From the opening scenes, you know exactly where Creed II is headed. Creed II is to the original Creed what Rocky II was to the movie that started it all: Adonis Creed starts out on top of the world, which means he has nowhere to go but down. He’ll hit rock bottom, linger there for a while, then drag himself back up for a triumphant return. That’s the basic outline of Creed II. It’s intimately familiar, and it’s so well executed that you won’t mind the story’s inevitability.
That isn’t to say there are no surprises. The story of Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed, son of Apollo Creed, parallels that of his predecessors, but it’s not a simple cut and paste. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has his own arc in this film, while Bianca (the incredibly talented Tessa Thompson) really comes into her own as a character. Maybe most surprising of all is the journey of Ivan Drago, returning villain from Rocky IV, played once again by the great Dolph Lundgren.
Like the original Creed, Creed II is about legacy. Adonis can’t escape the past, and he has the extra burden of carrying Rocky’s legacy in addition to his own father’s. Back in 1985, in Rocky IV, Rocky defeated Ivan Drago after Drago killed Apollo Creed in the ring. Now Drago, disgraced for decades in his home country, returns with a son who’s been training his whole life for this moment. They throw down the gauntlet in Philadelphia, and Adonis has no choice but to accept.
At least, that’s how he sees it. But Creed II moves past the simple theme of legacy when Rocky asks Adonis, “Why do you need to fight this fight?” Why does Adonis accept that his father’s and his mentor’s problems are now his problems? What does he actually want?
As in the last movie, Jordan brings a huge amount of depth to the character. It wouldn’t be a Rocky movie without some training montages, and Creed II has some really creative ones. More importantly, Jordan absolutely sells how hard the character pushes himself. And Adonis doesn’t take defeat lightly. Rock bottom really looks grim for him, thanks to Jordan’s vulnerable, emotional performance. And his physical condition is staggeringly impressive–the amount of training that must have gone into making his body look like this is hard to imagine.
As Adonis’s partner Bianca, Thompson proves in Creed II that she can bring a unique presence to any role. As essentially a supporting character for Adonis, Bianca might have felt like a second stringer in another actress’s hands, but Thompson steals the show more than once. As the viewer, you believe that Adonis would collapse without her support in their personal life. She’s his foundation. And Stallone is still Stallone–capable of expressing a surprising amount of emotion for a guy whose face looks like that. He may actually have become a better actor in his advanced years.
And then there’s Lundgren. Like Rocky, Ivan Drago is well past his fighting years–although unlike Rocky, Drago still cuts a physically intimidating figure. His son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) is a monster of a man who spends most of the movie yelling and throwing punches that look like they could break through a brick wall. But the elder Drago is such an impressive presence–especially next to the clearly exhausted Stallone–that you feel genuinely scared for Rocky during an early confrontation when it seems like the two old rivals might come to blows.
Creed II accomplishes something incredible when it humanizes Drago. Yes, he’s still the bad guy of the story, but he’s not a villain. He’s an ex-boxer who’s essentially been in exile; disgraced at home, abandoned by family and country. Drago’s path, much like Adonis’s, was inevitable. And Creed II spends enough time with Ivan and Viktor that you truly start to feel for them. Training montages flip back and forth between Adonis’s cushy apartment, beautiful girlfriend, and fancy gyms, and Ivan and Viktor’s dingy home, ratty facilities, and generally lonely life. Both sets of characters are just doing what they have to do to improve their lot.
Creed II’s fights, the main event, are breathtakingly personal. Adonis and Viktor make every punch look and feel real. The camera often stays uncomfortably close, making excellent use of a first person perspective to make you feel like you’re literally in the fight, taking those hits along with the characters. The blood, sweat, and tears feel so immediate that you’ll forget about caring whether you think you know what the outcome is going to be. Jordan and Thompson invest so much emotion that you can’t help but feel along with them.
Creed II comes with a different director–Steven Caple Jr. replaces Ryan Coogler–but it nearly matches the original Creed in quality. It’s Rocky sequel comfort food: exactly what you want, executed with amazing finesse. The only question left is where the series will go from here, as Adonis Creed now has his own legacy to maintain.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Emotional performances, especially from Jordan and Thompson||Predictable structure|
|Humanizes the “bad guys”|
|Fights are breathtakingly personal|
|Creative training montages|