Posted in Movie Review

Creed III

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Being the first movie in the “Rocky”/”Creed” franchise without Sylvester Stallone playing his infamous Rocky Balboa character, and also Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut, walking into “Creed III” I was more curious than anything about how all of this would turn out. But the story told is strong enough to stand independently and the inclusion of an antagonist played by Jonathan Majors, allows “Creed III” to be considered one of the better movies of the lot.

The story sees the now retired, accomplished veteran boxer turned boxing promoter Adonis Creed, wealthy and happy with his successful wife (Tessa Thompson) and daughter by his side. Everything seems to be going well, until his childhood friend, Damian (Jonathan Majors) who we discover has been in prison for eighteen years, resurfaces. Damian was once the biggest rising star in amateur boxing history, destined to become a world champ, when his dreams were taken from him. And as he was forced to watch the rise of Adonis from prison, his resentment grew, believing that an incident from their childhood was the reason Adonis has the life Damian was always meant to have.

It’s a “retired fighter, forced into one last fight” story. It’s a story we’ve seen many times before, especially in the “Rocky” franchise. This story is strong, but with formulaic beats that feel nostalgically appropriate, resulting in an engaging buildup and effective “final battle” sequence. But what really elevates this above simply a Mr. T vs. Rocky remake are the performances of the two leads. Smartly, Jordan (as a director) realizes this and both him and Majors share a significant amount of screen time throughout.

“Creed III” asks Jordan to transform into the elder statesman, fully taking over the role that Stallone has been playing for a while now. And he does this well, giving a performance that is one of the most grown up of his career. Although, Jordan’s performance is outshined by Majors’ elevation of the standard “Rocky” antagonist (something of a boxing version of Killmonger). He is a villain on paper, but Majors delivers a performance that quietly commands our attention, asking us to not just sympathize with Damian, but to understand his motivations and anger. Bottom line, it is a joy to watch these two high caliber actors play against each other.

Director Jordan does a really good job at the helm. And as the movie progresses, his creativity behind the camera really expands past simply giving us solid camera angles during boxing choreography. During the movie’s final act, Jordan makes it clear through some very creatively and almost interpretive dance inspired visuals that he has something to say about unresolved Black male trauma, and does it in a way one rarely sees beyond the anime arena. That said, the original “Creed” film was directed by Ryan Coogler, one of the best directors working today (one of the best Black directors of Black cinema). So, in a side-by-side comparison, it is a bit obvious that some of the Black-centric intimacy of this script (which Coogler has screenwriter credits) is not hammered home as well is it could’ve been. Also, the pacing meanders a bit at times, and then proceeds to speed up a bit too much just as things begin to feel like this is a two hour drama (the actual runtime is one hour and fifty-six minutes). But none of that prevents “Creed III” from being an entertaining accomplishment, giving lovers of the franchise everything they need to feel at home.

Final Thought: Maybe a hot take, but the absence of Stallone goes unnoticed. I would argue that this Rocky-less story contains a much less clunky narrative than “Creed II”. That is something I’ve always felt was a struggle within the “Creed” movies; balancing between telling the Adonis Creed and Bianca Creed story, while attempting to fit a Rocky story in there without making it seem as though Rocky has become an afterthought. “Creed III”, with its flaws, sees the creative team behind these films spread their wings, making me hopeful for the future of this franchise.

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Posted in Movie Review

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Not just another Marvel movie. At one point in the film, we see a reenactment of the Spanish colonial enslavement of the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, portrayed more accurately than anything I was taught about in school (pre-college). I could make an argument that though this is a science fiction movie, sections of “Wakanda Forever” should be shown in schools as points of reference.

From the opening funeral sequence that simultaneously mourns the loss of King T’Challa and the late great Chadwick Boseman, to the creation of a nearly three-hour film that gives the middle finger to the United States past and current colonial efforts, writer/director Ryan Coogler shows what a movie confined to certain rules of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), can do with a fully realized idea.  

Synopsis: After the death of King T’Challa, the nation of Wakanda stands exposed to threats of intervention and forced extraction of vibranium from their land by the United States and other world powers. As Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) and her mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) decide what their next steps will be, they are approached by Namor (Tenoch Huerta) the leader of an underwater empire called Tolokan (based on the mythical Aztec paradise). Namor informs them that the United States has found vibranium underwater near Tolokan. He asks for an alliance with Wakanda in order to halt this oncoming threat of colonization. With opposing views on how to solve this United States problem, the two powerful nations soon find themselves as rivals.

Coogler really goes mask off, making it clear early and often that this is a story about colonization and the shared historical trauma of two nations worlds apart. He does his best to keep his characters grounded in realism; real people having real conversation regarding the Black and Brown experience, which is usually the antithesis of how Marvel characters are written. He also makes it a point to spend a good amount of this film capturing shots of the lush, green African landscape as well as the vibrant clothing, dialect and mannerisms of her people. And with this sequel we get yet another film that revels in the idea of Black futurism in a way that is unapologetically powerful. 

When we do get to the Namor section of the story, Coogler dedicates more time to tell the backstory of the fictionalized Tolokan people and real colonized indigenous peoples of Yucatán, Mexico, treating their story with the same amount of respect that he showed when introducing the world to Wakandans back in 2018. Namor is a character who operates off of the pain and historical trauma of his people, and will stop at nothing to protect them. He also doesn’t age quickly and was alive during the time when Spanish conquistadors enslaved his people. This adds an extra layer to his story, as Coogler wants you to understand where Namor is coming from when his actions take a vicious turn at times. It is also not meant for Namor to be seen as a villain at all, but instead displaying strong similarities to both the Wakandan people and the character of Killmonger from the original “Black Panther”.   

As with “Black Panther”, “Wakanda Forever” isn’t as simple as “good guy” versus “bad guy”. Well, there is a “bad guy”; it’s the United States. But as far as the Wakandans and the Tolokan go, theirs is a story about two cultures attempting to survive in a world dominated by white supremacy, but each having vastly different notions on how to go about doing so.

Final Thought: Black Panther films, while technically located inside the MCU, are fully formed and evolved enough to live outside of this world. One can enjoy this movie having never watched a Marvel movie. While there are “superhero things” which happen in this film (a well filmed chase sequence and lots of superhero, large scale battle stuff) compared to others in the MCU, this particular Black Panther installment is one of the least concerned with being an actual Marvel movie. This may be a concern if what you came to see was another Thor film or something containing one hundred quippy jokes a minute with tons of slapstick humor. “Wakanda Forever” is not that. It’s so much better than any of that. With “Wakanda Forever” Coogler uses this stage as equal parts in memoriam and attack on white supremacy, with a splash of Black female empowerment for good measure. This movie is so much better than your favorite MCU movie.

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