Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Review: Jordan, Stallone and Lundgren make "Creed II" a knockout

Creed II Review
As myself, my brother and my father shambled out of the theater last night after seeing "Creed 2," we mused about spin-off movies are usually put in place by studios to milk a few more dollars out of a dead series. I felt "Rocky Balboa" put a nice bow on the "Rocky" movies. I had uneasy expectations when "Creed" rolled out, but they proved pretty quickly that "Creed" was a sure investment. Not bad for a spin-off movie, not bad at all. But to get a good sequel to a spin-off? That seemed more than unlikely.

It looks like MGM, Sly Stallone, Michael B. Jordan, and the wonderful crew behind "Creed 2" were determined to make this count. A sequel to a spin-off is in theaters right now, and it works. Is it as good as "Creed?" I'm not sure at the moment, I got to watch that movie again soon. To be honest, I don't care. "Creed 2" fits in really well with the first movie. It is a continuation of the themes and ideas put forth in the first movie. I am not sure it puts the title character, Adonis Creed (Micheal B. Jordan) in any sort of new situation. But "Creed 2" is so confident in itself that it entertains overwhelmingly. Yes, its formulaic. But sometimes, formula works in this business and the confidence I eluded to is key.

What sells this sequel is the characters themselves, and the actors who play them. When we meet Adonis Creed again, he's been making a name for himself in the boxing world. Things are still going well between him and Bionca (Tessa Thompson), so much so that he proposes and she accepts. Rocky (Stallone) still trains him and they've created a strong bond. On the other side of the world, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) is training his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) to box. Viktor is a huge, hulking brute of a man and Ivan's been training him well. They eventually go to the United States to challenge Adonis, who wins a title belt at the beginning of the movie. This, of course, feels like revenge for Adonis. If we think back on our Rocky movies, it was Ivan who killed Apollo, and it was Rocky who beat Ivan in retaliation for killing his friend. Now, its Ivan looking for some kind of payback.

What I liked is that Ivan and Viktor aren't just "the villains." They aren't just mere antagonists that pay lip service to the past in order to sell more tickets. Life hasn't treated Ivan well after his loss to Rocky all those years ago. He was shunned by his country and by his family, losing his status as a man in his own homeland. Viktor becoming a good boxer and setting up a reputation in the United States could regain respect in his homeland that he desperately craves. We find out that Ludmilla (Brigitte Nielsen) was a groupie bitch, to put it mildly, and she left her family after Ivan's defeat. Ivan is willing to put up with people who left him high and dry in order to push his son onto a pedestal. It's a rare, wonderful performance for Lundgren and I'll be curious to see if the award circuits pay him any respect, like they did Stallone.

What about Creed? Well, of course he takes the fight. It wouldn't have been much of a movie if he didn't. This decision creates tension between him and Rocky, who can't bare stand in his corner, too worried that Adonis will die. Not only is Adonis engaged to be married, but we also find out he's a looming father, which only creates more tension. The script certainly rakes up the angst for our characters. But what I was most impressed by was how it didn't feel melodramatic one bit. The script co-written by Stallone and Cheo Hodari Coker, breaks the characters down in a human, organic way. Its literally the best script Stallone has ever put his name on, because let's be honest, Stallone doesn't have a flair for dialogue, but this script does find a realistic way to balance these emotions and themes and the character work is strong because of it.

Stallone, Jordan and Thompson all do very good work once again. They seem up for expressing all the emotions put forth in the script and "Creed 2" is certainly well acted. I'd say Florian Munteanu is fine, but good or great, but fine. Sadly, all his character is really given to do is bulk around, looking mean. There isn't much more to his character. He isn't given much dialogue in the script. He just comes out to fight. I feel like I can't really rate his acting chops based on what we see here.

The boxing scenes are certainly exciting. With all the tensions ramped up by the time Creed and Drago begin throwing punches, its almost too much for the audience to bear. There were people in our theater making audible noises throughout the fight, and there was plenty of clapping and cheering throughout. Because the actors were willing to do the legwork, and because the script was written so well, the boxing really matters. Not only that, but the fights are much more visceral than they were back in 1976. You may feel a little sore leaving the theater after how powerful the boxing scenes are in this movie.

Much like "Creed" was, "Creed 2" feels like it was built on the spine of another former Rocky movie. But I'll tell you what, that didn't really matter to me. The character work is so genuine, so confident, and so engaging that it does feel like a different movie altogether. "Creed 2" is could be described as predictable to some, but a movie like "Creed 2" is going to try to be a brain-thumper. It exists only to please, and it breaks a sweat trying to entertain its audience. All that's left to ponder is if they got enough in the tank to make this an everlasting series like "Rocky." I'll be interested to see what happens from this point forward. They've certainly earned respect and attention with this sequel.

FINAL GRADE: A-

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