Chief Film Critic
2015’s Creed was a highly enjoyable and highly successful expansion of the Rocky franchise from director Ryan Coogler. It featured Michael B. Jordan in the role of Adonis Creed, son of Apollo Creed, and Sylvester Stallone’s iconic Rocky sliding into the Mickey for Adonis. Sticking with a familiar formula but also finding ways to be newer and fresh, Creed II is a welcome next chapter.
The film picks up a few years after the conclusion of the first film, with Creed (Jordan) on the verge of becoming heavyweight champion. He’s become a successful fighter, but as he’s reaching the top there are new life challenges coming his way, including his relationship with his girlfriend Bianca (Tess Thompson) and the prospects of starting a family with her. What weighs heavy on both of them is the potential for her degenerative hearing condition to be passed onto her children. Halfway across the globe, though, a threat emerges in the forms of Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the villain of Rocky IV and the man who killed Apollo Creed in the ring (“This was supposed to be an exhibition!”). Drago is a hungry and eager fighter and poses a serious challenge to Adonis because of how personal it is, which is why Rocky (Stallone) is reluctant about him taking the match.
There are bits of Rocky II, Rocky III, and Rocky IV in this story, in some ways it’s almost like a condensed version of those three films combined into one. However, none of it feels stale and recycled; it’s more like a revival of familiar themes. There’s some family stuff in the hospital that is somewhat similar to Adrian being in the hospital in Rocky II. Similar to Mick not wanting Rocky to take the fight with C.ubber Lang in Rocky III, there is a bit of a setback and an element of Adonis needing to find the eye of the tiger. And the callbacks to Rocky IV are almost too numerous to mention given that it is the son of Drago he is fighting and Ivan Drago himself has trained his son.
In fact, what the film does with the Dragos is one of the best aspects of the film. Unlike most opponents in sports stories, they give the “villain” genuine reasons and cause for fighting. For Ivan Drago, his life fell apart after losing to Rocky in Moscow on that wintry Christmas night over 30 years ago. He became something of a national embarrassment after that. And he poured that into training his son, Viktor, and Viktor grew up with that cloud over his head and fueling him. Watching where they live and how he trains made me think that he was something like a Russian Rocky Balboa and less like the scientifically engineered specimen that his father was in Rocky IV. For the Dragos, fighting Adnois Creed is about restoring honor to the family name. It’s an element that greatly adds to the outcome of the boxing matches. Also, as a person who (mostly in jest) believes that Rocky helped end the Cold War in Rocky IV, it was definitely chill-inducing to see Rocky and Drago occupying the same space again. It oddly felt like there was a genuine history between the two characters. And Lundgren brings some legitimate acting and, dare I say, gravitas to the role.
Of course, the film is mainly about continuing the story of Adonis Creed and it does a good job at that. Pushing him to grow in his personal life and as a fighter in the ring. He faces some significant adversity in this film on the home front and in the ring and has to adapt and grow in order to overcome. As a fan of Michael B. Jordan since his earliest days on The Wire, it’s exciting to see him blossoming into one of the bigger acting stars in Hollywood right now. This role is a great vehicle for him. He also has great natural rapport with Stallone.
Nearly everything revolving around the boxing in the film is expertly crafted. The fights themselves are thrilling and far better than most real-life boxing matches are today. Max Kellerman’s commentary during the matches feels forced and is way over the top, but it’s a minor thing. There’s the requisite training montage that is pretty great too. Ryan Coogler was unable to return as director because of his commitments to Black Panther, but director Steven Caple Jr. does a fine job in what is only his second feature length film.
It doesn’t have the same rich thematic elements that made Creed so good, but Creed II definitely succeeds in building off the first film and is more than capable of holding its own in the ring. There’s some great sports action here, and a solid story of generations and fathers and sons at work here. As long as Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone are interested in making these movies, I’m ok with them releasing a new one every couple of years.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars