The gift that keeps on giving despite doubters and the foresight of critics, the Rocky/Creed franchise has returned for a sequel/eighth instalment following the surprising and successful rejuvenation experienced with Ryan Coogler’s 2015 Creed – this time with Steven Caple Jr at the helm. Known for previous works The Land and the television series Class, the director has taken on Creed II as his second feature-length film credit, so you have to forgive any prior speculation over his experience and honestly admire Sylvester Stallone and co for placing such faith in the young talent on what is quite frankly their baby, and undoubtedly a high-budget blockbuster.
Coogler took control over the screenplay three years ago after Stallone relinquished writing rights, in a move he described as the right thing for the current generation: “Forty years has passed, and what worked in my generation doesn’t exactly work in this generation. Everything’s just changed.” Well, evidently things have changed again, because Stallone is back on board for Creed II alongside Juel Taylor, bringing us yet another story of pride, heart, rivalry and of course boxing, whilst unearthing a few familiar faces along the way.
Following a number of decisive victories, Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) is now the World Heavyweight Champion, but with the belt comes a challenge greater than any he has ever faced before. While he has been climbing the ranks, so has Victor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Rocky’s rival Ivan (Dolph Lundgren) – the Soviet machine who brutally killed Adonis’s father Apollo in the ring some three decades previous – and now he wants the belt for himself. To avenge his father, Adonis desperately wants this fight, but he has other responsibilities in his life to be aware of, most importantly to his new fiancé Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and baby daughter Amara. Family is everything and Rocky (Stallone) knows this better than anyone. In fear of witnessing history repeat itself, he is reluctant to stand in Adonis’s corner, but Creed knows that with the help of his surrogate father, they can take on anything. Through training, learning and desire, the duo work towards challenging the monstrous opponent, but will it all pay off once foes old and new face off in the greatest boxing showdown in thirty years?
Hugging the old franchise tightly, this is a movie reminiscent of Rocky IV in more ways than one, from the cast down to the plot – which strongly shadows that off its 1985 predecessor. However, despite this reluctance to leave a formula that has aged over time, the film still manages to provide engaging and pulse-raising dialogue that develops characters up to that next level and beyond. Lundgren’s Drago – depicted as a meathead Soviet weapon with boxing gloves on in his first outing – is given far greater purpose and drive as a ruined and embarrassed man striving for redemption through his son, who straight out eats fighters for breakfast, but still pays for the past he never experienced. Thompson is once again an electrifying scene-stealer as she reprises her role as Bianca, despite her character exploration being reduced to a supportive role for Creed. Stallone in the first film was a revelation, giving one of his strongest performances in the franchise to date, and this movie is no different. He and Jordan continue to have a fascinating on-screen chemistry, developing their bond beyond boxing to a family connection, with Rocky becoming the father Adonis never had, whilst developing self-awareness of his own distancing from son Bobby Balboa – a story arc with beautiful poignancy.
Family has become a major theme in the Creed movies, creating that modern dynamic that saves the latest instalment from essentially mirroring Rocky IV to a giddying extent. That, paired with the tremendous advancements in the choreography, filming and editing of fight sequences, make for entertaining bouts in which you feel each punch through the screen like a knock to your own ribs, and you can be forgiven for exclaiming a cheer when hearing a remix of some favourite Rocky classics. The soundtrack takes hip-hop with the contemporary to great effect, building throughout the film until inevitably we reach the famed training montage, when the movie fully clicks into gear.
Creed II is utterly predictable, meaning the film isn’t quite up there with its predecessor, but it’s nonetheless a fun road-to-glory story that will no doubt invite a third sequel into the works in the coming years. After all, that is what we all want, isn’t it?
Creed II is released nationwide on 30th November 2018.
Watch the trailer for Creed II here: