Starring: Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther), Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables), Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok), Phylicia Rishad (Creed), Dolph Lungdren (Masters of the Universe), Florian Munteanu
Director: Steven Caple Jr. (The Land)
Writers: Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone (Rocky)
Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes
Release Date: 21 November (US), 30 November (UK)
Creed brought back the Rocky franchise in an unexpected and refreshing way, refocusing the story on a new hero and bringing the series back to its grounded roots. It was the best film in the franchise since the Oscar-winning original, and so following it up was always going to be a daunting task, especially with director Ryan Coogler otherwise occupied in the kingdom of Wakanda. Thankfully, whilst nowhere near the quality of its direct predecessor, Creed II is a solid sequel more than worthy of the Rocky legacy.
Creed II is as much a sequel to Rocky IV as it is to Creed, and that’s certainly a bold choice. I don’t think it’s controversial to say, but Rocky IV was a ridiculous jingoistic piece of 80s nonsense that jumped multiple sharks throughout its runtime. Making a follow-up to that after the series resettled back into gritty realism and not being completely tonally dissonant? That’s a tall order, but Creed II somehow manages to do it with barely a scar from the procedure. Having overcome that obstacle, it becomes obvious this was a direction the series would have to head in eventually, and doing so allows the story to continue the themes of the first film whilst upping the stakes and adding new challenges; everything a great sequel needs to thrive. But other than this phenomenal piece of tone gymnastics, it delivers a pretty standard but effective Rocky sequel. It hits every key beat you can imagine from beginning to end, but with just enough new twists to keep it from being completely predictable. It’s an effective formula for sure, and that kind of familiar grounding allows to film to focus on the important stuff, but after Creed broke new ground for the series I can’t help but feel disappointed Creed II didn’t have one drastically new trick up its sleeve.
Michael B. Jordan’s star has only continued to rise since the first film, and he returns to role of Adonis Creed with just as much passion and determination as ever. The character goes through many of the same motions Rocky Balboa did all those years ago, but Jordan manages to make them his own with his unique modern perspective that pays homage but keeps things fresh. Sylvester Stallone is as charming and relatable playing Balboa as ever and, though not as surprising and emotionally wrenching a performance as his in Creed, it’s still always great to see the character one more (and ostensibly last) time. Tessa Thompson is also great once again as Creed’s partner Bianca, with their evolving relationship given a lot more focus and room to grow this time around; I’d probably enjoy a movie where it’s just them hanging out and living their lives with no boxing whatsoever.
The real draw this time around is our adversaries, with the return of Dolph Lungdren as Ivan Drago and his menacing son Viktor. Florian Munteanu isn’t the most charismatic villain the series has seen, but he makes up for it with pure physical presence and his monosyllabic performance very much echoes his on-screen father’s former persona. But even more surprising, and I never thought I’d say this, but Lungdren’s performance is fantastic! He wisely doesn’t talk too much again, but he communicates a hell of a lot through his meaningful stares and his entire subplot and backstory about what happened to him after Rocky IV is incredibly compelling. The scene where he and Rocky first meet again is the highlight of the whole movie, with Lungdren bringing a totally new side to Drago that redefines him as more than the Russian stereotype he was in his first appearance.
Without Coogler in the director’s chair, the directing choices in Creed II are noticeably less distinctive than its direct predecessor, but Steven Caple Jr. proves himself more than able to handle the material. The boxing sequences and legendary training montages aren’t quite so avant-garde this time around, but they are shot and directed with plenty of visual flair and never obscures the action; every punch feels meaty and every exercise impactful. The score by Ludwig Gorranson continues to evolve the work of Bill Conti, sparingly using the old themes in just the right moment, along with an excellent suite of rap songs on the soundtrack. My only gripe, and maybe this is a petty and incredibly self-indulgent point to make, but I wish there was just one throwback to the Rocky IV soundtrack. C’mon, no rap remix of “No Easy Way Out” or a tuned-up orchestral version of the Vince DiCola’s training montage score? The film managed to rehabilitate everything else about Rocky IV; why not do this one little extra thing as an extra push?
Creed II is an enthralling and thoroughly enjoyable entry to the franchise, even if it doesn’t change up the formula in any meaningful way. More than anything, it deserves kudos for managing to make Rocky IV relevant and impactful again, rather than just using it to take easy pot shots at Cold War jingoism. There’s still plenty of room for the story of Adonis Creed to keep going if they want, but if they choose not to this is as good a place to cap the story as any. However, if they do make another, I demand they work Mr. T as Clubber Lang back into the story somehow. I’m not even joking. Just do it.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10