Ryan Coogler’s Creed was the surprise package of its year. An absolute knockout of a sport drama that had a crystal clear understanding of what the Rocky series was all about, the spin-off marked the dawn of a new era in an already concluded franchise, proved to be a worthy addition to the saga that honoured the legacy of Rocky Balboa while creating its own original identity, and successfully steered the series into a new direction. And its critical & commercial success established the new filmmaker as one promising talent to look out for.
The follow-up chapter to Creed does lack the freshness of the original but it still manages to deliver an adrenaline-fuelled ride that’s more or less rewarding & satisfying. Strongly echoing Rocky IV, Creed II continues the journey of Adonis Creed after his loss to Ricky Conlan three years ago as he makes his way to the very top of the boxing championship to become the new world champion. However, his celebration is soon cut short when he is challenged by Viktor Drago, the offspring of former Soviet boxer Ivan Drago who killed Apollo Creed inside the ring over 3 decades ago.
Directed by Steven Caple Jr, the film packs a story that’s 33 years in the making as it pits two second generation boxers going against each other in a match that’s equally personal to both of them, for where Adonis plans to avenge his father’s murder, Viktor intends to regain the respect & glory that his father lost when he was defeated by Rocky in front of his own crowd. Caple’s treatment of the material is very much by the books, for the plot lacks any element of surprise, and is quite predictable. Even the dramatic segments take a bump this time when compared to the previous chapter but all of it is still serviceable.
Unlike the last time, there isn’t really a lot for Rocky Balboa to do here yet the film comes alive whenever he is on the screen. The return of Ivan Drago is a welcome choice as well, and it’s no surprise that his presence still retains a formidable aura. Covering the themes of family, legacy, loss, revenge, resurrection & redemption, the film takes our protagonist through highs n lows as we see his ego & arrogance mercilessly beaten & battered out of him, and how a better Adonis Creed emerges from those shattered pieces. But the rest of the characters haven’t got much to offer, plus the new additions aren’t that compelling either.
One notable aspect of Creed was its proper illustration & incorporation of Philadelphia street culture into its narrative but this sequel has no interest in exploring that element further. The boxing matches are expertly choreographed for the most part even though that freeze frame during the fight is something it could have done without. The training montages pack a strong punch & motivating quality of their own and are not overdone, plus the music accompanying those scenes brim with a pulsating energy that only adds more fuel to the mix. The emotions are high during the finale yet it doesn’t stimulate the senses the way its predecessor did.
Coming to the performances, leading from the front is Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed as he articulates his character’s journey through hellfire & brimstone with finesse, and is terrific throughout. Sylvester Stallone dons his signature role for one last round and does well with what he’s given. Dolph Lundgren returns as Ivan Drago and steals nearly every scene he’s in, not to mention that he actually looks more imposing than the actor playing his kid. Tessa Thompson reprises her role of Bianca Taylor, Adonis’ girlfriend, and makes the most of her screen time while Phylicia Rashad is brilliant as expected. However, it is the mentor-disciple bond between Balboa & Creed that gives this film its finest moments.
On an overall scale, Creed II is neither impressive on filmmaking terms nor is it resonant enough on the emotional scale when compared to its masterly crafted predecessor but it does what it set out to do and despite the slump in storytelling quality, the film delivers a blood-pumping, pulse-pounding & adrenaline-rushing extravaganza that’s entertaining & fulfilling enough to rank amongst the better entries in the whole saga. It travels a rather safe route, majority of the events that play out in the narrative are easily guessable, and there is plenty in here that should’ve been explored in greater detail than mere glancing but for what it’s worth, Creed II still does a much better job on the expectation scale than most sequels manage to. Definitely recommended.