The Rocky Balboa franchise has been around since 1976, 42 years later and the series is alive and kicking. Three years ago, the franchise took a different direction not focusing so much on Rocky himself, but on the son of franchise favorite Apollo Creed, Adonis played by Michael B Jordan. The film was a smash hit which even saw Sylvester Stallone win a Golden Globe for his performance. With a new lease on life, the anticipation for Creed II is pretty high despite director Ryan Cooley not returning to direct the sequel. However, Stallone is back with the screenplay, which means one thing, a lot of nostalgia.
Creed II begins a few years after the first film and Adonis riding a seven-fight winning streak becomes the new WBC Heavyweight champion (even though you to believe Michael B. Jordan is a bit too small for a heavyweight). Things are riding high until a new challenger from the Ukraine arrives on the scene, that challenger happens to be Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago, the man who killed Apollo Creed. Adonis jumps at the idea of getting revenge on the man who killed his father, but what he finds out quickly is that he is way over his head because his opponent has waited on him for many years and he is far stronger than Creed. While Creed preps for the fight of his life, he can’t escape the parallels of the fight that took his father’s life and has to decide if he is willing to take the same risk.
The biggest knock on Creed II is that it is very predictable. The film is formulaic to the point there isn’t much suspense because the outcomes are telegraphed from a mile away. Nostalgia is in full effect as there are tons of callbacks to Rocky IV and in many ways, this film is an indirect remake. History repeating itself is the theme that applies not only to our main character but his opponent as well. Adonis and Viktor while enemies in the film are both trying to avoid the same downfalls of their fathers from 30 years ago. Something else that bothered me as an MMA fan is that while the fights are engaging, I have a hard time believe that these guys could continue fighting with some of the brutal punches they take on the film.
Regret and redemption are the motivation for every character especially Dolph Lundgren’s character of Ivan Drago. Drago is portrayed as a monster in the 1985 film, but Creed II does an amazing job humanizing his character and showing that despite the fact he didn’t lose his life, like Apollo, he lost everything else following his loss to Rocky except his son. Michael B. Jordan brings the same magic his displayed in the first film and here he tries to overcome adversity in his personal life as well as his professional career. Even Rocky himself struggles with the estranged relationship with his son and grandson he has never met. Personal pain is on full display and despite a clear step down from Ryan Coogler, Steven Caple Jr. brings the humanity of the story to life making the film more than serviceable.
Creed II is drenched in fanservice, but the overall story is well told and adds more character depth than it’s predecessor. Not sure where the franchise goes from here, but Rocky fans can rest assured that there is still power in its punch.