“Creed”

In a year with several sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and reboots, who knew that one of the year’s best movies would be “Creed” – a sequel and spinoff to the “Rocky” franchise?

Michael B. Jordan (“The Wire”, “Fruitvale Station”) stars as Adonnis “Donnie” Creed, son of Carl Weathers’s Apollo Creed from the previous “Rocky” installments. He’s a rising accountant who abandons his job to follow his dad’s footsteps. And who does he enlist as his trainer? No one else but Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone returning to the role).

The two make a great duo as Donnie gives Rocky a new found purpose and Rocky helps Donnie grow as a fighter, eventually making him a top contender.

“Creed” is one of the year’s biggest surprises thanks to director Ryan Coogler’s (“Fruitvale Station”) visionary direction and emotional roller coaster of a screenplay. His visceral and innovative boxing sequences, along with Michael B. Jordan’s heartfelt performance, bring new life to the franchise.

Jordan’s performance as Donnie isn’t by any means reminiscent of Weathers’s Apollo. Donnie is insecure about his name and angry at the world, and Jordan is believable in his portrayal of these emotions. Stallone is once again great as Rocky, showing a more vulnerable side to the character than in previous installments.

Coogler directs some of the franchise’s greatest moments in “Creed”, including a fast-paced fight filmed in a long take that’s the highlight of the movie. I’m able to forgive the film’s flaws thanks to Coogler and the cast.

The antagonist (Tony Bellew) is the movie’s weakest point because he’s not well-developed. There’s an earlier confrontation between Donnie and a different fighter that sets up the climax, but he quickly disappears and we’re given Bellew’s dull “Pretty” Ricky Conlan as our antagonist. He’s no Ivan Drago or Clubber Lang.

“Creed” may not be a perfect new installment, but it’s open for some promising sequels and is a solid revival to the “Rocky” franchise.

Grade: A-

“Fant4stic”

You stylize a title as cheesy as “Fant4stic”, you bet I’m going to refer the movie by that title. The one thing I learned watching “Fant4stic” is that director Josh Trank (“Chronicle” (2012)) is better with less money in his budget.

The premise of “Fant4stic” is simple; five genius kids in either high school or college are enlisted by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey from TV’s “Oz” and “House of Cards”) to research teleportation, discovering another planet in the process. You have high school genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller), his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Storm’s rebellious son Johnny (Michael B. Jordon) and adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), and Storm’s eccentric and arrogant protege Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbel).

The team are all exposed to the other planet’s fuels, mutating them in the process, which leads them against Victor on Planet Zero. There’s the premise in a nutshell!

What’s irritating about the narrative in “Fant4stic” is that there’s no development or lesson learned by the end of the movie! Ben resents Reed after their mutations, Ben and Johnny form a rivalry, Reed and Sue take a romantic interest in each other, and Reed and Johnny are clearly friends, but none of this is developed or resolved. With a running time of 100 minutes, I wonder if Trank was forced to edit the film and cut out all of the development and back story.

The small amount of development is some of the most half-assed writing in recent memory. Ben and Reed are respectively the brain and heart duo trying to change the world, Victor wants to destroy Earth and go back to Planet Zero because he feels we’re killing Earth (though not wrong there, but that’s a different conversation), and the kids get their powers due to a drunken mishap? Maybe the message of the movie was don’t drink.

As far as acting goes, Miles Teller and Kate Mara both look bored, Jamie Bell overacts as the inept and street smart muscle, Michael B Jordon and Toby Kebbel are good sports on screen, and Reg E. Cathey works well with what he has.

Trank envisioned “Fant4stic” being a blend of Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” movies, Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” (2014), and David Cronenberg’s body horror classics “The Fly” (1986) and “Scanners” (1981). Ambitious idea, yeah, but like I said in my “True Detective” review, execution matters! I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d rather rewatch the 2005 and 2007 “Fantastic 4” films before I watch “Fant4stic” again.

Grade: F