A contemporary polish on the events of previous Rocky movies lends its brilliance to Adonis Creed’s legacy in Steven Caple Jr’s emotional sequel…
The Rocky franchise was full to the brim of tragedies and triumphs both inside, and outside of the boxing arena. With Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa losing his first heavyweight title fight on a points decision against Apollo Creed way back in 1976, we were introduced to a legitimate underdog story where our hero learnt the value of victory through bitter and heart-breaking defeat. In the movies that followed, we shadowed Rocky’s road to success, a path that was fraught with pitfalls and tragedy, one which claimed the lives of both his beloved trainer Mickey and his nemesis turned best friend Apollo Creed.
The journey was incredible, and we were witness to the rise of a cultural phenomenon.
Creed 2 | Warner Bros/MGM Studios
Despite being a thoroughly enjoyable and legitimate spin-off/sequel to the Rocky franchise, Creed was a little too polished for my taste. Sylvester Stallone was truly spectacular and gave a career-best performance as the ailing Rocky Balboa, Michael B. Jordan exploded into Hollywood’s current crop of A-List talent and Tessa Thompson captivated us all with her portrayal as Bianca, an incredibly talented musician suffering from progressive hearing loss. The performances were superb, however, the movie itself somehow managed to take the Hollywood gloss away from the well-choreographed fight sequences and manufactured an atmosphere like that found on the HBO boxing channel.
For realism, it was insanely accurate, but as a cinema lover, I prefer the nostalgia of simple escapism which the Rocky franchise delivered in abundance. So, when taking my seat in the auditorium for Creed 2 and expecting more of the same, I was blown away by the atmosphere instilled by director Steven Caple Jr.
Creed 2 is knockout escapism at its best. Its atmosphere triggers a nostalgia ride back to past decades when Rocky Balboa was enduring blow after blow from Clubber Lang in Rocky III, sledgehammer after sledgehammer from Ivan Drago in Rocky IV and reminds us of the pure elation when that ONE PUNCH turns the tide in the favour of our boxing hero.
Creed 2 delivers the adrenaline spike I was looking for!
The plot is far from original. In fact, if you accumulate a percentage of Rocky III and amalgamate it with the plot from Rocky IV the result is the hybrid screenplay of Creed 2. Normally this rehash of narratives would be a detraction from the overall splendour of what transpires on screen. Comparisons are unavoidable, but when accompanied by the heartfelt trials and tribulations of EVERY member of the cast, Creed 2 takes you on an emotional rollercoaster ride. Rocky Balboa, with his cancer in remission faces an even tougher challenge when a ghost from his past emerges from the shadow’s intent on revenge. Ivan Drago, the human wrecking machine responsible for the death of Apollo Creed has fallen on hard times. In the aftermath of his defeat to Balboa, Drago was pressganged from his native country with a young son to care for and found sanctuary across the border where his bitter quest for redemption transformed his young son Viktor into an instrument of revenge.
With Adonis Creed winning the WBC World Heavyweight Championship, Drago senses his chance to restore his family name and in collaboration with Buddy Marcelle, a promoter who has followed Viktor’s career closely, the Drago’s head for a showdown with the newly crowned champ. Meanwhile, Adonis and his long-time partner Bianca are expecting their first child, for most couples this would be a joyous occasion but for Adonis and Bianca, the news comes with the dread that her progressive hearing loss is hereditary. Rocky, on the other hand, is finding life hard without the family he pushed away in the aftermath of Adrian’s death. His relationship with his estranged son had always been tenuous, but with his cancer, in remission, Balboa yearns to reconnect but is reluctant to reach out in fear of rejection.
Enter Drago. The ghost from his past.
With the challenge of a world heavyweight title fight issued and Adonis eager to rewrite history and claim a victory over the family responsible for the death of his father, Rocky is faced with the same burden of responsibility he carried into the ring for his father on that fateful day. With his conscience already bearing the loss of his father, Rocky refuses to stand in Adonis’ corner and pleads for him to reject the challenge but his pleas fall on deaf ears. Unprepared, and totally outmatched Adonis Creed steps into the ring with Viktor Drago and endures the beating of his life, one which results in Drago’s disqualification and Creed narrowly retaining his hard-earned title. But the damage is done, and Creed’s confidence is crushed just as badly as his body.
What follows is a quest for redemption for all parties.
Ivan and Viktor are hailed as national heroes and are reunited with their estranged mother, once again played by Brigitte Nielsen who reprises her role from Rocky IV, Adonis Creed withdraws from the world and wraps himself inside a cocoon of self-pity, whilst Bianca endures the pain of witnessing her partner’s mental breakdown at a time where she is juggling the burden of being a mom to their newborn baby daughter. Balboa, on the other hand, blames himself for Creed’s defeat and returns from the side-lines to rejuvenate his former student and train him harder and faster than ever before to withstand the lethal raw power of his opponent. And, when Viktor issues the challenge of the rematch, Creed is rejuvenated in body and mind and more than ready to step between the ropes once again.
Despite Creed 2 basically rehashing the same storylines as Rocky III and IV, director Steven Caple Jr. has delivered a truly emotional juggernaut. The drama outside of the ring is more than equal to the battles within it and the struggles endured by all parties will take you on a genuine, gritty and reflective rollercoaster ride. The sin of the father element was a pleasant surprise. Not only did it offer an insightful window in the mindset of Adonis Creed, but it also opened old wounds for Rocky Balboa and his relationship with his estranged son. However, what was even more surprising was the journey experienced by Ivan Drago. From the outset, we are introduced to a broken man, one tormented by his defeat to Balboa some thirty years previous and get to explore his bitter quest for revenge.
Instead of a token “bad guy” resurrected from a previous instalment of the Rocky series, Drago is taken on a legitimate journey and must face up to his mistake of using his son as an instrument to carry out his revenge. His manipulation of his young son is a stark reflection of his own upbringing and the storylines’ resolution climaxes with him finding his humanity and attaining a degree of closure for his own humiliation.
Instead of revenge, he regains a lost father/son relationship and in turn gains something far greater than victory, or even revenge could ever deliver.
Once again, the performances were infallible. Sylvester Stallone, as always delivers a masterful performance as Rocky Balboa, Michael B. Jordan reveals a deeper, darker side to Adonis Creed that was missing from his previous outing, Dolph Lundgren offers a completely different take on Ivan Drago which I found to be a triumph, but the most mesmerising performance comes from Tessa Thompson. Her portrayal of Bianca offers us a window into the mindset of a boxer’s wife and the ordeals they endure behind the scenes. While Bianca may not be as iconic a character as Rocky’s devoted wife Adrian, she has cemented herself as the foundation of the Creed saga and highlighting her struggles with a hereditary hearing disability is inspirational viewing.
Ludwig Goransson delivers another perfectly acceptable score to accompany the action on screen which delivers many noteworthy cues that will have your adrenaline pumping in places, but even these aren’t enough to surpass the triumphs of his superb Black Panther and Venom scores from earlier in the year. I have found Goransson to be a breath of fresh air in 2018, the diversity of his work is breathtaking at times and it is a joy to see his talent coming to fruition so fantastically.
Overall, I was delighted with Creed 2. It delivered an overdose of adrenaline-fuelled action whilst remaining grounded and keeping a heartfelt story about the characters and the inner turmoil that is attached to a boxer’s life inside and outside of the ring. And, I defy anyone to not launch into the air with glee when the Rocky theme explodes through the speakers during the final confrontation.
Creed II arrives in cinemas this Friday.
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