By MONTE YAZZIE
There is a quality in the sport and spectacle of boxing that is captivating. The way boxing promoters shape and mold the tale of the tape, composing gladiators that have reached the peak of their physical prowess, where the only place left for these athletic gods to venture is into the arena of battle. Proving with their hardened fists that they are the greater fighter.
The battle itself is a circus, with pulsating entrance music, explosions of flame and flashing strobe lights. And right before the two warriors pummel one another, a bell will echo into the night letting all know where their attention should rest. It’s exciting, it’s barbaric…it’s entertainment.
The “Rocky” franchise, built with an underdog from Philadelphia, is one of the rare sports franchises in film history. Sylvester Stallone, who wrote all 6 films in the Rocky Balboa saga, fashioned a world where the predominant odds from every possible angle came hurtling into the squared circle to bombard Balboa with their fists.
Still, even though Rocky single handedly ended Cold War conflicts with Russia in “Rocky IV,” the hardest fight for this character was always the one he fought with himself.
While Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has since retired his boxing gloves, the son of his former foe/best friend Apollo Creed has picked up the boxing legacy and paved his own path to success. Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has fought his way up the boxing ranks, with Rocky as his corner man, and into the championship glory achieved by his father.
Adonis, now famous in the boxing world and making plans for the future with his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), is still struggling to understand his place amidst the daunting heritage of his father that has defined every aspect of his life.
Just as the past has influenced Adonis’ path, it has also influenced the path of another fighter who is trying to bring pride back to his family name. Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) arrives in the United States with his father (Dolph Lundgren) to reclaim the past that was stolen from his family.
“Creed II”, directed by Steven Caple Jr., further explores the complicated past of both the Creed and Balboa storylines. Specifically, the events that transpired in “Rocky IV.” It’s a narrative balancing act handled with varying degrees of success. It’s a difficult task trying to blend stories, separated by more than 30 years into something that feels new and fresh, while also honoring the well-regarded films from the past.
“Rocky IV”, regardless of how silly the story may seem now, took the Balboa story and turned it into something of epic caliber; both within the fight in the ring and the state of affairs in the world in 1985. “Creed II” doesn’t quite achieve the mythical prowess/silliness achieved in “Rocky IV,” but it does craft in its small moments an interesting take on family, responsibility and lineage.
Adonis is growing and still immature, trying to live a life honoring the father that was stolen from him in the ring and create his own path and legacy. Michael B. Jordan is a fantastic actor and imbues Adonis with conflict and confusion.
Sylvester Stallone is the reason why Rocky Balboa connects so well, and more than 40 years later the actor still composes the character with undeniable charm that is seen through fortune cookie mantras he dispels to Adonis. Also, by his well-worn integrity he displays when he struggles to connect Adonis to the past, present and future.
If for nothing else, these two characters are the reason “Creed II” succeeds even with the missteps found in the narrative.
“Creed II” becomes overly familiar at times, making steps and pushing choices in the same ways we’ve seen from films like this in the past; it fits the “hero’s journey” too completely. Where “Creed,” directed in 2015 by Ryan Coogler, also took a familiar path, it felt less obvious because the history it was revisiting was simply a background fragment. There Adonis was his own person trying to break free of the past that would define him.
Because “Creed II” revisits so much, the momentum and build up to the final fight against the seemingly superhuman foe just doesn’t have the same quality. The stakes just don’t feel as high or dangerous because it’s already been done so many times.
Still, there are moments in “Creed II” that are complete crowd pleasers. The big fight against Drago is filled with the back and forth combat that makes the sport of boxing so much fun.
“Creed II” is a predictable journey, and while it may not ruin the film it doesn’t help it in establishing itself apart from the past. Still, the performances from Mr. Jordan and Mr. Stallone are excellent and the film builds towards the kind of “feel good” sports moments that make this genre of films so endearing.
Dir: Steven Caple Jr.
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, and Florian Munteanu
3.00 out of 5.00