Be it Star Wars, Predator or Jurassic World, the floorboards of your car are likely littered with the ticket stubs of franchises that’ve, in one way or another, failed to live up to their former glory. Franchises whose latter installments were met with ambivalence if not outright hate. Yet 2015’s Creed, the heir apparent to the Sly Stallone led Rocky saga, managed to be a one-two hit among critics and audiences alike, maintaining the integrity of a film series that’s been a pop-cultural staple since its inception back in 1976. Can Creed II live up to both its predecessor and the Rocky legacy at large?
Continuing in a series that now spans over four decades, the initial Creed introduced audiences to Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of the late Apollo. Under the tutelage of an older (and dare I say wiser?) Rocky Balboa, Adonis becomes the heavyweight champion he was born to be. Creed II reintroduces audiences to the mentor/protege boxing duo as the latter contends with success and starting a family. Adonis, now heavyweight champion of the world, is challenged by none other than Viktor Drago (Bogat’s Florian Munteanu), the son of Rocky IV’s Soviet boxer Ivan Drago, the ruthless Russian responsible for Adonis’ father’s death. Will Adonis prevail? Will Rocky’s age get the better of him? Will the series yet again jump the shark by returning to Russia?
The first Creed had the benefit of being somewhat of an origin story and while Rocky’s last tangible tie to the Creeds met its climactic end in Rocky IV, 2015’s Creed wasn’t entirely bogged down in references to that film. While Rocky IV was a hit upon its initial release and still maintains many supporters today, it hasn’t exactly aged well. While not as bad as Rocky V, which is the undisputed franchise low, Rocky IV trades in all the dramatic tenor of Rocky I through III (and bear mind, III’s the one with Hulk Hogan and Mr. T) for 80s excess and music video montages. The question going in is, can Creed II bear the burden of a plot so heavily dependent on Rocky IV while maintaining the quality control of Creed and the greater films of the Rocky franchise?
To add insult to in-the-ring injury, so much of Creed II’s first half setup (mild spoilers ahead) seems lifted from the oft maleigned Rocky V. Instigated by the prodding of an opportunist fight promoter (Fences’ Russell Hornsby), Balboa and his protégé part ways as the elderly champ’s trainee rushes into a fight he’s not ready for. Rock, much to his own dismay, is left to watch the drama unfold on a television screen and contemplates his own estrangement from his now grown son.
Nonetheless, the film works incredibly well as a whole. The feature functions as a sampler platter of sorts, reprising some of the best moments from Rocky II through V, all the while handling the material more earnestly than installments IV or V ever could. While I wouldn’t say the film outdoes the first Creed (or, for that matter, the first few Rocky films), Creed II doesn’t fall far short of its predecessor either.
Going into Creed II, I was a bit apprehensive about the director switch from Ryan Coogler (Black Panther, Fruitvale Station) to Steven Caple Jr. (The Land, A Different Tree) but truth be told their sensibilities are very similar. Leading man Jordan doesn’t stray too far away from performances we’ve seen prior but thankfully he’s bolstered by a solid supporting cast that includes the return of Dolph Lundgren, Cosby Show staple Phylicia Rashad and love interest Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok); whose role as up and coming musician Bianca has been considerably amped. The singing starlet even opens for Adonis’ ringside entrance making audiences everywhere wonder, why didn’t Adrian drop a Donna Summers beat prior to Balboa’s Bicentennial bout?
Suffice to say Creed II KO’s the competition as a solid piece of contemporary cinema, positions itself as a true contender for best blockbuster of 2018 and maintains the integrity of a franchise now over 40 years in the making.