Tag: sylvester stallone

Creed II


Creed II (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Steven Caple Jr.’s “Creed II” succeeds in delivering big entertainment because it has a knack for forcing the audience to taste the bad blood between Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) and Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu)—which stems from the former’s father having died in a boxing ring in the hands of the latter’s father, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). And just like strong “Rocky” pictures that came before, the director proves to have an eye for placing us in the middle of action as punches are delivered with lightning speed and droplets of blood are pummeled out of the pugilists. It cannot be denied that the project is made with skill.

The material brings up the question of what happens after a fighter becomes a heavyweight champion. And yet it is not about defending the belt or the title. The screenplay by Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone (who returns as Rocky Balboa, Adonis’ trainer and mentor) is smart to root the drama in something more grounded, a core with a higher dramatic pull. It is about people coming to terms with the hand they are given and playing it as astutely as they are able. Sometimes you lose and hands turn into fists; sometimes you win and it is cause for celebration. And sometimes, still, you win without being aware of having won and so, in your eyes, an external element that stirs your own insecurities must be correct. And so, too, the picture is about having to face one’s demons.

Central and supporting performances are all on point. Jordan and Stallone share such wonderful chemistry, their characters need not say even a word for us believe that the men respect one another not solely as fighters but also as men who’ve survived and lived. There are small but moving moments—in the boxing ring nonetheless—when Adonis regards Rocky as a father—not as a trainer—and the latter knows precisely what to say or do in order to give his son just a little bit more confidence in order to move forward. The boxer-mentor, father-son relationship is not explained but expanded upon from the previous “Creed” film—smart because the sequel manages to avoid the usual expository scenes and dialogue most of the time.

Although the romantic partnership between Adonis and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) may play like a Lifetime movie at times, I found sweetness in it. Like Adonis’ relationship with Rocky, there is mutual respect between the boxer and the singer-songwriter; they consider one another to be equals and so when one falters, the other picks up the pace. The pacing might have been improved if some of their interactions were written more elegantly, leaving something for the audience to consider rather than showing every significant moment between their engagement and raising an infant. The passage of time is questionable on occasion. Here, it seems that serious, nearly grave injuries, including physical therapy, can be overcome in less than a year. This might come across as nitpicking, but minute details matter in strong dramas.

But I had an absolute blast with the boxing matches between Creed and Drago. Munteanu creates a formidable villain due to his sheer size, strength, and agility. It is acknowledged that his character has been brought up in hate. This is thoroughly convincing in the way the character pummels his opponents right when the bell rings, often knocking them out in a single round. He is like a tank wearing human skin and one cannot help but feel anxious simply by looking at his frame. You look at the young Drago and wonder how in the world Creed, who is also well-built, would—or could—manage to overcome such a hungry, rabid dog.

The Expendables 3


The Expendables 3 (2014)
★ / ★★★★

Clearly the weakest of the first three films, “The Expendables 3,” directed by Patrick Hughes, is not only plagued by a wasteland of crippling boredom after the first and final action sequences—each, by the way, is composed of only about fifteen minutes of good material—but it also suffers an identity crisis so severe that audiences coming into it expecting one thing will be gravely disappointed because they are handed another.

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) leads a mission in Somalia which goes horribly awry when he and his men (Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews) discover that a war criminal believed to be dead is very much alive. Stonebanks (Mel Gibson—who gives a performance worthy of the series), an arms dealer, critically injures one of the Expendables which leads Ross to disassemble his current team of muscles in favor of new blood—a younger group with the potential to be as good, if not better, than his former crew.

The premise itself is a serious miscalculation. I suppose that part of the idea is the passing of the torch which implies that the younger characters recruited by Ross are to be played by action stars of the future. Kellan Lutz is the most high-profile name of the young bunch but even then I do not consider him to have the potential to become a bona fide action star—and I suspect others are likely to feel the same.

Though he and his co-stars have the physicality, they command neither the charm nor the intensity of the following pool of actors that perhaps should have been cast instead: Channing Tatum, Jeremy Renner, Iko Uwais, Gina Carano, Michael B. Jordan, Tom Hardy. Given that the casting directors are able to employ big names into the franchise, to expect the hiring of the aforementioned names is not at all unjustified.

What makes the series so enjoyable is the old-fashioned style of action. It is all about the big menacing guns, the deafening explosions so closely and so expertly shot that we feel the heat approaching our seats, the bone-crunching mano-a-mano, and the cheesy one-liners as chaos unfolds all around. Instead, we endure scenes and tech talk involving security grids, surveillance videos, CCTV systems—elements that belong to another picture completely. As a result, the work is reduced to a forgettable, standard modern action movie.

The script has never been the series’ strongest asset but it is most unbearable here. Speeches concerning the leader not allowing his team to go down with him is laughable. By the end of the epic talk, the implication is this: younger lives are more expendable than older lives. Clearly, Ross is convinced that any mission involving the capture of one of the deadliest men he knows is suicide.

So, pragmatically, shouldn’t he be striving to keep his current team because they have experience together, that they share awareness down to one another’s rhythms? Thus, employing a new team, aside from being nonsensical, comes across as nothing but a convenient and lazy device to allow the minutes to trickle away. What I detest most are movies whose filmmakers are fully aware that they are wasting everybody’s time and it is so apparent that it should be criminal.

The Expendables 2


The Expendables 2 (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Right after a successful mission in Nepal, Church (Bruce Willis) approaches and informs Barney (Sylvester Stallone) of a mission, one that cannot be refused because he and his team have stolen five million dollars from the man who works for a secret but influential organization. Barney, his group of mercenaries (Jason Statham, Dolph Lungren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Scott Adkins), and Maggie (Nan Yu), specifically chosen by Church, head to the mountains of Albania to retrieve an item from a case in a plane crash. On what is supposed to be a clear-cut assignment turns complicated when the Sangs, gangsters within the area, appear from the fog and demand that the item of interest be handed over.

“The Expendables 2,” directed by Simon West, is a mostly fun, exciting, and transporting ruckus that set the bar so high during its first scene–tackling land, air, and water in a span of fifteen minutes–that it is unable to rise above it. The rescue mission of a Chinese billionaire in Nepal should have been the blueprint of the picture in that it makes no pretense about being an action picture with former and current major action stars at the helm: tanks demolishing supposed lines of the defenses erected by the enemy, guns of various shapes and sizes being fired at will, making no discrimination as to who or what is hit, rocket launchers extirpating balconies when another weapon would have sufficed, utter chaos and overkill abound.

There is certain poetry, a highly satisfying comedic ridiculousness, not just in the images of deaths and destruction unfolding on screen but also in the use of rousing music and energetic–but never dizzying–editing. The synergy among the techniques employed shows how excellent a Hollywood mainstream picture can be given that the proper elements are carefully measured and executed.

Unfortunately, nothing as thrilling happens up until just about after the halfway point. When the characters converse via joking around and teasing one another, there is a deadness in the dialogue. At times the exchange of words feels forced which, I suppose, can be taken as campy most of the time but the sour notes are certainly there.

However, there is one lighthearted scene that works quite well. That is, when Hale Ceasar (Crews) asks his team what they would like to have as their last meal given that they were to die the next day. I wished the scene had gone a little bit longer because a sense of camaraderie, one that felt natural, is finally put on screen.

Furthermore, the picture could have benefited from a more interesting villain. Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), the leader of the Sangs who wishes to gather an astonishing amount of plutonium in an abandoned mine, is a bit boring to deserve our hatred. We learn nothing special about him outside of the fact that he likes to wear sunglasses indoors. The writing is mostly to blame but Van Damme could have done more to make his character stand out by perhaps injecting a quirk or holding a secret about his character in his own mind to make us more curious about Vilain.

“The Expendables 2,” based on the screenplay by Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone, shows promise by rising above mediocrity but only in unpredictable convulsions. If there is going to be a third one, which I believe is the right avenue, I’m excited at the prospect of it getting every single thing right.

The Expendables


The Expendables (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

A group of mercenaries (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews) was hired by an enigmatic man (Bruce Willis) to go to an island in South America in hopes of overthrowing a dictator (David Zayas) being controlled by a former CIA agent (Eric Roberts) and his beefy minion (Steve Austin). The film was thin on plot and very heavy on the action which means it’s perfect for men just wanting to sit back, have some laughs, and a couple of beers. I think it succeeded as a brainless action film but it failed in terms of strongly establishing a franchise that could potentially continue and thrive. The script developed certain characters like Lee Christmas (Statham) being a softie at heart, Ying Yang (Li) wanting to have a family someday, and Tool (Mickey Rourke) having a tortured past. However, the rest of the group didn’t get enough attention. For instance, I thought it was very awkward when Crews suddenly appeared (with the big guns and hilarious overkill) near the end when I didn’t see him at all since the beginning of the movie. The picture would have benefited as a whole if it had taken a little bit of time to explore each one even though the exploration may not have been very deep. Forgetting about a character is the worst. Furthermore, not for one second did I believe that the villains’ plans could succeed at the end of the day because they were overpowered by the good guys in numbers and weapons. Was it too much to ask for more (former) action stars to have been hired as bad guys? Although there was genuine tension in the action scenes and I found my heart pounding like crazy because of the adrenaline during the impressive car chase and plane acrobatics, I didn’t feel a thing when all the action died down. When the characters conversed, the lines were laughable; their words were obviously directed toward each other but I felt like they were having completely different conversations altogether. They were like young children still developing how it’s like to really communicate with someone else in a meaningful way. “The Expendables” proved that nostalgia could only take a movie to a certain extent. Without surprising twists and compelling moments of silence (I did love the one scene when the camera was fixated on Rourke’s face as he told his painful story) in between action sequences, the movie stayed limp even though there was an overdose of testosterone. Those impressed with the trailer will end up enjoying the movie one way or another. I did like it but I thought it could have been a lot better if it had filled in some gaps and ironed out its inconsistencies.