Wednesday 28 November 2018

Film Review: Creed II

Director Steven Caple Jnr serves up a knockout Creed sequel that doesn't do a disservice to the Rocky legacy.

Creed II is a film of contradiction; at its core, it's a story about stepping out of the shadows of what has come before. Forging your own legacy. Blazing your own trail.

And yet, this sequel finds itself linking back to the original Rocky series (notably Rocky IV) more than ever before. Thankfully, it's the former aspect that prevails, with director Steven Caple Jnr building on the groundwork laid by Ryan Coogler and continuing to shape a compelling narrative around a clutch of well-written, three-dimensional characters. In fact, it's this groundwork and the ties to the legacy of the Rocky series that deepen the narrative and the film as a whole.

Having won the hearts of millions with a gutsy loss at the end of his first film, this sequel finds Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) finally climbing the boxing ladder through a series of powerful wins. After claiming the heavyweight title and with the world at his feet, Adonis still feels unfulfilled - that is until a new challenger emerges in the form of Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who famously killed Adonis' father Apollo in the ring back in Rocky IV. Challenge accepted, thinks Adonis - until the significance of who he is about to face truly sinks in.

It may not have the same unquantifiable energy and power as Coogler's astounding revival from 2015, but Creed II does have a lot to like. Jordan continues to impress as Adonis, both in a physical and emotional sense. The film hones in on Adonis' relationship with fiancee Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and it's here that the film's themes of family, responsibility, duty and legacy shine brightest. Screenwriters Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone wisely place Rocky (played by Stallone) in the background for most of the film, pivoting to this core duo of Jordan and Thompson, as well as another couple - the Dragos.

Creed II spends a surprising amount of time fleshing out its antagonists; we're introduced to a resentful and ostracised Ivan, who was cast out by Mother Russia after his defeat in Rocky IV, and his absolute unit of a son Viktor, who has subsequently been trained since he was knee high to a grasshopper to lay waste to any opponent he shares a boxing ring with. Much more than generic Soviet baddies for Adonis to defeat, the Dragos are a compelling comparison and mirror to the other father/son dynamics in Creed II.

So while it hits the usual beats you'd expect from a boxing movie, Creed II succeeds in making us care about how we get there. Having spent two films with these characters (a staggering eight for Rocky), I was invested in Adonis and Bianca, in their fight both in the ring and out of it. In continuing their story, Creed II and director Caple Jnr prove there is still fight left in this franchise, emotional stakes to be risked and victories to be savoured. Bring on round three.

The Verdict: 8/10

A nimble and punchy sequel that overcomes its cliched beats to land some solid hits to the heart. While the fights themselves are directed with oomph, it's the smaller character moments of conflict and courage that make Creed II a successful sequel.

Creed II is in cinemas across Australia from tomorrow Thursday November 29.

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