“Creed II” is the sequel to the 2015 “Creed”, which is a continuation of the “Rocky” franchise. Michael B. Jordan reprises his role as boxer Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo Creed, who was killed off in “Rocky IV”, during the match with the absurdly imposing Russian fighter Ivan Drago, who was played by Dolph Lundgren. Sylvester Stallone is back as favorite cinematic underdog Rocky Balboa.
Steven Caple, Jr. directed this latest installment co-written by Stallone and Juel Taylor and does so with style.
When I first heard this film would be revisiting the Drago rivalry, I was stricken with some exasperation at what I considered to be a lack of originality. Now, I think it makes a strange sort of Hollywood sense to explore this storyline. Ivan Drago killed Apollo Creed in the ring in “Rocky IV” which really changed the course of what could have been Adonis’ life. Florian Munteanu brings his impressive physique to the screen to play the part of Viktor Drago and does a decent job in the role. There was actually an attempt to bring a bit more of an explanation as to why this victory was personally important to the Dragos.
The “Rocky” films typically had a well-worn pattern, and this film does little to really break that, however the performances are compelling enough to shrug that off. The fight scenes were pretty sensational in spite of the lapse in realism. Jordan is an excellent actor and pays off the more implausible circumstances quite effectively. I am not usually a fan of the practice of trash talking I sporting events, but I found myself appreciating the swagger of the character in this film. That’s probably because Adonis is quite broken throughout this ordeal and finds himself with other obligations that often worry him and then inspire him.
Stallone also hits the right notes of nostalgia and sympathy throughout the film. Rocky Balboa has his own emotional journey as well as he has become estranged from his son for some reason. He still has to overcome his sense of guilt in not stopping the fight that claimed the life of rival turned friend, Apollo Creed more than three decades ago. Stallone does not have the greatest range as an actor, but he still manages to keep this role pretty compelling and relevant even if someone else is actually the main protagonist.
Tessa Thompson is as charming as ever as the aspiring songwriter girlfriend of Adonis. There were times when the brief exploration of her career felt a little forced in. I guess it makes sense to give her own dreams and aspirations separate from Adonis’ path, the effort to showcase her musical talent in this movie did not seem to fit this particular story all that naturally. I liked her portrayal of Bianca Taylor though, and she was by no means unimportant or unnecessary to the film, but there were some moments I thought she could have been used a little more effectively.
I also just like seeing Phylicia Rashad onscreen. She returns as Creed Sr.’s widow and adoptive mother to Adonis. A lot of the ways she moved the story forward could have been as easily accomplished by Thompson’s character, so the necessity of her being in this one can be questioned. In spite of that, I was still glad to see her. She is too good for me to really complain about her participation in much of anything.
The film doesn’t shake up the formula of the franchise very much. Much of it is still quite predictable, especially to long time “Rocky” viewers, however the performances made all of that forgivable, and there wasn’t an abundance of dialogue that made me wince with despair.
It’s a film with some of the familiar shortcomings of its predecessors in this franchise, but there is plenty that works well enough for me to shrug those off quite comfortably.