In my view, a sequel should primarily be about one thing, to further build on what has already been built. Creed (2015) was a joint narrative; it ultimately followed the journey of two characters, Adonis and Rocky. In Creed II this focus has shifted, Adonis is champ and he is the focus, paving the way for a deeper exploration of his character and that’s precisely what we get with Creed II.
Creed II continues the journey of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) and his rise as the heavyweight champion of the world. Creed is faced with an intimidating new challenger, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren); the man who killed his father in the ring. Consumed with vengeance, Creed’s morale and mental state are put in jeopardy as we see Creed suffer from apathy, defeatism, self-doubt and witness him battle two inner identities, between “Adonis” (who he truly is) and “Creed” (who he desperately wants to be).
This is a film that focuses on being a character study of Adonis and what we’re given is a striking journey of a man figuring out who he truly is. Strengthened by Michael B. Jordan’s stellar performance, Adonis is carried to a fresh and emotionally complex place, humanizing his character on multiple levels. As the third act begins Adonis is asked the big questions; why he needs to take the fight, what is truly important to him, and who’s he really fighting for. On a character level both Adonis and Viktor fight for their fathers honour, they fight to restore the legacy of somebody else. We see this with Viktor too, as he struggles with some psychological distress, a parallel to Adonis.
While Creed II certainly receive a strong finale, the redemption arc for its characters felt lighter than a tap on the nose. Ideally I wish we had seen Adonis and Viktor washed clean of their fathers past and absolved of age old animosity that was never theirs to burden. Sadly, Viktor mostly felt pushed aside toward the final act of this film – he became a means to an end and less of an integral character than the film seemed to be suggesting. In the centre of this all we have Rocky (Sylvester Stallone); standing as an intermediary and polar opposite to Ivan Drago. Ivan sees his son as a weapon to win back his glory while Rocky see’s Adonis as a responsibility that makes him feel guilty about his past mistakes. Stallone brings Rocky back to life yet again with another performance that feels authentic and true to his character.
The absence of director Ryan Coogler is noticeable, his work on the previous film provided an intensity that isn’t quite matched here. Scenes throughout this film felt slightly drawn out and while there’s certainly a powerful visual aesthetic it clearly lacks the same camera magic as its predecessor. We’re given some exemplary montages and great framing but miss out on that living camera-work that breathes throughout the first film and creates a natural pace. The music throughout this film was exciting and well selected, giving you a rush of adrenaline before a fight or as the character builds courage and trains.
Creed II is a film with watery plot conclusions but detailed character development. You care for the fighter, but you just don’t quite care enough for what he’s fighting for. This is a strong sequel that quite doesn’t land the same hits but stands tall with its predecessor all the same. Ultimately, Creed II strikes with force by developing its characters and building toward a grand climax, though struggles to provide the same knockout conclusion as its predecessor.