At least on paper, director Steven Caple, Jr.’s boxing film Creed II should be disqualified for a story that employs plenty of sports movie clichés and a narrative that reads like a bad Bollywood film. The film tells the tale of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), son of legendary boxer Apollo Creed, who in Rocky IV (1985) was killed in the ring by Russian fighter Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren).
As you may recall from Creed (2015), Adonis grew up in an orphanage before being adopted by Apollo’s wife, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad). He quickly took to boxing like his father and against all odds went toe to toe with the world champion “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, displaying the natural skill and flair of his father and the steel of his coach and father’s best friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
In Creed II, Adonis is now the world champion, and as expected, as number one he has a target painted on his back from potential contenders. But one challenger comes out of the blue to shake him to his core and that’s Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of the man who killed his father in the ring. To make matters worse, he has Ivan Drago, played again by Dolph Lundgren, by his side, something that doesn’t escape Rocky Balboa’s attention.
A plot involving boxers fighting in the ring whose own fathers faced off resulting in the death of one decades ago sounds lame but, like its predecessor, Creed II is a knockout
As I said, the plot — about two boxers fighting in the ring whose own fathers faced off resulting in the death of one decades ago — sounds lame but, like its predecessor, Creed II is a knockout. That being said, the film isn’t a flawless success, and falls short of the outstanding Creed, directed by Ryan Coogler. The story here is a mishmash of the entire Rocky franchise. I must admit, I’ve seen all of them growing up, and disliked the original five purely because of the poor performances and heavy handed direction. Stallone overacting while shouting “Adriaaaannn” is worth plenty of eye-rolling alone. But something happened to the franchise in 2006 with the soft reboot Rocky Balboa where “Sly” showed tremendous growth as an actor.
Here, Stallone and Jordan are excellent. Their warm father-son chemistry is the heart of the film, and their moving and often appreciably nuanced performances are touching. Likewise, supporting performances by Tessa Thompson (Bianca Taylor) as Adonis’ partner and Rashad as his mother are stellar. The film also offers excellent commentary on relationships. When Adonis, a proud powerful testosterone-fuelled man is left utterly broken, his stepmother — watching a repeat of the horror show she lived through with her husband — is clearly hurt, but advises his partner to give him space and to let him be responsible for his own feelings. Meanwhile, Rocky shows Adonis what it means to be a man, and that strength isn’t just about using your fists, but also being there for your family. A poignant scene shows the two in Apollo’s trophy room, where the lonely Rocky talks about the real achievements in life not being the ones that glitter in a showcase.
The fatherhood theme beats throughout the entire film. Another reason Creed II works is that it humanises its antagonists, not presenting them as one-dimensional monsters. We learn that Drago and his family were villainised in Russia after his defeat to Rocky in Rocky V and how their lives shaped them into who they are today.
Stallone and Jordan are excellent. Their warm father-son chemistry is the heart of the film, and their moving and often appreciably nuanced performances are touching.
The fight choreography in Creed II is the best I’ve seen in a Rocky movie. Sure, there are more punches thrown and connected in a single fight than there in 10 real-world fights, but the pacing feels more authentic than other video game-like boxing films before it. Likewise, the iconic Rocky theme song is using sparingly, so that when it blares through the speakers, the tiny hairs on the back of your neck can spring to attention. Unlike the first installment in this new franchise, the pacing isn’t perfect. The film works only in two gears — top gear during action and first gear during the storytelling. Fortunately, Creed II is still engaging on both counts.
Rated PG-13 for sports action violence, language, and sensuality
Published in Dawn, ICON, December 2nd, 2018