Entrenched in the series’ past though Creed II may be, it ultimately stands on its own as an effective passing of the torch from Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa to Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed, even more so than its predecessor. Eight films deep, and just like the character that started it all the series shows no signs of quitting.
As I’m sure some will bemoan, Creed II doesn’t exactly rock the boat structurally. If you’ve seen and enjoyed any of the films that have preceded it you’ll be right at home here. But then the franchise has never really been about unexpected twists and turns. These are emotionally charged, character-driven stories, and this is no different. With this acting as a direct sequel to both 2015’s Creed and 1985’s Rocky IV, it walks a fine line between nostalgically gazing upon the past whilst forging a unique identity. Large parts of the narrative play out almost as a straight up remake of Rocky IV, only stripped of the 80s nonsense that cluttered the later entries in the Rocky franchise, and with a deeper sense of heightened realism.
Dolph Lundgren, whose Ivan Drago viciously beat Adonis’s father Apollo to death in the ring, is back on the scene, dredging up past emotions in his wake. His eyes are set on an honour restoring rematch years in the making: Drago Vs Creed, round two. This time, it’s the turn of the sons; newly crowned World Champion Adonis, and the human brick wall, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), who fights as Ivan’s proxy. It’s a set up that brings the theme of legacy front and centre, allowing a wealth of complex emotions for its young leads to hurtle through as they learn from – and attempt to live up to – their respective father’s legacies. And although Viktor’s struggles to find his sense of self aren’t portrayed entirely effectively (his personality vastly overshadowed by that of Ivan Drago until late in the show), Adonis fares much better. By the close, he’s ready to grasp the spotlight and build an identity removed from that left by his family and his mentor, Rocky. And as a result, the idea of a Stallone-free Creed sequel no longer feels quite so alien (even if that would be upsetting).
There’s no doubting, however, that you will certainly get more from this if you’re already well versed in the Rocky Cinematic Universe; I heard many cinemagoers Rockysplaining the plot history to their partner’s throughout. While seeing Ivan Drago and Rocky Balboa sharing the screen once more is goosebump-inducing (Lundgren and Stallone rekindling their terrific chemistry), and the traditional series training montage gets the blood flowing, there’s still enough here to keep even the uninitiated engaged. The brutally choreographed boxing matches, complete with pounding sound design, engaging performances from Jordan and Stallone in particular, and a touching developing relationship between Adonis and Tessa Thompson’s Bianca.
Above all else, Creed II is a nostalgic, heartfelt blast. Sure, it’s formulaic, but it’s a formula that I just can’t seem to get enough of. Roll on Creed III.
Rating (out of 5):