With eight films under its belt, the Rocky franchise has seen its share of recycled story with a new twist. Creed II knows its legacy and the pressure to get it right had to have been high on writers Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone. Director Steven Caple Jr. gives us a film that doesn’t live up to the power of Ryan Coogler’s Creed, but still goes the distance.
The film opens with Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) rising to the height of boxing. Simultaneously, in the Ukraine, Viktor Drago (Florain Munteanu), lives a hard life as a blue collar worker while training with his father, Ivan (Dolph Lundgren). The inevitable fight is brokered by promoter Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby), who tells Adonis his father understood he needed a legacy story that would “stick to the ribs”. Thus, the central concept of Creed II.
The film understands the dramatic weight it carries and plays off of the hype, although at times feeling undercooked. Yet, much like a fighter, it discerns that it has to shake up the story to keep its audience entertained and engaged. It does that in the form of building character backstory. We learn just what we need to about life for Ivan after the infamous showdown and the affect it had on his son. We see Adonis and Bianca’s relationship bloom as their family grows. With key placements like Phylicia Rashad’s Mary Anne Creed and Brigitte Nielsen’s Ludmilla Drago giving just the right touch of nostalgia and added spectacle, the film manages to make it out of the ring in one piece.
The original Rocky was a little engine that could film. It was a character drama Trojan Horsed inside of a boxing film. It’s the man vs. man, man vs. self storytelling that Creed II hones in on and creates a decent installment in the franchise. After all, seeing Adonis fight Viktor isn’t really what we are going to the movie for. Instead it’s to answer the deep rooted question of what would you do if you could avenge your father’s death in the ring? Will you get back up when you get knocked down? It’s in this space that the the franchise lives and Creed II delivers. It doesn’t quite pack the same punch as Creed, but certainly a solid entry and sure to please fans that never knew this purported sequel to Rocky IV was the film we’ve been waiting over thirty years for.