So many sequels, so little time…
For my money, the best sequel currently playing in the multiplexes is Creed, the movie which resuscitates not only the Rocky franchise (truth be told, I wasn’t holding my breath waiting for another installment), but Sylvester Stallone’s acting career. It’s true that Stallone had a nice run with The Expendables trilogy, but anything apart from that (remember Escape Plan? Grudge Match?) has added nothing to his legacy except perhaps a padded bank account.
Leave it to Ryan Coogler, the writer/director of the acclaimed Fruitvale Station, to reunite with that film’s star Michael B. Jordan, and persuade the not-easily-convinced (and very protective) Stallone to play Rocky in a film that did not have Stallone as its author—or its central character. That would be Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Johnson, son of the late heavyweight champ Apollo Creed (and his mistress). Johnson has been raised quite comfortably by Creed’s wife and is working his way up in financial world when he decides to chuck it all (over the objections of Mom) and pursue his dream of becoming a boxer. His warmup matches in Tijuana not being a useful arbiter of future success, Adonis moves to Philadelphia in hopes of his father’s old nemesis/friend (depending which Rocky movies you’ve seen)persuading restauranteur and Philly fixture Rocky Balboa to train him.
Creed’s plot developments hearken back to the original Rocky, with Johnson/Creed tentatively pursuing a lovely aspiring performer named Bianca (winningly played by Tessa Thompson) and securing a match against a champion trying to secure his legacy by emerging victorious against a newsworthy newcomer--as Johnson is, provided he fights under the name of Creed. Creed is also welcomingly reminiscent of Rocky in terms of its blend of grit and heart, as well as some powerful boxing sequences. Michael B. Jordan is terrific as Creed, conveying the right mix of intelligence, arrogance, compassion as the fighter who needs to “make his own legacy.” Stealing the show however is Stallone, who is a quiet revelation as Rocky: he’s a compassionate, reflective fella who has come to terms with life’s victories and defeats, and expresses no desire to get back in the ring. He’s seen it all, so his reaction to some disturbing news proves entirely understandable. Yet he has some lessons to teach, as well as learn—and Rocky and Creed prove to be a winning combination, which allows the film to be not only a worthy coda to the Rocky film, but perhaps the beginning of a new Creed series.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay –Part 2 is a slight improvement over Part 1, but it fails to fulfill the promise of the second entry in the “trilogy.” (Catching Fire). In this entry, Jennifer Laurence’s erstwhile Katniss Everdeen spends much of her time still torn between the vapid Peta and the pallid Gale, while rebel leader Coin (Julianne Moore) has plans for Katniss and the new world order, which gives the movie some semblance of complexity—provided you aren’t familiar with Julius Caesar or world history for that matter. The action sequences themselves are well-done, but more often than not, Katniss is an observer, pulled into events while still battling her feelings, so her elevation to some kind of heroic symbol (in the film and beyond) is frankly baffling. Donald Sutherland is thankfully still around to provide a welcome blend of humor and venom throughout. His final scene with Katniss is a highlight of the series that has reached its saturation point.