Creed II

by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday November 20, 2018

'Creed II'
'Creed II'  

Sequels often have one predecessor to live up to, but in the case of "Creed II", we are witnessing both the follow-up to 2015's "Creed" and the eighth entry in the "Rocky" franchise. It's a film tasked with continuing to build upon its prototype's new legacy without diminishing the legendary status of its thematic blueprint.

Before the opening title card hits the screen in "Creed II," we see the face of Dolph Lundgren's Ivan Drago, the sour-faced Russian boxer who Rocky Balboa defeated in "Rocky IV." Drago, of course, more notably killed Apollo Creed in the ring during the franchise's fourth film, an occurrence that resurfaces in "Creed II" through what is perhaps the easiest and silliest plot device imaginable.

By showing us Drago first, the first thing we see in "Creed II" is not the eponymous boxer, but rather the number that follows him. The film tells us immediately what we already know: This is most certainly a sequel. And there's no denying that it's hard for this followup to escape the shadow of Ryan Coogler's franchise-rejuvenating, yet wholly original, masterwork; the 2015 reboot interwove heart, thrills, engaging characters and strong ideas with ease, culminating in an overwhelmingly emotional finale that had me weeping buckets. To follow a film as poignantly rich as the original "Rocky" is to face the same problems encountered by "Rocky II," and "Creed II" falls in line with this mirror image every step of the way.

The plot is bigger here. It ties in Ivan and his son, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), who together challenge Adonis "Donnie" Creed (Michael B. Jordan) to a match where Creed's championship belt and vulnerable ties to the father he never knew are at stake in equal measure. Donnie, as one would expect based on his ego and emotional walls, insists on taking the fight as if it were an act of duty. His trainer and friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), is hesitant about taking on the rumble, as are Creed's girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and mother, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). As an audience, we obviously know that the destined toe-to-toe is going to happen, and the steps to getting there are, for the most part, predictable.

It doesn't diminish the film's enjoyability and entertainment value, however, as "Creed II" is still an engaging affair on many levels. The work's emotional strengths originate in and transfer over from previous films, as was also true for the 2015 film because so much of what makes the "Creed" franchise work is the characters and our attachments to them. Those who felt for Adonis, Bianca and Rocky in the first film will find that it's near impossible not to be invested in their plights this time around, even if those predicaments are at the service of a lesser script. Rocky, especially, is written and acted with care by Sylvester Stallone, to the point where an entire world of feeling can be interpreted through the old man's eyes. Stallone's performance here is strong, as are the efforts of everyone, so it's a shame that the story doesn't give its characters as many emotional authenticities as Coogler's film did.

Certain scenes feel artificial in their soul-baring, but it feels more at the fault of the writing as opposed to the respectable work by director Steven Caple Jr., his second feature film, and the cast's powerful performances across the board. "Creed II" reflects a handful of thematic parallels to Caple's first film, 2016's "The Land," but the filmmaker seems in over his head with a larger budget and grander production. This is especially true during scenes within the ring. Long gone are Coogler's thrilling directorial flourishes and stunning camerawork by Maryse Alberti, replaced by fight sequences that don't quite pack the same punch. Returning to the film is composer Ludwig Göransson, who crafts as stirring of a score as he did the first time, but it's difficult to deny that these musical motifs carry less weight this time around.

It's the same old tune, yet the imposing orchestrations of the first film have been replaced by something resembling a really good rendition of your favorite song during karaoke night. It's definitely not the original, nor will it ever be, but it's still enjoyable to endure. There's just no escaping that shadow.


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