By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
The Creed/Rocky saga continues with an installment that packs powerful punches in its fight scenes and has enough emotional power to keep its audience invested. Though not as impressive as the previous film or the very first Rocky movie for that matter, Creed II moves the story forward, treads some familiar thematic territory, but enriches what is probably one of the weaker installments of the franchise (Rocky IV). All in all, this latest story does often feel like a rehash, but the decent script, solid direction and superb performances manage to elevate the material better than usual. Creed II might look and sound like just another Rocky sequel, but it is another Rocky sequel made fairly well.
After Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) makes his professional boxing debut and proved himself worthy of his father’s last name, he begins to enjoy the success of his career. His next major challenge, however, turns out to be one of a more personal nature. Amateur bruiser Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of former boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), hungrily challenges Adonis to make a name for himself in professional boxing. This weighs heavily on both Adonis and Rocky, as Ivan is the man who killed Apollo Creed in the ring. With his relationship with Bianca becoming much more serious and with Rocky discouraging him from accepting the challenge, Adonis must figure out what is most important to him and whether or not it is worth risking everything for revenge.
With a screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and Juell Taylor, based on a story by Sascha Penn and Cheo Hodari Coker, director Steven Caple, Jr. takes the reigns from Creed writer/director Ryan Coogler to deliver a mostly compelling sequel that is satisfactory over all. Caple and his crew definitely thrill and awe their audience with some phenomenal fight scenes and some intensely brutal training sequences. The writers take some of the familiar Rocky themes and beats, but succeed in keeping them mostly affecting and robust. The movie does have its melodramatic moments, but never gets as silly or hackneyed as the ones that bring down Rocky IV.
Almost like the Cobra Kai series rises above its source material (The Karate Kid), Creed II improves on the backstory from Rocky IV by fleshing out the Ivan Drago character and making him and his son Viktor more sympathetic and real. Despite the weaknesses of the writing, which walks a fine line between drama and melodrama (occasionally swaying to both sides), the cast members put their hearts into their performances. This straight-faced dedication keeps things on an even keel.
Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Sylvester Stallone, Phylicia Rashad, and Wood Harris all reprise their roles and do so with much heart and passion. Jordan and Thompson once again share a beautiful romantic chemistry while Jordan and Stallone share a palpable chemistry as student/son and mentor/father. Dolph Lundgren reprises his role from Rocky IV as Ivan Drago, but this time gets to portray him as a more complex and emotionally driven character. Russell Hornsby has a small, but impactful role as boxing promoter Buddy Marcelle. Florian Munteanu has his good moments also, but his character does have its limitations.
And it is the limitations of the writing which prevent Creed II from being as good as or better than the previous movie. Still, in considering the worst installments of the franchise, this could have gone very badly. I think Rocky fans will certainly enjoy and appreciate this new chapter in the saga, while those not so invested will probably remain as such. As for me, I am moderately pleased, and hope that if the producers should decide to move forward that they try something that doesn’t rely too much on what has already been done.