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Review: Creed II – “The film is so sure of itself”

Rocky IV is probably my most watched film as a kid. I would’ve been five or six by the time I was wearing the VHS out and I stand 100% by my decision. Sure, Rocky had taken all the plaudits and I guess even to a kid it was clear it was a little “politically dubious”, but…. I couldn’t get enough.

Sylvester Stallone at his (first) peak. That soundtrack. Everything about it was so iconic and of the moment. Plus it gave me a legit reason to listen to Go West without being bullied at school.

When Stallone teased the return of Drago, my heart skipped a beat. In terms of excitement, and the thought of what might be – and then almost immediately, my heart sank.

Do I really want something that might tarnish my childhood? What if it desecrates some of Vince DiCola’s emphatic score (which he got a Razzie for!)? What if the film missed Ryan Coogler’s sure handedness? What if Stallone has missed his chance at a swan song, and hung around for too long? What if Stallone’s stunning comeback is going to give us more ‘Avenging Angelo’s’?

Then I remind myself that I can still have a “Aliens is better than Alien” debate without worrying about Charlize Theron running in a straight line. Films can co-exist. If I hate it? I’ll break it. If I love it…. well, there’s a chance it will give me a shot of adrenaline to my 80’s heart.

I needn’t have worried, anyway. Creed II left me floored on the canvas — and there’s no place I’d rather be.

From the opening – initially a strange decision I thought, but in many ways, this is Drago’s story – to the closing shot, the film is so sure of itself. It does the impossible: homage to the ’80s, an homage to everything that went before it, and yet remains fresh and current. And more importantly relevant.

Michael B. Jordan tops much of his best work here. I’m still a little annoyed he wasn’t given more screen time in Black Panther, but in the Creed films, he’s creating a legacy of work that highlights how important he is in modern Hollywood.

I left a bit confused, actually… where’s his Oscar buzz? Pretty sure everything here is infinitely superior to anything Denzel did in ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq’?

The acting is generally superb, with everyone around him elevating some of the many cliches. Tessa Thompson’s ring walk is sensational – but her private scenes with Creed are what sells the film.

I’ll have no issue selling this to Mrs T as a film about relationships. About trying to be a Dad/Parent. A film about trying to honour your family, whilst carving out a name for yourself.

Plus the idea of Valkyrie and Killmonger sparring is too good to miss.

Reference the obvious family element, what I wasn’t expecting with Lundgren’s great work.

His scenes with Viktor – especially his closing shot – will make ‘Rocky IV’ a better movie. The whole “living your life and dreams through your kid” thing is age old. The constant barrage of reminders of ‘Rocky IV’ that litter (in a good way) are always looking back. But ‘Creed II’ is very much about looking forward. About creating your own legacy – and hopefully not just a literal legacy in terms of the DVD boxset.

I hope in looking forward, they draw a line. Not because a ‘Creed III’ couldn’t be accepted, or dismissed on its own merits – hell, much like ‘Back To The Future’, I’d champion a TV series. More because the closure to so many characters here is note perfect.

Rocky even calls it out by saying “it’s your time now.” I’m glad they didn’t close the film on that bit, by the way, as my face was a bit of a mess.

Rocky Balboa, sat alone somehow, amongst thousands of others. A slight tweak of the cap.

The emotional weight in this film is superb. You can see immediately what’s drawn an actor of Jordan’s calibre to it. And also what keeps Stallone around. His recollection of proposing to Adrian is a fantastic bit of writing.

I love Stallone. I get sad at the thought of no more Rocky. No ‘Copland’ sequel I always dreamed of. But we’ll always have this second peak. As with his 70’s and 80’s output, they’ll always be some dross (and no, I’m not accepting ‘Grudge Match’ in that), but by god, there are been some highs.

His nuanced performance here is better at times than his work in ‘Creed’ – so maybe what makes ‘Creed II’ so satisfying – and ultimately enduring, is the ironic lack of fanfare. It’s like no one gave it a chance. Then BANG! Here it is to tear up your Top Ten lists of 2018.

Go see it, Yo.

Creed 2 is in cinemas from 30th November 2018.

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