BEIRUT: Most released films, as of late, have been giving priority to inclusivity, political agenda, and realism instead of the three most important aspects of a film: hardship, humor, and heart.
With the box office bombarded by lackluster remakes, reboots, and gender-bender adaptations, it is always a call for celebration when a sequel film does its job and delivers not just on a cinematic level, but on a narrative one as well.
CREED II is a knock-out sequel that not only pushes Adonis Creed’s arc further, but also respects the legacy of the narrative, characters, and history of the world of the story that came before it.
When the first film was announced many fans of the ROCKY franchise were nervous and yet intrigued about what spin-off series would mean in regards to the five previous films, and as all the pieces starting coming together with Sylvester Stallone being the spotlight on top of the rink, the fanbase’s opinion started to shift.
CREED built on Rocky’s narrative and smoothly handed off the arc to the new lead Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) to carry the mantle of this series, and the sequel continues that trend.
In fact, the film reinvigorates and expands the Rocky cinematic tapestry by returning the series to its underdog roots.
Its gritty, compelling depiction of a young boxer pursuing his dream, searching for identity, and fighting for an opportunity to prove his self-worth became a fable again for a new generation.
Vastly different than the predecessor directed by Ryan Coogler, CREED II sees Adonis facing off against his greatest opponent – himself.
Sure, the entire marketing campaign drills it into the audience that this is about the fight between Drago and Creed – one poster states, “a fight 33 years in the making” – the core of the story here is Adonis learning to come to terms with the weight of becoming his father and making his father’s mistakes.
CREED II offers an interesting parallel with another infamous franchise and how it handled its legacy characters.
In STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, which was met with much criticism, the writer veered from Luke Skywalker’s character arc and turned him into an almost completely different character, pushed him completely to the side, and in the end wasted his presence in the narrative.
In CREED II, however, Rocky’s arc, though this is not Rocky’s film or story anymore, is just as valid and powerful as Adonis’s and this makes for a much more layered narrative, and a narrative that respects its fanbase.
The narrative opens with Adonis’s success and personal life being at an utmost high and, as it continues, breaks Adonis down, and chips away at him until he’s hit rock bottom.
The young Creed’s hardship in this film and fight to build himself back up is where the film shines.
In his book STORY, author Robert McKee states, “It’s not important if the protagonist wins, or loses, what is important, however, is that they try.”
CREED II is not about a fight between rivals, nor is it a fight between conflicting nations…it is about one man’s fall from grace, and his climb back to redemption.
When one focuses in on the film’s core, then all the other noise fades away.
It is truly refreshing when a film is able to turn off an audience’s analytical mind and engross them so deeply into the illusion before them that every beat, twist, and offer the powerful emotional catharsis that it does.
Steven Caple Jr.’s directorial choices undoubtedly differ stylistically from that of Ryan Coogler’s, but both directors kept the essence and heart of the tale alive and pumping.
Coogler’s intimacy is traded for a bolder, harsher, and more aggressive style – but this is not a bad thing.
Where the characters are in their lives at the start of CREED II is no longer in the Philly bubble – they are exposed to the loudness of fame, the pandemonium of the press, and the pressures of life.
Caple Jr. expresses that in the film’s cinematography, pacing, and edit.
In the fight sequences gone are Coogler’s masterful long takes, as Caple Jr. jumps from the crowd, to the coaches, to the fighters, and even the fighter’s point-of-view, placing the audience on the receiving end of the jab.
Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson’s chemistry is beyond naturalistic and a joy to witness these two offer the new romantic through-line of the ROCKY saga.
As for Sylvester Stallone – can someone please give him an Oscar already?
Not only did Stallone knock it out of the park in CREED with the cancer storyline, he does so again here with a subplot that sees Rocky dealing with his past demons and mistakes – the proper way, not the Skywalker way.
Here the past is evident from the character’s history, not convoluted to serve a plot point.
Stallone has breathed a new life into his career as much as he as into a beloved character with a legacy that precedes him.
The rest of the supporting cast all embody the roles they are given and deliver what is required to allow the narrative to come alive.
Sure, some lines of dialogue come off a little heavy-handed, but when has a film within the ROCKY franchise not had heavy-handed, and albeit, poetic dialogue?
The score by Ludwig Goransson makes you want to go to war alongside Adonis, and reminds you of the fight within you.
Working classically by giving characters their theme while never forgetting the themes of the past, Goransson builds on the score much like the film builds on the narrative arc and the franchise.
The ROCKY and now CREED films are loved, and the message is strong and clear: know why are you climbing the stairs towards a fight, and when you’re inside the rink fight with your heart, until the last breath.
There is no doubt that CREED II will do the same at the box office and hold up its title as champion.
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