Creed II Review — Tainted legacy

Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson in Creed II

There are like a bunch of really good movies that I don’t really have an interest in watching because of their proximity to dads. Like, I love a lot of Rob Reiner films but have little to no interest in watching Stand By Me because it amounts to the favourite film of like half of all boring white middle-aged men. That and Shawshank, I guess the non-scary King adaptations draw them in. In fact a good half of Bob Zemeckis’ filmography is a no go zone nowadays. I’m sure that Rocky is a good film, I’m sure I’ll get to it eventually, but for now age has given it proximity to the most boring parts of our society.

Creed II struggles with this. It finds itself torn in its aims, it stars Micheal B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson — two real vivid and exciting young stars — but also wants to be telling a story firmly entrenched in legacy. Fathers and sons type shit, weighing up the deference that we owe to those that came before us. You can’t begrudge Sylvester Stallone his face, he’s done well with it, but that brow, that jaw, those lips. They’re totemic. When he rolls into a scene he makes it clear that the franchise is his.

He’s producing after all, he credited for a draft of the script and, with Creed director Ryan Coogler not returning, the reins have been handed over to Steven Caple Jr. A pre-title sequence shows the Ukrainian rise of a new rival for Adonis, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of the man who killed his father in the ring (Dolph Lundgren in a returning performance). The movie consistently hits on this theme as hard as last year’s Trainspotting sequel: there’s no escaping the past.

Yet this rises out of the text to become a spectre looming over the franchise itself. Creed represented a contemporary reflection of the original, yet this new instalment only serves to restrict the characters, thrusting them through the same motions that were performed by their forebears. Here we neatly, elide the plot of Rocky II in the opening fifteen minutes to see our hero become heavyweight champion, then accelerate into Rocky IV for the fight against the foreign foe representing an unfriendly national superpower.

It’s deferential in both the way that it mirrors the beats, and in how it has these characters act. Rocky himself is still managing a gloomy restaurant with no customers, he spends his free time complaining to the council about a broken streetlight, other characters just come and call him right out saying hes life is pretty damn sad right now. Yet the man is always right, he’s always sage, he always is ready to come out with some hard-bitten poetry about life and how it should be lived.

He’s haunted by the fact that he did not stop the fight that killed his friend, yet emotional victory for him here lies in continuing to refuse to act on those impulses. Letting everything keep spinning, repeating the choices that have already been made, progress through stasis. Even the choice to keep it a Philly movie is deliberately made. The most compelling stuff here is everything that contrives to force the action away from the ring.

Thompson’s Bianca is a musician who wants to move out west, their young family is surprised by a pregnancy, and all of that is more interesting than the fighting. My heart was hammering far harder twenty minutes in as he tried to work his way through a proposal than during any of the fighting, because these two are so good and their chemistry is like actually palpable, and when the film backs off its machismo and gives them time to be emotionally vulnerable they work brilliantly with each other.

On the other side of the world we see the relationship within the Drago household. It’s hardly a sympathetic portrayal Lundgren plays it hard nosed and stoic and the script largely allows Munteanu’s dominating physicality to speak for itself. Yet in a film that is desperate to construct villains out of these men, they come across as far more ready heroes. They’re the only thing here that shows a capacity to grow and evolve, and the moral victory in the end is theirs. We are told what Adonis’ actions mean later in a monologue, the power of this duo is immediately apparent.

Even more so that it takes place in the final fight of the movie which comes exceptionally close to being a full on disaster. Maybe it’s my unfamiliarity with the aesthetic of a boxing match but these two men were so over oiled, the lighting so aggressive that they barely appeared to be inhabiting the same world as the audience. I’m not sure if there was some dodgy special effects going on with the crowd, bad compositing, but they stood out like characters in some EA Sports franchise.

It’s rough, and like, I ain’t totally here for it. I’ll need to catch the first one, see if that handled it any better. This film has the man leave to train in the desert with a bunch of bros literally weeks after his daughter is born and I think we’re supposed to see the choice as rugged and masculine. It doesn’t feel like that to me, and the films presentation of it as such is offputting.

Like, bad comparison, but I super loved Juho Kuosmanen’s film The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki. That film dives into the psychology of a man leading up to a big fight. Here we are informed that our lead is unable to perform at the best of his abilities due to unresolved feelings that are never properly interrogated.

I love Adonis Creed and Bianca Taylor, I just wish they were allowed to start fighting their own battles.

Creed II is currently screening in UK cinemas.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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