The world’s most beloved boxers on film are back in this reprise to the surprisingly enjoyable underdog story, CREED, from 2015. CREED II might better be called ROCKY IV-II though, as it more closely resembles the franchise’s most successful (though critically derided) film than it does its immediate predecessor.
In CREED II, the main characters all seem to have nicknames for each other. Donnie (Michael B. Jordan, BLACK PANTHER), from Adonis, is now called “D” by his girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson, ANNIHILATION; THOR: RAGNAROK). In exchange, he now calls her “B” and both of them call Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) “Rock” or “Unc”. Thankfully, Donnie’s adoptive mother, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad, TV’s THE COSBY SHOW) is still called “Mary Anne” or “Mom”. Familiarity and family are very much the themes of this film though, with the return of the Russian monolith, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren, AQUAMAN) who apparently fell on hard times following his loss to Rocky back on his home turf in 1985. As we learn, Drago’s wife, Ludmilla (Brigitte Nielsen, aka the ex-Mrs. Stallone), walked out on him after the fight, leaving the pugilist to raise their son, Viktor, alone. But Ivan has kept busy all these years training the strapping lad (Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu) to one day exact revenge upon… Rocky’s son, Robert? No, he doesn’t box. It’s Donnie he wants – the son of the man his father pummelled to death 33 years earlier.
Much like in ROCKY IV, Rocky has reservations over whether the young Creed should be facing off in the ring against the young Drago and, much like in ROCKY IV, this Creed doesn’t take Rocky’s advice either. Although Donnie doesn’t die (no great spoiler here), he does get a severe whooping which not only lands him in the hospital, it also gives him more resolve to agree to a rematch to take place in none other than Mother Russia. (I get the connection but Donnie is the world champion. Why should he have to agree to Drago’s terms?) Unlike his father though, Creed knows why he’s fighting against Drago. It’s because of the love of Bianca and Mary Anne. (The actress who played the original Mary Anne, by the way, was Sylvia Meals. She died in 2011, which is why Rashad has taken over the role.) It’s that love of family that carries young Donnie through to the final punch.
Because the story so closely parallels ROCKY IV, there are no great surprises to be found here except for the cameos both inside and outside the ring. But like the first CREED, these are very likeable characters even with their foibles and insecurities. Even the elder Drago is sympathetic in his own way. Where the film really soars are the impeccably choreographed fight scenes that will make you bob and weave along with the boxers, and wince every time one of their punches lands on target. The requisite training montages are good too, though they don’t quite match up to the excitement that Rocky’s did so many years ago. How many people started their day off with a drink of a half a dozen raw eggs after seeing Rocky do it and how many people still run up the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art? There is no doubt that these two young actors trained hard off-camera though. In an interview, Munteanu said that he had to lose twenty pounds for role while Jordan had to gain twenty. By the time the two enter the ring for the rematch, they are both solid muscle.
All in all, CREED II is entertaining way to spend a couple hours, though it doesn’t quite reach the levels that the first CREED film did. Of course, you should still see it regardless.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, January 11th at 8:30 am HK time!
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