Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu
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…visceral sports action and heart-squeezing emotional drama.
From all outward appearances, Creed II is a rather cut-and-dry sequel. There aren’t any new tricks up the filmmakers’ sleeves, sticking closely to both the Afrocentric aesthetic Ryan Coogler brought to the franchise with the first entry, and the tested sports melodrama tidings of the old guard.
However, what this film lacks in outright originality, it makes up for in drama. And to make things even better, it even redeems one of the franchise’s silliest moments.
Rocky IV is remembered by most as the most bombastic and profoundly goofy entry in the Rocky canon. Birthday robots, Russian super-humans, ‘Hearts On Fire’; it’s the epitome of ‘80s cheese. But in the hands of director Steven Caple Jr., and Sylvester Stallone returning to the writer’s table (with Juel Taylor], it becomes the groundwork for a surprisingly gripping tale of fatherhood, loss and human ego.
Through Adonis, played once again with mesmerising efficacy by Michael B. Jordan, we see how the greatest thing that connected him to his late father is also what made him late to begin with. This adds another layer to the musings on legacy and living up to one’s roots that made the first Creed so effective.
And through Viktor Drago, we see shadings of the humanoid robot that Dolph Lundgren imbued Ivan with all those years ago, but here, it’s shown as a machine of vengeance – a vessel for Ivan to reclaim the glory that he once lost. While Florian Munteanu as Viktor largely works as the shell that his father can live through vicariously, that is evened out by just how good Lundgren is here – both when exuding his own air of raw regret, and in his scenes opposite Stallone, who gives an astounding performance in his own right.
Rather than going for easy relevancy points in reviving a piece of American/Russian tension in the series’ history, this film instead looks into how trying to reclaim and reiterate the past, rather than operating under one’s own wishes, can be both fruitless and dangerous. It adds a heavy emotional punch to the excellently-captured boxing matches, connecting both as visceral sports action and heart-squeezing emotional drama.
It’s the balancing act that made for the best in the Rocky series, and here, it’s used to bulk up one of the more unfortunately maligned parts of that series. It even keeps some of the cheesier elements that the series is known for; only here, its genuine heart makes the sense of humour ring through a lot clearer and feel less jarring in context with everything else.
Going from a story where the supporting black character dies just to prove to the white lead that the situation is serious, to this, is a seriously commendable step forward.