Creed II

Creed was a small-scale miracle of a film, perfectly cast and with the right director, finding all of its component parts at the apt time. Its newly-released sequel is, sadly, the film the first threatened to be, inoffensive and totally unessential. 

Minus the now-stratospherically successful Ryan Coogler in the director’s chair, Creed II does reunite the principal cast of the first film. The phenomenally physical Michael B. Jordan returns as Adonis Creed, now fully committed to his girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson on less mesmeric form than in Sorry to Bother You).

The ageing legend that is Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa is, unsurprisingly, back, now less threatened by death, since the first film already played with that potentially grave plot twist. Instead, he’s hesitant over Adonis’s motivation regarding the crucial fight of the film’s arc. Ivan Drago, the giant Dolph Lundgren’s iconic role, has a son, a monster of a man, Viktor, and he demands to fight Adonis as a form of genetic rematch. Newcomer Florian Munteanu injects surprising, but still modest humanity behind the eyes of this punching machine.

A do-over of the fight that killed Adonis’s father is on the cards, then – but with nothing to gain and everything to lose, Adonis must yada yada yada. This is Creed II‘s biggest issue – its plot feels manufactured, and its tensions feel unnecessary. These two will fight, we know in our hearts, not because they want to, but because the writers needed a sequel to the surprise hit that Creed became.

This is fair enough, in many ways, and would be barely a problem if some of the first film’s other strengths returned with its cast. The intense, choreographed fights, and the surprisingly tender and considered relationship dramas, namely. Unfortunately the fights are more like those of the older Rocky films, laced with rapid cuts and hard to follow geographically. They still hold surprises, and Michael B. Jordan is still probably the best punch-taker in the game today, but the thrill is diminished.

So, too, the drama between our characters, which plays out largely along the same now-predictable lines as in the previous film, with baffling exceptions. Why, for example, does Phylicia Rashād, as Adonis’s mother, reverse her disdain for the boxing industry that killed her husband, to happily follow her son all the way to Russia for his own potentially mortal reckoning?

It’s not that Creed II is without redeemable qualities, or that its impressive cast are phoning it in. It all just feels workmanlike and professional, and little more than this. The door doesn’t seem obviously open to further entries in the revived franchise plot-wise, but, then, it didn’t at the end of Creed, either.

Montages in hand, the Rocky series keeps marching along, and it’s hard to fault it too harshly on the basis of this, the latest in a long lineage of needless sequels. Perhaps, if Creed III is in the offing, the studio might consider tempting back Ryan Coogler for a genuinely interesting reunion. Creed II is much the poorer for his absence.

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