Director: Steven Caple, Jr
Duration: 130 slow-motion-punchy minutes
P.T. Barnum used to have a saying: “Don’t leave the meat out, Greg.” Thanks, Phinny. More pressingly, he talked about something having something for everyone. Creed II has something for everyone. The latest chapter in the Rocky series lays a rollercoaster track for the human emotional spectrum. It’s a worthwhile continuation of the series, and a great vehicle for the cast and an excuse for content.
Michael B. Jordan reprises his role as Adonis Creed, never before more notable that he’s the son of Apollo, the former rival of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa. Jordan pumps his role full of more than it really needs. His role in Black Panther left a lot of casual buddies of mine questioning his chops, not quite buying that he was pumping Killmonger full of street colloquialisms. Things seemed “off” to them, whereas I thought Jordan was making measured decisions. Creed II proves that. His Adonis wrings with emotion finely tuned for the situation, and he even cranks on the waterworks a few times. While Creed II is not so much an indictment on toxic masculinity as an embracement of it, there is certainly an understanding of what it is. Jordan’s trouble proposing and relationship with his daughter both address that. It’s not cool to be a muscle-head, but if you are, there is hope. The kindness of the character pushes through.
A number of years ago, Dolph Lundgren killed Adonis’s father. Ivan Drago is a memorable character even if you have never seen the Rocky films. Lundgren returns here, completely displaced by his loss to Rocky, training his son in dreary Ukrainian landscapes to be a boxing machine that can fulfil his prophecy: “My son will break your boy”. His promoter (Russell Hornsby) sets up the fight, complete with emotional baggage.
All the performances here are good. Tessa Thompson’s role as Adonis’s girlfriend/fiancée/baby mama is a little underdressed. She’s a singer, and all her performances in the film are staged. And when I say “staged”, I mean staged. Lights, fireworks, action, go. She brings gravity to her role, but to say that she is not that impressive a singer explains the criticism of those set pieces. She’s better than me, and probably better than you, but we’re not doing entrance themes for Rocky characters. Maybe I’m just out of touch?
Sylvester Stallone’s performance as Rocky, now the trainer of Adonis Creed, is a nice little treat. Stallone has very quickly mastered the pensive teacher element of the old hand. Everything he says seems laced with wisdom, and when it’s not, warning. He doesn’t want Adonis to fight the son of Ivan Drago, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), because what good is revenge, really?
Munteanu brings very interesting qualities to the “villain” of the film. While he is aided by Lundgren’s performance, Munteanu adds very naïve charms to his Viktor. Built like a brick wall that can beat you up, Viktor isn’t filled with his own hate, but that of his father’s. And he never truly owns it. Leaving a dinner party thrown for him, he laments that he doesn’t know the mother that has returned to sit in front of him at the dinner table. “I lost”, Lundgren reminds Viktor. “You won’t.” Viktor seems affronted by the idea that his loser daddy could ever lose. It’s a pleasant amount of nuance leant to a potential meat-head character.
This all leads to very well filmed boxing matches. You know Rocky, yes? The outcome of an early one is the right choice for plot development. The outcome of a later one provides a surprising amount of satisfaction and story closure relying on the history of a series that started in the ’70s and launched the career of the mega-star powering these new ventures. And the post-fight scenes provide a weird amount of symmetry that the film earns for itself.
This review has seemed rather detached. This is on purpose. While watching this film, I lived and died with the punches. But that’s what they are. A little exaggerated for the cinema, but this is Rocky. People punch each other and drama unfolds. It’s gripping, and it’s good. I opened this review saying this has something for everyone. There are laughs, there are tears, there is pregnancy, and there are the consequences of death. People in the cinema with me reacted to some of the trash talk. No one laughed when Michael B. Jordan got those tears out. Creed II achieves 100% of what it intends to. If you listen to the silences and can answer the question Sly keeps asking Jordan, you might even learn something.