4.5 out of 5 stars.
One of the things that made “Creed” such a success is that it was a simple but heartfelt underdog story, not unlike the original “Rocky” film that kicked off the franchise. “Creed II” takes a slightly different approach, in that Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of boxer Apollo Creed, begins the movie at the top, having risen to boxing success from nothing in the first film. “Creed II” opens with Creed becoming the world champion, pairing that success with his recent engagement to his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson). But it isn’t long before Creed is challenged to a match by the massive and powerful Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the boxer who killed his father in the ring.
In many ways, “Creed II” is your stereotypical boxing movie, with all the tropes of the genre, from the training montage to the climatic final match. But the film takes those cliches and makes them new and exciting. A lot of this is because “Creed II” is such a personal story. Creed experiences a crippling (literally and figuratively) defeat, just when he thinks he’s untouchable. Suddenly, he doubts everything, especially himself. He changes, and it isn’t until he lets his trainer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) back into his life that he is able to overcome the obstacles he set up for himself. Of course it is also personal because the conflict ties back into not only Creed’s family history, but Rocky’s, as he was there when Apollo Creed was fatally knocked out.
But even with the higher stakes, “Creed II” rises to the occasion. Steven Caple Jr. takes over directing duties for Ryan Coogler, and does a fine job, especially filming the boxing matches, which are thrilling to watch. The camera follows the participants closely, staying on them without too many cuts to allow the audience to fully enjoy the action as it unfolds. And that iconic Rocky theme is saved for just the right moment. There’s also a great new take on the training montage that still manages to be inspiring.
Between this film and the first “Creed,” Michael B. Jordan has really come into his own and made this character something special. He gets to bring even more depth to his performance this time around, as his character faces new highs and new lows. Adonis’ romance and supportive relationship with Thompson continues to be a sweet addition to the story, as is his friendship and mentor/student relationship with Rocky. Stallone earned an Oscar nomination for reprising his iconic role in “Creed,” and while he may not be receiving the same level of buzz this time around, his performance is just as affecting, as Rocky is forced to face his past, but also come to terms with his relationship with his estranged son. Drago is also a great bad guy who isn’t really a bad guy, as we get glimpses into how his father’s failure resulted in him relentlessly pushing his son to be as ruthless as possible.
“Creed II” is a great boxing film, a great sequel, and just an all-around great film, with a compelling conflict and characters, and a climax worthy of the cheers it garnered from the audience. It’s not a success because it follows a formula that works, but because that formula is imbued with so much raw emotion and genuine heart, and a vulnerability rarely seen in sports films.
Runtime: 130 minutes. Rated PG-13.