It would be an understatement to say that Marvel’s Thor franchise has struggled to find its identity more than any other. The original movie, Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh, was a solid and Shakespearian start to the franchise, despite grossly miscasting Natalie Portman as Thor’s love interest. Thor: The Dark World was a tonally muddled sophomore slump of a movie that relegated Portman’s Jane to the cliché of a swooning damsel and even left little mischief from breakout star Tom Hiddleton’s Loki, God of Mischief.
Thor: Ragnarok is the dazzling recalibration the franchise not only needed but deserved. With a fantastic cast, stunning special effects, a delicate mix of absurd humor and unrelenting action, and a sprawling plot that finds Thor stripped of his precious Mjolnir and held prisoner as a gladiator on a savage planet as Asgard falls under the reign of Hela, Goddess of Death, Thor Ragnarok is not only one of the best movies Marvel has ever made, it just may be one of the top 10 best movies in the superhero genre. It’s also well on its way to becoming one of the biggest openings this year, taking in an estimated $121 million in its opening weekend, BoxOfficeMojo.com reports.
Ragnarok solidifies some important things more than a clap of thunder...
Even though I was largely and loudly opposed to the third re-boot of a Peter Parker-led Spider-Man franchise in 15 years, (especially after falling in love with Andrew Garfield's version despite being saddled with a spectacularly cluttered script in The Amazing Spider-Man 2), Tom Holland won me over enough that I was willing to shell out the funds for a VIP ticket to a Thursday night screening.
No, it wasn't his heavily CGI'd appearance in Captain America: Civil War as a pinch-hitter for Team Stark, but rather his killer performance on Lip Synch Battle, where he and co-star (and girlfriend!?!) Zendaya both turned in gender-bending showstoppers. With Holland's spectacular and sure-footed mash-up of Gene Kelly's "Singing In The Rain" and Rihanna's "Umbrella" gave the me life.
So I went into the movie with no expectations—except to be annoyed by Tony Stark's intricate facial hair—and was thoroughly flabbergasted. Not only is Spider-man: Homecoming another box office grand slam for Marvel and Sony, it is a lovingly written, realistically-cast and well-acted superhero movie for the Gen Z and millennial set—something that was missing from both Marvel and DC Entertainment’s current and upcoming rosters.
Is there such thing as a good version of PTSD? Post-Terrific Sensation Disorder?
Because that's what I was afflicted with upon viewing Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids concert film released to Netflix on Oct. 12.
In 2012, a friend and I were at brunch when the secret service descended. President Barack Obama, heavy on the campaign trail, wanted to eat a local restaurant, and doing so required a dozen agents fanning through a European eatery to assess the over the overall security of the establishment. It was just another moment in the political grandeur that is being a sitting president.
There is no trace of such star-spangled fanfare in Southside With You—a sweet, enlightening sense memory of a film about Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson's first date in 1989.
"A League Of Their Own" established that there's no crying in baseball, but the "Rocky"-adjacent film "Creed" brings its own bucket for the tears. "Creed" is a triumphant sports film that recaptures the underdoggian magic of the 1976 original with a knock-out combination of drama, humor and spectacle. Here are five reasons why you should see "Creed" for the first, second or third (no judgment) time this weekend.
1. Michael B. Jordan. Michael B. Jordan solidified in leading man status in an endearing and dynamic performance as Donnie Johnson/Adonis Creed—the product of an Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) infidelity. He's a natural fighter as illustrated by the first glimpse of a young Donnie. Apollo’s late wife, Mary Anne (played by the ageless legend Phylicia Rashad) realizes that this love-starved orphan is a piece of her husband, and she adopts him. The shadow of his father’s accomplishments and his adoptive mother's expectations have previously overwhelmed his own desire to fight professionally.
And what a fighter he is. Jordan clearly spent intense months in training to transform into a powerhouse fighter on the rise. Combine the muscles, the speedbag and shadow-boxing prowess and the masterfully shot fight scenes, I wholeheartedly believe Jordan as a boxer with an unshakable spirit.
Jordan processes Donnie's drive and into something that's irresistibly endearing but insanely powerful. Donnie adorably clings to Rocky like a barnacle, calling him “Unc” after their second meeting, and making himself useful while hoping to unlock secrets about the father he never knew. If anyone could drag an aging Rocky out of his slow shuffle towards death and back into the land of the living, it's Jordan's Donnie.
2. Rocky. It would be incredibly easy for "Creed" to treat Rocky with kid gloves, make him the Buzz Aldrin of Boxing, an aging hero still wowing fans and cashing in on his celebrity, but they didn’t. While Philadelphia is an urban monument to Rocky's legendary career, time has the man on the ropes. He spends his nights at his small restaurant and his days in the cemetery. He bumbles through life with the achy gait and cynical wisdom of an old man who's suffered so much, he's stopped living and growing. Sylvester Stallone is extraordinarily good here, hiding real pain and loneliness behind a curmudgeonly exterior and coffee-ground grit of a voice.
There is a shot in the film in which Rocky looms blurrily in the background like a ghost, watching Donnie train. It’s a bone-chilling representation of what time and circumstance has done to the once great Rocky Balboa. Where is the fighting spirit of a champion? It emerges in a much more important way, teased out by Donnie's stubborn love and the new people he brings into his life.
3. Training Sequences. Everyone has seen the classic "Rocky" training montages—punching the frozen flanks of beef, one-armed push-ups, running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (as a cheerleader in high school, I weight-trained to "Eye Of The Tiger"). "Creed" pays homage to them in its own unique and contemporary way by nixing the now clichéd showiness, doubling down on the emotion and pragmatism, and building to a crescendo so stirring that left me more than a little misty-eyed. The stunning visual imagery reaches the climax during the awe-inspiring big fight that employs real life boxers and single-shot sequences.
4. “Creed” is not “Rocky VII.” “Creed” is not another “Rocky” movie. Written and directed by Ryan Coolger ("Fruitvale Station"), it expands and extends the “Rocky” universe and is fully formed around this dynamic character of Donnie. As a young black man in 2015, Donnie’s world is different than Rocky’s. The clothes, fears, wins and dialogue are all different. There’s an entire scene dedicated to the urban dialect, particularly the word “jawn” that will make Philly natives smile. I also grinned at a scene in which Rocky was introduced to soul food. The simple authenticity is necessary and appreciated.
5. Bianca. Thankfully Donnie does more than just train while in Philly. He also falls for a free-spirited, no-nonsense singer named Bianca, who is wonderfully portayed by "Selma's" Tessa Thompson. Time is besting her too as she is a musician suffering from degenerative hearing loss. One day, she will be completely deaf. It's motivation for her and Donnie.
It's refreshing that Bianca wasn’t repulsed by the barbarism of boxing. I always balk that boxing is a violent, unsanitary sport (spit buckets and blood on the gloves are all hive-inducing concepts for this germophobe) but two rounds in, I have already have a favorite and I’m hollering louder than their cornermen (although “stop letting him hit you, dumbass” isn’t nearly as productive). Bianca is similarly attracted to Donnie’s ambition and passion until it damages hers. She’s lovestruck but not lovestupid, and that's a heroine done refreshingly right.
Admittedly, I would’ve liked her story to be fleshed out more, but since "Creed" is the most successful movie of the entire "Rocky" franchise, I'm sure they are just saving it for the sequel.
Photo Credits: variety.com