thus begins the titled Battle of the Five Armies.

 

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Here is where Peter Jackson success and fails. Jackson gave us some great and dare I say mesmerizing battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, especially The Return of the King, and while I don’t want to compare the two final films, The Battle of the Five Armies does have title to hold to. Now, I’m all for a good battle scene and while we have to sit through about an hour or so of build up for that actual battle and characters constantly reminding us that a war is coming or about to begin, when the battle actually starts, it is only okay. Again, don’t get me wrong, Jackson is one of the best directors that can put together a grand set-piece like a war (again look at the LotR films) but unlike those previous battles, Jackson relies more heavily on CGI with The Battle of the Five Armies. Of course since casting millions of people, controlling them in just an open space would be a pain in the ass, and there aren’t any huge goblins out there, CG is reasonably the best way to go. However, at the same time it feels like we’re watching an animating film instead of a live-action film, which again sucks because of the great battles Jackson has given us in the past. And yes, I know Jackson used CG in the LotR films, but he was able to hide it more in those films than these.

 

Despite that, it’s certain characters that save (and I used that word very strongly) the film. Martin Freeman’s Bilbo and Richard Armitage’s Thorin Oakenshield character’s come full circle. You can arguably say that The Hobbit movies are as much a Thorin movie as it is a Bilbo movie. Thorin goes from sympathetic and heroic character in the past films to this crazed and troubled character for three-fourths of the movie back to being character we love. Thorin’s arc is touching, heartbreaking and an great experience to watch unfold and Armitage does an amazing job of being able to fill those shoes.

 

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Freeman is also great and while he doesn’t spend so much time on screen the scenes he has are touching and great to watch. Whether it’s a scene of him trying to bring Thorin back to normal or a simple scene of him and Gandalf sitting down not saying a word to each other because at that point there is nothing to say, Freeman has given the character of Bilbo more life than one of could have imagined.

 

The rest of the cast kind of gets thrown at the wayside, which tends to happen when you have such a huge cast. All the actors that play the other Dwarves don’t really have moments to shine expect for Aidan Turner’s Kili who continues and finishes his romance arc with Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel. Luke Evans has more to do as Bard the Bowman acting as new leader and gets to show off his fighting ability. Lee Pace has about the same amount of screen time he had in last movie as the Elvin king Thranduil but finally gets to show more of his ability to fight. Finally, Orlando Bloom as Legolas is just in the movie for the action as he doesn’t really serve a purpose for the movie other than show how he got on his adventure at the start of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

 

Hobbit Tauriel and Legolas

 

All in all, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is not a bad movie but considering that there was going to be only two movies and the previous Hobbit movies built up to this, it does leave a little bit to be desired and was a bit underwhelming. If anything, The Battle of Five Armies and the other Hobbit movies are all about the adventure and characters, and on that end it succeeds with flying colors. But when it comes to the titular Battle of the Five Armies and a final film of a trilogy, it’s only okay.

 

 

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

3.5 out of 5

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