by Catherine Courtney
Let’s get straight to the point: I have never seen a Rocky film. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, but unless someone is going to make me watch it with them, I’m probably never going to make that choice on my own and will re-watch Easy A for the umpteenth time.
Rocky Balboa and his story is so entrenched in modern culture that in the first Creed, I remember thinking ‘that moment seems like an in-joke but I can’t remember why’. It’s enough for me. I don’t need to know what the in-joke is, knowing there is a joke is usually as interesting as finding out the actual joke. Creed was highly likeable in 2015 – it stood alone enough for me to enjoy it, so I was fully ready for the next one to see how the character becomes his own.
Here we are: Apollo Creed who is now comfortable in his life with a woman who loves him, a trainer who is basically a father to him, and a vast crowd of adoring fans chanting his name and metaphorically high fiving him whenever he feels like. He smashes through his first opponent, to finally win the title of World Heavyweight Champion… but something’s off. He doesn’t really connect with the moment, still just fighting for possession of a Mustang. An ominous competitor appears – to avenge his father’s defeat thirty years before against Rocky Balboa – Viktor Drago. Except that guy’s father is the reason Creed’s father is dead, so now it’s just basically revenge on revenge on revenge – fear against pride, endurance against resilience, fist against fist,
For a film that’s trying to progress a story that’s been around for over 30 years, it’s about right they moved things along. Creed II reflects the tale that’s known so well, putting its own tiny spin on it. What about the loser? What about the shame, and further losses that loser experienced after their last fight, the people who abandoned them, the advertising deals they never got, the struggles they had to make ends meet?
The film is some meta version of itself; full of parallels and contrasts. There’s enough for them to definitely be doing it intentionally. Rocky’s restaurant so lovingly built in honour of his wife is empty, Adonis’ fast food store that his father left him but he barely acknowledges is overflowing with patrons. Viktor Drago is a warrior trained in fear and brute strength, while Creed is a fighter trained in agility and surrounded by people who love him and build him up. Both boxers are incredibly special (and the training that the two actors have put in for these roles can’t go unmissed – see Creed spar!) but both have completely different backgrounds, motivations, and so their stories both go down the exact different routes we think they will.
It’s interesting to think how far Adonis has come; from the stubborn angry kid we saw at the start of the first film, resentful of his father and in some ways denying his existence, by the time this film gets into full swing it’s one of his inspirations to keep going. You get to follow through his struggles with him, being a part of his conversations with all the people in his life as well as joining in his physical pains. Jordan carries this well – he’s light but strong, emotionally deep but youthful in the part. Meanwhile, Drago is the Bane of this universe. A silent, solid rock of a man, he has been brought up in the East trained solely for the ring, in a life that seems of little luxury, under severe discipline of his father to bring honour back to the family name, and maybe convince his mother to come home (that’s some whole other messed up section that needs its own essay. BAD IVAN.). He’s given little chance to build his own person, few lines to shine a light on his opinions, and minimal screen time. It’s his father who does the ‘villain’s monologue’ – Viktor barely gets to nod his head in agreement. He’s just in this story to break people.
You can’t help but imagine young Drago searching for another career path like being a chef. These fists were for kneading dough, not jaws!
In fact. there are better uses for Drago’s hands, such as;
Sign Language Presenter
Literally so many other things
This is Steven Caple Jr.’s biggest film so far and it is something visually spectacular. We’re treated to three fights, each of which are their own special moment. Watching boxing is hard work when it’s convincing; you feel each hit and praise each dodge. The second fight even comes with a first-person view so you just can go ahead and join in that fight whether you want to or not… (the camera-work sometimes fits in the moment but there’s some scenes where it sadly doesn’t quite match with the flow.) But the filmmaker also plays with the use of light vs dark throughout the film. There’s tortured decision making in the middle of the night, frank conversations in the shadows, confessions in daylight that all frame this moody story. For the allure of the sparkling lights when it comes our our characters big moments, anything goes, and it works. The glamour of their jobs help to highlight what real life really looks like, when they’re hiding behind a tinted car window or sitting in the cold Philadelphia air.
Now look, let’s be realistic. There’s very few reasons to complain about a film where Michael B. Jordan is sweaty and shirtless a lot, but this film actually shines most when the smaller characters are given centre stage. Bianca’s hearing impairment is a daily challenge for her, and (spoiler alert) her fears for her unborn child are legitimate and heartfelt. Mary Anne has lost a husband to the sport her pseudo-son is determined to dedicate his life to, and her juggle of pride and fear is evident. Stallone being nominated for so many awards for the first Creed film was a surprise, yes, but the sincerity and humility of his character continues into this film – he has no desire for the limelight, a taste for the simple things in life, and a serene presence that is impressively captivating, with a portion of the soundtrack built in to reflect his personality amongst the others.
Luckily, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously; a mix of touching moments between the characters help to break up the angst and struggles that our favourites are facing. Tessa Thompson returns as Creed’s love interest and their chemistry feels natural (even if all their lines don’t) and Rocky’s banter with the lead is brotherly and playful whether in the motivational speeches or the more heartfelt bromance scenes. Creed’s own mother Mary Anne (played by Phylicia Rashad) is a force to reckon with – a twitch of her eyebrow could win its own award, and she brings her own special touch to the story away from the boxing ring.
The music carries the film well, homages to the classic theme tunes of course appear at the special moments when the audience are close enough to physically jump up and down in their seat, and new tracks written for the film also sit well and feel well-placed. A training montage mid-show feels so well put together it’s hard to know if the song was written for the scene or the scene was edited for the song, you almost want to lift that giant tyre yourself.
This film is built for a purpose itself too – revenge, redemption and reunion. Yes the story is predictable, even some of the subplots, but it’s a fun romp and a harmless one at that. You’re cheering the characters on right till the end, and if the screening I was in is anything to go by, you won’t be the only one. The film is big and flashy and wins in lots of different ways, and no doubt Hollywood will see the dollar signs and think it’s worth making Adonis Creed a regular fixture in our lives. The team have made something special in this Creed series, and I dread a third.
Let’s all go see this film, then let’s be like Creed – let’s go find something worth fighting for.
Creed II is out in cinemas 30th November