A fantastic follow up to franchise favorites

Jeff LamsonArts & Entertainment Editor

Audiences for “Creed II” should not expect a follow-up to “Creed” or “Rocky IV,” but a story pulling from and building on each of them.

Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) arrive on the scene just as Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is named World Heavyweight Champion to redeem their name in the eyes of the former Soviet Union and of Viktor’s mother.

While Creed’s story arc is the same as the previous film, this film focuses more on the different relationships between father and son. Creed’s individual identity, while still maintaining his father as a part of himself, is strengthened by the development of these relationships.

Viktor is a natural antagonist for Creed. Ivan having killed Creed’s father, Apollo, but the concern was whether or not Viktor could be nearly as iconic as Ivan. Lundgren had a unique and powerful presence that continues into this film, but that Muneanu did not quite match. He was still an imposing presence, towering over Jordan and being well established as a powerful opponent.

Where the film really shines is in the multi-directional conflict between Creed, his father’s legacy, Viktor, Ivan and Rocky Balboa himself (Sylvester Stallone). The Drago’s are given some much needed humanity and sympathetic motivations, an impressive feat given the history of the character.

A viewer might arrive assuming that they are mindless fighting machine’s, but the conflict between them is strong. Ivan wants so badly to redeem himself that he nearly forces his son to make the same mistakes as he did, to live as a puppet, dedicating himself to someone else’s cause.

The direction of “Creed II” is acceptable. While Steven Caple Jr. was able to create some visually compelling shots, performances from returning actors were not as strong as they were in the previous film. One could blame the actors themselves for that, but it is hard to look past that being a directorial issue when it is across the board.

He also had a liking for the now cliché and distracting slow-motion shot when someone is hit particularly hard in the face. What was a nice choice in one of the fights was using swaying and disorientating point-of- view shots in what felt like an homage to “Raging Bull,” a nice touch.

Where the overall story of “Creed II,” is a strong drama between strong characters the writing seems to fail in some of the details. The voices of the commentators felt natural and unobtrusive in the last film, but here it clashes with the visual style and just seems like a writing crutch to over-explain to audiences what they would already know if they were paying attention at all.

The music for “Creed II,” was strong even if not quite so memorable. There was a strong use of Bianca (Tessa Thompson) as a musician that lead to some strong story moments making those stand out. However, Jaden Smith’s “Icon” was used as one of Creed’s entrance song and that was probably a bit embarrassing for everyone.

There are minor issues with the film here and there, but “Creed II” is a competently made, interesting film with some great moments having some audience members cheering and clapping well before the credits roll. The complex relationships between the characters are truly fantastic and completely make the most of these characters.

“Creed II,” is a departure from “Hearts on Fire,” energy of “Rocky IV,” but has plenty of its own triumphs and is a truly satisfying and worthy entry in this storied franchise.

Photo Credit: Jeff Lamson

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