Creed II review - explosively emotional and entertaining sequel
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Like its predecessor, Creed II takes the tried-and-true boxing drama formula and reinvigorates it with an emotionally charged story, fully realized characters, and hard-hitting fights.
Rocky IV is perhaps the silliest of all the Rocky movies. Inexplicable robot servants and James Brown cameos aside, the plot involves Apollo Creed dying in the ring while fighting a steroid-abusing Soviet boxer, said boxer losing to Rocky IN Russia, resulting in The Italian Stallion making a grand speech that may-or-may not have ended the Cold War.
It’s also something of fan favorite, because how can something that silly not be? Weirdly enough, Rocky IV then became the foundation for a spin-off whose quality rivaled that of the very best in the original series.
Creed saw Apollo’s son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), take on Rocky as his trainer, all the while struggling to come to terms with his father’s legacy and his own place in the world. A fresh start that built on what came before in smart and exciting ways.
The sequel continues to mine Rocky IV for story ideas - this time Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) himself returns. The now disgraced boxer is training his son Viktor (real life amateur boxer Florian Munteanu) to reclaim the glory he lost all those years ago, by challenging Adonis to a fight.
Creed II smartly opens with Adonis becoming the world heavyweight champion. The relatively easy early victory effectively puts you in the character’s head space – he may have the belt, but he doesn’t feel like the champ. When Viktor’s challenge comes, Adonis feels compelled to take it.
This causes tension with Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), who fears history will repeat itself. While all of this is going on, Adonis must also grow into his new role as husband to Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and soon-to-be father.
Like its predecessors, and indeed most sports dramas, Creed II is predictable – yet, also like its predecessors, it supersedes its familiarity with strong characterization and compelling drama. It’s a deeply rewarding emotional journey that will have you cheer and cry at stuff you can see coming from miles away.
Everything that worked in the first movie continues to tick in the second like a finely tuned watch, from the chemistry between Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson, to the dynamic between Rocky and Adonis.
I was also surprised at how invested I became in the story of the Dragos – the first movie also took the effort to make sure its antagonist wasn’t just a baddie, but a fighter with his own history and motivation.
Creed II takes that to the next level. You really see how Ivan’s bitterness has trickled down and messed up his son something fierce. Viktor Drago being raised on hate makes him a dangerous opponent, but the movie also explores how it makes him human.
One of the sequel’s most touching moments involves the Dragos, which I definitely didn’t expect. On the nitpicky side, Ivan sure loves to talk about breaking people. One callback to the glorious line from Rocky IV was fine, but I’m pretty sure he brings it up at least three times.
The key to making the familiar story work is the fact that Creed II never feels like it’s regressing. The boxing drama tropes aren’t a crutch, they’re a framework that the movie uses to flesh out is characters and see them grow – as parents, partners, fighters, and most importantly, as people.
The training montages are great, from underwater shadow boxing to swinging a sledgehammer in the middle of a desert. They get you pumped up, not just because of great editing and solid music choices, but because by the time they come around, you’re fully invested.
On that note, you’ve probably heard the story of the girl who clenched her teeth so hard she snapped her retainer when she saw Michael B. Jordan shirtless in Black Panther. Well, for her sake and for the sake of her dentist, she should be extremely careful when she sees Creed II.
The fights are exciting and accessible to folks like me who know nothing about boxing. The movie also does some pretty creative things with fighter introductions and the like.
Even without Ryan Coogler at the helm, Creed II still pulls through and delivers where it counts. Both Rocky and Creed fans alike will find plenty to love in this terrific follow-up.
Creed II hits UK cinemas on November 30th.