Review: Creed II Offers Predictable Thrills With Political Myopia
When Creed arrived in 2015, all eyes looked at it with suspicion. Reboots, after all, are cash cows, not creative outlets. But Ryan Coogler turned things around like a phoenix, rejuvenating a diseased franchise into another potential goldmine of pugilist passion.
Creed inherited the jubilant coherence of the original, telling the tale of an underdog who wins against all odds. The white man’s story turned into a fable of black power, with all the earnestness of detail and lived-in feelings.
The film begins with a duality, with two contrasting landscapes. We meet Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) with his son, in a cold industrial area in Kiev, Ukraine. The bleak opening informs us about the lull before the oncoming storm, as followers of the series know Drago, reduced to the vagaries of old age now, was defeated by Rocky’s famous fists in Rocky IV (1985).
In a stark contrast to the unkind land of Dragos, we meet Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) as he is preparing for his big World Heavyweight Championship match. It’s a warm area as Creed is surrounded by the people he loves, and the people who love him.
Steven Caple Jr. (who directed 2016’s The Land), directs the present by mining the past. It’s no surprise that we’re being prepared for a skirmish between sons who will rewrite their father’s legacy. If memories have failed us, the film takes the onus to remind us that Drago senior killed Creed senior in the ring, leaving a lifetime of wounds for both Rocky and Creed Jr. This father-son thread puts family history in a tale of ambition, and as good as you’d expect, a commentator actually announces, “It all feels so Shakespearean!”.
The script (penned by Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone himself) might not have the Reagan-era propaganda push, but it still sees its antagonists as lesser humans. Drago’s son (played by real-life boxing star Florian ‘Big Nasty’ Munteanu) speaks mostly in grunts, and is surrounded by people who don’t know what warmth is. America may not be as paranoid about Russia like the cold war era, but it still sees Russians as human distortions.
Stallone who parked his legendary character gracefully in Creed pocketing an Oscar nomination mostly speaks banalities here. Tessa Thompson’s Bianca spins real chemistry with Jordan, but she has been denied an inner life. The fight sequences show Caple’s competency in action choreography, and how a designated tweak in sound can elicit the right reactions. But he is no Coogler, who knew how to balance blistering realism and cinematic intensity.
What holds the film together is Jordan’s presence, offering a physical performance that knows how to fight tears and blood. If Erik Killmonger wasn’t enough, the return of Adonis Creed proves that Jordan is the legitimate star of 2018.
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder)