A Soulful Depiction: Creed II


Sylvester Stallone (left) and Michael B. Jordan (right) star in Creed II (Courtesy of Facebook).

By Greg Mysogland

Seven films and more than 40 years after the first film, the Rocky (now Creed) franchise is one of the most consistent in cinematic history.  Some are, of course, better than others, but with the exception of the abysmal (Rocky V) each film has something to offer and the eighth entry is no different. Creed II is a very compelling sequel that manages to overcome its predictability due to the strength of its cast, themes and spectacle.

After an easy victory crowns Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed, established as the franchise’s new lead in the previous film, as the new world heavyweight boxing champ, he is quickly challenged by Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu).  Viktor is the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) who killed Adonis’ father, Apollo Creed, in the ring in 1985’s ludicrous, yet lovable Rocky IV.

As Adonis prepares for the fight Rocky fans have been waiting for since the first Creed was announced, with loved ones like girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and mentor Rocky Balboa himself (Sylvester Stallone) alternating between support and disapproval, the stage is set for powerful explorations of vengeance, fatherhood, family and identity.

Creed became an unexpectedly acclaimed success due mostly to the intensely personal stake Director and Co-Writer Ryan Coogler had in the story.  Due to his commitments to a little movie called Black Panther, Coogler was unavailable to helm the sequel, stepping back into an executive producer role while Steven Caple Jr. took over directing duties. Stallone returned to write the screenplay along with Juel Taylor.

While none of the story threads in the sequel are quite as profound as Adonis’s struggle for self-acceptance or Rocky’s fight against cancer in the last film, emotional character development and confrontations make Creed II worthwhile. The widespread public love for the franchise means the concept of another fight between a Creed and a Drago is just as anticipated in real life as it is in the world of the film, allowing for increased investment.

The viewer can at least see the reasoning for Rocky’s opposition to the fight, given what happened last time, as he bears a modicum of blame for the fate of Apollo. But, like Adonis, they also can’t help but see it as something that has to happen.

Stallone is graceful enough to recognize that the franchise now belongs to Jordan, and the film is rightfully focused on Adonis through and through. Jordan is predictably fantastic, bringing weight and charisma to every scene.

A section in the middle of the film, in which Adonis must reckon with the damage his obsession with beating Drago is doing to his personal life, is the film’s emotional and thematic core, allowing for interesting exploration of the psychology of competition and revenge, and Jordan absolutely nails the difficult sequences, making the character’s inner conflict palpable.

While everything revolves around Adonis, the supporting players still have plenty to do.  Stallone provides an emotional backbone just as he did last time, perfectly depicting Rocky’s worry for Adonis along with his struggle over his estrangement from his son, Robert, last seen as played by Milo Ventimiglia in Rocky Balboa.

Tessa Thompson is the perfect screen partner for Jordan and is particularly impressive in scenes in which Bianca struggles with her worsening hearing problems.  Phylicia Rashad gets a smaller part as Mary Anne, Apollo’s widow and Adonis’ stepmother, but is an absolute pleasure in every scene she’s in.

The Dragos are the film’s most pleasant surprise. Lundgren is arguably even more intimidating as an old, angry man than he was as an indestructible punching machine 30 years ago. Both he and Munteanu are made sympathetic thanks to a well-written subplot that makes Ivan and Viktor antagonists.

This movie is not really a director’s showcase, but Caple Jr. still gets the chance to show off in the boxing scenes. He makes the smart choice to avoid trying to replicate Coogler’s long tracking coverage of the bouts, instead opting to place the camera as close to the action as possible.  In some moments, the viewer is even effectively placed in Adonis’s shoes ,as Viktor rains punches down on him, making for an intense, exciting experience.

No part of Creed II’s story is going to surprise anyone (no Rocky movie, other than arguably the first one, has). But the one thing about it that may be unexpected to some is that it has a soul, rather than being a commercially motivated installment. The viewer may know almost every move the movie is going to make, but the passion with which they’re made still makes for an immensely fun and emotional ride.