Creed II Review
A reboot of Rocky IV?
The follow up to Creed connects with some knockout punches, even if it isn’t quite the heavyweight hitter its predecessor was…Let’s get something out of the way early. Creed II isn’t as much of a heavyweight as Creed. That’s perhaps inevitable – rare is the sequel that lives up to its predecessor – particularly as Creed was one of the best films of 2015, an artful character-driven boxing film that showed the best of director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan.
That said, Creed II is still a great addition. Fans of the Rocky franchise and boxing films in general will find everything they’re looking for here. Director Steven Caple Jr continues the honoured tradition of packing in the montages, and actual fight scenes are wonderfully executed, full of drama and action.
A good screenplay, superb performances, great camerawork and sound direction
Creed was all about Adonis (Jordan) finding his identity as a man and a fighter, and by the end he had forged a career and at least two meaningful relationships. Though Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) are still a huge part of his life in Creed II, Adonis is still conflicted – maybe even more so than before – and still clashes with his trainer. After being crowned heavyweight champion, he faces an identity crisis when he’s challenged by Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu).
You don’t really need to be a Rocky super-fan or even a recent watcher of the films to know a bit of backstory; back in the day (in Rocky IV) Adonis’ father Apollo was killed in the ring by Ivan Drago, who went on to lose to Rocky in an emotionally-charged showdown. In Creed II, we join Adonis and Bianca as their relationship develops, as Adonis is crowned heavyweight champion and as he learns that there might be more to life than belts and titles. The film uses some really smart, classic combinations – mixing life outside the ring with bloody bouts, interspersing slick training montages with emotional scenes between fighter and trainer – and emerges as a fantastic, if a little formulaic, addition to cinema’s boxing canon.
It’s certainly tough to evaluate any sequel in isolation, particularly one which is a follow-up to what was an unexpected gem. It’s almost a shame that this film didn’t come first, as it’s a very well-made, well-acted and entertaining addition to Rocky lore. It’s not that Caple Jr wasn’t the right choice – he does a fantastic job here, getting outstanding performances from his cast and putting together a compelling blockbuster that’s already a huge Box Office hit – it’s that Coogler’s impact with the new direction Creed was so singular that it’s difficult not to compare and contrast.
What it does have, in spades, is heart. A sweeping score, good ol’ Sly, a compelling Tessa Thompson and another knockout performance from Jordan make this a terrific watch
One of the best things about Creed was how real it seemed – it was gritty, bringing a new perspective to a weathered franchise, and bore elements of the harsh verisimilitude so celebrated in works like The Wire. The 2015 film felt like a new spin on Rocky; this movie somehow just feels like a reboot of Rocky IV. In harking back to one of the seminal moments of the Rocky franchise, Creed II plunges full force into the world of the Rocky sequels, in a way that renders it seemingly less sombre and impactful than its predecessor.
Creed II’s screenplay, penned by Juel Taylor and Stallone, jabs and pokes at the concept of emotional fragility – now that Adonis is a champion fighter, is that enough? As he’s grappling with his inner demons and learning how to accept himself and his past, Adonis is thrust further into a world of responsibility with Bianca and a burgeoning family. His emotional struggle, character development and relationship struggles bring nuance to the film, and it’s almost a shame the boxing gets so much in the way, allowing little time to delve deeper.
As with any given Rocky franchise film, the ostensible core of the thing is inspiring training montages and full-blooded fight scenes; though the real beating heart of the film can be found at home, as Adonis and Bianca navigate their relationship.
In fact, Creed II’s willingness to bound wholeheartedly into the Rocky mindset – all raw eggs and punching bag montages – means that some of the most compelling elements of the film (notably the Adonis/Bianca and Ivan/Viktor relationships) aren’t given quite enough time to be explored. Bianca’s hearing-loss subplot from the first Creed film is replaced with a new story, and there’s a lot less tenderness and quiet emotional scenes between the couple – where the hair-braiding scene in Creed spoke to the emotional intelligence and identity of that film, here the focus on the old Rocky/Creed/Drago saga cements Creed II as very much a Rocky film.
What it does have, in spades, is heart. A sweeping score, good ol’ Sly, a compelling Tessa Thompson and another knockout performance from Jordan make this a terrific watch.
It might not be a total knockout, but Creed II certainly goes the distance
Credit has to go to Caple Jr and his cast for keeping these characters and these stories as compelling as they are; even after all this time, seeing Sly as Rocky can bring a lump to even the most cynical film buff’s throat. Indeed, hard-core Rocky fans will doubtless enjoy the extra Sly screentime in this film compared to Creed; where the Coogler film focussed heavily on Adonis’s growth as a person, Caple Jr’s film spends a significant amount of time centred in on Rocky’s development. From the brash fighter he once was, he’s become a level-headed and Yoda-like trainer, and is effectively pitched in contrast to Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago, who pushes his son to the limits in the ringside version of the most intense pageant mom.
Technically excellent, this is a more than creditable addition to the annals of Rocky history. Though elements of the story could have used a little more exploration, the film’s bones are sound, added to by a good screenplay, superb performances, great camerawork and sound direction. It doesn’t quite pack the emotional and gritty punch of Creed, but it’s a very good boxing film, one of the most entertaining films of the year, and demonstrates Caple Jr’s exciting potential.
It might not be a total knockout, but Creed II certainly goes the distance.
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