Creed II

Creed II isn’t as impressive as its predecessor, but it’s a film Rocky fans cannot miss.

At a time when Hollywood is increasingly dependent on CGI fueled blockbusters about saving the world (is it seven superhero films for 2018?), it’s always a joy when an old franchise has something new to offer, much like an unexpected visit from an old friend. Right from the first Rocky film in 1976, almost every film in the franchise has managed to raise a lump in your throat. That’s because the Rocky films, though fictional, have maintained an almost true to life timeline of characters for over two generations. Fans will also tell you that the Rocky films, especially the first two, were less about boxing and more about two conflicted individuals who find happiness and then closure in each other. Somewhere along, we felt a kinship while forgetting that these were just characters played by actors. Then came Creed, an unexpected but wonderful film that many believed to be a spin-off in the right direction. But as much as we enjoyed that film, little did we know (or even foresee) that this was the padded beginning of the end of a beloved 40-year-old franchise.

Part of what made Creed immensely watchable was the gaping wounds in Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed. This sequel digs deeper into those wounds and even rubs it with salt. But those wounds don’t belong to Donnie alone. Opening in Ukraine, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) – the former Russian boxer who left Apollo dying in Rocky’s arms in Rocky IV – is training his son Victor for a grudge match against Donnie. Whatever political undertone there was in the Raegan era 1985 film is left unexplored, instead, we are given to understand that Drago has been living in scorn for the last 30 odd years. Following the defeat at the end of Rocky IV, his wife left him and Victor, and the USSR has despised him for losing to the Americans. His only chance at redeeming himself is by using Victor to challenge Donnie, who is now the new WBC Heavyweight Champion. Although clearly outmatched in strength, height, reach and even weight, Donnie accepts the challenge. Eye for an eye maybe, but a recipe for disaster as Rocky puts it.

While Creed II might seem like a double-edged revenge film at first, its true intention is more about closure. New director Steven Caple Jr. gives this film a visual grandiose that surpasses its predecessor but only so much. It’s bigger, longer, meaner, and stitched together with narrative clichés, but also reminds us of the frailty of relationships. This is well appointed in the effortless chemistry between Jordan and Thompson (returning as girlfriend Bianca) and between Jordan and Stallone in several scenes. Yet, the best and most tense moment in the film is a sort of face-off between Stallone and Lundgren at Rocky’s restaurant. Drago blames Rocky for ruining his life. He also notices there are no pictures of him or the fight in Russia on the restaurant wall. For just a moment, you think they will pummel each other again. The story captures a lot of mental and emotional turmoil in Drago, who is thankfully not the campy villain he was in Rocky IV but a man who must make things right for himself and his son. So much so, ‘Drago’ would have been an apt title for this film.

Ryan Coogler’s Creed was a near masterpiece in not only reviving an ageing franchise, but also giving it a fresh new narrative. The fight scenes were tense and exceptional, a feat Coogler repeated with Jordan in Black Panther. The fight scenes in this sequel are satisfying at best, safe at worst. To be fair, sophomore director Caple Jr. had big shoes to fill, and it shows. Like Rocky II before, Creed II has its merits but also its flaws. It also shows that this is a film written and produced in the way fans would expect. While this could spawn a whole new generation of fans, there’s also a danger to the original franchise. The danger is that we may never see Rocky (the character) again and as played by Stallone. If that happens, this film would be Stallone’s last outing as Rocky. And if that’s the case, most viewers won’t see it coming or they completely ignored a swan song in favour of fan service. Either way, not to be missed for Stallone alone. Good bye Rocky!

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.