REVIEW: “Creed II”

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One of my biggest regrets of 2018 was missing “Creed II” in the theaters. The first film was a wonderful surprise. At first I didn’t buy into the idea of a “Rocky” spin-off focused on Apollo Creed’s son. It turns out I was selling short both Ryan Coogler as a writer-director and Michael B. Jordan as an actor. They actually had a good story to tell and it was one of my favorite films of 2015.

“Creed II” features most of the key elements that made its predecessor great. Ryan Coogler who wrote and directed the first film isn’t here for the sequel but the deeply grounded and character-centered approach he used definitely returns. Yes, it’s a boxing movie so there are certain sequences you know you’re going to get. But this is first and foremost a movie about its characters and the lives they live.

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As if we needed more proof, “Creed II” cements Michael B. Jordan as an all-out star. He returns as Adonis Creed, three years removed from the events of the first film and now on a streak of significant boxing wins that puts him in line for a title shot. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) still sits in his corner and his relationship with girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) has intensified.

Meanwhile in the Ukraine we see Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) training and handily winning a series of lopsided boxing matches. If that last name sounds familiar, it should. Viktor is the son of Ivan Drago (a returning Dolph Lundren) who killed Adonis’ father in the ring over thirty years earlier. Ivan then lost to Rocky earning the scorn of the entire Soviet government. See where this is going?

Adonis gets his title shot and wins the WBC World Heavyweight Championship. On top of the boxing world, he proposes to Bianca and the two contemplate leaving Philly for Los Angeles. The Dragos get word from an opportunistic promoter (Russell Hornsby) that Apollo Creed’s son is champion leading them to come to the States and issue a challenge to Adonis. Rocky wants no part of it which infuriates the bull-headed Adonis who sets out to fight Viktor Drago without his mentor in his corner. Gulp!

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“Creed II” is very much an underdog story in the vein of most other “Rocky” pictures. But as I mentioned it’s much more interested in what makes these characters tick. New director Steven Caple Jr. understands that and he never loses that focus. The script was co-written by Stallone and Juel Taylor who plant most things firmly in the real world. This adds real consequences to the boxing matches as well as deep personal conflicts. That is until the big final fight when several of the characters who were once deeply concerned weirdly toss that aside and get onboard without a hint of conflict.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of “Creed II” is that you don’t feel the absence of Ryan Coogler. That’s not a knock on Coogler, but high praise for Caple, Jr. It helps to have a stellar returning cast (I didn’t even mention Phylicia Rashad who is back as Adonis’ mother. She’s so good). It all makes for a truly satisfying sequel and a second installment to a spin-off franchise that I never expected to be this good.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4-stars

14 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Creed II”

  1. Pace got a bit slow at times but that’s a minor quibble. Really enjoyed it. Couldn’t find the quote for my blog but I loved the boxing promoter too. That line about there being x number of heavyweight champions but how many are known by the public. And you’re so right about the mum. Steals the scenes she’s in.

    • If you think about it this could have been such a terrible spin-off series. So many ways it could have went wrong. But it has turned into one of my biggest surprises.

  2. Oooh I just saw this the other day and REALLY loved it! I don’t even like boxing movies but since I like the first one I thought I’d enjoy this one. I think it’s even better than the first, or at least equal. I like that the film showed Drago’s side of the story and not paint him as a monster. It actually made the film more intriguing overall.

    • I think that’s a testament to how good these two films have been. You don’t even need to like boxing. So much emphasis is put on the human element and it really pays off.

  3. I never thought that the kid from All My Children, The Wire, and Chronicle (though around this time and Fruitvale Station, he was starting to really showcase his talent), would be an A-list star. MBJ has it all, the chops, the charisma, and the aesthetics.

    This takes a step back for me but that was almost a certainty after Creed. I do like the elevated roles Rashad and Harris have, and they did do a great job humanizing Drago. Where it falls just slightly short imo is its craftsmanship (the boxing scenes are good, more “Fight-Nightish than I personally would like, slightly less smooth), and some awkward dialogue here and there; I feel like you can feel Sly’s presence on the script in a mixed way that wasn’t necessarily there from the predecessor.

    Still, a winning sequel. I do struggle to see where they could go from here though to still make a fulfilling next installment. So much I feel tied up beautifully here.

    • Not as good as the original but not too far behind it. One of the things that felt off to me was how easy everyone got onboard for his rematch. It seemed to go against every bit of reasoning we saw earlier in the film. Still really enjoy these characters.

  4. Nice review Keith. This worked very well for me and I don’t know how or why. I guess there’s just something about the Rocky franchise that still works.

    • For me it’s because put so much time into their characters. It makes it more than just a boxing movie. But you could be into something. Maybe there is a little Rocky magic going on.

  5. We are in the same boat re: missing Creed II in theaters and regretting it lol. I too loved Creed and how it justified more story and gave renewed purpose to Stallone’s greatest character. How cool was it seeing him win an Oscar for his supporting role? That was so well deserved. I look forward to eventually sitting down to watch what happens next. Loving Adonis Creed. He’s another great sports figure you’re almost convinced isn’t fictional.

    • This is weird. For some reason your comments aren’t popping up in my notifications. I had this happen with another person. Not sure what’s going on.

      It’s such an unexpectedly great spin-off series and you are so right, it completely justifies more story. I’ll all-in on these characters.

      One small thing though. Stallone actually lost Best Supporting Actor to Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”). Sly was the favorite going in and I was legitimately pissed when they gave it to Rylance. No knock on him but Stallone deserved that. Ugh…I’m getting riled up again.

      • Oh wow. I had it in my mind he did win. And maybe i will keep it in my mind that way haha. What a shame. I mean, Rylance was deserving I think. That was a great role but man Stallone hit a depth with his performance that I don’t think we have ever seen up until that point.

      • I liked Rylance but man Stallone. To pull that character out and give him such added depth. Such an incredibly true performance. And considering the Academy’s history of considering lifetime achievements, I thought Sly had it in the bag!

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