Creed II - This Rocky 8 Of A Movie Rocks
Dir: Steven Caple Jr
Starring Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Milo Ventimiglia, Brigitte Nielsen
So seconds out and here we have Adonis Creed in his own personal Round Two. And Rocky Balboa facing up to Round Eight. And in many ways, it’s something of a knockout for both.
It’s impossible to separate this spin-off from its original source material – and quite rightly so, as Creed II seems to go all the way back to Rocky I, in that it understands how important characters are outside the ring, as well as what they do inside it. This film spends far more time than expected developing relationships between a fine ensemble cast, focusing on the downbeat as much as the up. It’s easy to forget just how dour a film the original Oscar winning 1976 boxing drama was. But new director Caple Jr (in for a departed Ryan Coogler) seems to want to remind us of that fact. And more power to him and his movie for doing so.
Of course, the overwhelming hubris of Rocky IV also has a part to play here, particularly in the bare bones of the plot. Which are as follows – Russian smashing machine Ivan Drago killed Adonis’ dad Apollo; then Rocky trained a lot in the snow and avenged that death. Now his son Victor Drago knocks the shit out of Creed 2 (literally – he is the second) and he and Rocky train (this time in the desert) to make amends.
It mirrors what went before, it echoes what went before – but it does somehow manage to find a voice of its own, largely due to the time it gives to the performances. Jordan once again completely beguiles, confirming his place as one of the most powerful actors of his generation, Thompson holds her own and excels, but the big surprise is Dolph Lundgren. Thirty odd years ago, he was barely aloud to speak on camera in Rocky IV, so as to hide his incredible woodenness. Here he is a revelation, delivering a portrait of a beaten and bitter man that is not only completely convincing but ultimately empathetic.
Towering over all of these however is Stallone whose performance as Rocky Balboa, after 40 odd years, should surely be recognised as one of the great performances in American cinema. No debate here – it just should. And if this is his last time around (though he has said that before) then it’s a lovely way to bow out.
Creed II is a formulaic, sometimes sentimental, sometimes cheesy, sometimes obvious boxing movie. Yes, there’s a training montage (let’s not forget the Rocky movies all but invented that.) Yes, there are some well-staged fight scenes. And yes, when Bill Conti’s original – and still triumphantly beautiful – Rocky theme finally kicks in, your whole cinema should erupt in applause, much as ours did when we saw it.
But it’s also a film with heart, strong characters, impressive performances and ultimately a poignant sense of family and generations passing away and moving on.
It’s called Creed II. But it’s really Rocky 8. And it’s one of the better ones.
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