Director: Steven Caple Jr.
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren
Early on in Creed II, a commentator speaking about a fight taking place, between Adonis Creed, heavyweight champion of the world and Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago, the man who killed Adonis’ father in the ring, says: It all feels so Shakespearean.
That’s not a word you would normally associate with a boxing movie that is part 8 in blockbuster Hollywood franchise. Well, actually it’s the sequel to Creed, which is the spin-off on the Rocky franchise, which started 42 years ago, in 1976. Apollo Creed is killed by Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Ivan, played by Dolph Lundgren who is built like a alabaster statue, knocks Apollo to the ground. When the boxer doesn’t move, Ivan says on the mike – if he dies, he dies. So the fight between the sons, Adonis and Viktor, is 33 years in the making.
Thanks to this history, the stakes are instantly high. But co-producer and co-writer Sylvester Stallone, director Steven Caple jr and co-producer Ryan Coogler, who directed Creed, up them even more. The focus is on character and family drama. The big question is – what are you fighting for? Through facing Viktor, Adonis comes to understand the importance of family and what it takes to create your own legacy. The bouts in the ring are so brutal and visceral that you feel like you are being hit – I was shutting my eyes and flinching. But the emotions are equally rich and layered – this is a film about choices and regrets. And even the bad guys – Ivan and Viktor – are written as tragic rather than flat-out nasty. We come to care even about them.
Creed II also firmly establishes Michael B. Jordan as a major movie star. He combines charisma with formidable acting chops. He body resembles granite but the narrative is about Adonis’ vulnerabilities and when Jordan cries, you feel his pain. And what can I say about Sylvester Stallone – now 72 – back as Rocky Balboa. But weaker and wiser. With him too, the narrative is about mistakes and redemption. It’s wonderful that these are physically strong men, modern-day gladiators almost, but we witness their scars and soft spots. It’s also incredible that Stallone has created a world and characters that we have watched and loved for more than four decades. That is a special kind of talent.
The story also makes room for fleshed-out female characters – Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad return as Adonis’ strong-willed partner and mother. In a terrific scene, mom advises partner to let Adonis be because ultimately he has to heal himself from the inside out. For those who don’t go to boxing movies for heartfelt conversations, the training montages are in place. And boxing matches are skillfully constructed to create suspense so that you don’t take it for granted that Adonis will win.
Of course Creed II is familiar ground. But it honours the genre and still has enough vitality to make us feel the thrill again. I’m going with three and a half stars.