Creed II is now playing in cinemas and Ben Wilson attended the New Zealand Premiere on our behalf. Here’s his take on the sequel film starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone.
They say movie critics should never see other reviews before watching a film themselves. I take that more as a challenge than a precaution. Sometimes I deliberately read other reviews ahead of my own, and other times I treat the metacritic score like a male nude scene, and cover it with my thumb. I don’t like the thought of tip-toeing around the internet for fear of contaminating my own judgment. I see it more as an opportunity to test the strength of my own convictions against a potential sea of opposing opinions. I am after all, one of those people who loved The Last Jedi.
More often than not though, I find reviewers tend to have a semi-consensus. So I part-way expected to Creed II to validate the ‘undercooked’ expectations I’d been given. Except what I felt by the end agreed very little with the cynicism I was expecting to project. It’s an old-guard movie with predictable high and lows, cartoonish caricatures, and montages that emotionally telegraph the winner, but it’s also refreshingly bereft of pessimism, and so full of the self-made optimism that defined the movies it came from.
Rocky’s always been about the connective moments people share, and I don’t mean their punches. Loss and triumph are only affecting when the people in question are affecting. The Rockys of old always did the household moments well, but also had the comic nature of the 80s action movies they were (and are) inevitably associated with. Whereas Creed II readily exchanges old school simplicity for familial intimacy, in a manner more contemporary than Stallone’s offbeat interpretation of relationships. So much of boxing movies is about heart, and Creed II spends plenty of quality time marinating that particular ingredient with considerable conviction.
What it couldn’t claim is originality, which would be difficult with a script so structurally similar to Rocky III. Though while I’m generally the kind of person who’s enticed by novelty, I’m also of the cliched and almost universal opinion that a story well-enacted, regardless of creativity, is a story worth watching. For all the ways it makes itself look new, Creed II is an unmistakably old tale, but undoubtedly one of the better ones.
Watching a Rocky movie feels like an event in itself, like you actually are watching a famous fight from the 80s with behind-the-scenes insights. The old fights were filmed with a cinematography resembling a genuine boxing match, while Creed II more closely resembles a modern-day action movie with fast-cutting edits and the distinct impression I’m watching Taken with boxing gloves. I know Creed II has to reinvent itself to some degree, but not every trend is worth jumping on – especially this one.
I watched Creed II behind several people who didn’t find it so endearing. What they found cheesy and laughable, I thought sincere and simply human. Though in their defense, Rocky movies are known for being funny by mistake. Maybe they simply weren’t convinced after decades of one-liners and Cold War patterned-pants. I imagine theirs will be some of the opinions at odds with mine. If you can see more than just a dumb boxing movie, then you’re likely to enjoy Creed II – but if all of this is already the wrong kind of silly for you – then you may not be able to reconstruct your associations enough to enjoy what Creed II is trying to do.