Creed II is a very solid follow up to its 2015 predecessor, and fits in as a continuation of Adonis Creed’s emotional story arc while taking in all the right elements from the overall Rocky franchise. The flaws here are pretty obvious; the film is very predictable and follows a very familiar structure, but each actor brings their A-game and the result is a film full of wonderful characters, each with a thoughtful story arc and meaningful conclusion.
After winning several major victories in his boxing career, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is set for success as he moves into the next stage of his relationship with his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and looks over his trainer and mentor Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). But Creed faces a new challenge from Victor Drago (Florian Munteanu), a Russian boxer who also happens to be the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the boxer who killed Creed’s father in the ring over thirty years ago.
It’s impressive that Creed II is able to continue the raw emotional intensity of the first installment, yet use the goofier story beats of Rocky IV as the basis of the central drama. While the story is fairly predictable and there are some cheesy moments, the drama is rooted in well thought out themes of legacy, family, and responsibility as seen through the eyes of three families. Director Steven Cable Jr. is able to capture these intimate moments, while also crafting boxing sequences that are bloody, brutal, and gripping to watch.
Michael B. Jordan again brings a raw sense of emotion as Creed deals with a series of frustrations, and he’s damn good at selling the character that even his everyday activities feel interesting. While Stallone’s Rocky doesn’t quite have the arc that he did in the first film, he’s got enough to do here to feel relevant, particularly as he tries to reconnect with his family.
That being said, the biggest surprise of the film is a career-best performance by Dolph Lundgren; while the character was nothing more than a caricature in Rocky IV, he’s seen here as a man who lost everything after his loss to Rocky, and channels his own issues into training his son. I certainly wasn’t expecting a felt, sensitive dramatic performance from the traditionally steely Lundgren, and I give him all the credit in the world for his work with the character.
As Creed II comes to a conclusion, we’re equally invested in the Creed and Drago families, and the nuanced character relationships between the Drago father and son, Creed and his departed father, and Rocky make up for some narrative shortcuts. It’s a surprisingly intricate human drama that reaps the franchise of its history to its fullest dramatic potential. The Rocky series has kept on going for 42 years, and I’m always surprised by the emotional core and visceral fun that these movies possess. Grade: A-