Creed II which opens in theaters this Wednesday, is the continuing story of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) and his pursuit to find himself against the overwhelming odds. Sylvester Stallone returns to the venerable role that he created 42 years ago.
I was nine when Rocky IV hit cinemas nearly 33 years ago. I had seen the prior three Rocky entries, but couldn’t ever keep up with the sparring matches between Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa; namely that of an underdog who comes back from the brink to be successful. I was perhaps a little bit overzealous about Rocky IV because I was at the impressionable age where what I saw on the screen was overly realistic.
It was also the first Rocky movie I saw in theaters. Apollo Creed’s death hit me, hard. Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) was a lean, mean fighting machine.
And so, it turns out, is his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu). In Creed II, which opens in theaters this Wednesday, nearly 33 years apart from the opening of Rocky IV, Steven Caple, Jr steps into the director’s chair to further the adventures of Apollo’s son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan). Sylvester Stallone returns to Adonis’s corner as “Rocky” Balboa.
The script by Sylvester Stallone and Juel Taylor, based on a story written by Sascha Penn and Cheo Hodari Coker, characters by Stallone, sees the hot headed Adonis Creed back in the ring. He is still completely devoted to Bianca Porter (Tessa Thompson). A bout in the early frames of the film sees Creed become the light heavyweight champion, something that attracts the attention of a promoter.
First time director Steven Caple, Jr who took over from Ryan Coogler offers a parallel story thread of life after defeat in Russia for Ivan and Viktor. The loss, which robbed Ivan of any chance for state sponsored matches, has hardened him into proving that he is worthy and has influenced his training of Viktor. This also has attracted the promoter’s attention. As a result, a bout is set up between Creed and Viktor, a rematch of the ill-fated match between Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago.
Camerawork in Creed II is top notch. Caple does an excellent job of putting you in the ring with Creed and Viktor. It does lend itself to a more staged look and feel than it did 33 years ago, but I could still feel the impact of each punch.
That’s the other challenge with this story. Though the players may have changed, the roles slightly altered, Creed II feels very much like an updated version of Rocky IV rather than being a sequel to either Creed or Rocky IV. The symbolism is very evident in this film as each side tries to cope with loss while rebuilding towards an explosive confrontation.
There’s nothing specifically wrong with Creed II, per se. It is the eighth entry in a series that’s been running as long as I have been alive. It is about the underdog achieving the impossible. From that perspective, this is sure to be a crowd pleaser; a popcorn flick that parents can take their children to if you don’t want to see Ralph Wrecks the Internet or Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald this weekend.
And that’s its main problem too. To bring a character back from the past, to try and paint him as the foe he once was is dangerous territory, namely because the story doesn’t narratively align with themes they raise in the film. Gone is the Olympiad-style spirit, representing each country and ideology. The spectacle is still omnipresent, but the heart seems to be lacking from this entry. Because it takes beats from what has come before, the film’s predictability factor is amped up.
I don’t think audiences, who might not have seen Rocky IV or at least haven’t seen it in a while, will mind this aspect of the film. But, it does the characters, all of them, a great disservice. I do confess to a certain sense of pride, and even satisfaction hearing the Bill Conti themes throughout the film, but much like the Adonis Creed character himself, Creed II feels lost under its own shadow.
Now in theaters, Creed II is rated PG-13.