The follow-up to Ryan Coogler’s surprisingly masterful Creed also holds the title in being the eighth instalment of the Rocky franchise, following Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis as he must defend his family legacy by coming to blows with the son of the fighter who killed his father. Sylvester Stallone also returns to his iconic role as the ‘Italian Stallion’, in a sequel that still manages to make this 42-year-old franchise feel fresh despite its formulaic structure.
It cannot be stated enough that Jordan has already solidified himself as one of the greatest actors of his generation, once more bringing a powerhouse performance that oozes emotion from its pores. Jordan delivers a range that extends from being adorably awkward, in attempting to deliver a proposal to his girlfriend, to crushing heartbreak in numerous scenes where Adonis’ idealised expectations are snatched away from him. Ultimately, it is a performance that exudes both physical and emotional determination, capping off a winning year for Jordan after his scene-stealing villainous performance in Black Panther.
The remaining cast members are also suitably excellent. Tessa Thompson also continues to be brilliant, returning to her lovable role as Bianca, as she is pushed to her emotional limits in supporting her husband, her child and her passion for music; an endlessly growing trichotomy. Stallone, coming off an Oscar-nomination for his performance in the previous film, is forever beautifully comfortable in his legendary role. If this is truly his last bout in the role, then it is a very suitable send-off to a classic character.
Surprisingly, the greatest revelation comes in Dolph Lundgren’s return to the role of Ivan Drago. Whilst not an Oscar-calibre performance, it is one that contains a shocking degree of subtlety through limited dialogue, reflecting Drago’s bitterness and tenderness towards being rejected by the USSR as a result of the events of Rocky IV. It is a stark contrast to the one-note piece of Russian muscle seen previous and it is very welcome. Florian Munteanu is also strong as Viktor Drago, reflecting resentment towards his father in similar facial subtlety.
It is a testament to the script (written jointly by Stallone and Juel Taylor) in managing to assemble such a grounded drama with material founded in a fantastically on-the-nose piece of Cold War propaganda. Taylor (who has no previous writing credits) clearly has a knack for sentimental drama, grounding this predominantly masculine sports picture with true emotion. This, combined with Stallone’s contribution towards respecting the legacy of the franchise, is what makes Creed II feel so fresh and rewarding, despite following familiar story beats.
Steven Caple Jr. replaces Ryan Coogler in the director’s chair for this instalment and whilst his direction is strongly assuring, it can’t help but slightly pale to Coogler’s mastery. Caple Jr. delivers fight scenes that truly make you feel every punch, but they never reach the heights of Coogler’s one-take boxing match from the first Creed. Creed II also suffers from some missed opportunities. Ivan and Viktor are intriguing characters, but they never reach the complex heights the film sets up in its first scene, and Stallone and Lundgren’s much-anticipated exchange falls short of expectations.
Nonetheless, Creed II is a very well-made sports drama that lives up to the franchise legacy. It may not quite match the quality of the first Creed but, if the last scenes are to be taken seriously, it is an emotionally satisfying send-off to this historic series.
Image source: IMDB