The signs of a truly great filmmaker are that when they’re gone from a series, you instantly feel it.
“Creed II” is the follow-up to the 2015 hit “Creed” and the eighth installment of the “Rocky” franchise. It follows Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) as he becomes the World Heavyweight Champion and is challenged by the Ivan Drago, the son of the man who killed his father Apollo Creed in the ring more than 30 years prior. Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Wood Harris, Russell Hornsby, Andre Ward and Phylicia Rashad also star as Steven Caple Jr. takes over directing duties from Ryan Coogler.
The first “Creed” took us all by surprise, as many thought it was just an obligatory reboot of the aged “Rocky” franchise, but thanks to Ryan Coogler’s stylish direction and Jordan’s powerful central performance, plus a surprisingly effective Stallone reprising his famed role, the film ended up being one of the best of 2015. A sequel was inevitable, but because both Coogler and Jordan were busy with “Black Panther” (heard of it?) production was delayed, with Coogler eventually being replaced by Caple Jr., who attended USC film school with him. I was looking forward to this one because I have been a fan of Jordan since his “Chronicle” days, and even if Coogler wasn’t back for the second go-around the trailers for the film seemed like they captured the same flair and style as the first film. And there are parts where “Creed II” plays out like its predecessors; for better or worse.
Michael B. Jordan really solidified his star when “Creed” came out and his villainous turn as Killmonger in “Black Panther” received praise (and possible darkhorse Oscar talk). Both films also showcased how incredibly ripped Jordan is, and according to his trainer he worked to get even leaner for “Creed II.” It certainly shows, and to partner with his increased physique he is given more emotion to carry this time around. Burdened even more with his father’s legacy, as well as now defending his title and caring for a newborn child, Jordan has several scenes where he yells, hold back tears or shows pain in his eyes, and he is without a doubt the glue that holds the film together.
Tessa Thompson is again solid as Adonis’ girlfriend and Stallone once more shows that the mumbling Rocky Balboa is really the only role he was ever meant to play. Joining (and rejoining) the cast are Florian Munteanu and Dolph Lundgren as Viktor Drago and his father, Ivan. Although a bit cartoony at points, Lundgren is able to add some depth to his character from 33 years ago and Munteanu is a mountain of a man, even when standing next to Jordan’s ripped self. The Dragos are given a bit of brief backstory, enough to make the moments in their corner have some substance.
The issue with “Creed II” is odd because the plot takes beats from previous “Rocky” films (namely IV and the first “Creed”) yet the same energy and visual appeal that were in the last film are gone. There is nothing as impressive as the one-take fight, and the cinematography overall feels kind of flat. The script, by Stallone and Juel Taylor, follows a basic arc and is nothing we haven’t seen before, but you could say that about the first “Creed;” only difference there is it didn’t stand out so hard.
The fight sequences (there are really only two) have a few moments of sheer brutality where you feel the punches but overall they, again, just don’t share the impact or bravado this time around. The ending will surely make some audience members get choked up or feel goosebumps, although I feel that has more to do with Ludwig Göransson’s effective score than the dialogue or cliché actions being given out.
“Creed II” has some moments of entertainment and others of emotion and those are where it shines. However when compared to “Creed” it just doesn’t hold a candle, and even as a film on its own accord it hasn’t aged that that well in my mind. Those who are old enough to have seen “Rocky IV” when it came out will likely get the most from this due to Ivan Drago’s return and arc completion, but when someone like me, who loves “Creed” and is a Michael B. Jordan fan, think a “Creed” sequel is just OK, it’s a disappointing thing.
Critic’s Grade: C+