Thirty years after Ivan Drago killed Apollo Creed and then lost a fight to Rocky Balboa in Russia, Drago’s son challenges Creed’s son to a rematch.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Rocky franchise is nothing if not formulaic. There’s a comfort to that consistent structure; it’s reliable, like a training routine–it’s something you can count on. You know what you’re going to get. Creed II maintains that familiar formula while adding in quite a few twists that keep us on our toes. But more than that, it’s filled with heart, just like all good Rocky films. It also stars Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed and Sylvester Stallone returning as Rocky Balboa–two amazing actors right at the top of their game.
I’ll start with my small critique: there is some really clunky writing from time to time, namely toward the beginning, just as things are getting going. For a while, the characters we met and loved in the original Creed don’t feel like those same people. The opening scenes, pre-title, feels like the first draft of a script that’s still finding its footing. After that, however, Creed finds its legs and keeps on going, without looking back.
Of course, Creed II boasts its obligatory training montages and fight scenes. The montage here requires a bit more of a suspension of disbelief. Don’t get me wrong, it’s solidly engaging and inspirational, but the locale is just a bit strange. The fight choreography is good, but not as brilliant as its predecessor–that single take fight in Creed is the best of the franchise–but there’s still some good to be found, and some surprising twists and genuinely tense moments.
Maybe it’s just the fact that I just finished a whole Rocky rewatch, but so much of what Creed II does emotionally resonates and builds upon the things set up throughout the franchise. Essentially, structurally, this is Rocky III. Adonis Creed is at the top of his game, and he’s got far to fall, and everything to lose. It draws on the firm emotional foundation of Rocky IV, bringing back Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) with his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu, who I mistook for Jamie Dornan, from the trailers). Drago, after Rocky defeated him more than thirty years before, was shunned by Russia and his wife (Brigitte Nielsen returns, shockingly). As such, Ivan and Viktor are understandably bitter, and Creed II really takes the time to dig into that bitterness and the toll that it has taken on the Drago family. Ivan repeatedly pushes his son to “Break him” before and during the match with Creed, and they both ultimately come to a rewarding end.
This parent-child relationship ripples throughout the film, from Mary Ann Creed (Phylicia Rashad) and her adopted son Adonis to Rocky and his estranged son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia), to Rocky and Adonis, even to Creed and Bianca (Tessa Thompson, doing a stellar job) with their newborn daughter. Family relationships infuse Creed II in a way that Rocky Balboa and Rocky IV and V did incredibly well.
Creed II’s emotional impact outweighs some of the script’s flaws. I was blown away by moments, especially the Drago family drama and the developing Creed family. As always, Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan’s acting stands head and shoulders above a great supporting cast. This is truly a solid Rocky sequel, rather than a Creed sequel. It bucks formula while still remaining formulaic, and hit me in the gut more times than I thought it would. I loved it.
P.S. If I’m adding this to my Rocky ranking from a couple of weeks ago, it falls at number three, right below the first Creed.