Essentially ushering in a new generation to the Rocky franchise, as well as satisfying the masses who have come to know and love the Sylvester Stallone-led series, Ryan Coogler’s 2015 effort Creed at once carried forth the tradition of the previous six films as well as passing on the torch to a new character worth rooting for. With Creed II Coogler’s formula is very much adhered to (Steven Caple Jr. takes the ropes here) just as much as story elements from previous Rocky films are, resulting in a fine, if not stereotypical, drama that rises to the challenge with grit and heart.
Revenge and redemption run rampant throughout Stallone and Juel Taylor’s script, with the return of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), Rocky’s rival from the series’ fourth outing, and his intention to groom his hulking son Viktor (real-life boxer Florian Munteanu) to heavyweight championship serving as the film’s most dominant plot line. As much as this steals the focus of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, living up to the Adonis title with aesthetic perfection) – let us not forget Ivan killed Creed’s father in a boxing match years prior – impending fatherhood looms also, serving the film an additive of emotion beyond the hard-hitting boxing sequences, with Tessa Thompson earning a more prominent role as his loving partner Bianca; the duality of her position as both his partner and support system, as well as wanting to find her own voice as a musician, affords the actress a beautifully layered character that’s quite a rarity for her gender within the sports film genre.
Given that Creed II serves as the eighth film in the Rocky franchise, nostalgia and one’s own thoughts regarding the series as a whole plays a great part in enjoying this latest instalment. Creed re-energised the series in a manner I gather many were unprepared for, and this sequel continues that same path as a film that strides to be more than just a cash-in hack job to capitalise on people’s fondness for the original underdog tale. There’s an evident fondness for these characters – Rocky especially – and Creed II offers up respect when detailing their vices and their victories.
Perhaps what surprises the most about Creed II is the handling of its antagonists (Viktor and Ivan), with the film refusing to simply paint them as brutish villains and more as a duo of broken men seeking vindication. Whilst we are firmly in the corners of Rocky and Creed throughout, the confusion and anger that orbits the Drago’s helps us as an audience understand their relationship and their determination in wanting to best Creed at the sport he’s made his own.
To say Caple Jr. had a large task ahead of him when accepting the direction of Creed II would be an understatement, but the final product is more than I gather many would’ve expected. The film isn’t without its genre cliches (training montages, unsubtle music cues, rousing inspirational speeches) but that doesn’t detract from how powerful a human drama it ultimately is. The boxing action is precise (you can almost feel every punch thrown) and the acting on hand even more so (Jordan, Thompson and Stallone are uniformly stellar), resulting in that rare sequel that holds its own both in comparison to its predecessor and on its own accord.