Creed 2 movie review: Sylvester Stallone, Michael B Jordan deserve Oscars love; one of the best films of the year
Director - Steven Caple Jr
Cast - Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren
Rating - 4.5/5
“It’s almost Shakespearean,” the announcer says, and you can’t help but agree. “Two sons, raised a world apart, yet inexorably linked through tragedy,” are about to touch gloves. Two fighters, whose histories are intertwined; powered, as if by destiny, to collide - and the world is watching. Behind them, in their respective corners, are the men who’ve shaped them into who they are; men who’ve been bruised more by their shared past than by the punches they’ve thrown at each other. Leather touches flesh, the sound of cracking bones rises above the deafening crowd, glares meet mid-air. The bout has begun. The announcer’s right, it is rather Shakespearean.
Creed 2 is about parenthood and legacy, about honour and identity, about the power of myths and the idea of heroism. But Shakespearean themes aside, what it reminded me the most of - perhaps because both films share star Michael B Jordan (and composer Ludwig Goransson) - was the most Shakespearean of all the Marvel movies, Black Panther. Towards the film’s final moments, when Goransson unwinds the iconic Rocky theme at precisely the right moment, it is the ‘villain’ for whom you will cry.
Watch the Creed 2 trailer here
One wouldn’t normally expect the sequel to a popular spin-off to generate comparisons such as this - invoking Shakespeare is common, considering how influential the Bard is, but it is also precarious - but the first Creed was one of the rare examples of a reboot working.
Creed 2 has been falsely marketed as a boxing drama - there are only two fights in the entire film, featuring the same two characters, separated by more than an hour - but thanks to its deft handling of characters, aided by some truly soulful performances and tender direction, it is most certainly a strong contender for one of the best films of the year.
In many regards, Creed 2 fails to duck the blows that so many sequels before it have been struck by. It is grander in both scope and emotion; the action seems larger and that tried and tested formula of injecting the hero with self-doubt makes a return. Logan did it, Spider-Man 2 did it and Skyfall did it.
In the film, Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) faces his biggest challenge yet, when a scud missile of a man comes knocking at his door. He’s Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago, the man who remorselessly killed his father, Apollo Creed. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) took care of Drago back then, beating him in his own backyard in Russia, but Drago broke things in Rocky ‘that ain’t ever been fixed.’
The victory made Rocky a national hero, but Drago found himself ostracised by his own country. It is this bitterness that fuels Drago’s desire for revenge. And it is this idea - of heroes being one bad day away from turning into villains - that the film seems most fascinated by.
Creed 2 mirrors many of the plot points of Rocky IV, the film in which this story essentially began. What happened between Rocky, Drago and Apollo Creed affected many generations; the flaws of the parents being passed down like a disease onto their children. Viktor’s childhood couldn’t have been more different from Creed’s - both, in many ways, grew up without a father to look up to. While Adonis - or Donnie - filled this void by inviting Rocky into his lonely life, Viktor Drago fights - for the approval and appreciation of a man who is unlikely to give him any.
Dolph Lundgren returns as Ivan Drago, just as stoic as he was, breaking his silence only to repeat some of his popular catchphrases. “Finish him,” he commands his son, whom he constantly belittles, having poisoned Viktor with decades’ worth of his own anger.
For all his fame and success, Rocky, too, is a man ridden with guilt. He blames himself for Apollo Creed’s death - he is once again confronted with the difficult choice of throwing in the towel during a match; his hesitance to do so for Apollo remains one of his life’s biggest regrets. For all his professional victories, his personal life lies broken and bloody. Donnie reminds Rocky, who lives alone and hasn’t had any contact with his son for years, that he’s the only friend he has left.
Their scenes together are arguably more exhilarating that the fight sequences, which are differently choreographed than the sweeping steadicam battles of the first film. Here, director Steven Caple Jr shoots mostly in a handheld, intimate style - rarely leaving his characters’ side. In an homage to Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull - a classic of the genre - he peppers the boxing sequences with first person shots, meant to make the audience feel Creed’s pain, as if they’re being pummelled themselves. And boy, does Creed take a beating here.
Caple Jr is yet another young black director - like Ryan Coogler before the first Creed, he is just one film old - who has proven his mettle with a mid-budget studio film. He clearly has a knack for telling stories such as this, as well as a visual flair - the training montage in Creed 2 is just as terrific as you’d hoped for it to be. But this epic Greek tragedy, this Shakespearean drama that is the Rocky franchise, has always been about the characters.
Stallone’s snub was one of the biggest travesties of the 2016 Oscars - besides the wonderful narrative it made for, his performance truly reflected the dormant artistry in his heart. Both the narrative and the performance remain equally moving this time around - Stallone has said this is his final film as the iconic character. But Creed 2 serves as the most resounding announcement of Michael B Jordan’s talents as both a movie star and an actor. He could be the next Denzel Washington.