The Name. The History. The Feud.
Steven Caple Jr
Starting at the top, Creed II opens with Adonis Creed [Jordan] winning his heavyweight championship match to truly earn his place as his father’s successor. He proposes to his girlfriend Bianca Taylor [Thompson] but Is reluctant to move to Los Angeles and leave Philadelphia and trainer, Rocky Balboa [Stallone], behind. Having achieved the pinnacle of boxing, Creed learns of a young Russian boxer who challenges him to a fight, this man is Viktor Drago [Munteanu] who is being trained by his father Ivan Drago [Lundgren], the man who killed Apollo Creed in the ring. Against advice and better judgement, Adonis lashes out at his friends and family and, charged with emotion, accepts the grudge match.
Creed II picks up the franchise’s thematic baton, addressing the concepts of legacies, fatherhood and meritocracy while continuing to explore how our past experiences shape who we become as adults. But this shouldn’t come as any surprise as this release largely follows the established Rocky/boxing film formula to the degree that within the first twenty minutes, it’s very easy to map out how the film will unfold – but more on that later. What’s interesting is that the screenplay leans into the canon of the story, knowing full-well what it is and injects a seriousness to the now-campy 80s melodrama. But as with the six Rocky films of the past (more specifically the first four sequels) with every passing instalment, this franchise is tempting fate. Overall, Creed II says a lot and gives us a nice rounding out of these newly introduced characters but the more they stick around, the more regurgitation and re-treading of the same ground we are subjected to and the veneer quickly wears off. In other words, I kinda hope this is the last Rocky/Creed film but I doubt it will be.
As with Creed this film is carried by the magnificent, compelling performances. From an artistic level we always analyse Jordan’s ability to emote and give us a very real and powerful performance; and rightly so. The scene alone wherein Adonis is watching his new-born daughter’s test results and manages to convey so much without dialogue, separated from his fiancée by a viewing window, it’s spectacular acting. But not enough is said about how convincing the fights look and the training and the sheer physicality of Jordan’s performance. The choreography is amazing, the physical drain on the man is palpable and the toll of this life is more than evident in every scene. Arguably, any actor can bulk up and scream at a wall while throwing punches, few can make you believe someone is truly in this life. Equally, Tessa Thompson proves once again that she is one of the most important rising stars of the last five years, bringing so much class and heart to every role she takes on, outshining the restrictions of the character and cementing herself as a formidable presence.
Another interesting inclusion is the inevitable Drago storyline; considering how Apollo Creed was killed in the ring, a confrontation between a Creed and a Drago was inescapable. I was, however, pleasantly surprised that the Dragos are significantly more nuanced, rather than simply offered up as sneering foreign bad guys. Here we have two men who are just as layered and compelling as Creed and Balboa, with their own trials, tribulations, points to prove and obstacles to overcome; even if it does follow a lot of the beats from Iron Man 2. As mentioned earlier, the film leans into the silliness of the 80s and flips the expectations. When Ivan Drago was introduced in Rocky IV, he didn’t really have much of a character or personality, he was just the Russian opponent whose coaching was largely reliant on cutting edge technology. Here, he is a man rejected by his country, living in exile, weighing heavily on his son, offering us a look into a potential life that Adonis could have potentially endured.
Setting aside all the noteworthy components, there are two key factors that knock this film down and relegate it to acceptable status. The first is Caple Jr’s direction. Before we go any further, I should point out that Caple Jr does a commendable job with what he is given. There are plenty of examples of really impressive and inventive camera work and performance coaching that deserves credit. The problem is, he’s following Ryan Coogler and even with everything firing as planned, it lacks that distinct flare and skill that makes Coogler such a standout force. While I could let this slide and the film would be a solid 4/5, not enough can be said about the predictability of this film absolutely killing all possible tension and reward. I mentioned earlier that within the first twenty minutes you can tell how the film is going to unfold and it utterly cripples what this film could be. I will admit that this is true of most sports movies, especially sequels, but there is so little new ground explored (other than adding a semblance of depth to the “villain”) that Creed II fails to inspire as much emotional momentum and pay-off as its predecessor.
Picking up where Creed left off, this is a very solid edition to the franchise and deserves its place along with the other Rocky sequels as praiseworthy sports drama but unless they can produce a story that is so fresh and innovative, this might be the last time we need to visit this generation-spanning tale.
30th November 2018
The Scene To Look Out For:
There are plenty of little vignettes and moments that really stick with you in this film. Not all of them are especially revolutionary but they stay with you all the same. One montage that I particularly enjoyed is Bianca heading out and leaving Adonis in charge of their daughter. It’s admittedly fairly cliché but Adonis scrambling around, desperately trying to get his daughter to stop crying is very endearing (most notably when he’s on the phone to his mother) and as a kid growing up with his own abandonment issues surrounding his father, it’s a nice character building point.
While the Dragos are given personality, there’s still an underdeveloped side that is played up as important without enough evidence to justify it. In other words, not enough was done with Brigitte Nielsen’s cameo. So, Nielsen has a brief returning role as Ivan’s former wife and Viktor’s mother. At the start of the film it’s clear she is no longer in their life but it’s never expressly stated what happened. Then we learn that she simply abandoned them to stay in Russia while Ivan and Viktor lived in Ukraine. What we feel is building to an emotional confrontation is little more than two scenes, wherein Nielsen turns up, smirks then exits. It still has an impact on the agency of the characters but she’s not a person; it’s just a little weird. On the opposite end of the spectrum, bringing Milo Ventimiglia back to tie this movie into Rocky Balboa was both a nice touch and decent bookend to Rocky’s story. Although saying this is Stallone’s final appearance as Rocky Balboa is always a 50/50 coin toss.
“Are you here to prove something to other people or prove something to yourself?”
In A Few Words:
“There is nothing in this film that we haven’t seen before in a Rocky sequel but its execution is pleasing enough to earn its place as a solid continuation of the saga”