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‘Creed II’ (review)

Produced by Sylvester Stallone, Irwin Winkler,
Kevin King-Templeton, Charles Winkler,
William Chartoff, David Winkler

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone, Juel Taylor
Story by Sascha Penn, Cheo Hodari Coker
Based on Characters by Sylvester Stallone
Directed by Steven Caple, Jr.
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone,
Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad,
Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu

 

Creed II was way better then it had any right to be.

Creed II continues the story of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) and his search for who he is and how to come to terms with his past while looking toward an uncertain future. A theme that neatly in line with the previous film, 2015’s Creed, as well as the final Rocky film, 2006’s Rocky Balboa.

All three films follow a narrative through line of loss, reconciliation and redemption. The film picks up as Adonis Creed follows his rise to the Championship belt. His relationship with Bianca continues to grow and get serious and his relationship with Rocky couldn’t be stronger.

When he is at the top of his game, as you would expect, the threat of tumbling into oblivion is just on the other side of the summit. It arrives in the form of someone from Rocky’s past and more importantly Adonis’.

Ivan Drago.

Drago, the once champion boxer who was defeated on his homeland soil by Balboa As the person who killed Adonis’s father, Apollo Creed, Drago’s past is intertwined with Adonis’ as well.

Drago has returned, with his powerhouse boxing son, Viktor, to challenge Adonis Creed to a boxing match. Torn between his past and the honor of his father, Adonis and his family, will face a challenge that could bring them all closer together or tear them asunder. Knowing that he might share his father’s fate at the hands of this Russian tank will test the bonds he has created; the love will be questioned, and the past once again will stare both Adonis and Rocky face-to-face in the ring of life.

There is so much to unpack in this film.

I am a child of the 1980’s.

The Cold War kept me up at night.

I was an “All-American Commie Buster”. I even had a tee shirt that said so. So when I say that Rocky IV was a very important film in the creation of who I am today, it might be an understatement. When I saw that Dolph Lundgren was returning as Ivan Drago and that this film ties directly into Rocky IV I was both so on board and completely horrified that they would mess with my childhood. I was afraid that the filmmakers “wouldn’t get it”. They wouldn’t get just how the Cold War and the terror of mutual nuclear destruction weighed on the minds of everyone. How Rocky IV was the poster child of the “we must both defeat the Russians, but also find a way to get along with them as well”.

It was a very complicated time.

I am so very pleased that not only did they do the history justice, they managed to not be completely hokey and maintain both the heart and the emotion of the first Creed film, as well as the emotional weight the final Rocky film had that was an unexpected surprise.

The film is personal. From Adonis’s dealing with the death of his dad to Rocky’s torment of not throwing in the towel that could have saved his friend. Drago’s loss at the hand of Rocky in Russia with the entire Politburo watching his reputation and status be destroyed. Drago’s son, Viktor, and the pressure on him from his father and country to regain the honor of Russia. Bianca’s trying mostly not to lose Adonis to his demons. The film hits almost every level of personal element from start to finish.

New director, Steven Cable Jr. deftly picks up the reigns from Coogler and has created a beautifully shot and edited film that retains the heart of the drama as well as the emotional energy of the boxing scenes that Cooler did in the first film. Ryan Coogler is now best known for writing and directing this year’s Marvel Black Panther, which was an amazing film in of itself.

The entire cast give wonderful performances for what ostensibly is a boxing movie.

What I realized after watching Rocky Balboa twelve years ago, was that Sylvester Stallone was less interested in the boxing aspect of the films and very interested in looking at the life of the character of Rocky. These new films having him have to come to terms with his past, his very painful losses and an uncertain future, not being able to move on because he can’t let go of the past. Very much the same themes and ideas are present both in Creed II as well as in Creed. How Adonis Creed confronts almost all of the same personal demons at the beginning of his career, as opposed to Rocky at the end of his, dovetails beautifully.

I don’t think that either film would have been able to pull off the emotional depth without the phenomenal acting of Michael B. Jordan. He once again gives a powerhouse performance and it is too bad that because this is a “Rocky movie” people may overlook just how good he is as an actor in it. The rest of the cast are stellar as well. Tessa Thompson as Bianca is the perfect counterpart and counterpoint to Jordan as their lives become more and more complicated, parallel with Adonis’s fighting life. Phylicia Rashad as Mary Anne Creed, Apollo’s widowed wife is never better and as one of my fellow critics said at the end “Steals every scene she is in”. I would even go to say that Lundgren’s Ivan Drago has a depth and he gives his all in the part he originated 33 years ago.

I enjoyed the hell out of this film. It has just enough nostalgia and homages to the previous Rocky films to satiate my love of those films. It also is enough of it’s own film that I hope that this marks the end of any, if not all the nostalgia Rocky throwbacks. Future Creed films should and will now be able to stand on their own and begin to create their own mythos and history. Rocky in this film seemingly passes the torch in a scene near the end of the final fight.

This film also allows the Rocky Franchise to come full circle and rest honorably. Creed the film series, like Creed the character, can finally be at peace with the past and move forward, knowing that a whole new future lies ahead

 

 

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