By Jonathan Reed
Video supplied by MGM©
Creed was a movie that seemingly came out of nowhere. An idea that took a much-loved franchise and added a new chapter many questioned it needed. Though, as the movie hit theatres those critics were silenced as Director and Writer Ryan Coogler delivered a reinvigorated, modern turn on a classic boxing genre. Blending the social conscious of a modern-day America with the romanticised struggle of a conflicted hero, Creed truly added weight to the Rocky Balboa narrative in a way like never before.
Sadly, this time around with Coogler serving as only Executive Producer, Creed 2 lacks the raw and organic realness of the first. Choosing to delve into programmatic plotting, the movie becomes much too centred on the struggle of Apollo (Michael B Jordan) fighting a formidable foe in Victor Drago (Florian Munteanu), instead of the fight for his family and baby daughter.
The ‘fight’ is the realisation that his daughter is born with the same degenerative hearing condition as his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson). Sadly, this is never fully explored, and the script seems to be embarrassed to tackle these issues in the way the first Creed unapologetically did so. Director Steven Caple Jr fails to allow both Apollo and Bianca to fully explore the fear of family turmoil, leaving the pain of the characters unable to register with the audience.
Instead, he places the majority of the focus within the Boxing ring and more so on the return of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man responsible for the death of Apollo’s father. This decision to spend so much attention on the fighting heavily impacts the writing, creating a clunky speechifying script that just doesn’t land. It also heavily effects the formation of the characters, which is deeply frustrating.
The first time around, Creed was fully fleshed out as a young fighter striving for excellence and the relationship between he and Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) was wonderful to watch. This time around there consistently feels as if a plateau has been reached and no effort has been made to expand on a relationship that has much potential for evolution. In fact, the script opts to separate both characters as Rocky fails to back Apollo’s shot at fighting Victor Drago.
And it isn’t just Creed and Balboa that miss out on a fully formed relationship, the Dragos too suffer from this. Whilst it is great to see Stallone and Lundgren share the screen again after over 30 years, Ivan remains two-dimensional, and his son Victor even more so. At some points, specifically in the run ups to the fights, it feels as if a Pierce Brosnan-era James Bond villain has stepped into the Rocky franchise. There is a lack of complexity, instead sacrificed for outright carnage and brutality which feels empty and lacking justification.
Still amongst all the aches and pains Creed 2 has, the performances add an easing painkiller, Jordan specifically. He somehow manages to make the stereotypical, and in places, cheesy script seem at times genuine. His delivery stops you from cringing at the random one liner’s, which mostly belong in Bruce Lee movies, not Rocky. Tessa Thompson also shines bringing a much-needed increase in screen-time and fully fleshing out a character which could have been built upon even more. However, for both characters it never feels as if we are seeing the best of their relationship, which is a detriment to the skill of both actors.
The fighting sequences, whilst regrettably become the central draw of the movie, they are impressive to watch. From slow-motion shots to expertly designated POVs, Caple Jr fully places the audience visually in the Ring, a feat he should be commended for.
Creed 2 is that film where it never fully connects. In parts it is great and visually expressive showing the brutal training methods of two athletes desperate to prove a point. Sadly, the point is never explained or fully believed by the characters fighting for them. Coogler’s shot first time around was precise, raw and engaging. This time around, Creed 2 connects occasionally, and like many Boxing matches, expectation and hype doesn’t match the reality.