Creed II Review

Director: Steven Caple Jr.

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu , Phylicia Rashād

Runtime: 2hr 10min Rated PG-13

Watch the trailer

Creed II is essentially the 8th film in the Rocky franchise and continues the story of Adonis; son of legendary boxer Apollo Creed.

After proving himself in the last movie as a boxer worthy to be taken seriously, Adonis has now quickly fought his way to the top of the boxing world. This gains the attention of an old family foe from Rocky IV; the Russian Ivan Drago who has been secretly keeping tabs on Adonis’ career. Ivan soon arrives in Philadelphia to challenge Creed to fight his son Viktor in an effort to exact revenge and and gain national redemption for losing to Rocky 30 years prior.

Even with this historic match up, Creed II isn’t quite able to land the same punch the first movie had. Unfortunately, Ryan Cooglar wasn’t able to return to direct the sequel and after watching Creed I think that could very well be the difference. The attention Cooglar gained from directing Creed no doubt helped him land the movie he is currently most known for; Black Panther.

However, despite its shortcomings (sequels are rarely better than the original anyway), Creed II still has a tremendous amount of heart that makes the movie enjoyable and worth watching. 

Creed II’s biggest obstacles are in its pacing and story decisions. The movie feels painfully slow at times, making the slightly over 2hr runtime feel much longer. There’s nothing wrong with a slow burn story, as long as it keeps you engaged. Creed II only manages to do that part of the time. 

The majority of the time the movie ends up feeling predictable, formulaic and anticlimactic as it fails to make you forget that this is the 8th movie and you know exactly how things will go.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad film; only that it breaks absolutely zero new ground…other than to maybe show a new perspective on the Drago family. 

It also felt weird to me that the movie makes such a small deal out of Adonis becoming champion early on. This is what his goal has ultimately been since the last movie; to be like his dad, to be better than his dad. However the movie just wants to push past that moment to get to the main event: Creed VS Drago. Only Tessa Thopmson’s character seems to grasp the importance of the achievement, telling Adonis after winning his title fight; “Do you know what you’ve done?!” 

Sure, Drago vs Creed is exciting and the revenge angle from Ivan works well enough. The movie puts more focus on the legacy Adonis’ will leave for future generations of fans as a champion, but the continued pressure from Viktor wanting to fight Adonis feels forced at times.

I think the scenes would have been much more dramatic if Viktor had already won the title and was literally the wall standing between Adonis and boxing greatness. Viktor would have been able to easily gain the title with his ability. The idea that Ivan had been training his son for 20+ years to be able to redeem the family name but could only do that by defeating Apollo’s son for the title is a bit far fetched. Why would’nt he seek redemption sooner? It’s not like he would have known that Adonis would eventually become champion. Hell, he wouldnt have even known he existed before the last movie. Alos, wouldn’t it make more sense for him to have a grudge against Rocky and his son? Oh well. What we’re given isn’t bad, but it could have been so much better.

Team Creed

Michael B. Jordan does an excellent job once again playing Adonis. It’s clear from watching him fight and train in the movie that he has put a lot of hard work into the role. He looks on par with Stallone’s physique in his prime.

The training montage in the desert, while a random location, is arguably one of the best montages of the franchise. It’s one of the most realistic and believable sequences in the franchises’ history. Maybe I’m crazy, but I swear I could tell a difference in Jordan physically by the end.

Tessa Thompson is equally great to watch as the pair continue to face obstacles and challenges together both inside the ring and out. She brings a beautiful balance of strength and vulnerability to the role.

Starting with the previous film, Rocky has now become more of a supporting character; continuing his role as trainer and father figure for Donnie.

Rocky’s personality as portrayed by Stallone is also still fun to watch after 30 years. He’s just a simple guy with a big heart and the movie does a great job of Rocky and Adonis pushing each other to get past their own obstacles.

Sly has said that Creed II is his last time playing Rocky Balboa. If it truly is then I’m happy with how the character has wrapped up. This movie succeeds in giving the character the best possible conclusion after everything he’s been through the last 40 years of Rocky movies.

Team Drago

Lundgren has noticebly more dialogue than in Rocky IV as we get to dive a little deeper into the Drago family’s motivation and what happened to them since Ivan’s defeat to Rocky. You can somewhat sympathize with them, especially Viktor; honestly I felt bad for them more than hated them as villians.

With all the ridiculousness in world news the last few years, I think the movie made a smart choice framing this as a Creed vs Drago matchup while mostly avoiding the US vs Russia themes Rocky IV conveyed. If anything there’s more of a Drago vs Russia story running through the film. 

Florian Munteanu plays Viktor Drago and is actually an amateur fighter in real life. He doesn’t say much (The Drago men apparently don’t waste words when they’re boxing) but this guy is an absolute monster; 6ft 4in, 235lbs of pure muscle. He was the perfect choice for the role. Michael B. Jordan’s physique is top notch in this movie, but there’s this moment where Adonis punches Viktor in the gut and it looks like he had just hit a brick wall. It was a great unspoken signal that Creed was in trouble.

The fight choreography is top notch. 

The hits taken in this movie look as real as I think I have seen in a boxing movie or in any movie in recent memory for that matter. The choreography and camera angles are accented with well executed CGI and it all looks very realistic for the most part. There are a couple punches that you watch a close up as they land (like the one above), and they look so good you can almost feel it.

Final Verdict

Creed II from start to finish is 150% predictable. Combine that with some pacing issues and this movie fails to surpass its predecessor. However the movie’s huge heart and style still makes it worth your time: watch when you’re in the mood for a classic underdog story. The movie also gives Rocky a nice farewell…provided this actually is his last film as the Italian Stallion.

Cinematic Quality: 4 out of 5

Fun Factor: 3 out of 5

Worth the price of admission: 3 out of 5

Re-watch Value: 3 out of 5

Overall Score – 3.25 high energy training montages out of 5

Annihilation Movie Review

Directed by: Alex Garland

Cast: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuva Novotny

Rated R, Runtime: 2hrs

Watch the trailer

In Annihilation, a strange and mysterious phenomenon named “the Shimmer” has been expanding out from a meteorite impact at an exponential rate for the last 3 years and will soon overtake major cities. The Shimmer is a swirling bubble-like shape with various rainbow colors, similar to the way water looks when mixed with oil. Though pretty, anything that ventures into it is never heard from again. However that changes when a soldier, Kane (Oscar Isaac), returns home to his wife Lena (Natalie Portman) after being missing for a year and presumed KIA during a military expedition into the Shimmer.

Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac in Annihilation.

Kane isn’t doing well though: he has no memory of what happened to him and starts spitting up blood. After being taken to the Southern Reach military base of operations to be monitored, Lena, a biologist by profession, decides that in order to save his life, she must venture into the Shimmer with an all female group of scientists with the goal of scouting the area where it all began.

Tell me their outfits and backpacks don’t remind you of Ghostbusters…at least a little.

The movie is loosely based on the first novel in the Southern Reach series written by Jeff VanderMeer and will likely attract a lot of initial interest due it’s heavy hitter cast lineup including Portman (needs no introduction), Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens / The Last Jedi), Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin), and Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok, Creed, and Westworld).

This is a different type of movie.

Director Alex Garland has done a stellar job bringing a thought-provoking story to life here; something he’s becoming increasingly known for after his first directorial role with Ex Machina in 2014.

The potential problem with Annihilation is that the story concepts explored are extremely cerebral and steeped with philosophical metaphors that may be more of an acquired taste than what most movie goers are expecting after watching the trailer. The studio itself seems to have accepted this as well, as the movie will only be releasing on Netflix outside the US; an uncommon practice for a bigger budget film, but a sign of the times and possibly the future of movie delivery.

That doesn’t mean the movie is bad; it’s actually quite good…it just may not be the type of movie for mass audiences. You definitely need to know what you’re signing up for before diving in.

This isn’t an action flick. There are a couple of action scenes, but this is more of a slower pace examination of humanity; specifically it’s self-destructive nature. Annihilation doesn’t focus so much on leading up to a “satisfying” ending as it does exploring what the journey itself means.

Admittedly, this makes for a polarizing film. You’ll either find its often strange moments captivating and want to mull over the implications long after it ends or you will angrily leave the theater thinking, “What the hell did I just watch?” Truthfully, you may find yourself asking that question even if you do like Annihilation.

Natalie Portman, Tuva Novotny, and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Annihilation.

The film deliver numerous “edge of your seat” moments. I was surprised how intense much of the movie felt despite the slower pace. The nature of the Shimmer itself helps to create this as it has a weird effect on its visitors; losing track of time, clouding their memory and feeling almost like a dream at times. The eerie score also does an excellent job of adding to the beautifully off kilter atmosphere.

The ending, especially what happens at the lighthouse is undoubtedly the strangest part of the movie, which is intentional. It will also be what people analyze, discuss, and debate the most.

Annihilation certainly has faults beyond whether or not it is your type of movie. While the movie tries to stay in the realm of science fiction horror, some of the things encountered push the limits too far; closer to the fantasy genre which feels a little out-of-place here.

Natalie Portman in Annihilation.

There’s also a few decisions made that are illogical to the point of laughter. For example, late in the film the group decides it’s safe to make camp inside a house, without ever checking out the upstairs. You’d expect the scientists to possibly not think about doing a sweep of the entire house, however Portman’s character is supposed to be ex military.

The acting is exceptional…for the most part.

The acting, for the most part was very solid. Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez both show they have impressive range as actresses. Thompson plays a meek scientist here when her last few roles have been stronger, more domineering characters. Conversely, Rodriguez is known most for her good girl role in Jane the Virgin, but successfully mixes it up here as a character with a much rougher personality.

Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez in Annihilation.

Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance, however was too strange for me and distracts from the overall film. Her manner of speaking is annoying and strung out; failing to convince that she’s competent enough to be a psychiatrist, let alone lead a team on a potential suicide mission.

Jennifer Jason Leigh in Annihilation.

Annihilation is not a movie for everyone. It is a fascinating examination of human nature that is worth giving a chance. If the slower, more cerebral aspect doesn’t sound like your usual taste, I would wait for Redbox or Netflix to decide what you think.

Annihilation’s final verdict is 7.5 expanding alien rainbow bubbles out of 10.