WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2018)
Director: Steven Caple, Jr.
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren
Let’s get a-ready to ruuuuummmmbbbblllleee!
Boxing movies stir all the emotions within me. There’s something about the raw nature of the sport and the toil that fuels every punch when it’s fight time that gets the heart pumping. I’m a fan of the sport, not a ringside with the suits type, but I enjoy watching – however, (usually) the movies manage to portray the rise of the fighter and make it feel inspirational and exciting all at once (except From Mexico with Love, jeeeeez…).
2015’s Creed was a great example of how to do a boxing movie right. Following on from the long events of the Rocky franchise and starring Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed – son of the fallen Apollo – that movie didn’t entirely rest on nostalgia and managed to create a compelling, believable narrative fuelled by fine performances (especially from Stallone) all crafted under the methodically talented eye of Ryan Coogler. For Creed 2, the band is back together, however, Coogler stepped away from directing (and instead produces) with Steven Caple, Jr. stepping into his boots. Three years have passed since the events of the first movie, Adonis has stepped up his game and is on a winning streak, but over in Russia, a man-machine is tearing up the scene – Viktor Drago (Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago (Lundgren), i.e. the man who killed Adonis’ father. When destiny brings the two men together, Adonis has to train like he’s never trained before, with or without his mentor Rocky Balboa (Stallone), and against the wishes of his partner Bianca (Thompson) and stepmother Mary Anne (Rashad). Can Adonis keep a lid on his passion and fury against the family that killed his father?
Creed 2 had a fairly tough act to follow as its predecessor was so good. So it’s not surprising that Caple, Jr. opts for a slightly more formulaic approach for the sequel, not entirely predictable, but pretty much. That isn’t a bad thing if the movie can pull it off on all fronts and Creed 2 does that for the most part. The performances are once again excellent across the board, Jordan proving again he really is an emerging top-tier talent and he got ripped again this time around. Stallone and Thompson are both excellent in their support and Dolph Lundgren may have never been better than he is here – still fearsome, but with emotion this time. Pro boxer Florian Munteanu is solid as the antagonist, prowling and sneering rather than emoting and talking – that man is a monster and, boy, was he an intimidating presence.
What the movie lacks is the nuance and depth that Coogler injected into Creed, the shots of emotion that so compellingly wove into the characters, motivations, and developments in that flick were somewhat missing in Creed 2. That’s not to say there was no emotion, because there absolutely was, but something was missing here. An excellent intro and a superb finale bookend a slower middle section that at times struggles to find its rhythm – though when that third act kicks in, sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s hard not to get swept up in the action when it’s as well-presented as it is here, despite some stylistic slow-mo action shots that could have been avoided, and that theme tune making a welcome comeback. Whilst there was a dip in emotion, Caple, Jr. keeps the focus on the characters rather than the action (like Coogler) to ensure we care for the characters on their journey – including an excellent training montage that feels hard and looks great.
Whether or not we see a Creed 3 remains to be seen and, in some ways, I would prefer not to. Eventually there comes a time to call it a day – which Stallone announced he has done in regards to this franchise (his franchise) – and without the old slugger Rocky around somewhere, then it would feel disconnected in some ways. On the other hand, Jordan is an excellent Creed and there are endless places the story could go (unless all of Rocky’s peers have kids who too want to join in…) but it all depends on whether that magnetism can be brought back once again. Whilst Creed 2 plays it safe and doesn’t hit the heights of its predecessor, it’s still an effective, hard-hitting story that honours what came before and allows Jordan the chance to shine again.
November 30th 2018