Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

The first Creed film released in 2015 revitalized the Rocky franchise to the point that it even earned Sylvester Stallone his second Oscar nomination for playing the character of Rocky Balboa, making him only the sixth actor in history to be nominated for playing the same character multiple times.  It was also one of the most technically brilliant boxing movies released in years, thanks to the bravura filmmaking of director Ryan Coogler, who has since moved on to the Black Panther franchise.  Creed II is directed by Steven Caple Jr., another fresh face in Hollywood, who looks to carry the franchise forward while at the same time returning to one of its most popular storylines.

The movie opens with Adonis Creed claiming the championship belt—as well as winning back the Mustang he lost in the first film—with a victory over Danny ‘Stuntman’ Wheeler.  Having patiently waited for Creed to become the champion, Rocky IV adversary Ivan Drago and his son Viktor now issue a challenge.

The match goes disastrously for Creed, fighting without Rocky in his corner, and he finds his confidence broken for the first time in the franchise.  Despite the disaster, he is still the champion because of a disqualification for Drago, but he needs to select a challenger soon or his title will be revoked.  Despite how devastating their first fight was, his family’s own history with the Drago family, and the fact that he now has a family of his own to think about, Adonis decides he must take on Viktor Drago one more time and reclaim his family’s honor.  Fortunately, this time he has Rocky back in his corner; and his trainer has some unique ideas about his training regimen.

The plot—boxer loses big fight, then seeks redemption—is nothing new to boxing films or the sports movie genre in general, but the impact is still felt.  What is surprising about it here, though, is that the impact comes less from the storyline of Adonis Creed or even Rocky Balboa, but more from their rivals Ivan and Viktor Drago.

As we are first introduced to the Dragos in Creed II, their motivation for a showdown with Adonis Creed appears based solely on Ivan’s desire to get revenge on Rocky for embarrassing him in front of his wife and the leaders of the USSR when they met back in 1985.  They are set up as pure villains, much as Ivan was in Rocky IV.  But as the movie progresses, their villainous veneer is chipped away and their true motivations, especially Ivan’s, begin to come into focus and we in the audience begin to sympathize with them.  It ultimately begs the question of whether this movie would have been better off had it been titled Drago instead.

The relationship between Ivan Drago and his son is emblematic of this entire movie.  It is about family.  Adonis’ family life progresses in this sequel as he and Bianca tie the knot and start a family.  Having a daughter forces Adonis to face some serious questions, especially when considering whether or not to face the man whose father killed his own, leaving him without one.  If he fights Viktor, he knows he is risking having his daughter grow up without a father just like he did.  Rocky, too, is questioning his relationship with his own son and the grandson whom he has never met.  The strong performances of Michal B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, along with Tessa Thompson, work well to sell the drive for their characters to be better for not only themselves, but for their loved ones.

As for the actual boxing scenes in Creed II, they put the audience directly into the fight.  Whereas Ryan Coogler’s predecessor emphasized longer takes showcasing the larger picture of the fight, Caple’s version relies more on cutting and putting the camera directly into the action, sometimes shooting from straight underneath the fighters.  He also likes using slow-motion to really make you feel some of the bigger hits.  The style works, especially in the final bout, which drew some cheers from the crowd at the promotional screening.

There are a few missteps, such as when the music overpowers the crowd noise in the first fight scene, making it feel as if this championship fight was taking place in a half empty auditorium.  The exposition dumps through television broadcasts are overdone, some subplots are forgotten about (I’m still wondering about the baby’s hearing), and at times the movie can feel a little too self-referential.  Also, I know he is Rocky Balboa, but the movie suggests that he is the Merlin of boxing trainers as Adonis is completely overmatched and destroyed in the earlier fight without the Italian Stallion in his corner, but is magically able to completely hold his own when he returns.  Those training montages certainly do work.

Creed II is a solid boxing sequel.  It may not breathe as much new life into the franchise as its predecessor, but it has enough boxing thrills and human drama to keep its audience invested in these characters.

Widows opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Kent Station 14, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Stadium Landing 14 in Renton.

Find tickets and showtimes on Fandango.
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