By John J. Raspanti
I had some reservations as I waited for "Creed II" to begin. A review I had read implied that the film was a virtual remake of "Rocky IV."
As much as I loved the original "Rocky," which I saw a week after it opened in 1976, IV was not a favorite of mine. I found the film cheesy and, at times, ridiculous.
For me it’s always been about Robert “Rocky” Balboa, the kind, considerate pugilist from the streets of Philadelphia. He’s the everyday man, loaded with heart, and driven by dreams and a desire to get his shot at the brass ring.
Other than a few cinematic bumps in the road, it’s been thrilling to watch his rise.
Of course the driving force behind the Rocky films has been its creator Sylvester Stallone, whose underrated writing skill has created some of the most poignant scenes in the series.
Unhappy with Rocky V, filmed in 1990, he shockingly brought Rocky back 16 years later with "Rocky Balboa," a film that returned his characters to the grit and sacrifice of the streets and was roundly criticized before its release.
When it was announced a few years ago that another "Rocky" film would be going into production, the groans from movie-goers could be heard from coast to coast.
The cynicism was understandable. The "Rocky" franchise had supposedly ended on a positive note with Balboa. Stallone had given the iconic character a great sendoff, by reminding the viewers why "Rocky" was so beloved.
Enter Ryan Coogler. The then 29-year-old director had burst on the film scene with the critically-acclaimed drama “Fruitvale Station” two years ago. Coogler had an idea. He pitched it to MGM and Warner Brothers. Coogler and film school friend, Aaron Covington penned the screenplay.
The studios were impressed, but Stallone himself had to be on board to seal the deal.
After several discussions, Stallone agreed to co-star in the film to be named "Creed"
The movie is more spinoff than sequel and turned out to be a fabulous film. Michael B. Jordan, as Adonis Creed, the son of Rocky’s former arch enemy and later close friend, Apollo Creed. Jordan gave a star-making performance as Creed.
In their roles, Jordan and Stallone play off each perfectly. In this reviewer’s opinion, this is Stallone’s best performance since "Rocky" The film made 175 million dollars at the boxoffice. A sequel was discussed.
Honestly, how many times can you go to the well?
Apparently, a number of times if you know your subject.
“Creed II," penned by Juel Taylor and Stallone, opens with a flashback. Two men are jogging in a broken-down area in the Ukraine. One is immediately recognizable to all Rocky fans. It’s Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren, who gives an intense performance) who killed Apollo Creed in the aforementioned Rocky IV.
The other man is Ivan’s son Victor, (Florian Munteanu) who Ivan is training to regain the respect lost years ago when Rocky defeated him.
Adonis Creed is now the heavyweight titleholder. Life is good, as he pops the question to his supportive and spunky girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson). All is well until he hears that Victor Drago has challenged him to a fight.
The bout is significant to everyone involved, dredging up old memories. While Adonis and Victor are driven by revenge Rocky, though-wants nothing to do with the match.
"He broke things in me that have never been fixed," says Rocky.
Adonis feels he has to fight. And so begins the odyssey of redemption and revenge, laced with the love between fathers and sons.
The film is directed by virtual unknown Steven Caple Jr. who took over when Coogler (who stayed on as executive producer) declined,citing his involvement with the film “Black Panther.”
Caple does a very good job of recreating the excitement of “Creed” while adding subtle touches of grace and nobility.
The acting overall is excellent. Jordan is a real movie star, loaded with charisma and gravitas. Stallone, playing Rocky for the eighth time, could have easily phoned in his performance, but instead he again delivers a fully realized performance, touching on regret, kindness, respect and ultimately passing the mythical torch to the next generation.
Overall “Creed II” is not as good as “Creed.” But that’s ok. My initial worries were baseless. The film flies on its own merits-honoring the traditions of genre, pugilism and family.