Director: Steven Caple Jr.
Screenwriters: Sylvester Stallone and Juel Taylor
Michael B. Jordan
Runtime: 130 mins.
Australian release date: 29 November 2018
Previewed at: Roadshow Theatrette, Pyrmont, Sydney, on 22 November 2018.
Creed II, very obviously, is the follow-up to Ryan Coogler’s highly successful 2015 film Creed, which introduced the world to Adonis Creed, son of Rocky Balboa’s old sparring mate Apollo Creed. The original movie took more than $170 million at box offices across the globe, so we always knew there would be a sequel. Interestingly, though, this film is as much a follow-up to 1985’s Rocky IV as it is a continuation of Adonis’ story, because it features the return of Rocky’s Russian nemesis, Ivan Drago.
Creed II opens in the Ukrainian city of Kiev, where we see Ivan (Dolph Lundgren, grizzled but still looking good) putting his hulk of a son Viktor (Florian 'Big Nasty' Munteanu) through a brutal training regime. Looking on is the American boxing promoter Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby), who’s sizing the kid up. Back in Philadelphia, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) has become the World Heavyweight Champion and, when an offer to fight Viktor comes from Marcelle, he wants to take it. Remember that in Rocky IV, Ivan Drago killed Creed’s father, Apollo (Carl Weathers, seen only in archive footage), so this would be something of a grudge match. Creed’s trainer, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), advises him not to accept the fight but the boxer is determined. When Rocky refuses to train him for the match, Creed decides to move to Los Angeles with his singer girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), leaving Rocky in Philly. In LA, Creed recruits Tony "Little Duke" Evers (Wood Harris), the son of Apollo’s old trainer, to replace Rocky, but of course the fight goes badly, setting the fighters up for a rematch in Moscow. No surprises there.
Indeed, that’s the problem with Creed II - it is entirely predictable. The plot is completely formulaic: build up, first fight ending in failure, return of previous team, montage of heavy-duty training, rematch, victory. This is not a spoiler. We’ve seen this story so often before, especially in the Rocky franchise, that it’s hard to maintain some enthusiasm for the heroes. Granted, there are a few subplots along the way, all concentrating on the importance of family, but these are not enough to compensate for the clichéd central narrative. That said, the performances are very good. Jordan, Stallone and Thompson are all thoroughly convincing in their roles. They should be, of course, because all three are reprising characters they’ve played in Creed. Look out for an appearance by Brigitte Nielsen, too, also reprising her role from Rocky IV as Ivan’s (now ex-) wife Ludmila, Viktor’s estranged mother. Nielsen was, of course, famously and briefly married to Stallone in the dim distant past. What doesn’t ring true, however, is the milieu that surrounds Adonis and Bianca. The couple seem to live a remarkably austere life given the millions that a World Heavyweight title fight pays the boxers these days. They live virtually alone, there are no hangers-on or sycophants, no big spending or living large, no support team, and no mention of money. It’s weird.
Steven Caple’s direction is straight-forward but where he does show strength is in the final fight scene. Here, at last, is some emotion and the battle is beautifully (and brutally) shot and edited. It’s the film’s high-point. It’s interesting to note that it’s okay for Russians to be the bad guys again, after years of détente. It goes to show the truth of the old adage, that ‘what goes around, comes around.’ Rocky IV was made during the Cold War, before the Berlin Wall came down, and now, here we are again, with Russia once more the world’s villain. Plus ça change…