Director: Steven Caple Jr.
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Wood Harris, Russell Hornsby
Runtime: 130 minutes
In 2015, director Ryan Coogler gave us the best Rocky film since the 1976 original with Creed starring Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed. Creed was a return to form for the Rocky series; the story of an underdog who had to make his way from the bottom and, against all odds, succeed in his field. But Coogler also did a phenomenal job in giving Creed his own story to tell as the son of Apollo Creed and showing his journey to achieve fame independent of his father. Creed gave us a captivating story, genuine characters, amazing performances (especially from Sylvester Stallone as Balboa), and wonderfully-shot boxing scenes. Now, in 2018 Steven Caple Jr. brings us the highly anticipated Creed II, which follows Adonis becoming the heavyweight champion, starting a family, and facing enemies from the past.
Creed II opens three years after the events of the first movie in Ukraine with Rocky IV villain Ivan Drago (Lundgren reprising his role), disgraced by the USSR and raising his son Viktor (Munteanu) alone. We see how Drago never recovered from his loss against Balboa, and how he’s now pushed the weight of his failures onto his son who is now a boxer himself. From there, we cut to Creed winning the heavyweight championship and thus our story truly begins. Throughout the movie, we see Creed at the top of his career juxtaposed with Viktor climbing up from the bottom. In a lot of ways, the movie is just as much Viktor Drago’s story as it is Creed’s, and it really made me wish that we could have gotten a full Drago movie.
So let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: the movie is good. Rocky IV, although a movie I enjoy, is another step in the direction of ridiculousness in the Rocky series with its exaggerated portrayal of the USSR and the supervillain Drago. However, Creed II does something spectacular by humanizing Drago and creating a deeper narrative behind the character that makes you appreciate Rocky IV for providing the opportunity to tell this story.
Adonis, a character who in the first movie overcame his father’s shadow and established himself as his own man, may seem like he’s regressing in character by taking up his father’s fight in this movie but I think they did a really good job in making you understand why he felt he had to take the fight and why he felt he had something to prove. Phylicia Rashad also did a phenomenal job reprising her role as Mary Anne Creed, and every scene she’s in she steals the spotlight. Tessa Thompson has more screen time here and a stronger supporting role, and she does well as the romantic interest but doesn’t have any particularly noteworthy moments. Stallone is again excellent in his portrayal of an older Rocky, and although I thought he was amazing in the first Creed movie (he was robbed of that Oscar) here he doesn’t get to have any moments that are nearly as emotional as the previous film, but that’s okay because this isn’t his movie. And I can’t forget to give props to Dolph Lundgren in his portrayal of an embittered Drago who only lives to get revenge on Balboa through their legacies.
Going into this movie, I was worried because a new director was taking over and something I loved about the previous film was the direction and the filming of the fight scenes. I’m happy to say that Steven Caple Jr. more than fills the shoes Coogler left behind, and the fights feel just as hard-hitting and real as they did in Creed. The pacing of the movie is for the most part done well, and the events that take place happen in a logical order and make sense as to why each action leads to its reaction. And with a runtime just over two hours it’s worth saying that you don’t feel the length at all; there isn’t too much downtime and the movie remains engaging throughout.
While I did have a great time with this movie, there are some faults. I think the movie could have been stronger if it had made Viktor’s rise to the top a bigger portion of the film. As it is now, the movie is about 60/40 Creed and Drago, but I feel that a 50/50 approach would have been much stronger and going into even more depth about young Drago’s upbringing as well as elder Drago’s resentment to Balboa would have made for more dramatic moments. I also thought that at times the movie did move time a bit too quickly: it felt like Creed got challenged by Drago the same night he fought the championship game, and events that would be months felt like they happened over a week.
Despite my criticisms, Creed II is a great film and another must-watch addition to the Rocky franchise. While I think Creed might still be my favorite Rocky sequel, Creed II is in the same vein as Rocky II in being a worthy successor to its previous movie. Fans of the series will find a lot to like with this newest installation, and perhaps with the success of this movie in the future, we’ll get more legacy fighters from older Rocky movies that can deepen and enrich the lore even further.
Creed II is a worthy successor to Creed and the Rocky franchise as a whole.