SPL!NG Movie Review: Creed II

Creed picked up the Rocky story, creating a spin-off boxing drama about Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis, who falls under the mentorship of new coach, Rocky Balboa. From a boy to a young man, we learn of the unique challenges faced by Creed’s son, how his father’s death and growing pains led him to become involved with the star of the Rocky films. Clearly positioning itself as a spin-off series, harnessing the slow-burning star power of Sylvester Stallone and introducing Michael B. Jordan, a rising acting talent, who plays young Creed, we are thrown into the vivid, tough and competitive world of modern pugilism.

Following the success of Creed, it was almost inevitable that a sequel would emerge, taking the character one step further from heavyweight champion to prove his mettle, conqueror his demons and explore his relationship with his long-term girlfriend. First and foremost, he sequel is a boxing film, but the sport seems to bookend the production, using the boxing ring as a way to complete the circle. In the middle, we have the real story which centres around relationships with: his girlfriend Bianca, his mentor Rocky and the legacy of his father. Immersing itself in drama, one becomes much more emotionally invested in Creed, learning to care for the characters and in so doing allowing him to win us over for the final showdown.

While his Muhammad Ali arrogance became a psychological weapon in the original film, we soon learn that it becomes a toxic blend when intermingling with his personal demons and issues relating to his father’s death, which still haunt him. Continuing to foster the curious parallels with Rocky, the story echoes Rocky IV in which Balboa was put head-to-head with a six-foot-four, 261-pound Russian boxer in Dolph Lundgren. The boxer’s national humiliation guides his son to follow in his father’s footsteps. A giant of a boxer whose life becomes wrapped up in being able to deliver powerful knockout blows, the world heavyweight champion is challenged and intimidated by an unorthodox yet highly effective powerhouse.

This brilliant touch, harnesses the same thrust of Rocky via a blast from the past, getting Creed to confront the man who inadvertently killed his father. It’s a grand idea for a sequel and a beautiful culmination for both Creed and Balboa. Each dealing with their struggles and turmoil around the death of Apollo, they confront the situation from unique perspectives, creating great tension around the young prize fighter’s decision to go head-to-head.

Creed II

“May I have this dance?”

Beautifully filmed, well-balanced and well-acted, this is a moving ensemble drama from Steven Caple Jr. that will appeal to fans of boxing films and dramas. While employing some typical tropes from the boxing world of film, Creed II is one of those rare sequels that matches the intensity and passion of the original. While one would imagine that most of the bases had been covered, there’s something special about journeying even further with these beloved characters, as they enter a new chapter in their lives and grapple with flaws and failures.

Michael B. Jordan is in excellent physical condition, retains much of the charm from his first performance and revels in the opportunity to reprise the character and drag him through some hard knocks and personal growth. Leveraging the great chemistry he has with Tessa Thompson, the two form the emotional core of Creed II, echoing films like A Star is Born, where two people at the top of their careers are confronted with deep-seated personal challenges and seek to overcome them. While the romantic element isn’t the real focus here, the relational dynamic is palpable. Then, it’s great to see Jordan and Stallone continue their mentor-apprentice relationship, which seems threatened by the prospect of taking on a near invincible foe.

Creed II is entrenched in themes of family, courage and rising from the ashes. The boxing sequences are just as visceral as the original, wonderfully choreographed to set you right in the middle of the action and deftly performed by actors who are in pristine physical condition. The fluid cinematography gives you a real sense of the spectacle with a spontaneous feeling and every confidence in their abilities. While there are moments that come across as sluggish, especially in the interpersonal drama of the second act, this slowing-down gives one more opportunity to embrace the characters, feeling the triumphs and failures without simply skipping along the surface. While these moments certainly draw you into the story, they can be somewhat distracting in terms of the sparse soundtrack, at times feeling as though something is missing.

Deft direction, engaging writing, solid performances, soaring themes and visceral action visuals give this sequel the same reach as the original. What it lacks in novelty, it makes up for in scale, allowing the legacy of Rocky to echo with an epic and resonant bearing on the audience. While purposefully slower in parts, you can’t shake the iconic and stirring message at its core, inspired by the concept of family and the quest for mental and physical toughness. While Creed II has some predictable elements and familiar structures, it retains the freshness that was set in motion and whips up a moving, uplifting and satisfying sequel.

The bottom line: Powerful

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