Creed II poses a question. To what extent do audiences enjoy the classic tried and tested formulas of film? Is it an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” scenario, or does a degree of boredom emerge when the same predicted plot beats begin to play out just as expected?
Creed II is a resounding, confident answer to that question; whilst there are few surprises within the lean 130-minute run time, the film’s very existence seems to be a statement regarding history repeating itself. It’s Adonis returns to the boxing ring to face off against Viktor Drago, the son of the man who killed his father in the same sporting contest some thirty odd years ago. It’s Creed V Drago once again, only “this time it’s different” as Adonis declares during one of the film’s emotional moments.
“first and foremost, this is a grounded family drama, with more screen time dedicated to Adonis’ experiences of being a father and a partner to Tessa Thompson’s Bianca than any of the multiple boxing bouts”
However, whilst déjà vu certainly occurs, Creed II isn’t just a redux of the Rocky formula. It works due to relative newcomer, Steven Caple Jr and screenwriters, Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone keeping the fundamentals of the film focused upon character. Those expecting the epic showdowns the trailers promised won’t be disappointed, but first and foremost, this is a grounded family drama, with more screen time dedicated to Adonis’ experiences of being a father and a partner to Tessa Thompson’s Bianca than any of the multiple boxing bouts.
It’s the chief reason why Ryan Coogler’s first entry was so beloved and punched new life into a franchise that many thought was long out for the count. The characters remain flawed and intriguing and whilst there’s some regression in their development that was accomplished within the first film, it achieves its goal of adding more dimension and vulnerability for the characters involved.
There’s something almost sentimental that the film takes the time to show a family dinner or Adonis haplessly struggling to send his new-born daughter to sleep. With Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson both clearly demonstrating their raw and incredible talent and cementing their status as some of the greatest rising stars in Hollywood. A second act that takes time to breathe and let the characters emotionally sink and converse about their doubts may be the strongest portion of the film. A moment that takes place in near silence between Johnson and Thompson is poignant, heart-breaking and one of the most well-constructed scenes in film this year. There’s a warmth and a soul to Creed II, no doubt imbued by the passionate filmmakers, that allows it rise to above any generic mediocrity.
“these are fights that feel gloriously cinematic. They’re fluid and well-edited set pieces with the camera constantly moving and finding new angles as each punch connects”
There’s even depth in the film’s antagonists, Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago making a return from Rocky IV. Effort has been made to explore the family dynamics between him and his son Viktor. It creates the most riveting and exciting match-up that the Rocky series has seen yet, and these are fights that feel gloriously cinematic. They’re fluid and well-edited set pieces with the camera constantly moving and finding new angles as each punch connects, with Caple Jr utilising a more tasteful use of slow motion than most hefty big budget Hollywood ventures do. With a surprisingly diverse colour pallet to match, there are scorching desert tones and murky gym blues with two specific moments of mise-en-scene showing how Caple Jr has taken like a duck to water in shooting the film.
Additionally, Ludwig Göransson continues to bring wonderful pieces of music to the cinematic soundscape. A beautiful work that shows that frantic strings, thumping bass and A$AP Rocky vocals is a wonderful concoction that no one could have predicted would have worked as well as it does. I’m sure the track will be cemented on many gym playlists in the years to come.
There is certainly a sense of finality that lurks over the proceedings of the film which is perhaps why Creed II adheres to the Rocky formula; something that is unashamedly crowd-pleasing, with one foot planted deep within Coogler’s first film whilst Caple Jr makes brand new steps himself for the franchise. It would have been pleasant to have a few more risks and surprises, but it’s barely a concern when the film churns out such applause-worthy moments; be that the best training montage in years, or when the familiar Rocky fanfare begins to play as Creed delivers a stunning blow, maybe this is just validation of why the formula still works.