Creed II is one of the better additions to the Rocky franchise. Bringing to a cathartic climax the emotional tensions of the previous Creed movie, as well as the first four Rocky films.
What’s great about this movie is not just its ability to perfect the formula established in earlier Rocky movies, but to also rediscover the emotional honesty and sentimental drive which made the franchise so popular.
Drawing from Rocky IV (1985), the film sets up the return of Russian boxer Ivan Drago, who notoriously killed former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed in a fight that stunned the world. Now Creed’s son Adonis must fight Drago’s son Viktor, under the training of Rocky Balboa.
As the story unfolds, Rocky and Adonis have to confront themselves and their past in order to discover the inner strength they need to conquer their life’s adversities.
The first Creed (2015) movie was well made and had the benefit of man-of-the-moment Michael B. Jordan in the lead role. The second film finds much more weight by exploring the strong motivation of Adonis’ desire for revenge against his father’s murderer. This is the heart of the character.
Stallone is a welcome presence, graciously accepting the role of supporting actor to Jordan’s intense and interesting protagonist. It’s great to see Dolph Lundgren back as Drago, and the motivation between the father-son duo actually feels believable. However, it may be some time before the Rocky franchise embraces a Russian boxer who isn’t inherently evil.
In the meantime, Florian Munteanu is convincingly menacing as the psychologically damaged fighting machine Viktor Drago. Tessa Thompson brings the heart of the story as Adonis’ love interest and father of his child Amara. The film’s integrity comes from Balboa’s challenge to Adonis to learn from his own mistake and put his family first, before the fight.
In some ways the Rocky formula is cliched, but it is successfully handled by director Stephen Caple Jr. The film doesn’t even feel like a spin-off but justifies itself as a modern boxing classic, pitted in the modern world, maybe better than the original Rocky movies themselves.
Homage to the previous movies feel slightly less perfect, however. For instance, in tribute to the rather embarrassing 2006 film Rocky Balboa, Rocky is still fixated on his estranged son throughout much of Creed II. This felt slightly indulgent, and less hinged to the emotional weight of the film, centering on Adonis Creed.
In spite of a few imperfections, Creed II packs a mean punch and will keep viewers on the edge of their seat, at moments moist in the eyeballs, and inevitably cheering on Adonis Creed to victory in the final match.
Michael B. Jordan starred in two films in 2018 in which he was avenging his father’s death, the other being Black Panther.