By Jack Dignan
In Cinemas November 29th
It’s a testament to the Rocky franchise that, after all these years, the films still manage to pack a punch. Despite what many would deem a franchise with little wriggle room, we’re eight films into the beloved, Oscar-winning franchise, now having successfully passed the mantle onto young Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordon), son of former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed who, many years ago, died at the hands of Ivan Drago. It was the fight that shaped Adonis’ legacy, and it’s the fight that’s about to come back and haunt the man he’s now become.
Adonis is at the top of his game. He’s the world champion, training under the guidance of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), and starting to raise a family with the love of his life Bianca (Tessa Thompson). But just when he thought he had it all, along comes the son of Drago, Viktor (played by real-life boxer Florian Munteanu). For the first time in over thirty years, it’s Creed vs. Drago - the rematch of the century. But as the stakes get bigger and the beef becomes more aggressive, it transforms into a fight that’ll come with great personal costs to both opponents.
While the first Creed film took a deeply personal look at living up to a legacy that’s burdened you your entire life, utilizing unavoidable sports movie tropes in ways that made it feel fresh and unexpected, Creed II takes things back to the style of the Rocky sequels. It’s not necessarily a silly movie, and there’s certainly no robot butlers or exaggerated superhuman opponents (although I feel my masculinity will implode once I find out how much Munteanu can bench press), but it doesn’t feel quite as intimate as the previous installment.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I suppose, so while this boxing sequel doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it moulds it perfectly to make for a substantial sequel that still knows exactly the right moves to make. Similar themes of family and legacy carry over, but they’re deepened in the most emotional of ways. Given the early nature of the screening I attended, a security guard was present for the entirety of the film. At one point I looked over towards him and saw as he wiped away a tear running down his cheek.
So while the screenplay, co-written by Stallone and first time writer Juel Taylor, follows an incredibly predictable narrative, it utilises only the best of the Rocky clichés and makes for a entertaining, nail biting sports event elevated by a triumphant sense of style and even more spectacular, emotionally grounded performances from the entire cast. Much like the first Creed film, Stallone’s performance feels bittersweet, but in a whole new way that I don’t wish to spoil. While they don’t share much screen time, it’s also exciting to have Drago back in the mix, who is, along with his son, just as terrifying as he was in Rocky IV.
However, it’s Michael B. Jordon who dominates every second he spends on screen. There’s a terrifying determination and built up anger that comes rising up in every boxing much, so much so that more often than not, this anger results in a misstep in performance (character wise, not acting). It’s fierce and frightening and Jordon has never been better. But what grounds his character in reality is the emotional core he shares with Tessa Thompson. Some of their heavier moments are genuinely upsetting to watch, and I’m sure my security guard would agree with that.
Indie director Steven Caple Jr. attacks the audience with a visceral style necessarily for a film like this one. The boxing matches are brutal. Nothing tops that one-shot fight from the first film, and you certainly know how every single fight is going to play out, but that doesn’t stop Caple from giving it his all and knowing when not to pull his punches. The new Drago is an absolute machine, and oh boy, you’re going to feel every blow he delivers. Also, Tessa Thompson gets two musical numbers, and if that isn’t enough to get butts in seats I don’t know what will.
In the famous words of Rocky Balboa, “it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving toward.” With Creed II, the franchise certainly takes a slight hit, but if audiences turn up to watch it, which I certainly hope they do (although PSA time – Widows is also playing, so why not make it a double feature?), then I’d definitely watch four more of these films. And I definitely see them finding the perfect footing again. It happens in literally every Rocky film, but when that theme song kicks in at just the right moment, I’ll never not giggle with glee.
3 1/2 Stars
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