Monday, November 26, 2018

Movie Review: Creed II (2018)

Like its original hero, the Rocky franchise simply will not stay down.  And that, as it turns out, is a good thing.  After 2006's Rocky Balboa shockingly proved a wonderful return to form (Rocky IV and V are both terrible films, let's be honest), and then 2015's Creed spinoff took the franchise in a whole new direction, I learned to never again bet against this film series.

Creed II picks up three years after Creed; Apollo's son Adonis has recovered from his split-decision loss in the first film and become a top contender, ousting over-the-hill Danny Wheeler for the Heavyweight Title, and proposing to his girlfriend Bianca.  Halfway across the world Ivan Drago (an uncannily compelling Dolph Lundgren) has been training his son Viktor to be the same type of in-ring killing machine he himself was 30 years ago.  Viktor challenges Creed for a shot at the title and the battle lines are drawn for a sequel to the first tragic Drago-Creed fight from Rocky IV.  I won't go into plot specifics beyond that, but suffice it to say this film is predictable in that same good way all the other Rocky films are, while further developing these well-drawn characters.  Director Steve Caple Jr. and screenwriters Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone have crafted yet another moving, highly entertaining chapter in the Rocky saga that hits all the familiar notes while throwing in some nice new passages.

This film amazingly adds depth to the silly, one-dimensional romp that was Rocky IV by exploring the consequences of Ivan Drago's two fights in that film.  Set off by a television appearance of Viktor, Adonis becomes haunted by his father's death going unrevenged, while Drago's loss to Rocky in 1985 has left him disgraced and divorced; his obsession with Viktor finishing what he started has all but eaten him alive since.  The script gives father and son Drago a conflicted relationship - Ivan's brutal training borders on torture, while Viktor can't fathom seeking admiration from people he doesn't respect.  The intervening years have somehow made Dolph Lundgren an absolutely fascinating figure; I found myself unable to take my eyes off his weathered face that wordlessly conveyed shame, longing for esteem, and a buried affection for his son.  That Creed II lends Rocky IV so much purpose has to be considered a triumph in itself.

On Adonis's side of things, the film examines his increasingly complicated home life (Bianca finds out she is pregnant and fears the baby will inherit her hearing issues) and his relationship with Rocky, who urges him not to get in the ring with the son of his father's killer.  Michael B. Jordan is once again a sympathetic and at times misguided hero, while Stallone continues to find new corners to explore in the lovable Philly street fighter he created 40+ years ago (the running theme this time around is strained father-son relationships).  Rocky's training regimen here involves teaching Creed how to adapt to the most unforgiving conditions and absorb more punishment than he ever thought possible, making the climactic showdown a punishing war of attrition.

Creed II incorporates story elements from Rocky II, III and IV, while continuing to forge its own path in developing the the two lead characters.  It may tread some familiar ground as its predecessors have all done, but in the end it's a very worthy entry in a series that seems determined to go the distance.

I give the film *** out of ****.

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