Skip to main content

If anyone knows how to take on a slugger like Drago, it would be Rocky.

Creed II
(2018)

(SPOILERS) It wouldn’t be such a bad thing that this is a by-the-numbers, Stallone co-scripted sequel – after all, part of the pleasure of sports movies is their adherence to tried-and-tested formula – if only it had been made with a degree of evident enthusiasm. The (Sly-directed) follow-ups to the original Rocky weren’t exactly artful, but they knew how to rouse their audience. Creed II can’t even get the training montage right.

And there’s a problem using the Rocky theme (one the director seemed to acknowledge); by all means make Creed his own thing and use as few call-backs as possible, but if you do throw it in there (it appears early on), the audience will expect it to come back stirringly, especially with strains of the theme used throughout. Bottling it at the crucial juncture means the build-up can only lead to an underwhelming finish.

That kind of faltering occurs throughout Creed II, though, with Juel Taylor and Stallone going through the motions of giving an Michael B Jordan’s Adonis an arc (dilemmas over self-doubt, moving to LA, mixed-up motivation, fatherhood issues, mentor problems) but forgetting to make him sympathetic with it. He wins the title at the beginning of the movie, then suffers a humiliating defeat to Viktor Drago (brick shithouse heavyweight boxer Florian Munteanu), but doesn’t do enough to earn trouncing the Russian in their subsequent return match.

Indeed, as disappointingly undernourished as the characters of Ivan (Dolph Lundgren, an always watchable performer, and with this and Aquaman, hopefully he’ll continue to be granted the occasional release from his low-budget actioner dungeon) and his son are, their relationship is still more affecting than anything between Rocky and Adonis. Turns out Ivan was rejected by his country following his ‘80s defeat and is thus motivated to make junior a champ; junior in turn is motivated by the thought of winning mum Brigitte Nielsen’s favour. None of which means very much until Ivan shows he really does care for his son deep down by stopping the second fight before Viktor gets slaughtered. And you know what? The moment actually packs a sorely-needed punch. Ultimately, though, it only serves to underline that, as much as these movies are the furthest thing from the cinematic equivalent of great literature, the ample scope Creed II had to explore contrasting generations facing ghosts of the past has been all-but squandered.

It’s ironic too, going back to the Rocky theme element, that the only time the picture conveys a sense of substance is when its cutting back to the melancholic twilight years of its now supporting ex-champ. Stallone plays the not-that-bright-but-full-of-no-frills-wisdom veteran better than probably anything else he’s done, but continually referring back to Adonis’ need for his mentor, and things only coming together for him when Rocky finally agrees to come back, further emphasises that the lead character hasn’t been allowed to stand on his own two feet (likewise, there’s more heft to Rocky’s reunion with his son, Milo Ventimiglia, than the intended payoff of Adonis going to Apollo’s grave with his family).

Still, enough of the necessary ingredients are in place that this could have been as enjoyable as the first Creed, if only director Steve Caple Jr had been up to the challenge. He fluffs the montages and throws the fights (the number of obvious pulled punches would break any dramatic tension in the ring, if he hadn’t entirely failed to energise the proceedings in the first place). There’s also a very daft bit where Adonis’ team parade to the ring with Bianca (Tessa Thompson) leading them in song. No doubt there’ll be a Creed III, and no doubt Stallone will be back too, but Creed II suggests a creatively-stalled franchise before it’s really got started.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

So the devil's child will rise from the world of politics.

The Omen (1976) (SPOILERS) The coming of the Antichrist is an evergreen; his incarnation, or the reveal thereof, is always just round the corner, and he can always be definitively identified in any given age through a spot of judiciously subjective interpretation of The Book of Revelation , or Nostradamus. Probably nothing did more for the subject in the current era, in terms of making it part of popular culture, than The Omen . That’s irrespective of the movie’s quality, of course. Which, it has to be admitted, is not on the same level as earlier demonic forebears Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist .

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.