I don’t know if anyone expected this spinoff franchise to be as good as it is, but I’m sure not complaining.
Taking place a few years after the first film, Creed II follows the titular character, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), as he continues to do what he does best: beat the ever living crap out of people in the boxing ring. At the start of the film, things seem to be going great for Adonis and his girlfriend, returning character Bianca Taylor (Tessa Thompson), as they settle into their lives of fame and fortune, but when an old rival of Rocky’s (Sylvester Stallone), Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the very man who killed Adonis’ father in the ring decades ago, rears his ugly head with a son of his own, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), who also just so happens to be a boxer, everything begins to fall apart around Adonis’ head. Now, with Adonis hell-bent on avenging his father and his legacy, will Rocky be able to train Adonis for the fight of his life, or will Adonis fail his father and himself, and fall to an enemy that might not be what he seems.
Out of all the spinoffs coming from big name franchise nowadays, the original Creed stood tall as a way to not only reboot and refresh an aging franchise successfully, but also somehow found ways to pay homage to a timeless character while at the same time blazing a path forward for new blood to take over. Simply put, I was blown away by it, not expecting the amount of heart, excitement and edge of your seat thrills that it delivered, so going into this sequel I was a bit skeptical. After seeing it, I can’t in all honesty say that this one is as good as the first, but what is presented here is a much more thoughtful and solid film than I ever could have expected, especially in a Hollywood landscape that pumps out sequels without a thought as to what has come before.
With the idea of this sequel already a better backdrop than most, Creed II was in the unique position to extend the success of the first film, while continuing the story of Adonis an his constant struggles. Bolstered by some electrifying acting, Michael B. Jordan is positively fantastic in the lead role, giving his character so much nuance and subtle emotion that I’d be lying if I said I didn’t choke up a few times just watching the pain, happiness, loss, regret, or joy come across in his acting. Matched up with the also fantastic Tessa Thompson, who stands toe to toe with Jordan in every scene they’re in together, she really brings the right amount of pathos to certain scenes while simultaneously being the shining beacon for Adonis in others. Stallone is just as good as ever even if he has less to do, and believe it or not, Lundgren and his onscreen son are good enough to almost be more than a couple of one-dimensional “villains”, but more on that later.
Now let’s be honest, you’re really here for the fights, and when they happen, they most certainly deliver. Director Steven Caple Jr. might not have the same cinematic flair as the original’s Ryan Coogler, but that’s barely an issue when the combination of sound effects, musical score and editing bring out so much in any given match. You hear each punch land with such ferocity, feel every electrifying moment as a chill runs down your spin and sit wide-eyed at the edge of you seat as titans slug it out onscreen. After having seen so many boxing films from both this franchise and elsewhere, there are only so many ways you can present fights like this, but somehow the filmmakers have managed to keep the streak going with a truly fun and entertaining jump back into the ring.
That’s not to say that everything in this film is what I was hoping for. There are a few brilliant scenes that try to delve into what the final match means to the Drago clan, father and son specifically, that gives their journey and motivations a bit more emotion and dramatic heft to work with, but just as soon as they get started with taking a peek behind their figurative curtain, they’ve already become an afterthought in order to move onto the next scene. It’s here that I applaud the filmmakers for even attempting to go this route and expand on these characters whom could have essentially been a couple of one-note villains through and through, but as it is it doesn’t amount to much. I just wish they would have kept at it.
Which brings me to my next nitpick; maybe this film would have benefitted from a more clear sense of scripting when it comes to what is actually happening onscreen. There were a couple of times when I wasn’t sure of what kind of plot progression was going on, and it sort of bugged me throughout. Was there a mini time jump that I missed that wasn’t clearly shown? A scene that was cut that would have given more weight to the proceedings and the emotion already present in the script? At over two hours long it doesn’t initially seem like this film needed to be longer, but with the way certain beats and developments pan out, I could have used a couple extra minutes.
A perfectly good sequel to what I consider to be one of the best boxing movies of all time, Creed II had a lot to prove with this follow-up, and luckily, most of this film is able to do just that. While the predictability and clichéd aspects of sports/boxing films in general may hurt the overall flow of the film from time to time, there’s still a surprising amount of emotion and hard-hitting drama throughout to satisfy any fan of the series, new and old alike. The boxing matches are brutal and exciting and the performances electrifying and real, but unfortunately there’s still not enough to elevate this sequel to the unreachable heights of the first film. I could have used a bit more attention paid to the Drago family and their issues and motivations going into the final fight, especially considering what was already presented in the film was surprisingly good and thoughtful, but as soon as those threads were picked up, they were more or less dropped again. I also really wish the film felt a little less rushed in places, mostly where the script glossed over a few things that I felt needed to be fleshed out, but other than these nitpicks, there’s not much else wrong with this one. I’m not saying I need six films in this franchise ala what Rocky has at this point, but a final film to round out this series would be greatly appreciated if just to see where the filmmakers would take it.