DIRECTED BY: Steven Caple Jr.
CAST: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
The Rocky movies probably won’t ever go away. It’s one of those rare franchises that won’t ever have an installment shelved due to a lackluster effort. The series has seen its fair share of duds, most notably with Rocky IV, but still lived to tell perhaps its best story two films later. The Rocky movies are essentially invincible. While Ryan Coogler’s 2015 spinoff Creed is a whole lot of fun, benefitting from the director’s indie sensibilities, it’s not quite the perfect film that people make it out to be. In fact, its sequel Creed II, directed by Steven Caple Jr., is better in a lot of ways, even though the movie misses Coogler’s focus.
Connecting the plot to the tragic events that took place during the aforementioned Rocky IV involving Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago, this follow-up is more than just a cash grab. And since there are seven films to reference up to this point, the premise for Creed II pretty much writes itself, so there’s not much need for any crafting of story. In the three years since the events of the previous film, Apollo’s son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), has become a household name winning the World Heavyweight Championship.
The fighter still has doubters, like always, who think he’s just riding the coattails of his father and Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), who’s now his trainer. Up and coming Russian fighter, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who killed Adonis’ father in the ring years ago, challenges Apollo to a fight. Adonis sees the opportunity as poetic justice for his father and agrees to the fight, going against Rocky’s sage advice.
Rocky doesn’t think Adonis is ready, which causes a rift in their friendship, influencing Adonis to leave Philadelphia to be with his mother in Los Angeles. He proposes to his girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and they soon find out she’s pregnant, changing the young fighter’s perspective about life, especially as it pertains to fighting. Does he want to avenge his father’s death by taking the same risk in fighting a human machine? Or should he swallow his pride for the sake of his family?
After the last movie–the first of which he didn’t write–I stated Stallone’s absence was obvious. Here, he’s back to pen the script (with Juel Taylor), which helps in creating depth and passion behind the story, but also reintroduces Stallone’s occasional cringe-worthy dialogue. Jordan and Thompson are really good actors, but even they can’t save some of these lines, which often feel like banter ripped from a soap opera, even equipped with characters obsessively addressing one another by name.
On the bright side, Creed II possesses themes that are much less straight-forward than Coogler’s installment, becoming more complex and nuanced as a whole. However, the film gets bogged down by this increased depth at times and has trouble organizing its own thoughts, never quite able to juggle everything it’s trying to do.
Despite tackling some deeper issues than literally almost every one of its predecessors, Creed II tends to just go through the motions.
Caple Jr. is no doubt a lesser director than Coogler, but may actually understand the spirit of Rocky a bit better–and it shows. But this proves to be a blessing as well as a curse as he finds himself falling in love with the series’ rote-like formula a little too often, preventing any sort of inventiveness or originality from blossoming.
Despite tackling some deeper issues than literally almost every one of its predecessors, Creed II tends to just go through the motions. Fortunately the stakes here are much higher, yielding an even more satisfying conclusion, even if the actual post-fight ending is somewhat of a letdown. It’s not exactly the follow-up many Creed fans had in mind, but this sequel definitely contributes to the overarching lore of the Rocky-verse, which is honestly all you can ask for.