Creed II (2018)

“It’s just another fight.”

Best described as the repetitive, unoriginal, blood sport birth child of 2015’s Creed and 1985’s Rocky IV, Creed II forever fuses two separate franchises together into one combative entity, like a dying young person who receives the transplanted heart of a recently deceased Vietnam Vet. The youthful aspect of the film still has that contemporary, tenacious tone introduced by Ryan Coogler a few years back, only now it’s mixed with an old story that favored severe physical destruction over carefully constructed emotional depth. That’s not to say Creed II doesn’t pick up a few rounds either, because it certainly earns the upper hand on the scorecard every so often. It’s entertaining and dramatic and builds a somewhat cohesive world, and it sadly packs punches that can be predicted and pointed out with nearly every single throw.

While it’s titled Creed II, the movie mysteriously chooses to open in the cold colors of Mother Russia. Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), still disgraced after his loss to Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) decades ago, jabs his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) awake in their shabby apartment. It’s time to get to work. Meanwhile, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has bounced back from the defeat he suffered during Creed, eventually coming to earn the Heavyweight belt. Ivan seeks redemption through the hay-maker hands of his son Viktor who pummels his way into title contention. It makes a good story, the kind those annoying ESPN talk shows won’t shut up about, and Adonis sees the bout as destiny. A chance to redeem his Father – who died in the ring with Ivan during Rocky III – and to cement their joint legacy. Rocky sees no good outcome and retreats, throwing in the towel before the fight is fought.

Whereas Creed deftly elaborated on and blended its intimate drama through the sparring within the ring, Creed II feels woefully clunky, at times even unprepared for battle. Adonis proposes to Bianca (Tessa Thompson), she gets pregnant, they fear the child with inherent her genetic hearing disorder. These are very personal scenes and they’re acted by two exceptionally – if not extraordinarily – gifted performers in storylines which might as well not even matter. There’s no cohesion to the motivation, especially as the narrative abandons Bianca’s nuanced character in favor of a good backyard brawl of a bout. Creed is a film that goes toe to toe with personal demons and trauma through the inherent dramatics of a good boxing match. Creed II tries to do the same, and at times even succeeds with its grand histrionics, but it relies too heavily on old tricks. Creed exploded out of the race track gate like a rookie Greyhound that just heard, “Hear comes sparky!” for the first time. By comparison, this one merely lurches.

Bred from a craving taste for 80’s nostalgia, Creed II tells us that this is a story about Adonis Creed, yet the movie shows us that this is a movie about cementing – and possibly ending – Rocky’s legacy. I rather enjoyed the movie’s many callbacks, though. There are the gritty training sequences, less flamboyantly colorful here and more like if Batman and Bane were preparing to square off in Gotham. Dark, gloomy, full of grunts and self-loathing. The absolute slug fest in the ring hits harder this time around, moves quicker, and while it is completely unrealistic, the choreography still manages to look like aggressive, angry boxing. Creed II is a solid picture, but since so much of the script relies on having seen a movie from 30+ years ago, I also think it will alienate the younger members in the audience, or at least force them to finally see the unforgettable schlock that is Rocky IVCreed II deserves to be called a serviceable sequel, save for when it dances us into a corner, relying on the typical combo punches we’re able to slip and dodge.

“Turn off your brain and let your heart do the talking.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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