Considering that the original Rocky franchise eventually spawned five sequels, it’s no surprise that Creed, which effectively served as a reboot with Sylvester Stallone sliding into the mentor role, would get a second installment of its own. That day has come with Creed II, thrusting Michael B. Jordan into the spotlight and very much feeling like a swan song for Stallone with the closing moments hinting at Creed moving forward without the Italian Stallion.
In the three years since his loss to Ricky Conlan, Adonis Creed (Jordan) has won six straight times to earn a shot at Heavyweight Champion Danny Wheeler. He wins with relative ease against an apparently past-his-prime Wheeler, capturing the title in the process and following in his father’s footsteps. That same night, he becomes engaged to longtime girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), who is now losing her hearing from a degenerative condition.
While still basking in the glow of winning the belt, Creed is unexpectedly called out by Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who killed Creed’s father in the ring 30-plus years ago. Against the advice of his trainer and father figure Rocky Balboa (Stallone), Adonis accepts the fight and moves to LA with Bianca. During a dinner to tell his mom that he’s fighting Drago, Mary Anne tells the couple she believes Bianca is pregnant.
She is proven correct, but despite the prospect of fatherhood, Creed moves forward with his title defense and is hospitalized by Drago, who dominates the fight but is disqualified for hitting Creed when he’s on a knee. After a long recovery and the birth of a daughter, Adonis decides he needs to fight Drago again. This time, however, he’ll have Rocky in his corner, and the two take a dramatically different approach to train for the rematch.
After essentially sharing the spotlight with Stallone in the first Creed film, Jordan is the undisputed star of the sequel. It’s probably not as rangy of a performance as last time out, but he still goes through a series of up and downs from his ascension as heavyweight king to then being brutalized, followed by the birth of his daughter to learning she’s deaf. He also handles the physical aspects exceedingly well, bulking up considerably to move up a weight class.
Tessa Thompson slides comfortably into the No. 2 role here, getting arcs of her own — her fledgling musical career, the ongoing hearing loss, becoming a mother — and offering more to complement Adonis than Adrian ever got with Rocky. Stallone, Wood Harris (as Creed’s new full-time trainer) and Phylicia Rashad (as Creed’s mother) are all solid in tertiary spots with Stallone getting a handful of scenes to himself.
Utilizing real-life sports personalities remains a good idea, lending credibility to the events with the likes of Max Kellerman, Michael Buffer and Jim Lampley appearing, and having it take place on HBO is a bittersweet piece of business with the network now out of the fight game. The entrances and actual boxing sections are well done, though, as always, the number of brutal shots landed is vastly beyond a real fight, especially at that weight class.
While Creed II is solid, it’s not nearly as good as the first one where things felt a lot fresher, and not just because much of the plot here is built from Rocky IV. The film undoubtedly misses Ryan Coogler, whose directorial follow up to Creed was steering Black Panther to the first Best Picture nom ever for a superhero movie, as he seemed to have a more unique vision for the series than his replacement Steven Caple Jr.
Along those same lines, Creed II isn’t as nuanced, featuring an ’80s era bad guy that looks like he could’ve portrayed The Mountain on Game of Thrones. It just feels like the movie kept dipping into the same sequel cliches the Rocky films fell victim to, and it’s why those got steadily worse and worse following the critically acclaimed (and commercially successful) original. And one nitpick: why would the challenger ever have leverage to demand the fight be held in Russia? C’mon now.
THE BONUS FEATURES
A trio of deleted scenes are included in the extras, highlighted by a scene in the locker room following the second Creed-Drago fight that offers some cool moments. There’s also a 15-minute look back at the Rocky franchise (which ignores Rocky V completely) and then three featurettes focusing on the film’s theme, casting Viktor Drago and a look at the characters of Tessa and Mary Anne. It’s all solid, and the deleted scenes are worthwhile.
After Creed reinvigorated the Rocky series last time around, Creed II moves things forward and takes a clear step toward life after Stallone. It isn’t as fresh or engaging as its predecessor, but it’s still slickly shot and an enjoyable ride.