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Creed II - DVD Review

Creed II

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

THE second instalment of the Creed franchise embraces both the best and the worst elements of its larger Rocky Balboa universe. But it remains mightily entertaining nonetheless.

Steven Caple Jr’s film works as well as it does because of the quality of its cast and its willingness to embrace its main characters’ emotional journey. But the boxing story feels lazy and derivative, encompassing the worst elements of the likes of Rocky III and Rocky IV in its predictable trajectory.

The story finds Michael B Jordan’s Adonis Creed on top of the world. He’s now the light-heavyweight champion of the world, deeply involved in a loving relationship with his soon-to-be pregnant musician girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and still being trained by the paternal Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).

But new challenges lie in wait, with added emotional complexity. First and foremost, this comes in the form of Rocky’s former nemesis Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Apollo in the ring in Rocky IV, who is training his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), to become as deadly a fighter as he was.

When an ambitious boxing promoter offers them a chance to take on Creed, the young champion sees no choice but to give the paying public what they want, if only to try to right the wrongs of his father’s legacy and avoid the same mistakes.

But in putting his belt and life on the line, Creed also risks his relationships with both Bianca and Rocky.

Taken on its own terms, Creed II is a solid follow-up to the original, which seldom comes close to the blistering form of Ryan Coogler’s predecessor but which still manages to punch above its weight for the majority of its running time.

It’s just a shame that the boxing story leaves you so punch-drunk on cliché. The decision to put Creed in the ring with Viktor so early lends the first half of the film a certain inevitability, which is only enhanced once the decision is taken to stage the pivotal re-match in Russia.

But perhaps worse, is the decision by co-writers Stallone and Juel Taylor to make both Drago family members so relatively one dimensional. The America vs Russia subtext of the original Rocky IV is virtually revisited here, with only tiny hints at tapping into the emotional complexity of either Drago man. This feels like a missed opportunity, which could really have stretched viewers in the same way as a film like Warrior.

A braver film would have taken a little more time to explore the psychology behind Ivan’s ruthless training of his son, or Viktor’s tormented upbringing. Fortunately, both Munteanu and Lundgren are good enough to deliver more than the script usually allows, especially during the climactic moments. But they deserved the right to offer even more.

Fortunately, where Creed II really does excel is in the portrayal of its leading duo, Adonis and Rocky. Both Jordan and Stallone are on powerhouse form, and their emotional journey through the film is beautifully realised.

As with the first film, the scenes between the two men are particularly memorable, with both forced to confront their past, as well as their legacy, while taking into account their male ego and where it has positioned them right now.

For Creed, it’s about accepting his responsibilities as a champion and as a husband and father. For Rocky, it’s about re-connecting with what’s left of his family and confronting decisions [both in and out of the wrong] that have long since ‘broken’ him.

The climax of the film, post boxing match, is genuinely poignant and beautifully played. But throughout the film, Caple Jr gives them plenty of room to grow and develop, neatly counter-balancing certain genre stereotypes with a greater sensitivity and perception.

It’s for these reasons, more than the crowd-pleasing boxing stuff, that Creed II works as well as it does, and why it keeps the wider franchise in such a winning place.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 125mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: March 25, 2019