Creed II

2018-11-30 06:42
 
Michael B. Jordan in a scene from Creed II.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

With Rocky Balboa in his corner, Adonis Creed has lived up to his father’s good name as the heavyweight champion of the world, while his personal life is no less rosy as he proposes to his longtime girlfriend, Bianca. When the past comes crashing into his life with a challenge to his title by Viktor Drago, the son of the man who killed his father, Ivan Drago, Adonis comes face to face with a chance for revenge but one that may cost him everything he has.

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

Seen widely as a return to form for the Rocky franchise – completely wrongly as it so happens: the sixth instalment and Creed’s predecessor, Rocky Balboa, was excellent – Creed was less of a spinoff than a continuation of the story of Rocky Balboa but with a perspective shift to Michael B Jordan’s Adonis Creed. As the son of Rocky’s rival/ close friend, Apollo Creed, Adonis was the perfect character to give the series a fresh coat of paint, even as it remained entirely true to what came before. 

Creed was a triumph specifically because it balanced its status as a reboot, continuation and tribute to the Rocky series as it returned the series to its roots as a fairly intimate portrait of a regular working-class kid, climbing his way to the top. With little of the b-movie cheesiness that made most of the Rocky sequels so much fun but so obviously inferior to the original, Creed gave us an impressively melancholy look at Rocky as he enters the early stages of old age and gave us a new hero to root for, but one with a very familiar name. Adonis Creed himself was, to be sure, a bit of a punk who was as arrogant as Rocky was humble but with Michael B Jordan’s natural charm shining through, he still managed to win over both the audience and his frankly too-good-for-him girlfriend, Bianca (the quite terrific Tessa Thompson).

With original director, Robert Coogler, off making a mega-successful movie about a certain feline-themed superhero, relative newcomer, Steven Caple Jr, takes over the reins for Creed II and he does an admirable but flawed job following up on the events of Creed. Working off a script co-written by Cheo Hodari Coker and Sly Stallone himself, Caple’s Creed II is most obviously a sequel to the gloriously cheesy Rocky IV but it suffers mostly from the same flaws as Rocky II, with some of the weaker aspects of Creed along for the ride too.

Rocky II was a bit of an odd film that, though largely good, suffered from falling between the humble indie-spirit of the first film and the b-movie shenanigans that made Rocky III and IV so much fun. It was a very solid film that suffered from not being as purely enjoyable as its first two sequels or as flat-out brilliant as its predecessor. Rocky Balboa – AKA Rocky VI – actually did manage this particular balancing act and is a large part of why it’s still the second best film in the series, incidentally.

In terms of plot, Creed II obviously follows up on Creed but it’s a pretty direct sequel to Rocky IV too with Ivan Drago returning as the snarling villain of the piece and Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed casting a long shadow over the proceedings.  We even get a cameo from Drago’s (and Stallone’s real life) ex-squeeze, Brigitte Nielson, in full on-icicle mode! The problem is that, while Rocky IV was unabashedly silly – easily the silliest of the Rocky franchise, in fact – there is a dourness to Creed II that doesn’t sit entirely well with what came before; a tonal uneasiness that is like Rocky II but far more pronounced. It’s plot too is far too rote and predictable to deserve so po-faced a treatment.

Though the film begins and ends well, Creed II drags in the middle as we find out that a beaten-down Adonis Creed is one hell of a lot less sympathetic than a beaten-down Rocky Balboa. The biggest problem with the first film is that, though Adonis is a perfectly decent character, he is completely blown off the screen by Stallone’s Rocky, who, even all these years later, remains one of the greatest underdog characters in cinema history and Stallone’s defining role. Rather than solving this problem, Creed II doubles down on it by not only having Adonis overshadowed once again by Rocky to an even greater extent but by having the constant references to Apollo Creed reminding us that, say what you want about Michael B Jordan, Adonis has barely a fraction of the wit and charming swagger of his father. Honestly, he hews just a bit too closely to the angry young black man stereotype for comfort.          

All that said, though, there is still enough that’s good about Creed II to recommend it to long-time Rocky fans and more casual viewers alike. Stallone continues to be fantastic as Rocky and there are some top-notch supporting performances from Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad as Adonis’ mother, Mary Anne Creed. Neither Drago are particularly interesting as characters but are immense physical presences in the film and make for excellent antagonist/ baddies for our hero to overcome. Real-life boxer, Florian Munteanu, in particular, does plenty with his sheer physicality to overcome his character’s stoic personality. 

Creed II also features one of series’ very best fights in its final act; a brilliantly choreographed, action-packed climax that almost makes up for the clunkiness and dullness of the film’s middle section. The score too, by Ludwig Goransson, does plenty of the heavy lifting as he mixes his What’s-It-All-About-Alfie Creed theme with refrains from the original Rocky score and some very fine original music. And, of course, once the Rocky theme kicks in fully later on in the film, it’s absolutely impossible not to be utterly swept away by it. The generic hip-hop songs do let the side down somewhat as they ain’t exactly Eye of the Tiger but Creed II is a good reminder of the importance of music in film.

For all that doesn’t work about it, then, Creed II gets by on some great fight scenes, a killer score, heavy doses of nostalgia and the continued greatness of Stallone as Rocky. Something does need to be done about Adonis Creed himself, though, if the series is to continue on to greater heights. 



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