Review – Even without Ryan Coogler, ‘Creed 2’ packs a serious punch

Poster for 2018 boxing sequel Creed 2

Genre: Drama
Certificate: 12
UK Release Date: 30th November 2018
Runtime: 130 minutes
Director: Steven Caple Jr
Writer: Juel Taylor, Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Michael B Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris
Synopsis: Despite new responsibility in his personal life, Adonis Creed finds himself forced to accept a dangerous fight, with serious bad blood at its heart, when the son of his father’s killer comes knocking.

 

 

Much like the Spanish Inquisition, no one expected Creed. Despite the decent acclaim for Fruitvale Station, director Ryan Coogler was as unproven on the big stage as Michael B Jordan‘s boxing rookie Adonis Creed. Both proved everyone’s prejudices wrong with an intense action drama that did justice to the Rocky franchise while also carving out a path of its own. Coogler, now responsible for one of the most acclaimed Marvel movies ever, has stepped aside for the sequel Creed 2, presenting a whole new round of uncertainty.

Incoming director Steven Caple Jr who, like Coogler, had only one other feature under his belt, is thankfully up to the challenge of stepping into his predecessor’s shoes. Creed 2 is a solid and worthy sequel that follows up on Coogler’s work while also paying homage to Rocky IV – one of the most widely appreciated entries in the series to date.

That homage comes through in the presence of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Years after his brutality was responsible for the in-ring death of Adonis’s father and he subsequently lost to Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in Russia, Drago is looking to restore his pride vicariously through son Viktor (real-life fighter Florian Munteanu). An enterprising promoter attempts to set up a title fight between Creed, who is newly minted with a championship belt, and the younger Drago. Despite the concerns of his partner Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and Rocky, Adonis feels like he must take the fight.

Sylvester Stallone and Michael B Jordan in boxing sequel Creed 2
Sylvester Stallone and Michael B Jordan in boxing sequel Creed 2

The reason he feels this is essentially the core idea of this film – the unique loyalty and connection between fathers and their children. It’s a theme that’s perhaps slightly over-egged by the fact that almost every character is framed around their status as either a father, a child, or both, but it’s a solid core for a story that is as much about emotion as it is about boxing. Creed 2 is far more of a conventional boxing movie than Coogler’s Creed was, but it executes the tropes of the genre well enough that that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Caple Jr certainly helms the fights themselves with flair. He isn’t as accomplished as Coogler, so the jaw-dropping single take material of the first film is absent, replaced by close quarters, high-impact brawling that hits very hard indeed. The sound design deserves real credit for bearing the brunt of the crunchy brutality, in fights that encourage the audience to feel every blow and every knock-down.

The first half of Creed 2 moves briskly and with real energy, cantering through a fair amount of plot in order to hit a midpoint fight that serves as a fulcrum, pivoting the narrative towards a more turbulent and emotion-driven second half. Jordan’s performance is physically imposing, but also fraught with the same sense of a youngster desperate to prove himself that was behind his character in the first Creed. This time around, he is forced to balance that drive and ambition with the responsibilities of adulthood in a way that deepens the character, particularly in the face of Lundgren’s surprisingly nuanced older Drago – a man whose relationship to parenthood is shaped by the sense of shame he feels at his own failings.

It’s hefty emotional stuff and, though it usually works, there are bum notes. Returning composer Ludwig Göransson, who also hit big this year alongside Coogler with Black Panther, shines when peppering his score with blasts of the iconic original Rocky music, but tends towards the overly grandiose with his original contributions. The story is strong enough to negate any need for aural hand-holding. Rocky himself is something of a spare part, and his plotline could comfortably have been excised for the sake of slimming down the bloated running time.

But those are minor issues with a sequel that, for the most part, keeps the standard high. As yet another showcase for Michael B Jordan as a movie force of nature, it excels, giving the star centre stage and allowing him to make the most of it, with terrific support from Tessa Thompson and, perhaps surprisingly, Lundgren. Steven Caple Jr isn’t Ryan Coogler, but he does a stellar job of stamping his own impression on a film that ensures Creed is now a franchise entirely of its own, rather than just a Rocky follow-up.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

It turns out lightning does strike twice, at least when it comes to Creed. With the reliable charisma of Michael B Jordan at the centre, as well as one of the best performances of Dolph Lundgren’s career, Creed 2 is a very solid sequel that expands upon the themes of the first film, albeit without quite the same directorial force and ingenuity brought to the material by Ryan Coogler. The fights hit hard, the emotion lands and the result is a very satisfying movie with which to spend a couple of rounds.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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