Movie Review: Despite being a bit more obvious in approach than the first, “Creed II” capitalizes on the emotional pieces set up in the previous installments. Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, and Tessa Thompson show vulnerable sides that carry this movie to a satisfyingly climactic fight.
The moment Ryan Coogler’s 2015 “Rocky” reboot, “Creed,” hit theaters, it was clear the stakes were raised for the second installment. Not only did the first movie introduce an audience to Apollo Creed’s hard-headed, gifted and troubled son Adonis, but it showed it had the same heart and wit that helped win over audiences in the 1970s. Since then, the franchise has developed a longstanding mythology and world that “Creed II” needed to capitalize on to gain the same level of admiration from crowds expecting to see some bludgeoning boxing matches.
“Creed II” was playing from behind before the movie even hit theaters nationwide. Due to scheduling conflicts with “Black Panther,” both Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan had troubles lending their talents to this project. Coogler took a step back and let Sylvester Stallone finish the script, which would eventually be shot and directed by newcomer Steven Caple Jr.. Jordan and Stallone still play their titular characters in “Creed II,” and Tessa Thompson returns to complete the big trio that helmed the first “Creed” movie.
The biggest surprise returnee to the “Rocky” franchise in “Creed II” is Dolph Lundgren reprising his role as Ivan Drago, the Russian boxer responsible for killing Apollo Creed in the boxing ring during “Rocky IV.” It didn’t take long for the “Creed” franchise to begin to pull threads from previous “Rocky” movies to help intensify their plots, but this one feels mostly earned as the innate connection between Adonis and Ivan’s son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) is handled with increased and understandable weight. This movie naturally feels more personal for Adonis, and Michael B. Jordan’s grasp on the character is made even stronger and more natural with increased time spent with him.
There isn’t much different in “Creed II” besides the obvious opponent boxer handling more time than in the previous film. I’m surprised it took this long to get a continuation with Ivan Drago as a character given that the story leaves off with his country and wife essentially rejecting him for his loss to Rocky. His personal demons and drive for redemption carry the bulk of his characterization in this movie, but Lundgren has a talent for displaying emotion with such few words that it makes his character work shockingly well, and his passionate confrontations with his son in the ring hit even harder because of it.
There aren’t as many flashy moments in “Creed II,” for better and for worse. You can feel Coogler’s tough removed from the director’s chair because there aren’t any standout technical achievements on par with those of the first film – it’s tough to follow up the slick one-shot during the first boxing match in “Creed,” so Caple Jr. decides he doesn’t even want to try. There are, however, some nice emotional payoffs that work well given how obvious some of the storytelling tropes seem in “Creed II.” I particularly felt moved the most by Tessa Thompson’s continuing fight with degenerative hearing loss and how that eventually plays in to their child’s birth.
I mentioned in my writing for “Creed” that you’ve seen that movie a countless number of times, and the same can mostly be said for the second film as well. It doesn’t do much to reinvent sports movies, or even boxing movies, but there’s enough intensity and care that that doesn’t even matter. Despite feeling more predictable and slightly more gimmicky than the first, “Creed II” still finds enough in the margins to warrant its own existence and the continuation of this franchise into new realms.
While it takes a small step back in terms of the glorious boxing scenes from the first “Creed,” the second movie is more emotionally riveting and involving. Few moments from this franchise have felt as heartbreaking and real as the scene where they test Adonis and Bianca’s child for any hearing issues. Both Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson’s vulnerable sides are on display in “Creed II” and add so much to a film looking for an emotional center point up until that moment. Tessa Thompson’s character will continue to be my favorite plotline moving forward in any of the future “Creed” installments (especially now that it seems Stallone won’t be returning anytime soon beyond this movie).
“Creed II” suffers a bit from sequel syndrome – how do you capitalize on and catch the same spark that the original (reboot) had? Fortunately, it doesn’t try to be an exact replica of the first, and arguably the best moments are when it does the opposite. I mentioned during my review for “Creed” that I felt it mostly earned its two hour runtime, and that can start to feel less so in the sequel. It mumbles along a bit, but it isn’t too overly indulgent to be a big issue. There’s still plenty to enjoy with “Creed II,” and it gets me even more excited to see him battle it out with Jonathan Majors in “Creed III.”
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