By: Will Ashton (Three Beers) –
In true underdog fashion, Ryan Coogler’s phenomenal 2015 hit Creed came seemingly out of nowhere and became one of the true masterpieces of this era. Considered both a spin-off and the sixth sequel to 1976’s Best Picture winner, Rocky, Coogler took what was once a worn-out, down-for-the-count-yet-perennial film franchise and gave it fresh, vibrant blood. He brought the Rocky series back to its humble, humanistic roots, made the focus central to the characters and their endurance in rising above their poverty and turmoil to solidify themselves into greatness — a greatness previously only seen in their eyes.
It was both a fitting farewell to the Rocky series and the chance to keep its fire and spirit alive and well. Or, perhaps, so it seemed — in regards to the first part. While Creed didn’t exactly close Rocky’s chapter for good, it did suggest that his time was limited-at-best — that sooner-than-not, he’ll meet Adrian again.
With that, future installments of the newfound Creed series would center squarely around Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the late boxer Apollo Creed — who died in the ring, in Rocky’s arms, in Rocky IV (spoilers). Rocky was living in solitude in the last movie, but he decided to train Adonis Creed as a means of paying his respects and continuing the legacy of his departed friend/fellow athlete. But Rocky also recognized the true potential lying inside the young rising athlete; as Adonis continued to strap on his boxing gloves and enter each match, Rocky relived the highs of reaching for gold and glory. When Rocky got a notice from his doctor telling him that his time was drawing short, the Italian Stallion knew his ticking clock was set to stop. Eventually, he’d be buried right next to Adrian. Rocky was content with that too. His life was full — with success and failure, love and loss, dear memories and painful regrets.
It was a great send-off, and it found actor Sylvester Stallone giving one of his absolute best performances. Perhaps even his very best. I still believe the veteran action star was snubbed of his Best Supporting Oscar. Because Creed was such an incredible success — financially and critically — the sequel-hungry actor/writer was eager to get the second installment in the Creed franchise in front of cameras. Coogler was too busy to come back; he was making Black Panther, one of the year’s most successful, acclaimed films. Therefore, Stallone took it upon himself to handle the lion’s share of the writing duties. And you can totally tell based on the final results of Creed II, which is a strong, worthwhile sequel to 2015’s massive hit —though, admittedly, an engaging, entertaining film that has a bit of an identity crisis biting at its core.
Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone reprise their roles as Adonis and Rocky, respectively. Over the past three years, Adonis Creed has put himself inside the boxing ring, winning match after match until he finally beats Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler (Andre Ward) and becomes the heavyweight champ. It is an incredibly exciting time for the rising boxing prodigy. He’s still in a deeply loving, committed relationship with his girlfriend, Bianca Taylor (Tessa Thompson), whom young Adonis wants to marry. He is at the top of his game, his love life is strong, and everything looks to be shaping up nicely for the athlete. That is, until Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren reprising his iconic role from Rocky IV) and his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu) make their way into the United States and challenge Adonis Creed to the boxing title.
Everyone in Adonis Creed’s circle tells him not to accept the fight. He doesn’t need to; he’s already the heavyweight champion. He’s on top of the world. He doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. Forget them. Move on. But Adonis cannot shake the need to seek revenge on the man who killed his father. Much like his dad before him, Adonis is driven by inner strength. He isn’t listening to the people around him. He is going to engage in the fight, even if Rocky Balboa isn’t willing to train with him or join his side.
The result will be Adonis Creed’s greatest triumph or his biggest failure. You should know what to expect.
Director Steven Caple Jr. takes over the reins for Ryan Coogler in Creed II, and thankfully, he commands the film with the same restrained, dependable hand that helped guide the first Creed film into greatness. He keeps with the original Creed‘s controlled sense of scope and character, resisting the bombast that became common in a lot of Rocky sequels. He honors the series by keeping it about the humanity. It is an assured, dependable sequel that finds parallels between the fourth Rocky movie, just like Creed did too.
It builds upon its legacy and it tells the story of what became of its triumphs and failures, its greatest hits and its biggest falls. This time, we get to revisit Dolph Lundgren reprising his star-making and most iconic role with dramatic weight and tender nuance. He makes what was essentially an imposing villain with no three-dimensional depth into a compelling, heartbreaking supporting character, a man burdened by the biggest loss of his life, and how it drove him to anguish, inner turmoil, heartbreak, and a need for justice.
If anything, Creed II doesn’t spend enough time with Drago. He’s easily among the most compelling parts of the film, and it makes sense that Steven Caple Jr. reportedly wants to make a spin-off about his tortured ex-boxer-turned-unflinching boxing coach. The scenes between Drago and Viktor are among the most intriguing and heartbreaking this boxing sequel provides. It showcases Stallone’s strengths as a screenwriter — an underrated one, too, even though he’s an Oscar-nominated writer — and it provides Dolph Lundgren with a chance to prove how he’s grown and proven himself as an actor since Rocky IV.
But all the performances are uniformly strong in Creed II. Michael B. Jordan once again continues to show he’s a bona fide movie star — something he solidified in Coogler’s original Creed and in Black Panther earlier this year. Tessa Thompson is the beating heart of the film, providing our title boxer with the stern emotional center that compels him even when his mentor fluctuates in his dedication to his endeavors. Though, unfortunately, she’s also sidelined in this film compared to her prominent role in the first. And Sylvester Stallone, while not quite as great as he was in the first Creed, still brings a solid, sturdy performance — and a touching one too, since it is, reportedly, Sly’s last time playing the part. If that’s the case, then Stallone provides a fitting, formidable goodbye to his most famous character — though one has to admit, the way they wrapped things up for the long-standing character in 2015’s Creed was better.
Ryan Coogler is an undeniably talented filmmaker, and his influence is noticeably lacking this time. That’s not to say that Creed II is without its own virtues; rather, the sequel simply lacks the personal angle. It doesn’t have the same emotional depth and the same heartbreaking convictions. Though it definitely is a heartfelt effort, particularly during its final moments, it doesn’t exactly, ahem, pack the same punch — though that’s certainly not for a lack of trying on Caple Jr’s part. For what it’s worth, they did what they could to make this sequel strong and dependable. There is a clear effort to live up to the same standards.
But it just doesn’t have the same craftsmanship, the same gusto or impact. The boxing scenes are put together well, but without the same masterful fight choreography and cinematography, they look inferior. The actors put up a good fight — in more ways than one, of course — but there’s undeniably something missing here. It lacks the same weight. The same knockout punch. It compels, but it doesn’t floor you.
Perhaps it’s because we have expectations now, the way we didn’t have them before. Admittedly, I kept my expectations in check before seeing this sequel. And I did have a good time overall. But it hasn’t stuck with me, it hasn’t left a mental welt, the same way that I found it impossible to shake the original Creed. I was engaged and I was invested for the count, but I also could predict the beats. I felt the movie never played with what you would expect or how you should expect to see the beats portrayed in this sequel. It is a crowd-pleaser, certainly, but it is definitely a lot more formulaic and cookie-cutter by design this time.
Then, there’s the matter of Sylvester Stallone. While he has proven himself over the years — if not quite consistently — you can feel his ego pressing through here. The film is meant to focus on Adonis Creed and how the fighter is struggling with the ripple effects of loss and grief, while he is also trying to preserve honor and vengeance for his departed father — a well-celebrated man Adonis never got to know.
And yet, Rocky keeps coming into focus here, ballooning the movie’s runtime with his own plight separate to Creed’s journey. While they do ultimately interlock, there’s the ongoing sense that Stallone is using his pen as a screenwriter to bring the focus back to Rocky and to try to make Rocky’s farewell come on his own particular terms. The result is a fine finale for the legendary character, but it does take away from Creed’s emotional arc a little bit. Especially considering how well the first Creed was able to interconnect their characters, while never sacrificing what made them both great and vulnerable in equal measures, this sequel is, ultimately, a bit more lopsided in comparison. Again, it’s hard to live up to the greatness of Creed. It is definitely a challenge that Creed II fights valiantly. But it never escapes the shadow of the first.
Creed II is a worthwhile sequel, filled with high stakes, an engaging story that builds up the previous films in the franchise, a thoughtful screenplay, commendable performances, rousing boxing sequences, and a lot of heart to boot. It stands on its own two legs and provides the prolonged series with an enjoyable sequel, one that’ll likely satisfy long-term fans while continuing to earn the respect of the new ones. The running theme of family and legacy is a familiar one, but it’s one that’s told with an earnest heart. There’s no denying, it can’t live up to Creed; while that’s a hard battle, though, it still provides a good fight. It’s not quite as dense and meaty as the first film, but it’s beefy in its own right. Though it doesn’t end with the championship belt strapped firmly to its waist, it’s definitely not a lightweight either. It goes for it. Sometimes, it touches greatness, but it often settles for goodness. Sometimes, that’s good enough.
Creed II (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time the themes of family and legacy come into play.
Take a Drink: every time the plot of Creed II mirrors Rocky IV.
Take a Drink: whenever characters are seen working out — particularly in preparation for a big, meaningful fight.
Take a Drink: whenever Rocky steals the plot.
Take a Drink: every time someone says the word “fight.”
Do a Shot: whenever the Rocky theme is finally played at full blast. It’s a better high than some drugs.