The first Creed was somewhat of a pleasant surprise, not only a spin-off, but a spin-off of a series that outstayed its welcome almost 30 years ago, it had no right to be as good as it was, but there it was. Given the films stellar cast and stellar director, there are few reasons to doubt how intended up being so good. Matching up Ryan Coogler with frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan, sparks were practically guaranteed to fly.
So, with the franchise well and truly reinvigorated, here we are for the sequel, without Coogler, who instead finds himself in the producer’s role, with Steven Caple Jr, a highly rated up-and-comer, occupying the vacant directors chair. So, is Creed II a knock-out? Or does it barely get past the first round?
Three years on from his star-making bout with “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) becomes Heavyweight Champion of the World. Not long after, he is faced with a fearsome challenge, against the son of the man who killed his father.
The saying goes (even if it is completely scientifically inaccurate) that: “Lightening doesn’t strike twice.” But I’ll be damned if this film doesn’t prove that saying wrong all over again.
Much like its predecessor, Creed II is very much a character drama, focusing on Adonis’ burgeoning boxing career, as well as his blossoming relationship with Bianca (Tessa Thomson) the film successfully guides us through a complex mix of emotions, from vengeance to acceptance, all while presenting all its characters with nice arcs, and presenting them all extremely well. Take Viktor Drago, for instance, in appearance, he is nothing but a walking slab of meat who can just about punch and grunt but dig a little deeper and you’ll find the reasons behind this brutish facade, all of which is presented to make this Drago less of a ‘foreign menace’ but more of a sympathetically misguided brute.
Which may as well bring us onto acting, and it goes without saying that Michael B. Jordan is great here, as despite the one blip (a big blip though Fantastic Four was) he is one of Hollywood’s most reliable hands,but this film also gives us another chance to see hoe good an actor Sylvester Stallone can be. It is my theory that Stallone is only ever good when portraying Rocky Balboa, from an acting standpoint, and that may be unfair, but it is a testament to how great he makes Rocky, especially in the two Creed films, he isn’t the Italian Stallion now, he’s a dried up husk, trying to live his life as best he can, and help Adonis along the way. He’s given a nice, yet subtle arc in this film, that succinctly plays off his relationship with Adonis, he makes slipping back into Balboa look as comfortable as slipping back into a comfortable pair of shoes.
The other big champion (pun very much intended) of this film is its cinematography. As in the last film, the fight choreography is crisp and brutal, you can feel every punch land with a bone-crunching thud, and feel every minute tick by, the stand-out being the final fight with Drago, has subtle call-backs to the Drago fight from Rocky IV, without getting bogged down in continuity, there’s also an exquisite update of the classic ‘training montage’ from Rocky IV which tactfully calls back again, without feeling too pleased with itself.
It is by no means a perfect film, it can feel a big formulaic as sequels go, and as with most Rocky/Creed films, it follows the same basic plot structure, but going back to basics worked last time and it works here. I’d say the biggest fault of the movie is it flags somewhat in the middle, dropping a bit of its pacing in the process, but all of this is forgotten by the final act.
With that said, and as much as I enjoyed the film, it should be the last. This feels like the story they needed to tell, and probably wanted to tell from the early stages of the first films development, and I think pushing more sequels out would be overkill. The characters are left in the best place they could be, and I think its time Rocky was moved on from, to be remembered as one of cinema’s true great characters, without muddying the waters any further.
In summary then, there’s something here for everyone, longtime Rocky fans will get a rush out of seeing what is said to be the characters last appearance, and new fans won over by Creed will be glad to see the characters move on from where they were left off. I’d call this a triumphant sequel, easily meeting its heavyweight (I just can’t stop myself) credentials,and a more than worthy addition, and hopefully finale, to the long-running series.