Directed by: Steven Caple Jr.
Premise: A sequel to the 2015 film. Against the advice of trainer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) fights Russian pugilist Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of the boxer who killed Adonis’ father.
What Works: Creed II is as much a sequel to 1985’s Rocky IV as it is to its 2015 predecessor. This film takes the next logical step in Adonis Creed’s journey by reaching into the backstory and coming up with a new and yet familiar challenge. In the same way that Creed repeated a lot of the familiar beats of the original Rocky, the sequel borrows elements from Rocky II, III, and IV. Adonis gets married and has a child, fundamentally changing him and his priorities and forcing Adonis to confront his purpose for boxing. Creed II finds that purpose in a fight against the son of Ivan Drago, the Russian boxer who killed Apollo Creed in Rocky IV’s ill-fated exhibition bout. The numerous references to earlier Rocky films create a parallel journey between the young fighter and his older trainer but Creed II rearranges those elements in a way that feels relatively fresh. Much of the film’s success is due to Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Adonis. Jordan has the physicality for the role and he also has the humanity that made Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa such a memorable and accessible character. Stallone also returns as Rocky. His acting career has been uneven but there was always something special about his turns as the Italian Stallion and the character’s guilt over the events in Rocky IV is evident throughout Stallone’s performance. The Creed films are part of the trend of nostalgia sequels, movies that pay homage to classic franchises while telling new stories. Creed and its sequel are some of the best examples of this trend and they provide fan service in ways that pay off dramatically. That is especially evident in one of Creed II’s best scenes in which Ivan Drago and Rocky Balboa quietly confront each other and account for the past three decades. In Creed II, Ivan Drago is a stage parent, having been disgraced and rejected after the events of Rocky IV, and Drago has trained his son to make up for his own short comings. The generational conflicts and the issues of legacy and pride but also trauma inform this movie and give it some substance.
What Doesn’t: By borrowing so liberally from past Rocky films, quite a bit of Creed II is familiar. The Creed series is about the main character building his own legacy—the film constantly reminds us of that—but his story remain tethered to the past. Steven Caple Jr. takes over directorial duties on Creed II from Ryan Coogler. While Caple is a competent filmmaker, Creed II misses the kineticism and visual panache of Coogler’s filmmaking. That’s especially evident in the training and boxing action which was so much more visceral in the previous film. The middle of Creed II lacks energy. It becomes introspective, which is good, but for a while the story appears directionless and it is unclear what is at stake.
Bottom Line: Creed II is a satisfying follow up to the 2015 film and one of the better nostalgia sequels. Although the film wobbles in its middle portion, Creed II succeeds in deepening the characters and moving the story forward. Hopefully a third Creed film will strike out in new territory of its own.
Episode: #727 (December 2, 2018)