After Ryan Coogler relit the fire of the Rocky franchise with his refreshing and original story Creed in 2015, audiences clamoured for a sequel. This time, however, newbie Steven Caple Jr. takes over the director’s chair. To his credit, instead of attempting to match Coogler’s storytelling ability and failing miserably, he takes previous Rocky sequel strategies and fills Creed II with flash and stunning fights and a big dose of nostalgia.
The film begins by introducing and re-introducing an older Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the legendary Rocky 4 villain, and his son Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu). No words, just them training in terrible weather conditions and fighting in small dingy shows. Then we go to Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), who is moments away from stepping into the ring for a shot at the heavyweight title.
However, before everything becomes too perfect for Adonis and co., Viktor Drago, along with his father, travels to Philadelphia, to challenge the new world heavyweight champion. A challenge Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) does not want his young protégé to accept, out of fear of repeating the events of Rocky 4, where Ivan Drago killed Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) during their fight. Adonis then goes on a journey to find a real reason to take on and beat this new monster.
From the moment Rocky learns of Drago’s challenge, you see the difference between Creed I and II. This film relies heavily on the Rocky 4 story, especially when trying to create ‘epic’ moments. Ivan Drago is sat waiting for Rocky in his restaurant, and here he explains that he lost everything after his loss to Balboa. And now his son “will break your boy.” The meeting of old foes, Drago’s famous “break you” line, it’s all about using the past to entice excitement, but that does not mean it is not effective. The moment you realise these two legendary on-screen characters are going to meet again, you get goosebumps. Just hearing the big Russian use his famous catchphrase will have long-time fans grinning from ear to ear. But the nostalgia does not end there; we see a lot of familiar faces during the 130-minute runtime.
One thing that sets Creed II apart from any other Rocky is the in-ring action. Never before have we experienced such realism in a boxing film: from the execution of punches, ring walkouts to acknowledging the risk of going to a judge’s decision, and the addition of Max Kellerman, the real-life voice of boxing. Max’s voice is a part of scenes where our characters are watching the latest boxing headlines, as well as the fights, and this at times makes you forget that you’re watching a big budget Hollywood production. Some fights may lack the emotion that previous sequels had. However, you are still in awe because the overall presentation of boxing fights has never looked so good in a film.
Also, Steven (or Sylvester Stallone) has nicely tweaked certain parts to differentiate and pay homage to Rocky 4. In the 1985 instalment, Rocky Balboa is training in snow and lifting logs while Drago is working with top of the range equipment. In portions of this film, we have our protagonist training in a high-quality gym while our antagonist endures more unpleasant working conditions. It’s a small detail which will likely be picked up by diehard fans, but those small details can add a lot to the narrative.
As far as performances go, key players like Stallone, Michael B. Jordan, and Tessa Thompson deliver. Sylvester Stallone’s presence is not quite as large as it was in the first Creed, meaning he does not match his performance from Coogler’s story. However, when called upon, he does not fail, as Stallone beautifully expresses Rocky’s emotions in one of the final scenes.
Rocky Balboa, having a smaller role in part two was not accidental: Stallone himself has said this was about passing the torch both on and off screen, and Michael B. Jordan is more than ready to continue the legacy. Jordan is the heart and soul of this film, shining in every way possible. His physique and boxing skills are incredible, and he perfectly captures every phase of Adonis Creed’s emotional journey. Adonis and Balboa’s scene in the hospital stands out as Jordan takes his acting skills to a whole new level, by beautifully showing his characters external and internal pain. Audiences might even find that lump in their throat after this particular scene.
Unfortunately, some characters are not as strong, and Viktor Drago is one of those characters. As I mentioned earlier, Creed II relies a great deal on the past and that nostalgia factor, so that is part of the problem with Viktor’s character. Played by Florian Munteanu, a real-life boxer, Ivan Drago’s son’s only special quality is that he is the son of Ivan Drago. Without his father, he is just another muscular man on screen. Florian also lacks that aura possessed by a young Dolph Lundgren, while his dialogue delivery also fails to match Dolph’s.
With Sylvester Stallone taking over as the scriptwriter, one should expect some old tricks to resurface. Elements of Rocky 2, 3, and 4 make up Adonis Creed’s new story. The child as a source of inspiration comes from part two, and the revenge theme is clearly from part four. But while the tricks are old, they are timeless and still pack a punch. So by the time Michael B. Jordan’s character musters up the courage to keep fighting, and the legendary Rocky music plays, you find that you’re one hundred percent invested.
If you go into Creed II expecting another new twist on the Rocky franchise, prepare to be disappointed. Originality is not what Steven and Stallone are going for; this is classic Rocky, training videos and all. So basically, expect a damn fun show. Audiences should also thank their lucky stars that this did not fall in the Rocky 5 category!
Dir: Steven Caple Jr.
Scr: Sylvester Stallone
Prd: Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King-Templeton, Charles Winkler, William Chartoff, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu
DOP: Kramer Morgenthau
Runtime: 130 Minutes.
Creed II hits cinemas on November 30th.