I think that it was pretty much a given that when the ROCKY spin-off film CREED was first announced back in 2015, there was a lot of scepticism towards it. After ROCKY star/creator Sylvester Stallone brought the franchise to a fitting and satisfying end with the well-received final entry ROCKY BALBOA back in 2006, everyone assumed that the film would be last we would see of the character of “Rocky Balboa” and that universe. However when then up-and-coming filmmaker Ryan Coogler (who was fresh off directing his critically acclaimed 2013 debut feature FRUITVALE STATION) signed on to make a spin-off set that would focus on a new character named “Adonis Creed” (who was the son of “Rocky Balboa”’s rival turned friend “Apollo Creed”) played by Michael B. Jordan, nobody was sure what to expect from it. Even more so after Stallone signed on to reprise his role of Rocky for it. Once the film was finally released in cinemas, all that scepticism went away very quickly and CREED became hugely successful critical/box-office hit. Its success made its director Ryan Coogler and stars Michael B. Jordan & Tessa Thompson house-hold names overnight and even helped Sylvester Stallone receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance. Now the long-waited sequel CREED II has finally arrived, this time under the direction of Steven Caple Jr. Was the film able to capture the magic of the first CREED? Read on and find out!
Set three years after the events of CREED, things have been looking up extremely well for Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) in both his personal life and his career as boxer. He has recently worked himself up to become the World Heavyweight Champion, he and his longtime girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) have recently got engaged and expecting their first child together and his trainer/mentor Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is now in remission after his battle with cancer. However everything changes for Adonis when one day when Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the infamous Russian boxer who killed his father Apollo Creed during an exhibition match and lost a follow-up match to Rocky thirty-three years prior, makes an unexpected reappearance in the boxing world. The main reason: Drago challenges Adonis to fight his son Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), who he has been training since he was a child, in a match. Despite the best efforts from Bianca and Rocky not to face the Dragos after everything that happened to Apollo, Adonis decides to challenge Viktor anyway with or without their support. What Adonis realises very quickly that his underestimated his enemy and that his fight with Viktor Drago will be the most dangerous match of his career yet.
I have to admit that even though as much I was excited for CREED II, I did wonder how it was going to turn out now that the first film’s director Ryan Coogler wasn’t able to come back to helm it due to his commitments working on the cultural phenomenon that was the massively successful Marvel superhero blockbuster BLACK PANTHER. Coogler’s passionate work on the first CREED film both breathed a new life and perspective into the ROCKY franchise but now that he was no longer attached (although he’s still involved as an executive producer), I did fear that this sequel had the potential to be a disappointment. So how did it turn out? While it does indeed lack a little bit of the personal touch that Coogler brought to the first film, CREED II is still a terrific sequel that’s just equally thrilling, moving and entertaining as CREED was. New director Steven Caple Jr. (who makes jump from his debut film THE LAND to here) was definitely a great choice at taking over directing duties for this instalment. He was able to brilliantly capture both the tone and feel of CREED while also bringing his own style to this sequel so that it can stand on its own as a film. Plus he did a fantastic job when it came to the CREED II’s many boxing scenes. Each set piece throughout the film was so superbly staged and choreographed, that I honestly think that they may might be even better than the ones that we saw in CREED. Plus Caple Jr. also knows that other than the boxing scenes, the most important element at the centre of both the CREED and ROCKY films is its characters.
Just as they did in the first film, lead stars Michael B. Jordan (“Adonis Creed”), Sylvester Stallone (“Rocky Balboa”) & Tessa Thompson (“Bianca Taylor”) are once again absolutely wonderful in their roles respectively. All three actors continue to have such terrific chemistry and rapport with each other. The script (which was written by both Juel Taylor and co-star/producer Stallone, from a story by Sascha Penn and Cheo Hodari Coker) does a great job at further developing their characters and giving each of them some a really compelling story arcs. Especially Jordan as “Adonis”, who gets great material to work chew on like how his character’s experiences after his first fight with “Viktor Drago” damage him on both a psychical and emotional level. When it comes to the supporting cast, I have to say it was awesome to see Dolph Lundgren come back to the series to reprise his most memorable role of “Ivan Drago” from ROCKY IV. Both Lundgren and his onscreen son Florian Munteanu gave riveting performances as “Ivan & Viktor Drago”. While they could have easily have been portrayed as one-note villains, the script actually provides more nuance, dimension and empathy to them so that they are well-rounded as characters. On the technical side of things: Ludwig Göransson once again delivers another truly great powerhouse score (I love how he incorporated a very famous theme from the series into the film’s third act), the cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau (GAME OF THRONES, THOR: THE DARK WORLD) was nicely done and the editing was superb. Now as much as I do love CREED II, there were aspects that I found to be to be flawed. Even though I think the film is really well written, the script can be very predictable and rather contrived at times. Plus it doesn’t help that the story for this film feels like a combination of the plots from ROCKY II, III and especially IV.
Overall while CREED II may have some formulaic elements in that we have seen many times before other entries in the franchise, it doesn’t stop it from still being a truly powerful and hugely entertaining crowd-pleaser that in my opinion is just as terrific as its predecessor is. In fact I’m not even ashamed to admit that I even got a little misty eyed towards the end. There’s no question that they’ll definitely be a CREED III down the line for sure but if they decided not to make anymore, I honestly wouldn’t mind since this entry brings the entire franchise full circle in a satisfying way (that being said, I’m curious to see where they go with the story from here). So if you are a huge fan of CREED and the ROCKY series, there’s no question that you need to check this film out. I have a feeling that you’re going to love it!
Review by Bede Jermyn