Film critic Calum Cooper looks back at some of the week’s additional releases. A case of sequel-itis this week with Ralph Breaks the Internet and Creed II, as well as hard hitting themes explored in Disobedience.
Ralph Breaks the Internet – ★★★☆☆
The weird thing about my overall positive view on Ralph Breaks the Internet, aka Wreck-It Ralph 2, is that it has some notable similarities to last year’s The Emoji Movie, a movie that I despised. I hated it for various reasons, but the biggest was because of how it used its potentially creative setups with apps and internet culture as shameless product placements and nothing more. The fact that it was aimed at children too was what made me so unforgiving when I initially reviewed it.
Because of this, you would think I’d hate the idea behind this film. Taking place six years after the first film, video game characters Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) have been living in relative comfort in the old arcade where their games are located. When Vanellope’s game breaks, Ralph and Vanellope decide to journey into the arcade’s new WiFi hub so that they can access the internet and find the new part needed to save Vanellope’s game. Along the way they come across many worlds, trends and brands, and all sorts of colourful characters, such as a racer voiced by Gal Gadot, and all of the Disney Princesses.
What makes Ralph Breaks the Internet amiable is its lack of pandering despite incorporating references and ideas that are susceptible to it. It’s hardly a flawless film, and some of its shallow internet references will date the film in the future. However, it plays the vast majority of its references to internet culture and brands for laughs. It’s not floundering its brands around and begging children to either recognise, or worse buy, the sponsored products.
In other words, it keeps the focus on its characters, who are experiencing this new environment for the first time. And since the duo of Ralph and Vanellope, with their shared banter and adorable chemistry, have already been established well from the previous film, it means there’s a little more leeway in terms of what it can get away when it comes to relying on the culture behind its idea.
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Yet even if that wasn’t the case there’s still plenty to like about the film on the surface, particularly with its animation and decent sense of humour. There’s plenty of creative small details in each design that matches the vivacious colours and fast paced sense of humour. Yet it also gives us a strong message on what makes a true friendship when put under difficult choices. It does feel a little tacked on admittedly, but it’s a unique message that you don’t often see used in kids’ films, which is very admirable indeed.
As for flaws, it does seem to break some of its own established rules within its universe. It’s more apparent if you’ve watched the films back to back, but it may still be annoying to some viewers. There’s a few missed opportunities with its humour, such as a side plot with Fix-It Felix, and a lot of the best jokes, such as the self-awareness around the Disney Princesses, are given away in the trailers. They prevent the film from coming anywhere near the richness of the original. But the product remains overall enjoyable in spite of this.
Ralph Breaks the Internet won’t change the world. It certainly doesn’t rank among the higher standards of modern animations like Inside Out or Coraline. But it’s vibrant and funny, and it has charm to spare. Children will likely have fun and adults at least won’t hate themselves when subjected to it.
Creed II – ★★★☆☆
Of all the Rocky films that a sequel to 2015’s Creed could serve as a spiritual successor to, Rocky IV may initially seem like a flimsy choice. It’s arguably the goofiest of the Rocky sequels, featuring a Russian super boxer and even a robot servant (I wish I was kidding). But it also provided some pivot incidents in the backstory to the Creed movies. They act as the foundations to this particular film, utilising them in ways that heighten the characters, the drama, and of course the boxing. The end result is somewhat predictable, but ultimately satisfying.
After shedding the shadow of his father, Adonis (Donny) Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is reaping the benefits of a successful career. He’s engaged to marry his partner Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and, under the eye of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), has become the Heavyweight Champion. But that changes with the reappearance of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the aforementioned super boxer who killed Donny’s father in the ring in Rocky IV. He hopes to put his own son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) against Donny in order to regain his old glory. Fuelled with emotion Donny accepts the challenge, all the while every character has to come to terms with the past throughout the story.
The film boasts many of the same fine qualities as Creed and Rocky. The boxing is masterfully captured. You feel every punch thrown in the ring and the close-quarters cinematography evokes nail biting thrills, even if the craftsmanship isn’t as experimental as Ryan Coogler’s one take sequences in the first Creed. Add in the always terrific score too and it’s easy to get lost in the intensity of the feature sport. The Rocky theme will never not be exhilarating anytime it’s played.
However, what makes the film easy to enjoy are the characters and how well written they are. The performances are all fantastic too, from Thompson’s empathy and sincerity to Jordan’s brute determination to Stallone’s tranquil wisdom, but it’s the characters that carry the movie. You enjoy watching them interact with each other and you completely understand what’s going on in their minds, whether it’s Donny’s urge to prove himself or Rocky’s guilt returning to haunt him.
Pitting these two sets of characters against each other turns the film into a rather humbling look at how much the past should define us. Watching the characters struggle to manage the consequences of the past with the responsibilities of the future is both interesting and dramatic.
This is surprisingly true for the villains too. As enjoyably daft as Rocky IV is, Ivan Drago was essentially a Street Fighter character solely meant to be an obstacle to overcome. Here however, we come to understand why he places such pressure on his son, as well as what’s at stake for their family if they lose to Creed. They’re empathetic villains as well as formidable ones.
Pitting these two sets of characters against each other turns the film into a rather humbling look at how much the past should define us. Watching the characters struggle to manage the consequences of the past with the responsibilities of the future is both interesting and dramatic. Relationships are tested, decisions are made, and characters grow, making the film an engaging watch even outside of the ring.
It follows roughly the same formula as the rest of the Rocky films, however. In fact, its narrative beats run parallel to Rocky IV, aside from a few creative differences. While it can be argued that this adds to the film’s themes on the mistakes of the past, it means that there aren’t too many surprises as you watch it, with some moments threatening to relapse into the goofiness of other Rocky sequels. Because of this, Creed II never fully reaches the heights of its original counterpart.
But that shouldn’t discourage fans of Rocky or sports movies, for when all is summed up, Creed II is both an enjoyable sequel and a solid film in general.
Disobedience – ★★★☆☆
Disobedience tackles various thought provoking themes in a somewhat scattershot fashion, yet remains engaging due to the strength of its actors and direction, even if it’s not as captivating as it should be.
Rachel Weisz plays Ronit Krushka, a photographer in New York who learns that her father, a Slav from an Orthodox Jewish congregation in London, has passed died. She flies back to London to pay her respects, but when she arrives in her old town, it is clear that there is still trepidation towards her from the rest of her community, including from childhood friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola).
This is later revealed to have spawned from a love affair that occurred between her and her best friend Esti (Rachel McAdams), who is now married to Dovid. As the two women suddenly reappear in each other’s lives again, their feelings are tested and placed against the strict customs of the community. Once they reunite, many of the film’s themes become apparent, the most predominant of which being that of free will versus tradition.
What stops Disobedience from being a great film, despite such compelling story material, is that it’s rather uneventful. Many of the key conflicts are emotional ones. This isn’t a complaint, as several of my favourite films concern emotional conflicts. But a lot of the film features characters standing around and talking about mundane topics or gripes, with much of the conflict being suggestive. It’s effective in the opening scenes, but it goes on to dominate the entire first half and even the climax. I counted at least three moments where the film could’ve ended strongly, but it just kept going.
It also feels tame in spite of its subject matter. Not that every film involving love affairs should be inherently wild, but the events and themes on display, including the obvious titular one, evoke strong emotions, many of which either lack urgency or are spelled out for the audience. There’s little room for organic development on screen.
But there’s no denying the elements that work here. The performances are all incredible. Rachel Weisz has had an impressive year between this and The Favourite, and her embracement of feelings and trends unorthodox to her community make her an interesting character. Her chemistry with Rachel McAdams is strong, and McAdams’ inner conflict does provide some of the film’s better moments. Nivola is also very strong as the most devout of the trio, and the one who grows the most throughout the story.
Director Sebastian Lelio also provides some solid moments of style that evoke the themes visually. He relies on close up shots in order to create feels of intensity or claustrophobia depending on the scene, and his use of restraint when it comes to edits allow us to inhabit the characters’ mind-sets long enough to put ourselves in their shoes when they mentally give in to their desires or question themselves and their place in the orthodox Jewish community.
Simply put, there’s just enough identifiable bravura within the presentation for me to say that I was ultimately on board with the film as a whole. It doesn’t have the raw power of films with similar themes, such as Brokeback Mountain, but there’s enough to admire on screen for me to recommend the film to fans of Lelio or the original story. Although, I can’t see myself watching it again to be brutally honest.
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