Rocky is one of the few movie franchises that can still claim to be going strong even by its eighth installment (the other being Star Wars…just don’t let its fanbase know that). 2015’s Creed served as a brilliant way to continue the Rocky lineage, by having the legendary Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) mentor upstart boxer Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), son of Rocky’s original heavyweight rival, Apollo Creed. Creed II not only continues Adonis’ story that began with Creed but, interestingly, also serves as a continuation of 1985’s Rocky IV.
Rocky IV was the most outlandish Rocky movie (though not the worst, Rocky V is a much harder watch). This was, after all, the Rocky film in which the Italian Stallion more or less ended the Cold War by beating his opponent, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in Drago’s home country of Russia. The same Rocky movie in which Drago actually killed Appolo Creed in the middle of a boxing ring. The same Rocky movie that inexplicably featured a robot!
Seeing as the Creed series goes back to the more grounded roots of the franchise (in the same vein as the underrated sixth installment, Rocky Balboa, did in 2006), using this series to continue the legacy of Rocky IV may seem like a hard sell. Yet somehow, Creed II makes it all work. It may feel a bit formulaic at times, but Creed II accomplishes the seemingly impossible by combining the realism and genuine heart of Creed with a sequel to Rocky’s most ridiculous outing.
Creed II begins with Adonis finally claiming the Heavyweight Championship, which eluded him in the first film. Soon thereafter, he proposes to his girlfriend, Bianca Taylor (Tessa Thompson), who also reveals she is pregnant. Everything seems right in Adonis’ world, until a boxing promoter named Buddy Marcelle (Russel Hornsby) informs him of a potential “dream match” thirty-three years in the making. It turns out the son of Ivan Drago – the man who killed Adonis’ father in the ring – has been training for the sole purpose of defeating Creed to avenge his father’s loss to Rocky Balboa all those years ago. This new fighter, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) quickly gets under Adonis’ skin as he mocks the violent history between their fathers. Despite pleas from his fiancé and Rocky to decline the fight, Viktor’s taunts get the better of Adonis, who accepts the challenge.
Rocky is haunted by the regret of his actions thirty-three years ago. At the behest of Apollo, Rocky refused to throw in the towel for his friend no matter how beaten and battered he was, which lead to his untimely death at the hands of the elder Drago. Rocky, feeling responsible for what happened to Adonis’ father, refuses to train the new champ ahead of his fight with the younger Drago. Although Drago’s actions lead to his disqualification in the bout (allowing Adonis to keep his title with an asterisk victory), Adonis ends up in the hospital, hardly looking like the victor.
This, of course, leads to a story of Adonis trying to rebuild himself (both literally and figuratively), as Viktor Drago waits for a title rematch, given his less-than-definitive loss. Though like any Rocky movie, the story isn’t defined solely by the in-ring bouts, but by the lives of its fighters. You could say the film’s biggest dilemmas are found within the strained relationship between Adonis and Rocky, as well as that between Adonis and Bianca.
Creed II is a worthy continuation of the series, with its combination of an underdog boxer tale and its down-to-Earth life drama echoing the ongoing themes of the series. For a change of pace, even the film’s villains get some appreciated humanization. The Ivan Drago of Rocky IV was portrayed as an emotionless fighting machine with actual superhuman strength (a trait that’s never directly mentioned in this installment, though Viktor’s brute force is a subtle hint that he’s inherited the same strength). But here in Creed II, Ivan is a man whose country abandoned him after his loss to Rocky, as did his wife. Ivan is modeling his son as the successor to finish what he started in hopes of reclaiming his glory (and, in his mind, his wife as well. With the tragic irony being that anyone who would leave their spouse over losing a boxing match probably isn’t worth winning back). Viktor sees the folly in his father’s intentions, but simply wants to prove his worth to himself and his father. Creed II takes the most cartoonish villain in the franchise and makes a compelling story through him and his son.
Creed II follows suit with its predecessor in telling an emotional journey worthy of the original Rocky. And like the previous film, the acting is top notch, particularly by Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone (the latter of which never seems to get his due for his acting ability). It moves at a brisk pace, and is a fitting continuation of one of cinema’s most enduring franchises.
If there’s any fault to be had with Creed II, it’s simply that it follows something of a predictable formula. More specifically, it follows the formula of Rockys II through V so much that you can probably guess what’s going to happen at every next turn. It’s certainly a well made formula, no doubt about that. But because it follows the familiar beats, Creed II doesn’t have the same sense of freshness as its predecessor.
Creed II succeeds in continuing both the storyline of Adonis Creed as well as the greater Rocky franchise in a way that feels meaningful, despite its predictability. It’s all too easy to imagine the Creed series spawning a similar number of sequels as Rocky himself, though Sylvester Stallone stated shortly after the film’s release that this will be his last time portraying the legendary Italian Stallion. Of course, we should all know by now not to expect Rocky to stay down for the count. Here’s hoping Stallone puts back on the boxing gloves (or, more accurately at this point, his trainer’s cap) sooner or later, and helps Jordan’s Adonis deliver another knockout.