Sunday, 9 December 2018

Creed II (aka Rocky VIII)

Here Be Dragos

Creed II (aka Rocky VIII)
2018 USA Directed by Steven Caple Jr.
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Okay, this one has spoilers in it.

So now we have Creed II which, if you’ve seen the other movies, you’ll know is actually Rocky VIII and this one follows on directly from Creed (reviewed by me here) a few years down the line. Now, I wouldn’t say that this is nearly as entertaining as the previous one in the series... and it really should have been given the plot set up on this one... but it’s nowhere near the worst in the series either and I was pretty okay with this. Plus, it has to be said, there’s one really mind blowing moment of audio/visual design which had me almost leaping out of my chair and applauding at one point (I’ll get to that soon enough).

Okay, so once again we have Michael B. Jordan playing Adonis Creed, the son of the late Apollo Creed who got clobbered and killed in the ring by Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lungren in Rocky IV, which kind of kick started Lungren’s acting career. In this film, Ivan Drago returns with his son Viktor Drago (played by Florian 'Big Nasty' Munteanu) and the young Drago challenges Creed to a match to defend his newly won title as champion of the world. Adonis takes the match, much against the advice of Rocky, who refuses to try and train him for what he obviously sees as a fight Creed cannot win. Of course, this comes to pass and young Creed is heavily damaged in the ring in the fight, although he retains his title on a technicality as Drago is disqualified because he hit Creed as he was on his way down to the canvass (I think... some boxing thing, anyway).

So yep, you guessed it, we have the drama of a recovering Creed who has to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend Bianca (played again by Tessa Thompson) who is expecting their first child and he and Rocky Balboa (played brilliantly, as usual, by Sylvester Stallone) have to sort things out so Rocky can train him up properly for the re-match. We also have appearances from Phylicia Rashad  as Apollo Creed’s wife Mary Ann plus... and I really wasn’t expecting this... the still stunning Brigitte Nielsen as Ivan Drago’s ex-wife Ludmilla.

And, yes, it’s more or less a direct sequel to, in some ways and, pretty much a remake, sort of, of Rocky IV. And it’s an okay addition to the Rocky movies. Although, it has to be said, Viktor Drago is so big that I don’t, for a minute, think that Creed could have come close to beating him in real life (although that may be because I don’t know anything about the sport).

Both Jordan and Stallone get an equal share of the screen time but I would say Stallone actually comes off a lot better in this one. The films have never really been about boxing (not a sport I really have an affinity for) and they really just use that genre arena to explore the characters and I would say that Adonis Creed doesn’t seem to have come very far as a well rounded human being in terms of progression from the previous film. Whereas Rocky, like he always seems to, little by little, is just a bit more smarter again than the previous installment. He’s now a very shrewd man, in some ways, although he tends to back away from showing that with a lot of self deprecating talk, it seems to me.

The film does seem a little bit ‘by the numbers’ and, unlike previous Rocky films, this one still hasn’t been as brave as some of the previous installments where, in at least one as I recall, Rocky actually loses the final fight. Here, even though Creed is beaten to a pulp midway through the film, he still retains his title on a technicality... and I wish the writing here had been a little different. That being said there were some nice things about it... and fan pleasing references to most (if not all) of the previous seven movies in terms of dialogue call backs and such. It was certainly an entertaining piece that really doesn’t do any damage to the memory of the others in the series.

One of those nice things is the tradition of talking to the dead, which seems to have somehow been handed down from Rocky to Creed. Like in the movie Rocky Balboa (and possibly Creed), we have a sequence where Rocky spends time talking to the tombstone of his deceased wife Adrian and, at the end of this movie, we have a scene (cross cut with Rocky visiting his long estranged son) where Adonis visits the grave of his father and introduces him to Bianca and their daughter. So that’s kind of nice and I wonder if this will be something featured in later chapters of the series (Stallone has recently said Rocky won’t be seen again in any future sequels).

Another nice thing is the musical score, which is a bit hit and miss and features some awful songs but also has some of Bill Conti’s themes from the original Rocky films woven into the fabric of the music, with a really nicely timed appearance of the Rocky fanfare at pivotal moment in the final fight which has been smartly held back until this moment.

And then there’s the absolutely brilliant thing which has been haunting me since I saw it...

There’s a moment in the film where two scenes featuring different characters in completely different locations are crosscut and suddenly, the audience is kinda treated almost as a character in the narrative, if you think carefully about it. What happens is Bianca and Mary Ann Creed are talking about Adonis and Bianca is explaining how he has become more distant since the whole thing with Viktor Drago kicked off. Meanwhile, this is cross cut with Adonis training (or doing physiotherapy possibly, I can’t quite remember which stage of the film this is at) and he is seen swimming in the pool and we have some of the ambient noise from that scene but, at the same time, we are still hearing the voices of the two actresses talking in the scene we keep being cross-cut back to. Now this is the thing... as Adonis’ head goes below the surface of the water, the voices of the actresses become blurry like we’re listening to them from under the water. When his head breaks the surface they become full bodied voices again and then, when he goes under again, they get distorted by the water. Now this is amazing because we know that Adonis Creed can’t possibly hear what these two ladies are saying about him in another part of the town so... think about it... this is a case of the audience via the camera going under water and hearing the cross cut scene being distorted through the water we’ve presumably got in our ears. And, even though it probably should pop you out the movie (well okay, it did me but only because it was such a brilliant artistic decision) it works really well and I suspect that 99% of the audience doesn’t even register it on a conscious level. But I raise my hat to the film makers because this was just amazing.

And that’s me done with Adonis Creed for however long it takes them to bring out another sequel. People who like the Rocky films in general should like this as it’s another, mostly, entertaining chapter in the Rocky saga and doesn’t let any of the other films down (unlike Rocky V perhaps). It runs over two hours but I didn’t notice the time and, if anything, it seemed a little rushed in some sequences. Looking forward to the next one but... I really hope Stallone changes his mind and comes on board, even if it’s just so we can see his character die on screen and have some kind of closure to Rocky’s life. That would be a nice thing.

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