Creed II And The Perils of A Too Sympathetic Antagonist

Spoilers for Rocky III & IV, Journeyman (2017), Southpaw (2015), Creed (2015) and Creed II (2018)


When we talk about equality or diversification, we generally use said phrases in reference to aspects such as the job market, politics, criminal justice, etc. The big picture areas so to speak. However, it’s a shame that we don’t make the same effort to diversify our sportsmen and women. Specifically I speak mainly of class differences (though I won’t deny there are racial and gender issues as well).

Take the sport of golf for instance. While there are a few golfers that have come from poorer environments (such as Vijay Singh or Lee Trevino); the large majority are individuals who were raised in middle to upper class backgrounds.

The reason for this is quite simple: The higher the financial investment needed to train, the more affluent the sportsperson has to be. So if we were to take a look at sports such as tennis, polo, sailing or dressage (which apparently is a sport!); it’s easy to see why a healthy bank account is generally necessary for beginners.

On the flip side of this are the sports for the disadvantaged and the poor. The sports that don’t require massive amounts of upfront investment. Football, basketball, wrestling, and of course, boxing are all the usual suspects. But, at least in popular culture, it’s not too far off the mark to say that boxing is the epitome of “coming from nothing.”

The Rocky series, The Fighter (2010), Cinderella Man (2005) and many, many more have taken the “rags to riches” storytelling path. While it’s true we occasionally get a movie about a boxer at the top of his game, the story will often find a way to bring the character back down to his (metaphorical) knees. For example, Journeyman (2017) had Paddy Considine’s character suffer a serious head injury; while Jake Gyllenhaal’s Southpaw (2015) had him lose both his wife and child.

While the Rocky series has illustrated this underdog aspect to various degrees over six movies (and a semi-reboot in 2015’s Creed); the most recent entry in the series, Creed II, seems to have somewhat done an about-turn. Rather than the elevation of the underprivileged, Creed II is instead about the domination of the rich and how they deserve to stay in power or at the top of their sport.

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© 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

2015’s Creed is quite obviously a tale of the little guy. Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), who has spent much of his childhood in youth detention centres, needs to make something of himself and wants to prove to the world that he is just as good as his father, Apollo (Carl Weathers). And even though Adonis fails to win against his opponent, Ricky Colan (Anthony Bellew); the announcer in the film makes it clear that “Conlan won the fight, but Creed won the night.”

Three years later however, Creed II starts with Adonis at the top of his game, having just won the World Heavyweight Championship. He is clearly a famed and wealthy man, able to easily purchase an expensive living space in Los Angeles. As such Creed II needs to topple the tower of Adonis in order to build him back up again; and this is capably illustrated by his first loss to Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu).

This, by itself, isn’t that unusual of a storytelling technique. After all, the exact same thing happens in Rocky III when Rocky has to take on Clubber Lang (Mr. T). The problem is that Viktor and his father, Ivan (a returning Dolph Lundgren) are presented to us as clear underdogs with absolutely nothing to their name. Not only has the family name taken a dive after the events of Rocky IV; but wider Russian society has shunned them to such an extent that the family’s matriarch, Ludmila (Brigitte Nielsen), has abandoned them.

Because of such a drastic fall from grace, it’s totally understandable that Viktor and Ivan would want to take on Adonis and Rocky. Not only would such a fight earn them enough money to move out of their dilapidated home; but it would increase theirs chances of being accepted by their neighbours, their country, and perhaps even allow Viktor to rekindle a relationship with his mother.

In what world are these bad people? In what world could this duo be considered antagonists? Sure, the film tries to make Viktor seem “bad” when he cheats in the first fight against Adonis. But you know what? If my mother’s love for me was entirely dependent on winning a boxing match, I sure as hell would be cheating left, right and centre to make sure I win! In other words, Viktor is just too damn sympathetic to stand as an effective antagonist.

Don’t get me wrong, lots of movies have sympathetic antagonists. In fact, to be a truly great movie, an antagonist usually has to be sympathetic because we as an audience must understand why they commit terrible acts to achieve their goals. Magneto in the X-men movies or Koba from the Planet of the Apes franchise are grand examples of sympathetic antagonists that you understand, but would never support because the crimes they commit (murder and attempted genocide) are so beyond the pale.

But Viktor? What crime has he committed? What dreadful sin is he guilty of? He was born into a world that, pretty much from birth, identified him as the son of a failure; and by association he was a failure too. How can we, as human beings, not identify with that? Haven’t we all felt like failures and outcasts at some point in our lives? Are we not all Viktor?

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© 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It is amazing that Creed II, the eighth installment in the Rocky franchise, fails in such a spectacular fashion. For lack of a better description, Adonis has become the undeserving and prideful rich boy that traditionally would be the antagonist. It ends up being impossible to emphasise with him. Even worse is that Adonis never truly has any good reason to go through with the fight with Viktor. He clearly doesn’t need the money and he already has the fame and prestige. Even if he were to lose the fight (as Ivan did 30 years earlier), Adonis won’t lose his partner (Tessa Thompson), his home, or the respect of his friends and country.

That’s why the final fight is so heartbreaking. On one side we have a wealthy man who won’t give up because of his pride; while on the other we have poverty-stricken and emotionally hurt person trying to make something of himself. And who loses? The poor guy! All of the above could have been acceptable if Viktor had won. But no. The film ends with the rich prideful man remaining rich and prideful (and celebrated for it!); while the downtrodden individual is forced back to the shithole from whence he came.

For a film series that’s meant to inspire hope, Creed II instead enforces the idea that the browbeaten and the oppressed deserve nothing better. That those who struggle the most have no right to improve themselves at the expense of their “betters.”

And if that isn’t a metaphor for 2018, I don’t know what is.

 

 

It May Have Taken Ten Years, But I Finally Have Closure On The Half-Life Saga

If you’ve been a long time reader of my blog, you’ll know that I have a special rule when it comes to watching TV shows: “I will not start a show until its entire run is finished.”

Why? Because closure is everything. Journeys should not be abandoned. They should be completed. Nothing irritates me more than an unfinished story. And in this age of peak TV, where television shows are barely given a chance to succeed before being cancelled, it’s all the more important for me to be ridiculously choosy.

So there are a great many popular shows, such as Westworld, Supergirl, The Handmaid’s Tale and The Americans, that I flat out refuse to watch. Yes, this means that I can’t keep up with the average water-cooler conversation, but I feel it’s an acceptable sacrifice in order to guarantee that when I start a watching a TV show, I will be delivered some form of closure.

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I’m still waiting, Bryan Fuller! It’s been TEN YEARS, but I’m still waiting!

But when it comes to other forms of entertainment, such as movies, books or videogames; this issue isn’t quite as prevalent. Yes, you occasionally get films that don’t finish properly, like Terminator: Genisys. Or you might get a certain series of fantasy books that seem to take an undue length of time to finish, mostly because the author is doing GOD KNOWS WHAT?!?! ISN’T THAT RIGHT, GEORGE????

george
Oh not you, George. I meant another George. You know, George… Errrr… Lucas?

But for the most part; movies, books and videogames tend to tie up their stories in one go.

And then there’s Half-Life.

In our world of Call of Duty’s, Bioshock’s and Wolfenstein’s; it’s somewhat difficult to remember the early days of first person shooters. Games such as Doom, Quake or Duke Nukem made no qualms about the fact that there was barely any story. It was just an excuse to shoot monsters in the face with as many bullets as possible.

But that all changed in 1998 with the release of Half-Life. Here was a game that was technically a first-person shooter, but it was also so much more. Developer Valve didn’t build a game. They built a world. A world that felt it was filled with living, breathing people who had their own lives.

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Never said it looked particularly good though

But in the same way that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight blew it’s predecessor out of the water; the very same charge could be laid at the feet of 2004’s Half-Life 2.

In that award winning sequel, every single aspect of the previous game had been built upon and polished within an inch of it’s life. Along with Gordon Freeman, we discovered bigger worlds, more engaging characters, amazing physics, stunning story-lines, and the greatest gun since Doom’s B.F.G.

Followed by the equally groundbreaking entries of Episode 1 and Episode 2 (as well as it’s heart-breaking cliffhanger); it seemed that Value could do no wrong when it came to the Half-Life franchise.

And then nothing.

Delay after delay. Year after year. Every so often a snippet of information would leak out about Half-Life 3. But eventually we would return to the status quo.

I know it sounds strange, but that lack of closure ate at me. It got to a point where I had absolutely no interest in a new game. I just needed an ending to the story. A novel, a comicbook, hell, a children’s picturebook would have done it for me!

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My First Crowbar! (Copyright © 2017 Gallery1988)

And then a few days ago, Marc Laidlaw, one of the main writers on all the Half-Life games, released on his blog a 2000 word pseudo-letter written by the oddly named Gertrude Fremont.

Gotta give points to the internet, but it must have taken no more than a couple of minutes before someone realised it was a potential story-line for Half-Life 3, even if Mark insists that it’s actually fan fiction.

Let’s be honest, no one believes Mark for a second when he says that. Yes, the game was never made, so I suppose it’s technically true. But personally I like to believe that what he wrote was what he intended the game’s plot to be, and the only thing that held him back for this long was an NDA.

And you know what?

I want to say thank you.

Thank you Mark Laidlaw for giving me closure. You didn’t have to do it, and considering the state of the world we live in now, finding out the ending to Half-Life was hardly going to be the most important thing going on in people’s lives.

But it was important to me.

Yes, there may be a few questions left over, and we may never play Half-Life 3; but because of you Mark, I’m finally at peace with it.


Photo Credits: Daily Mirror, AmazonPinterest, Gaming Excellence, Nineteen Eighty Eight,

The Tragedy Of George R.R. Martin And His Future Books

[Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 1-6 and the entire Song of Ice and Fire Book Saga]


On its release in 2011, Game of Thrones almost immediately became one of the most groundbreaking pieces of modern day television. Never before had TV tackled such an epic version of political intrigue on an utterly monumental scale.

But while the TV show has taken the franchise to new heights, it can’t be denied that the book series it’s based upon, A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF), was a massive success in its own right. A series of five books that have so far made the New York Times Best Seller list, won a Hugo Award, sold well over 60 million copies, and been translated into 47 languages.

As many of the book and TV fans are aware, the small screen version has long surpassed the material it was based on. While season 6 gave away significant plot details, the march into the final two seasons will more or less reveal all the major plot points and twists for the two final books: The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring (both working titles.)

It’s this issue that actually makes me feel rather sorry for Mr Martin and his decades long quest to tell the story of Westeros and its peoples. But first, let’s cast our minds back to when A Game of Thrones was actually published. Do you know when?

1996.

Insane, right? I can’t imagine starting to read a book in the mid-90s and not knowing how the story finishes twenty one years later!!! Just to try and put it in some kind of perspective, when the first book was released the following did not exist:

  • Facebook
  • Youtube
  • Snapchat
  • Twitter
  • Smartphones
  • The Matrix Franchise
  • Bluetooth
  • Skype
  • The Star Wars Prequels
  • The nation of South Sudan
  • And the entire child cast of Stranger Things!

Nations and governments have literally risen and fallen in the time its taken Martin to write these books. And that’s assuming you ignore the fact that he actually started writing ASOIAF in 1991, when the World Wide Web wasn’t even available to the general public!

Now I am not a reader of Martin’s books, so the reason I bring up this length of time isn’t to gripe about the delay. Rather it’s to illustrate how long these ideas have been peculating in his mind.

And I can’t help feeling sorry for him. He has worked so hard to create these intricate stories and detailed worlds; and yet the end of his story will not be told in the method he intended.

Arguably what’s happening to Martin is unprecedented. There has never been an author who’s had the climax of his magnum opus taken from him, and then revealed to the world in a completely different medium. Especially a medium said author only indirectly controls.

Don’t be mistaken, Martin does hold a little responsibility for the situation he finds himself in. After all, he was the one that agreed to the TV show, and he was the one that was unable to complete his story before the TV show caught up to him.

But as a fellow writer (and yes, I’m really stretching the comparison there!), it’s hard not to feel a sense of sympathy for dear old George. A life’s work and investment thrown aside for a few short seasons of television.

It may sound like I’m exaggerating, but lets, for example, take the story of Hodor.

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© 2016 HBO. All Rights Reserved.

From the tragic events of the episode titled The Door, we’ve learnt exactly why dear old Wylis was cursed to spend the rest of his life only being able to utter the word Hodor.

For us it was an incredibly emotional climax to a beloved character’s journey, while in turn drastically changing our perceptions by adding a sci-fi element to the world of Game of Thrones.

But now imagine it from Martin’s viewpoint. He came up with most of that ending in the EARLY-90s! And, slowly but surely, over the next two decades and five books, he would add various clues, hints and plot points to lead into that ending.

But now that was all in vain. The scene will still appear in his books, no doubt. Maybe even in a slightly different form. But the surprise, the shock, the tragedy. That’s all gone. It’s impossible to replicate. And it’s only going to get worse as more and more revelations from the final two books are instead revealed in the final two TV seasons.

This type of problem is incomparable to anything that has happened before. Even after extensive research, the closest I could find was the occasional unauthorised leak of a manuscript, such as in Stephanie Meyer’s book: Midnight Sun.

Because of this, I have an unpopular theory…

A Song of Ice and Fire will never be finished.

To be fair, there have been incomplete book series’ before. But this is usually down to the death of the author; such as Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. But the reason I think ASOIAF will never be finished is because, as time goes by, both the pressure and the drive for the final two books will diminish.

The pressure from book fans will drop somewhat as a portion of them (but not all) will be satisfied with some form of ending. And with Martin, the drive to tell a magnificent and groundbreaking story would have disappeared.

Remember, he will have to spend the several years of writing A Dream of Spring listening to people ask him questions about the ending and saying how much they loved or hated it. After a while I think he will honestly feel like everyone already knows the ending. And after that, what’s the point in continuing?

Just imagine, say, J.R.R. Tolkien releasing The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers to great acclaim. Those books are turned into beloved and successful films. But then, The Return of the King is released in cinemas before the release of the book.

Would it not be somewhat difficult for the film not to automatically become the defining ending of Lord of The Rings? Even if the book version was released soon afterwards? Hell, would Tolkien even be interested in releasing the third book?

In the case of ASOIAF, even if the 6th book was released in 2018 or 2019, there would still be a significant wait until the final book. Assuming that Martin takes around five years to complete it, that would mean A Dream of Spring would be released in around 2024.

But the final season of the TV show will most likely air in 2018 or 2019. So that would make a solid 5-6 years where millions of people get to dissemble, debate and interpret the ending of the story before the author even gets his version to the masses.

For a writer, that sounds like the seventh circle of hell.

That said, I do think the release of The Winds of Winter will still take place. He’s already written so much of it, I can’t imagine it not being released. But A Dream of Spring? Never gonna happen.

On the other hand, maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe the differences between the books and the TV show will be enough to keep the fans, and Martin, going long after the broad ending of story and characters have been revealed to the world.

Either way, I wish dear old George the best of luck.

What Aspects of the Alien Life-Cycle and History Does Ridley Scott Still Consider Canon?

[SPOILERS FOR ALIEN: COVENANT, ALIEN, ALIENS AND PROMETHEUS]

Over the past nearly four decades, Sir Ridley Scott hasn’t given many opinions on how he perceives the various sequels to his 1979 sci-fi classic, Alien. His general position seems to be one of unconcern and apathy. Indeed in a 2012 interview with Empire, when asked if he’s seen Aliens vs. Predator, he straight up says:

“I couldn’t do that… I couldn’t quite take that step”

The one exception is James Cameron’s Aliens which, according to an illustrated screenplay of Alien, Scott said:

“There’s also no question that Cameron made an excellent film with Aliens. It really is an achievement… It’s always tough to follow a successful film with a sequel to it … It could never be as frightening [in the sequel] because you’ve already seen it. Therefore, what I think James Cameron [did with ALIENS] was a terrific action-picture. It’s difficult what he accomplished”

With the release of Alien: Covenant though, I do somewhat wonder how much of the Alien’s life-cycle established in the sequels does Ridley Scott consider canon? Admittedly in this day and age of constant re-boots, the justifications for what is or isn’t canon is somewhat arbitrary

Indeed when taking into account Prometheus, this may be a somewhat pointless question as so many new creatures and methods of procreation were introduced that Scott might just be making it up as he goes along!

But for arguments sake, lets focus on the primary life-cycle that we’ve seen in most Alien films.

alien lifecycle.png

So, for the newbies to the Alien universe, we learn from a mixture of the first three Alien films:

  • The Alien Queen lays an Egg.
  • This egg contains a Facehugger, which proceeds to attach itself to a living creature (i.e. a host) in the vicinity. It plants an embryo into the host before falling off and dying.
  • Over a period of several hours (and sometimes days) the embryo grows into a Chestburster before (as you might expect!) bursting out of the chest of the host and probably killing it in the process.
  • And again, after a very short period, the Chestburster will grow into either an adult Alien or an Alien Queen, usually with some physical attributes of the creature that hosted it.

In the various sequels, books and comics this life-cycle has been stuck to pretty rigidly. But with the newest Alien film things seem to have changed slightly. So, a quick recap of the specific aspect of Alien: Covenant that intrigues me (Again, SPOILERS)

Using Engineer technology, the android known as David has been experimenting in an attempt to create the perfect organism. Through much trials and dead ends, David eventually creates the organism that we know as the Facehugger. And by letting it loose on the crew of the Covenant, he eventually gets his wish in the bloody birth of the Protomorpth; the (assumed) predecessor to the Xenomorph.

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So David, a human invention, is the one that essentially creates the monster that will eventually haunt the corridors of the Nostromo in Alien.

Now this plot-line does actually fit pretty well into what Scott and the writers of Alien, Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, had in mind for the life-cycle of the Alien. Originally the Alien didn’t just kill people. It would also capture them in order to transform them into Eggs. Unofficially it’s called “Eggmorphing,” and was a way for the writers to create a closed loop in the Alien’s life-cycle.

This wasn’t just in original script as the scene was actually shot and edited, but was removed from the final cut due to pacing. The reason it was relatively well known publicly at the time was because the scene was written into the official novelisation by Alan Dean Moore. (Said scene would also be added into Alien: Director’s Cut (2003))

Alien fan and Editor DestronTC was good enough to put a colour and sound corrected version of the scene on Youtube, which you can watch below.

So it’s not unreasonable to assume that David somehow used that Eggmorphing method in creating the few Eggs we see in Covenant. Since the above scene makes it clear that Eggmorphing can be done with dead bodies, maybe David used a few dead Engineers to proceed in his task?

So it would seem, at least on the surface, that Scott is leaning towards the original iteration of the Alien life-cycle.

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But, to go back to Aliens, when James Cameron decided to address the origins of the Alien Egg, he chose to go in a completely different (and arguably better) direction by creating the Alien Queen.

This decision wasn’t without its critics as there were some who felt that Cameron had essentially s**t on what Scott had originally intended. Amazingly, Cameron took the time to write a 2000 word response to the main criticisms of Aliens, and which was published in science-fiction magazine Starlog. (Man, the 80s were a different time!)

[The writer’s] contention is that [The Alien Queen] destroys the original intention of the missing scene in ALIEN. This is perfectly correct, but I find it somewhat irrelevant since as an audience member and as a filmmaker creating a sequel, I can really only be responsible to those elements which actually appeared in the first film and not to its “intentions.” ALIEN screenwriter Dan O’Bannon’s proposed life cycle, as completed in the unseen scene, would have been too restricting for me as a storyteller and I would assume that few fans of ALIENS would be willing to trade the final cat-fight between the moms for a point of technical accuracy that only a microscopic percentage of ALIEN fans might be aware of.

You can read the response to other criticisms here.

So I suppose the question is: Does the Alien Queen still exist in Ridley Scott’s Alien universe? If not, does that pretty much wipe out the events of Aliens and Alien 3?

(What’s that?… No, I’ve never heard of a film called Alien Resurrection…. Nope… Never heard of it.)

To be fair, the obvious way to keep Aliens and Alien 3 canon is to have David eventually create the Alien Queen as the culmination of his search for the “Perfect Specimen.” Would Ridley Scott be willing to do this? Because so far, as demonstrated by Prometheus, he seems okay with throwing out the ideas established in most of the Alien sequels.

But is it acceptable to do that to Aliens, one of the greatest sequels of all time? Would he be doing to Cameron’s film what some people in the 80s thought Cameron was doing to Scott’s original?

Or maybe we’re being too precious? After all, the nature of art is to evolve in order to meet the changing expectations of the world around us. In the same way that Bryan Singer had no qualms about overriding X-men 1 and 2 with Days of Future Past; maybe future Alien films should do more to carve out a new existence?

Either way, we’ll probarly find out somewhere in 2019 with Ridley Scott’s followup: Alien: Awakening.


Photo Credits: Xenopedia, Alien Covenant, Youtube, Wallpaper Abyss