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Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018 12:04 am

Creed II: Focuses on wrong fight

 

The most surprising thing about Creed II is that it actually did surprise me … once. An out-of-the-blue appearance from a character long forgotten actually caused me to gasp. This in and of itself is a shock because if the films in the Rocky series are anything, they’re as predictable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Make no mistake, Creed II is just as predictable as the previous seven films in the saga, but this is the first time when all concerned seem just a bit too tired to try and convince the audience that what’s happening on screen matters.

Now the light heavyweight champion, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is living the dream. He’s just married his girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and they have a child on the way. Unfortunately, his bliss is ruined when a specter from the past rears its ugly head in the person of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed his father Apollo in the ring some 30 years ago. He’s looking for redemption and he plans to get it by shaming Creed into fighting his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) and taking his title away on an international stage. It’s a grand plan and it has a fair level of success as the Ukranian contender is a monster, so much so that Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) advises his young charge to look the other way when this challenge comes down the pike, something the proud young champion can’t do.

As you might expect, many crises of conscience between the characters occur on the way to the square circle as well as a cool training montage or two. Again, no surprises, but as directed by Steven Caple Jr., this film has a distinct lack of energy. Clocking in at two hours and 10 minutes, this thing slogs along at a snail’s pace with nearly every scene running a beat or two too long, each meaningful conversation executed with copious dramatic pauses. With material as predictable as this, the pacing must be brisk with each familiar plot point hitting quickly so that we can move on to the next.

The screenplay by Juel Taylor and Stallone is a bit creaky, yet its subtext is handled with a degree of subtlety often missing in films of this sort. An examination of the complex bond between fathers and sons is at the core of the movie, providing an emotional resonance that rises above all of the boxing shenanigans. Obviously the surrogate relationship between Adonis and Rocky is front and center, but the shadow of Apollo looms large over the young protagonist as he tries to forge his own way. The dynamic between Ivan and Viktor is much more complex than expected, the young man raised by a parent with a specific agenda where he’s concerned, something they ultimately must get beyond. Finally, the specter of Rocky’s seldom mentioned son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) is brought to the fore, the two characters long estranged, the elder unsure of how to bridge the gap between them.

In examining the father/son dynamic and its various forms, Creed II gives the audience a bit of narrative meat outside the ring that very nearly makes it a winner. The sins of the past come back to haunt those near the end of their lives, and try as they might to impart their wisdom to their respective sons, they are ignored. Getting them to listen and allowing them to fail in order to learn is the true battle the film would have been better off focusing on.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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