Movie Review: Creed II
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PG-13 | 2h 10min
Director: Steven Caple Jr.
by Jason Koenigsberg
The Rocky Saga continues where it left off with Creed II, a sequel with some pretty big shoes to fill after Ryan Coogler’s Creed (2015) was one of the most pleasant surprises to bless cinemas in recent years. The good news is, Creed II does not disappoint… for the most part. It falls into the standard sports movie sequel trappings but never gets stuck for too long. Like our main character, the movie gets back up and finds its way out managing to entertain and enthrall audiences with genuine craftsmanship, solid performances and it never loses sight on the humanity, which makes the best films in this series so engaging.
The opening shot is a pewter figure of a pugilist. We then meet Viktor Drago, training with his father Ivan Drago played by Dolph Lundgren, reprising his star-making role from Rock IV (1985). Right after that the viewer into thrown into a title bout between Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) and the reigning champ. He wins the championship and celebrates with his trainer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, playing Rocky for the eighth time) and girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson reprising her role from Creed). Of course, the audience can guess the direction where this movie is going without a GPS. Drago’s son challenges Creed’s son to a title fight. The man who killed his father in the ring now has a chance to get redemption against his son. Rocky warns him not too, but he fights him anyway. In fact, they fight twice and the viewer can pretty much assume the outcome of both Creed Jr. vs Drago Jr. matches, but probably not with 100% certainty. However, while the fights are happening, they are emotional powerhouses. Yes Creed II suffers from the predictability of being a sequel, but it still works seamlessly and that is because this movie never loses sight of what made the Creed and Rocky great films, their balance of emotion with machismo. The script and direction of Creed II focus on the human element and the relationships between their characters more than the fighting and that is why it succeeds. The viewer is so emotionally invested in the characters that when they land punches in the fight they will want to cheer, and when they get hit and fall down, it really hurts.
All of the characters show a lot of compassion in this movie. Compassion for each other and compassion for the story being told. One might get the feeling that everyone bought into the continuing story of Adonis Creed and really believes in what they are doing, and it probably led to a lot of camaraderie on the set. Even Dolph Lundgren shows a great deal of depth and compassion in his few scenes training his son even though his Ivan Drago is primarily a one-dimensional heavy, there are even a few surprises involving his character that should not be spoiled. One of the best early scenes comes when Drago confronts Rocky at his restaurant in Philadelphia. It is the first time they have seen each other since their big fight in 1985. The tension created by their looks and dialogue was outstanding, most people will wish that scene only focused on them and was not intercut with moments of television highlights and scenes with Creed and Bianca. It was a fine moment between two iconic actors squaring off as their most famous characters but could have been much better.
Stallone is not given as much to do this time around because the story is not about his aging Rocky passing the torch to the next generation. The torch was passed in the last film and Creed II focuses on the young boxer becoming champ, staying true to himself and starting a family. This movie is an allegory about the hardships of adulthood and becoming a parent while also dealing with new responsibilities that all adults come to terms with. The soundtrack is inspired and has moments that enhance the images enough to make you want to cheer. They respectably updated Bil Conti’s ‘Gonna Fly Now’ even though the original would have sufficed. Also, the costumes stood out, in particular, Bianca’s as she stood at ringside watching her husband in a fight wearing a wardrobe very reminiscent of Talia Shire’s as Adrian. It is even topped off with a hat.
In the end Creed II is a very entertaining follow up to Creed. It does not break new ground as much as Ryan Coogler’s first film did. Perhaps if he was in the director’s chair again this sequel may have shined a little brighter but Steven Caple Jr. does a more than serviceable job taking beloved characters and bringing out the empathy in them. Creed II does justice to the themes of Creed and the Rocky Saga and is a worthy choice to see over this Thanksgiving weekend.