Earl Hopkins | Culture Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Just as the films that followed the Oscar-nominated “Rocky,” “Creed II” is a story of a heroically stout fighter, played by actor Michael B. Jordan, who’s pitted against the odds and overcomes obstacles both in and outside the ring. It’s a formula that’s worked throughout the 40-plus years since the birth of the series, which spawned “Creed” and its subsequent second film. But it’s one that continues to work.
Director Steven Caple Jr. proved he could command a highly anticipated film and evenly expound on the stories of iconic and emerging characters in a world filled with cinematic history. In the process, there was a shift in focus. Not only was Jordan’s character, Adonis “Donnie” Creed, tested on-screen but, with Caple Jr.’s direction, Jordan had one of the best acting performances of his career.
With eight films in the “Rocky”-verse, the arch of each installment into the long-lasting franchise has been done. The once struggling boxer loses in a title fight, in which he was expected to get demolished by a more polished and championed opponent, puts up a good fight, proves himself on the professional level and wins the title for himself. Then, after defending his belt, gets complacent, loses horrifically to an unexpected fighter, bottles up in emotion and fear, just to have a cool training montage where he regains the “eye of the tiger” and, once again, becomes champion.
“Creed II” harnesses the same direction but, with writer Cheo Hodari Coker at the helm, the film separates itself from previous films in the series.
The film begins with Donnie running through the current heavyweight division while boxer, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago, is making a name for himself in Russia. His emergence draws anticipation from boxing analysts and fans, who want to see the two fighters go head to head. Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is reluctant to train Donnie, as he experienced the death of his father, a moment he grudgingly regrets to the day. Adonis’ frustrations force him to train in Rocky’s absence, which leads to a one-sided defeat by the hands of Viktor, who hospitalizes the former champion for several days following the fight.
Rather than solely focusing on Adonis avenging the death of his father, Apollo Creed, it’s a film centered on finding his own motivations as a fighter, fiancé and young father. Now that his life with Bianca (Tessa Thompson) has blossomed into the birth of his daughter, Adonis is seeking to find the balance between his life on both sides of the ropes.
Caple Jr. also highlights the life of Viktor, who isn’t pictured as an emotionless robot like the depiction of Ivan during his fighting career. Ivan was Rocky’s rival in the fourth installment of the “Rocky” franchise. Viktor shows signs of vulnerability just as he shows death-induced relentlessness and hatred. He and his father seek their own source of vengeance. With his father’s loss in 1985, Viktor was abandoned by his power-obsessed mother and his father was shamed by a country that once hailed him as its greatest hero. As a result, Ivan pushes his son in an effort to ensure they regain the lost prominence their names once held.
Caple Jr. brilliantly divides between the two character’s sources of pain that spark their motivation to destroy each other in the ring. “Creed II” also shows Adonis’ inner will, which is comparative to the one his trainer and mentor embodied during his bloodied, death-defying exchanges in his prime. Leading up to the two fighters’ final showdown, Caple Jr. shoots one of the best training montages in both films’ lore, channeling all the inspirational elements that suck in viewers.
Rather than train in state-of-the-art boxing facilities, Rocky takes him to a place he says fighters go to regain themselves; to regenerate the former confidence and bravo they lost because of defeat or a loss of self. Adonis goes from the speed bags and canvas floors to the dirt roads and dusk-filled air, bringing a breath of life to Jordan’s character and leading to a pursuit of self-redemption into one of the better fighting scenes in the series’ history. Though the scenes were purposefully absent of “Creed” director, Ryan Coogler, and his one-shot scene, Caple Jr. crafted beautiful point-of-view shots that immersed viewers into the fight, which ended in unexpected fashion.
This moment was the one that displayed Adonis’ inner fight. He fought not for defeat, but to rebuild. He refused to harp on the mistakes and actions his father made. By the end, Rocky himself acknowledged his shortcomings as a father and its long-lasting effects. During the last scene of the film, Rocky walks to an apartment to have a man and child answer the door. Rocky welcomed them both and the man at the door addressed him as the child’s grandfather. The final scene placed the film in full circle.
“Creed II” encompasses many layers, many of which blend seamlessly and, ultimately, fortifies a great installment to the Rocky-Creed franchise.
Rating: ⅘ stars