Words by Harry Moore
Sequels have driven Hollywood for decades now and when it came to new entrants to long running film series, it was March Madness at the movie theater. While there may be not much in common in the recent releases of a rebooted slasher franchise, the spinoff of a decades old boxing series and the latest character fronted by an action legend, each film delivered on meeting the expectations from what has come before while striving to tread new ground for their ongoing stories. For latter sequels in long running series, it rarely gets much better or more satisfying than what these films have to offer.
In “Creed III,” the trilogy capper of Michael B. Jordan’s spinoff of the “Rocky” franchise. The series and its eponymous lead, Adonis Creed, finally step out from the long casting shadow of the Italian Stallion. Where “Creed II” has Adonis face the son of another of Rocky’s old foes, Creed III tells a story that delves into Adonis’ past and examines his legacy in the ring. The latest “Creed” outing begins with Adonis retiring from boxing as the reigning champion and a legend of the sport who will now impart his knowledge to a younger generation of hungry fighters. A wrench is thrown into this new chapter of Adonis’ life when he encounters Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), an old friend and former boxing prodigy who is fresh out of a decades long stint in prison and believes he is now owed his shot at the belt.
Jordan, in his directorial debut, takes full control of the film’s creative reins with style and a decisive vision for a new approach to the character and franchise. From the opening, a Dr. Dre scored flashback to the early 2000 to the anime-inspired fights, Jordan exudes confidence as a filmmaker. It is clear the actor has learned a lot from working with talented directors such as Ryan Coogler, as he demonstrates a clear understanding of where to place his camera, as well as how to tell and pace a fairly well-trodden plot whilst keeping it compelling. The film plays as an early sign that we are seeing another movie star pivot to talented director. And given that Jordan has successfully navigated from child actor to A-list stardom, it will be interesting to see what direction he will take his new career NEXT.
As an actor, Jordan gives another strong performance as Adonis who is undoubtedly now his signature character, but it is Majors as the antagonist Damian who steals the show from the moment he steps on screen. Majors recently was recently the biggest highlight of Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” but here he’s given material that takes greater advantage of his commanding on-screen presence. Majors fills Dame with seething resentment toward Adonis, but his charisma and talent as an actor makes the character more empathetic than anyone would expect him to be based what’s on the page. Creed III points to exciting futures for both Jordan as a director and Majors as one of the most compelling acting talents working today.
Another long running franchise that has managed to successfully reinvent itself is the slasher series “Scream” with its sixth film (and the second to follow its new core cast of characters) letting the Ghostface killer loose on New York City. Picking up a year after the events of 2022’s “Scream,” where the survivors of the film’s massacre have moved to college in the Big Apple, but it isn’t long until ominous phone calls begin ringing and bodies start dropping. The series has successfully transitioned to its younger generation with the new stars Melissa Barrera (Sam Carpenter) and Jenna Ortega (Tara Carpenter) seamlessly taking over from Courtney Cox and Neve Campbell, and the first entry not to feature Campbell at all. Barrera, Ortega and the other young stars have ably stepped into their starring roles and created characters who viewers actually want to see escape Ghostface’s knife. “Scream VI” is also the second film in the series to come from directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, after taking over from the late master of horror Wes Craven. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have successfully molded “Scream” into their own image, while still holding onto the tropes and values that Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson previously established. Where Craven drew horror out of Ghostface’s pursuit of his victims, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett derive the scares from grisly and inventive kills. The film loses some of its steam in its overly convoluted final act, but the thrilling set and the series’ patented utilization of meta-analysis of horror tropes keeps this sixth outing of a knife wielding fresh.
For the third time in his career, Keanu Reeves worked his way to being one of the most beloved action stars in Hollywood with his brooding, monosyllabic super assassin John Wick. The latest outing, “John Wick: Chapter 4,” is a tour de force for both Reeves and director Chad Stahelski (as well as the dozens of incredibly gifted martial artists and stunt performers) who have created what might be their magnum opus in this sweeping, consistently inventive and exhilarating action epic. Like the other films, “Chapter 4” finds Wick fighting against legions of killers in the assassin underworld, who have managed to create an improbably thriving, self-sustaining economy built on beautifully choreographed murder. With the John Wick series, it is more detrimental to reveal set pieces than plot points, but the Paris-based final act features the most mesmerizing action filmmaking in years. It is constantly propulsive and never repetitive in its many sets, which are often simple concepts executed in expert fashion.
As he always does, Reeves brings his own style of cool charisma to Wick, making it impossible to imagine any other actor making the role as indelible he does. Elsewhere in the cast, returning series regulars such as Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and Laurence Fishburne don’t miss a beat, while new players Donnie Yen and Bill Skarsgård step into the world with ease. “John Wick: Chapter 4” is a modern action masterpiece that should be seen by any fan of the genre. Rarely has 2 hours and 50 minutes flown by so fast.