It’s hard to believe that the eighth entry of this boxing franchise is keeping the series strong and running; even if it is the same rehashing story of the underdog. The new Creed franchise is a continuation/spin-off/remake of the classic Rocky movies, and the new Creed II proves to be up to the task of its inspiring predecessors.
Creed II is a sequel to 2015’s Creed as well as a loose remake of Rocky IV. In the latter film Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is killed in the ring by the Soviet boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). In Creed II Apollo’s son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) is set up for a ‘rematch’ of sorts with Ivan’s son Viktor (Florian Munteanu).
The film brings back beloved characters such as Rocky played again by Sylvester Stallone with ease, this seems to be the role in his career he’s most comfortable with. Tessa Thompson also returns as Adonis’ beau Bianca; and while the film does attempt to give her a bigger role than that of “romantic interest cheering her man on,” her character never fully breaks out, leading to some frustration as the character has much potential and is in the hands of a very capable actress.
Ryan Coogler directed the 2015 predecessor, which led to great acclaim for all involved; Coogler and Jordan were subsequently hired in Marvel’s blockbuster entry of Black Panther, while Sylvester Stallone was awarded an Academy Award nomination. Creed II takes another bet with a young director, this one being Steven Caple Jr. who infuses the film with a personal touch while also maintaining things that made Creed and the previous Rocky films great. Caple Jr.’s choreography of the fight scenes proved to be surprisingly contagious, having many viewers in cinemas (including myself) cheering at the screen.
However, the movie was struck with a certain confusion regarding balance. Throughout much of the narrative, Creed II can’t decide whether it wants to be a loose remake of a previous entry (like Creed did with the first Rocky or Star Wars: The Force Awakens did with A New Hope), or to strike out on its own. Certainly, a sequel can pay homages to previous films, but Caple Jr. seems pigeonholed into mirroring more than he needed. The first Creed was largely successful thanks to borrowing material from the best Rocky film; Creed II is left with the inspiration of the fourth film in the franchise that was already feeling heavily recycled. Creed II breathes easiest when it takes detours from the formula, looking at the characters’ relationships.
I was particularly struck with the Dragos arc in this film; there is an attempt to humanize the Russian boxers unlike in Rocky IV where Ivan simply stood as demonized symbol of Soviet Russia. The Dragos have a story arc of redemption in this film after they’ve fallen into disgrace due to Ivan’s loss to Rocky in 1985. You start sympathizing with Ivan and Viktor, but unfortunately this is not delved into with the proper curiosity. If more attention were paid to this part of the story, the final fight would have perhaps had the audience a bit more conflicted, much like the one in the 2011 film Warrior, where viewers are divided between the two fighters leading to more uncertainty about the final outcome.
In the end Creed II is able to capture most of the boxing magic that the best Rocky films have. It may falter in comparison with the finest entries in the franchise, but intermittent dives into character development and riveting fight scenes raise this into one of the good ones.