There is something fairly essential you should know in advance of watching Creed II.
Though it is a sequel to Ryan Coogler’s highly acclaimed ‘Creed’ (2015), with all the main characters returning, it is definitely more of a sequel to ‘Rocky IV‘ (1985). So if you are unfamiliar with the fourth round or never took to the Rocky franchise in any way, I urge you to at least watch that entry, so you can benefit fully, from everything that the latest edition has to offer.
As the 8th film in the series, I now view the Rocky franchise as having split into three stables. Rocky (1976), Rocky II (1979), Rocky V (1990), and Rocky Balboa (2006) are boxing dramas, not too concerned with giving the audience a popcorn-fuelled, adrenaline drive. Whereas with Rocky III (1982) and Rocky IV, this is their very trajectory and core value, to the point that, even if you didn’t care about Rocky or boxing, you could watch these films isolated from the rest of the franchise and still be thoroughly entertained. Then cometh the Creed part of the franchise and in their observation and astuteness, they have wisely bridged the gap between the two values and it has proven to be a winning combination…again.
In the aftermath of Rocky IV, the Drago family, in particular, Ivan (Dolph Lundgren), have considerably suffered and fallen far from grace. Waiting many years in exile for a chance at redemption, the rise of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), has provided to be a potential opportunity for the Drago name to make a comeback and reclaim their honour. Reminding the world and feeding off the feud between Ivan and Adonis’ father Apollo, Ivan and self-serving promoter Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby), want Adonis to fight Viktor (Florian Munteanu) Ivan’s son. Ivan has trained Viktor himself, to destroy any opponent, but has now pinpointed the Drago focus to obliterating Adonis. In doing this, they potentially not only win the world championship belt but also poetically bring themselves back to glory.
What is interesting about the delivery of the whole premise is that there is not one single villain in the film and this is not mentioned as a bad thing, but as a mature exploration to be applauded. There is no ‘evil’ character in Creed II, twiddling the corner of their moustache, giving a maniacal laugh as lightning strikes behind them. Oh no, every main character in the film has suffered (is suffering) and is simply trying to do their best in their current situation. We see a bunch of high-functioning broken people trying to be someone in their own eyes, even if it means living through somebody else’s glory to restore their own or even pushing through the past glories of the dead, to stand separate and create their own personal legend.
Fear and failure manifest and linger as a spectre to drive everybody’s decisions in and out of the ring and this resonates through all characters including Adonis’ mother Mary Ann Creed (Phylicia Rashad) his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), father and son Drago and of course Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) who is also dealing with a personal family dilemma . Everyone is afraid of a previous legacy either being maintained or repeating itself and this drives the film throughout. As the stakes become nerve shreddingly high and history bears repeating itself in the most horrid of ways, neither side can really afford a mistake. But as each character looks to another as their North Star, will their vessels be led safely to shore or set to crash against the rocks?
Creed II is the sequel we needed. Other than packing an emotional punch, the acting is accurate and restrained, Rashad touched me the most, with her veteran acting chops as Adonis’ mum and the direction in combination with the script, doesn’t give us a poor man’s Rocky IV or what I would consider a copy. The fight choreography is clean and engrossing with some of those punch sounds so realistic they will have you holding your own body in pain. Of course, what Rocky/CreeCreed film would be complete without the training montage? Once again, there is a restraint shown through the simplicity of its execution, but the kinetic energy and rocking soundtrack will still give you goosebumps.
Creed II could have easily been a parody of Rocky IV or even a direct copy, but instead, efforts are made to understand what came before, give the right cinematic nods, but maintain the Creed mythology. Rocky as a character is also featured in just the right amounts, continuing to add to his personal legend too. Relatively unknown director Steven Caple Jr. did a very good job in reflecting on the history but delivering the future.
Review by D’Lambert Mensah
Director: Steven Caple Jr.
Writer: Sylvester Stallone
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris, Russell Hornsby, Sylvester Stallone, Andre Ward, Florian “The Big Nasty” Munteanu, Dolph Lundgren
UK release date: Friday November 30th 2018