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Review: Creed II

Creed II
9 10

After a strong debut as the offspring of the late, great Apollo Creed, Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone welcomed the next generation to the ROCKY franchise with CREED. Directed by Ryan Coogler (BLACK PANTHER), the film carried on the tradition set forth by the six films from the aforementioned series and carried the torch forward for the crowd-pleasing boxing franchise with a new underdog to root for. Now, we pick up with the young boxer fighting his way up the ranks in CREED II, which brings back stars Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad and Wood Harris, as well as the return of one of the most beloved (and hated) characters of Rocky fame; Ivan Drago, again played by Dolph Lundgren, who is now mentoring a fighter of his own, his son, Viktor Drago, as played by real life boxer Florian Munteanu. The film sets the stage for a tale of revenge and redemption, not just for Jordan's Creed, but for everyone involved in the story. That's a tall order to fill, yet CREED II, like it's lead character, rises to the challenge.

Fans of the ROCKY franchise will no doubt be very familiar with the events that have led us to CREED II, which are the result of everything that happened in ROCKY IV, where Drago famously killed Apollo Creed in the ring and caused Rocky to accept a revenge bout in Moscow that changed his career as a boxer forever. These events are no small matter to Adonis Creed. In fact, they have everything to do with where he ended up, so it makes perfect sense to pull this thread in a sequel to the breakaway hit that was CREED. We pick up with Adonis, already rising through the ranks and becoming the heavyweight champ, which gives him worldwide acclaim, attracting a boxer from across the world to challenge him in a bout that is sure to bring the masses and some much needed redemption for the disgraced Drago name.

Nostalgia plays a huge factor in how you'll feel about CREED II, but if you love the prior films, including CREED, then this one is a knockout. It's chock full of the beats we've come to expect from the ROCKY franchise, but with its own distinct voice and new characters with new dilemmas that are given some wonderful care and treatment. This isn't a hack job that's trying to capitalize solely on your love of past films, but rather serves as a near-perfect throughline to the continuation of the series, while forging its own way forward. With a script by Stallone, Sascha Penn and Juel Taylor, CREED II retains the voice of the series flawlessly and focuses on the beats we've pulled lessons from for decades; love, loss, revenge, redemption and the concept of family. CREED II isn't just a throwaway entry in the series; in fact, it feels like the ultimate chapter to the Rocky saga. I hesitate to say "final" as it's not trying to close the book, but tying events from the first ROCKY all the way up to CREED II feels like a perfect beginning and a perfect end at once.

A sequel is always a tough thing to get right. There's a lot of pressure to live up to what came before and the urge to repeat oneself is always on the table. CREED II flipped things for me. I didn't quite know what to expect or how they'd weave the tale, but I was on the edge of my seat to find out where things were going, all the while hoping each moment would pay off in a satisfactory way, while expecting that they'd most likely not be able to succeed. In that way, CREED II served as an underdog of a film that completely rose to the occassion and won me over. Everyone is given ample time to develop here and I was amazed at how well balanced it all was. Jordan is once again great as Adonis Creed, bringing a hunger, fire and strength to the character, but also vulnerability, doubt and pain. He's burdened with so much in his path to success and finds as many new challenges outside of the ring as he does in it.

Tessa Thompson gives another layered look into Bianca, who also graduates into challenging new territory, while giving her an opportunity to support Adonis in a way we've never seen before. The Drago's, both Ivan (Lundgren) and Viktor (Munteanu) are an even bigger surprise. If you're going into this looking for straight villains, well, you won't find it here. These are two men looking to be redeemed in the biggest way and face their own pain and confusion in trying to get it. The father-son relationship is explored in a much deeper way than you may expect and you come to appreciate their dilemma so much so that you may be conflicted in who to root for by the end of the film, particularly when we get another surprise visit that rocks their world. I found myself feeling for the Drago's, yet still feeling for Creed as well. It's a wonderful dynamic and creates the kind of tension you want in a ROCKY/CREED film.

Speaking of Rocky, Stallone is back as Balboa and once again in Creed's corner, playing every bit the patriarchal role to the young fighter. It's a role that Stallone has forged in iron (and even got an Oscar nod for CREED). In many ways, Rocky is becoming his own old trainer, Mickey, but the plight of where his life is going weighs heavily on him and seeds planted in CREED start to bear fruit for his personal life. And, don't worry, there's still plenty of sage advice form Balboa that will surely be pulled from this and put into an inspirational daily quote in your Facebook feed. What I love about CREED II is that nothing felt wasted. No character felt like they were short-changed and the challenges felt real and personal. Nothing comes easy and this is hardly a film that you have to shut your brain off and enjoy. If anything, you should probably bring tissues, because like all the films before it, this movie is ripe with heart and you'll feel those strings being pulled many times.

Director Steven Caple Jr. had a large task ahead of him for his second feature and he does an outstanding job of bringing this complex story together. The boxing action is sharp and powerful, giving the audience plenty of moments to wince and cheer along with, and the moments of human drama are handled deftly; don't be surprised if you well up in multiple scenes, even if it's tears of joy. CREED II is that rare sequel that carries on the traditions set before in prior films (and I lump the CREED films right along the lineage of the ROCKY films), while paving the way for the next generation. While I hope to see Jordan and co. step back into the ring for many more sequels, I'm almost afraid of them having to live up to what CREED II has done in honoring the legacy of all involved, but if these films have taught us anything, it's that you should always root for the underdog.

Source: JoBlo.com

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