Review: “Creed II”

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I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving yesterday!

The Best Picture winning “Rocky” has spawned many sequels over the years, but with the series’ popularity weaning MGM, New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. decided to reboot the series with a new lead, an apprentice to Rocky named Adonis Creed, the son of one of the franchise’s most popular characters Apollo Creed. And thus, a new franchise was born with the 2015 “Creed” being a massive hit and spawning award season buzz. So, it was natural that a sequel would follow and many expected it to connect the story of the younger Creed to his father’s legacy even more. That’s exactly what we got with “Creed II” which builds on the younger Creed’s journey by pitting him against the son of his father’s killer Ivan Drago. With such an epic rematch as it’s base and an amazing predecessor to succeed does “Creed II” live up to expectations? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Creed II”.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT

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“Creed II” picks up three years after the original film and finds Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) at the peak of his career having become one of the most formidable boxers in the world. After reaching a career-defining milestone Creed is challenged by Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) who killed Creed’s father Apollo in the ring during the events of “Rocky IV”. The Dragos have trained for years awaiting the moment to step back into the spotlight to reclaim their glory and the love of their country as their lives fell apart after Ivan’s defeat at the hands of Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) who continues to train Adonis. With the world demanding Creed and Drago face off to settle the score Creed must come to grips with his own legacy and his father’s while also preparing to start a family with his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson). As the film progresses the stakes at hand for both Creed and Drago are laid out as both fighters prepare for a legacy rematch 33-years in the making.

 

THE POSITIVES

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“Creed II” for me was highly entertaining. I loved the first “Creed” but I will admit it was a bit slow for my liking. “Creed II” on the other hand moves fast and doesn’t pull any punches, pun intended, in showing us the struggles Adonis Creed has to deal with even as his career has reached a peak of success. The story in this film is pretty basic and it’s one a lot of fans hoped we would see adapted in one of these sequels. Creed must face off against the son of his father’s killer in the ultimate battle of pride. In lesser hands this story could have been incredibly simple and cliché but with Sylvester Stallone and Juel Taylor writing the screenplay and director Steven Caple, Jr. (in only his second film direction credit) taking over for Ryan Coogler “Creed II” not only finds its own identity but gives us a complex and layered narrative that balances the stakes of both sides of the equation nicely. What I mean is this isn’t just a story about Creed. We also get some detail about his opponent Viktor Drago who is far from a one-dimensional villain. Drago’s motivations are similar to Creed’s in that he is seeking redemption for his family. With that in mind when the final battle does come to pass the stakes are high for both fighters. I genuinely found myself feeling for both warriors as losing has implications for either of them. It’s not just a nameless boxer taking on the male lead, these are two men fighting for their pride and it FEELS like we’re watching their internal battles collide with every physical blow.

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With that said the fighting is also well choreographed. I felt every blow and cringed when punches made contacts in pretty much every fight. I had a similar reaction to the fighting in the first “Creed” and while the camerawork isn’t a flashy or smooth in “Creed II” I still found myself fully invested in every bout and the bodily harm being inflicted not only on Creed but his opponents as well. It looks painful, it looks raw and a lot of the time it feels like these fights are actually happening. What’s more the stakes never overshadow the action. As I said the fighters are so layered that it’s easy to appreciate what each of them are fighting for but that added drama only makes the fights better. I was afraid these inner conflicts would actually bog down the battles and makes them a little too overdramatic but thankfully I was wrong. There’s a perfect balance of drama and action throughout the film and I was invested from the first shot to the last. Even as predictable as some of the story can be, I was genuinely intrigued by how everything would play out, who would win and how they would do it. To put it simply “Creed II” is a cinematic “experience” and rivals its predecessor in nearly every way, in some ways even proving to me even more interesting and enthralling.

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This is all supported by impressive performances from pretty much everyone involved who help give this film great emotional weight and energy the whole way through. Michael B. Jordan continues to prove why he is one of the brightest young actors of today picking up right where he left off with his career-making role as Adonis Creed showing the young fighter to still be a cocky and confused warrior trying to find his own place in the world and define his own legacy. His girlfriend Bianca is once again portrayed by the talented Tessa Thompson who also continues her own career-making role by building on her partially-deaf songstress’ legacy as she has to juggle building a family and devoting herself to a competitive boxer. Sylvester Stallone may not have as much to do in this movie but he’s still a highlight of the film while the Dragos, played by Dolph Lundgren and Florain Munteanu, are portrayed as spectacularly human antagonists who are memorable and worthy of the legacy the Drago character established in his first appearance years ago. The whole cast feels committed and bring life to every character in a story that feels so familiar but also feels so appropriate and fresh at the same time.

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When it comes down to it I think the biggest positive of “Creed II” is the fact that while the first movie was a great film that established a new foundation for the long running franchise I actually did enjoy “Creed II” more. I feel this sequel has more energy, higher stakes, an overall more complex and enjoyable story and a more exciting battle that feels much more fitting of Creed’s own individual journey while also connecting appropriately to the “Rocky” film continuity. While on the surface it would be easy to write this film off as an easy cash grab living off of the legacy of the past it never feels like it’s trying to be “Rocky IV” or even a direct sequel to that film. Like the character that gives the movie its name trying to followup his own father’s legacy “Creed II” feels like a story all its own and one worth experiencing rather than a cheap knockoff or a pandering mess. In this day and age where many familiar storylines are getting long sought-after continuations “Creed II” is a more than worthy entry in a promising spin-off franchise.

 

THE NEGATIVES

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While “Creed II” is not only a solid sequel but also a solid picture on its own there were a few negatives worth pointing out, the biggest of which for me being the Rocky B-story. I already complimented Stallone on his performance so my issue isn’t with his portrayal of Rocky. On the contrary, he’s actually once again very good as the retired boxer turned trainer of Adonis Creed and his involvement in the previous battles with Drago make him a significant part of Creed’s story. What bothered me was that Rocky was given his own story and conflict similar to his cancer diagnosis in the first “Creed” film. However, where that story felt necessary this story, which sees Rocky struggle with not having a relationship with his son, feels incredibly forced and out of place. It feels like this story was inserted into the film to give Rocky something to do other than stand aside and let Creed grow. It adds nothing to Rocky’s own investment in the showdown which in itself was a perfectly acceptable conflict for Rocky to embrace more than family drama. In my opinion it fails to add anything to the story and always feels out of place as a glaring add on to a narrative that didn’t really need any added drama to be an effective story.

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But even as good as the primary story is there’s always an overarching predictability about it. A lot of this movie goes exactly where you expect it to go which can make it feel very formulaic to some viewers who may be looking for something that takes more chances or tries something a little more unique. That’s what made the first “Creed” movie so good after all. While it also had some familiarity a lot of the story elements from the first movie were more creative and unique whereas this sequel does tend to play it safe in terms of story and structure. It’s hard to discuss this in full without going into spoiler territory so I’ll just say that I saw many of the twists and turns of the narrative coming a mile away. That didn’t make them any less enjoyable to watch. In fact it’s a credit to the writing, direction and acting that even when I knew what was going to happen it was still exciting to see HOW it would happen. It did however take just a LITTLE bit of the fun out of the adventure seeing as it really was easy to predict how things would play out just by watching how the story unfolds. As formulaic as it is however “Creed II” is still on par with its predecessor and in some ways even better in my eyes so if you loved the first movie or even just liked “Creed” this follow-up will keep you just as invested despite its predictability.

 

CONCLUSION

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“Creed II” is as entertaining a sequel as you can get for a movie like “Creed”. It’s fun, emotionally driven and very well acted making it an experience that’s easy to invest in and enjoy from start to finish. The fighting is intense and well-choreographed, the characters are well defined and even the villains are made delightfully human by having their own stakes in the showdown that the entire film builds up to. There are some blemishes including an unneeded B-story for Rocky and an unavoidable predictability due to the nature of the story, but this doesn’t stop “Creed II” from being an enjoyable and solid thrill ride filled with great character moments and engaging storytelling. Whether you’re looking for the long-awaited conclusion to the showdown of “Rocky IV” or a great continuation to the story that started with “Creed” this movie hits all the right marks and, in my opinion, is not only one of the best sequels of 2018 but one of the most enjoyable live-action sequels of the entire decade so far.

 

GRADE: 5-stars4

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