Creed II lacks the panache of the original installment but has enough emotion and inspiration to find itself a perfect fit for the Rocky franchise
The Rocky franchise defined the ’70s and ’80s with its upbeat, hardscrabble story of a Philadelphia fighter (played by Sylvester Stallone) and his attempts to prove himself in the world of boxing. By the time the final installment in the series, Rocky Balboa, debuted in 2006, the character (and franchise) were on the ropes. Cut to 2015 and we have director Ryan Coogler, who breathed new life into the boxing series with Creed. You’ll immediately feel the difference between Creed and Creed II, particularly in the loss of Coogler for breakout director Steven Caple, Jr. But Caple makes Creed II his own, transitioning it back into the Rocky franchise and acting like a solid hybrid (if not a perfect standalone) between the two characters.
After becoming champion at the end of Creed, Adonis “Donny” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is finally able to relax. He’s settled down with Bianca (Tessa Thompson), but Donny gets drawn back into the boxing world when he’s challenged by Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who killed Donny’s father. With Rocky against the fight, Adonis must go it alone to prove his legacy and finally figure out what he wants from life.Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan in Creed II (2018). Photo Credit: MGM
Creed II lives in the familiarity of the Rocky series than being a direct sequel to Creed. Though Jordan and Thompson carry over to this new installment, the history and narrative beats are pulled more from the Rocky films, most specifically 1985’s Rocky IV. The script, co-written by Stallone and Juel Taylor, revitalizes the Drago storyline in a way that feels far timelier than it did in ’85.
33 ago, Rocky fighting the Russian Ivan Drago was a commentary on Communism. Now, seeing Rocky and Drago, weathered and beaten by time and their own profession, sitting down to talk about history, regret, and legacy is akin to reconnoitering with our own connections to Russia and the past.Dolph Lundgren in Creed II (2018). Photo Credit: MGM
Standing on its own, Creed II lacks the figurative punch of the previous installment. Caple Jr.’s camera isn’t as florid or impactful as many of the set-ups Coogler envisioned. This does give the fight scenes a straightforward POV, but they lack the grace they once had. It’s almost worth recommending you don’t revisit the first Creed so you don’t realize what’s been lost.
This isn’t to say Caple Jr. isn’t a worthy director. He understands the allure of boxing movies and captures the stakes appropriately. Donny is still prone to childish outbursts — telling Rocky he must train him because Donny cared for Rocky during his cancer scare — but there are added inducements to grow up, particularly his engagement to Bianca and their new child.Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson in Creed II (2018). Photo Credit: MGM
The “boxer struggling to cope with domesticity” trope is alive and well in Creed II, making the first hour mundane. Jordan and Thompson continue to exude amazing chemistry with each other, though. The way they talk to each other is refreshing. The two must cope with their daughter being deaf which could have yielded something new if the script didn’t immediately turn it into a death sentence, Adonis being asked point-blank if he can “love” his child. This cliche has whiskers on it, it’s so dated, and there’s more of a relatable quality to watching Donny try to get the child to stop crying.
Thompson tries to infuse Bianca with personality but this isn’t her movie and the script doesn’t try to give her anything more than supportive girlfriend. Half of the movie is about her being pregnant and yet she never shares how she feels about being alone while Donny sets up this match. In fact, she’s more concerned about how he feels.Dolph Lundgren and Florian Munteanu in Creed II (2018). Photo Credit: MGM
More than being about Adonis and his journey, Creed II is about the Dragos and the fallout from the events of from the previous film. Dolph Lundgren gives a scene-stealing performance as Ivan Drago, taking the robotic giant from ’85 and turning him into a father who’s lost everything and just wants a smidge of respect. Lundgren’s scenes opposite Munteanu are heartwrenching and do a lot more for the emotional core of the movie than the numerous training montages. (Creed II still knows how to pull off a heartstring-tugging montage, though!) In a movie where you should be rooting for Donny to win, it’s remarkable how one simple scene of a father’s love is more emotionally satisfying than the two fights that take place over two hours.
Creed II is a reliable sequel, though it never quite lives up to the legacy of its own predecessor. Jordan and Thompson are great, and Stallone is Stallone. But the true intrigue within Creed II is in the continuation of a story started 33 years ago. The Dragos make Creed II what it is, and they should be praised for it.