Creed II (2018) Review
DEFININIG A LEGACY
In 2015, moviegoers everywhere were introduced to the film Creed, which was set to act as a continuation to the Rocky movie franchise as a sort of “offshoot” to the boxing cinematic series. The film, which was directed by Ryan Coogler and starred Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan, and Tessa Thompson, told the story of Adonis Creed (the wayward son of the late Apollo Creed) and he followed in his father’s footsteps into the boxing ringing (with Rocky in his corner training him). Creed, which is the seventh installment in the Rocky franchise, was met with generally positive reviews from both critics and moviegoers, finding the movie to generally solid (with its story being predictable) as well as strong performances from both Stallone and Jordan. During its theatrical run, Creed was able to cultivate a little bit over $173 million at the box office worldwide (against its $40 million production budget) and did receive several nominations during the award season, with Stallone winning the National Board of Review for Best Supporting Actor, Critics’ Choice Award for Best Supporting Actor, and Golden Globe Award for Best Support Actor for his role as Rocky in the movie. Given the popular reception that the movie had, a follow-up sequel film was soon greenlit in the continuation of Adonis Creed’s boxing career. Now, three years after Creed’s release, it’s time to step back into the ring with Adonis and Rocky as Warner Bros. Pictures (as well as MGM Pictures) and director Steven Caple Jr. present the feature film Creed II. Does this next chapter in this Rocky spin-off endeavor stand tall and proud (in the ringing) or does it go “down and out” in the first round?
After proving himself against his bout with “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is on the verge of becoming the new world heavyweight champion; taking the next step forward in shaping his career in the boxing realm, with seasoned boxing veteran Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in his corner. Likewise, Adonis prepares for the next step in his relationship with his longtime singer / songwriter girlfriend, Bianca Porter (Tessa Thompson). However, just as everything is going according to plan, he is challenged to a match by Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu): an up and coming boxer, as well as being the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the former USSR’s champion boxer who killed Adonis’s father, Apollo Creed, in the ring during an exhibition boxing match. When Adonis accepts Viktor’s challenge, he is surprised that Rocky, who defeated Ivan in the ring following Apollo’s death back in the 80s, doesn’t want him to fight and refuses to train him for the upcoming match against Drago’s son. Unfortunately, Adonis comes to appreciate just how dangerous his new opponent truly is; coming to realization that he may already have lost the fight before ever stepping into the boxing ring. With the match soon approaching, Adonis pushes himself to evolve beyond his normal boxing style, but to also answer the fundamental question…. who does he hope to achieve by fighting Viktor Drago and what does it mean him?
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Much like what I said above (as well in my review for Creed), I grew up watching the Rocky movies, so I was pretty well-versed in the cinematic mythos of the famous movie character of Rocky Balboa. As I’ve mentioned before, my personal favorite Rocky movies were the original 1976 film as well as 1985’s Rocky IV (love the “Hearts on Fire” montage sequence). Suffice to say, while majority of the franchise is mostly conventional predictable, the Rocky films have stood the “test of time” in becoming a famous movie series. Then, in 2015, Creed came out and brought with it a twist of old and new tales together; branching out in discovering the story of Adonis Creed and the continuation of much older Rocky Balboa. To me, the film “modernizes” the classic Rocky narrative for a new generation of viewers, utilizing the character of Adonis as the “new generation” and having the character of Rocky anchoring the film’s story. Personally, Creed was great movie that had a lot the heart, drama, and excitement one would expect from a Rocky feature film, thanks to Coogler’s direction as well as Stallone and Jordan’s equally solid performances. All in all, I felt that Creed was a great extension to the Rocky films and the start of new franchise as a kind of sort of “one foot in the past and one foot in the future” vibe.
As to be expected, this brings me back to talking about Creed II, the follow-up sequel to 2015’s Creed and the eighth overall entry in the Rocky / Creed franchise. Like I said, given the success and critical acclaim that the first film was able to achieve, it was almost inevitable that second Creed film would eventually materialize, with many speculating that it would feature Ivan Drago’s son in a fight against Adonis (revolving around the story of what Ivan Drago / Rocky in what occurred during Rocky IV). Within time, that particular speculation rumor became the main story arc for the Creed II, which came right after the film’s announcement (which got me excited). Plus, with Stallone and Jordan returning to reprise their characters, it was also announced that actor Dolph Lundgren would also be reprising his Rocky IV character of Ivan Drago. Given all that was said during the film’s production and all the internet buzz about the movie (including the film’s trailers and marketing campaign), I was pretty excited to see Creed II (considering it to be one of my last super hyped movies to see during the 2018 film release). So, I went to see over Thanksgiving weekend with my parents (my dad is a big-time Rocky fan). What did I think of it? While the movie does have a few problems, majority of Creed II packs a punch, comprising of some strong performances, narrative arcs, and cinematics undertakings. It may not outshine its 2015 predecessor, but it’s still solid and poignant sequel film that’s definitely is a crowd pleaser.
While director Ryan Coogler directed the first Creed movie, the directorial baton is passed to Steven Caple Jr., whose previous directorial credits include films like The Land of Misfits, A Different Tree, and The Land. Given his past projects and much this particular film has been anticipated by viewers, Caple Jr. makes Creed II his most ambitious film project to date. To his credit, Caple Jr. handles himself well in helming a project like this, finding Creed II to be an equally impressive feature film that both honors the past (most notably from Rocky IV) as well as continuing to create a new cinematic tale for character Adonis Creed. Interestingly, Caple Jr.’s attention to characterization, most notable in Adonis’s relationship with Rocky and Bianca, is also commendable; finding some of the movie’s more poignant moments happening outside the boxing ring. That’s not to say that the film’s boxing fight sequences are dully, with film compromising of those classic fighting bouts that the Rocky movies are known for, with a big climatic one that we have you rooting for Adonis the entire time (when I saw the movie… the entire theater was cheering and screaming for Adonis). In truth, the major theme that plays out in the feature is defining who a person is and the legacy that must make on their own. This can be easily extrapolated into Adonis’s journey in Creed II as he (the character) finds out that he must carve out his own legacy of the Creed name and find out what it all means to him personal, which Caple Jr.’s executed beautifully in the movie (as well as the various actors and actresses themselves).
Additionally, the film’s script, which was penned by both Stallone as well as Juel Taylor with Cheo Hodari Coker and Sacha Penn sharing story credit, manages to make familiar Rocky-esque beats work in a that’s mostly fresh and dramatically compelling ways that work within the context of the Creed franchise series. In the combination of the script (as well as Caple Jr.’s direction), Creed II further establishes Adonis Creed as the true main protagonist character, carving out his own personal legacy in both the cinematic ring as well as in the Rocky series. This also reflects into the appearance of Rocky Balboa as well Ivan Drago, with both characters represent the past and allowing to “bridge the gap” between the franchises’ s outdated Cold War-era mentality narrative, especially since Creed II takes inspirational / narrative roots in Rocky IV. As predicted, the film’s story, which revolves around Adonis’s legacy and the legacy of his father becomes the main focal point of the feature and is handled quite well, speaking to a more measure themed storytelling arc than just simply a tale of boxing for money or for glory. There is an overall predictably nature of the film (more on that below), but its ultimate trajectory is executed well that many can overlook Creed II’s story path.
On the technical filmmaking presentation side, Creed II does shine. It may not beat out some of its more technical achievements that were made in the first Creed feature, but the movie still provides plenty of cinematic aspects and nuances to be the film (looking and feeling) appealing and engaging. As a whole, this sequel is a well-crafted feature, which is bolstered by the cinematography done by Kramer Morgenthau that blends a touch of raw realism (especially during some of the fight sequences) as well as some movie world aspects that are handled well on-screen. Other notable areas on the presentation team for the film include the production designs by Franco-Giacomo Carbone, set decorations by RA Arancio-Parrain and Jesse Rosenthal, and the film editing done by Dana E. Glauberman, Saira Haider, and Paul Harb. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Ludwig Goransson (who scored the music for Creed as well), continues to branch out into the into the musical styles of hip-hop (something that probably Coogler wanted to project into Creed) and continues work with Creed II. The flavoring styles of hip-hop doesn’t come across as “out of place” or anything rather it feels a part of the cinematic undertaking of these Creed spin-off films, which is also accompanied by Goransson’s soundtrack melodies that’s a mixture of contemporary vibes as well as classic nostalgia.
There were a few problems that I noticed with Creed II that hold the film back from reaching the same caliber of greatness that the first Creed movie was able to achieve. Perhaps the most notable one is that directorial style. Creed’s director Ryan Coogler has demonstrated that he is capable of handling stylish cinematics and technical nuances while also balancing dramatic moments (i.e. character and or story moments) much like what he did in the 2015 film and 2018’s Black Panther. Caple Jr. gets a lot right when directing Creed II, but lacks the same flourishes nuances than Coogler’s Creed. It’s kind of hard to pin down exactly, but the overall presentation of Creed II (while still seems quite good) lacks a certain directorial approach that Coogler was able to established in the first film. I’m not saying that Creed II looks bad, but seems more of a standard direction, with Caple Jr. taking more of “safer” route rather than trying to make the feature evoke creativity and “out of the box” thinking as a director.
Additionally, the film’s pacing is a bit off and certain storytelling elements aren’t quite as fleshed out as they could’ve been. Looking at the feature (as a whole), the first half is a bit slow, lacking some excitement during a flew scenes here and there and a little “action” or even dramatic cinematics could’ve been employed during those sequences to “spice” it up. The second half of the feature certainly does do that (and a great job), but its actually getting to the point is a bit problematic. Yes, I know a narrative has to take shape, especially considering branching out Adonis’s story, but the first act seems to lag from time to time. As for the story elements, there were a few narrative threads that didn’t quite pan correctly, leaving us (the viewers) curious and wanting more. This is most notable in the narrative threads surrounding Ivan Drago and his son Viktor. I’ll explain more in the paragraphs below. Suffice to say, some story threads could’ve been expanded upon in the movie, providing a bit more insight into various characters.
Lastly, the final problem of the film is not just confined to this particular movie, but rather the entire franchise. Of course, I’m talking about the formulaic narrative arc that each Rocky / Creed installment follows. Now, it goes without saying the narrative path of these films isn’t exactly original, with many carving out a recycle path from their predecessors. Naturally, this makes majority of the Rocky movies predictable, utilizing a tried and true narrative trajectory that has worked before and just simply repurpose (i.e. changing a few things around) for the latest entry in the series. The same can be said for both Creed movies, with Creed II in particular having familiar beats scattered throughout. However, with Creed II being the eighth installment in the Rocky franchise, it’s clear (to many) that the movie will follow a certain series formula with all the classic nuances and sequences that usually accompany a Rocky movie (i.e. training montages, a mid-film fight / crisis, another training montage before the big fight at the end, etc.). I mean…. if you’re honestly walking into this movie thinking for something radically different, you’ll be disappointed. However, I do think that many will think that. Thus, this problem (to me) didn’t bother me as much I expected Creed II’s story to play out as it did. Still, the formulaic narrative familiarity with the rest of the series could mean that the Rocky franchise is becoming a bit stale and worn out. Doesn’t mean that the franchise is need of a reboot / remake, but needs a bit more “freshness” if you know what I mean.
The cast in Creed II is a solid one, with most (if not all) the actors and actresses delivering equally impressive performances in the movie, regardless if they are major players in the film or just minor supporting ones. Leading the charge in the movie (as well as acting as the main focal point) of the feature is actor Michael B. Jordan, who returns to reprise his role as Adonis “Donnie” Creed. Known for his roles in Fruitvale Station, Chronicle, and Black Panther, Jordan continues to grow and evolve within the character of Adonis, capturing the young boxer, who’s on top of the world in one moment and then hitting rock-bottom later on. It’s definitely a compelling role, with Jordan displaying the right amount of cockiness and headstrong bravado as well showcasing Adonis’s insecurities and vulnerabilities that he must overcome. With the story being more focused on Adonis in Creed II, this allows the character himself to grow more and more into his own, finding Jordan in perfect role and probably his most dramatic role in his career. Personally, I love him as Adonis Creed and I give a lot of credit to Jordan for helping creating / developing the character throughout these two movies.
Likewise, the film continues to further Adonis’s relationship with two other characters: Rocky Balboa and Bianca Porter, who are played by seasoned actor Sylvester Stallone (Judge Dredd and Rambo) and actress Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok and Annihilation). Stallone, who became a household name thanks to his involvement with the Rocky movies, delivers another moving performance as the older / wiser Rocky in Creed II. With the film’s story being more invested in Adonis’s journey (versus how the first Creed found a balance between the two characters), Stallone’s Rocky is more relegated to the secondary participation in the movie, offering words of wisdom and training techniques for the young Creed boxer. Again, that’s not to say that Stallone delivers a great performance of which he does with ease and actually delivers some of the best humorous lines of the feature. Still, while he may be more pushed aside in Creed II, there’s no denying that Stallone (after all these years) is still Rocky Balboa. Plain and simple. As for Thompson’s Bianca, her story continues to grow alongside Adonis in the movie, especially continuing her own personal struggle with her progressive hearing loss. Personally, I found that character arc problem quite interesting and something I didn’t expect to see in both the original Creed movie and continuing on into this new movie. Thus, she’s giving more to do (be problems of her own) and claims a more well-rounded character than just the atypical “supportive wife” in a movie endeavor, with Thompson equally matching Jordan’s Adonis in their scenes together.
As for Creed II’s antagonists, actor Dolph Lundgren (Master of the Universe and The Expendables) returns to the silver screen to reprise his Rocky IV character of Ivan Drago, while Romanian pro boxer Florian Munteanu appears in the movie as Ivan’s son Viktor Drago. While the character of Ivan Drago was pretty much a one-dimensional (almost cartoon-ish) villain in Rocky IV (projecting the classic stand-in role for the Soviet Union during that particular era), Creed II transforms the former boxer character into a genuinely tragic figure whose broken ego and shattered spirit have poisoned (almost consumed) his personal relationship with his son, Viktor. Lundgren has been in playing media projects both on the big and small screen, but it was his role as Drago in Rocky IV that was the most memorable one he’s portrayed in his career (I personally think so). Thus, Lundgren does so again in Creed II, returning to the character with seasoned age and, while he may not be the true main antagonist of the feature, he is still impressive to watch on-screen as well a far more engaging (almost sympathetic) character this go around.
As for Viktor Drago, he certainly benefits from the physicality that Munteanu (again, who is a real-life boxer) brings to the role and through his sheer physical presence offers up a mighty challenge for Adonis to face-off against. And yet, despite his imposing outward attributes, he’s character is far more emotionally wounded that one would think and is more heartbreaking than what happened to Adonis. This is where I think that the movie could’ve dug deeper into understanding Viktor. Yes, I thought that Munteanu did an excellent job in the role (the intensity in his eyes was amazing and captured what he was feeling perfectly), but how Viktor is presented in the movie leaves a lot to be desired, especially when examining the subtext message behind his towering and hardened façade. Much like what Adonis asks himself in the movie…. who is Viktor Drago? What does this fight with Adonis Creed mean to him? Is for his own pride? Is it for his father’s love / recognition? Is it for his self-worth? Or is it something else? The movie never really answers that question, but lays the ground work for something more, which is a bit disappointed as we (the viewers) never truly get that answer. All in all, the Dragos make for a compelling and sympathetic antagonist in the movie (more so than any other antagonist in the Rocky / Creed franchise) and the story behind them offers up engaging dramatic material for viewers to appreciate. I just wish they had expanded more on Viktor a bit more.
Also returning to their posts (from Creed) is actor Wood Harris (The Wire and Remember the Titans) as training assistant Tony “Little Duke” Evans and actress Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show and Empire) as Adonis’s mother Mary Anne Creed. Both Harris and Rashad give great performance in their roles, despite being supporting players in the movie, and do add a sort of continuity to the Creed movies. Rounding out the cast (in more minor supporting roles) is former pro boxer Andre Ward as light heavyweight boxer opponent Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler, actor Russell Hornsby (Fences and The Hate U Give) as boxing promoter Buddy Marcelle, and actor Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes and This is Us) as Rocky’s estranged son Robert Balboa.
The sins of the father (and of the past) come back to haunt Rocky and Adonis in the present, finding Adonis determine to define his boxing legacy in the movie Creed II. Director Steven Caple Jr.’s latest feature continues the boxing saga of Adonis Creed, while also cementing its place with a new generation as well as honoring its past within the Rocky franchise. While the movie can’t overcome the success of its 2015 predecessor, the film still ultimately proves to be a rousingly solid follow-up sequel to that very same movie, providing enough cinematic heart and theatrical dramatics to both memorable and meaningful (thanks to the film’s cast, directional, and story) to this long-running movie franchise. Personally, I loved this movie. While it may not beat out my liking of 2015’s Creed, this sequel definitely makes for a strong and entertaining motion picture that’s definitely something that everyone will like, despite its narrative familiarity. Thus, my recommendation for this movie would be a “highly recommended” one, with fans of the Rocky / Creed movies will be excited to see this latest entry as well as appealing to the average moviegoer. It’s definitely a crowd pleaser, which make surely make you root for Adonis’s journey in the movie that culminates in a very satisfying ending. The big question is now…. will there ever be a Creed III? It’s kind of hard to say (Stallone has mentioned that he’s retiring the character of Rocky Balboa, but he’s said this before in the past) and will depend on the studio as well as actor Michael B. Jordan. Personally, I think the franchise has at least one more feature film for Adonis’s journey (I have vague image of how it would all play) and would work to potential close out the series as a whole. Still, even if Creed III never materializes, Creed II stands ends on a deeply satisfying note, potential capping off this boxing movie franchise in a powerful and wholesome way, without diminishing the true heart and spirt of the series.
4.3 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: November 21st, 2018
Reviewed On: December 6th, 2018
Creed II is 130 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sports action violence, language, and a scene of sensuality