“Creed II” (2018, 12A)

Is this boxing sequel a box office knock-out, or will it leave you feeling like you’ve had a punch in the gut?

After making his name as a formidable boxer during the events of 2015’s “Creed”, Adondis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) continues to honour the legacy of his father, Apollo Creed, while trying to carve his own path away from the shadow of the past. But, when the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) — the man who killed Apollo in the ring — challenges Adondis to a fight, he must risk history repeating itself and put everything on the line, and face the menacing Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu).

2015’s “Creed” was a fantastic and fitting continuation of the “Rocky” saga, and its sequel continues this trend. The expert cast from the first film all return, including Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and Sylvester Stallone. Jordan is still the stand-out, and he captures the emotional turmoil of Adondis Creed’s story so perfectly, that by the climactic ending scenes I couldn’t help but empathise with the intense emotions portrayed on screen. Tessa Thompson is also outstanding as Bianca, Adondis’ partner, and it was their natural chemistry that I felt made the first film. Though some of the scripting at the beginning of “Creed II” somewhat limited this, their performances still shone through, and by the end all woes were forgotten. Even the newcomers to the cast, playing the ‘villains’ Ivan and Viktor Drago, were excellent, capturing the raw and intense emotion both characters held, but also managing to make me feel a pang of guilt and sorrow for the two men at the end of the film — Munteanu and Lungruden especially balance the act of making a compelling and threatening villain, yet at the same time one who the audience can feel sorry for. Then, of course, there’s Sylvester Stallone, returning as Rocky Balboa, revered former World Boxing Champion and Adondis Creed’s mentor. Though his role is somewhat diminished in this sequel — signifying Creed’s quest to make his own legacy without the help of the past — Rocky is nonetheless a key player, and Stallone captures the tired yet determined character perfectly.

The plot of “Creed II” is somewhat predictable in places, yet this is not a film to be seen if you’re expecting complex and twisting narratives. The beginning may seem a little rushed but for me I didn’t mind it as it meant the main bulk of the story could kick in as soon as possible. This sequel did have quite a few nods to its predecessor, such as locations visited and camera shots used, yet in that latter part I felt this film lacked some of the creativity the first brought — Ryan Coogler, who expertly directed 2015’s “Creed”, utilised some really original camera work, especially the long, one-take, swirling shots used to capture some of the boxing bouts. “Creed II”s director, Steve Caple Jr., opts for some more traditional filming techniques, though sometimes I did wish his shots were a little more intimate to fully capture the raw emotion the actors portrayed.

Of course, the defining feature of the “Creed” films are the action, and “Creed II” does not disappoint. Each punch is hard and loud, and the film does not shy away from showing some of the brutal injuries that can be sustained from boxing. The sound design used to emphasise the power behind each hit, the excellent make-up to highlight the pain inflicted with each shot, all works together to form some gripping scenes. The driving force of these fights, however, is the awe-inspiring score, composed by Ludwig Göransson, merged seamlessly with the range of specially commissioned songs from the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Pharrell Williams. The powerful lyrics and orchestral crescendos made my hairs stand on end, and when the iconic Rocky theme plays at the climax of the film, albeit only briefly, a shiver went down my spine. All this culminated in a cinematic experience not to be missed, displaying this violent art in a way that’s both beautiful and brutal.

Overall, “Creed II” is a strong sequel and had a tough act to follow, and though the loss of arguably one of the best directors working now at the helm led to this film losing some of the artistry of its predecessor, it still packs a punch emotionally and with its action. For that, it deserves a nine-out-of-ten.

9/10.

https://youtu.be/u22BXhMu4tI

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