Creed II is not as good as the first movie. That was inevitable because Creed is one of the best movies of the last few years, how could you possibly top it? Trying to follow up that motion picture was gonna be a difficult task for anybody and new director Steve Caple Jr. (taking over for the original Creed’s director Ryan Coogler who is now off in Wakanda) does a commendable job expanding on the story of Creed from the first movie. Even without comparing this sequel to its predecessor though, one can’t help but feel like some spark of originality is missing from Creed II. This movie knows how to pack a punch but you can always see the punch coming.
Picking up a few years after the first Creed, the life of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is changing in drastic ways. He’s now the heavyweight champion of the world, he’s moving out to Los Angeles with Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and speaking of Bianca, he’s just proposed to her, the two of them are getting married! Lots of big life events are happening for this boxer and that’s before Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Creed’s father, shows up out of the blue with his own boxer son Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) and challenges Creed to a face-off. Despite Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) pleading him not to do it, Creed decides that he can’t let the past go and decides to fight this Drago kid anyway.
What follows gives everyone the beats they’d expect from a Rocky/Creed movie; disagreements between trainer and trainee, romantic struggles, some training montages, it’s all here and it’s mostly agreeable, though the screenplay (penned by Sylvester Stallone and Juel Taylor) keeps falling short of being as strong as it could be. For one thing, much of it’s on the predictable side even by the standards of a broadly appealing inspirational boxing drama, but even more cumbersome is how there’s so much going on in here. Creed’s life makes a number of big developments in the span of just a handful of early scenes, it’s hard to really soak in his marriage proposal or moving out of Philadelphia when we keep having to rush on to the next big development in his life. Opportunities for character-based pathos get lost amidst all the hustle and bustle.
A subplot involving Rocky and his son also keeps coming and going in awkward turns in perhaps the most clear-cut evidence that this movie’s script needed a trim. On the brighter side, the most brilliant character-based move the story makes is reinventing Ivan Drago as basically Patricia Clarkson from Sharp Objects, a weary person who’s taken all the torment they’ve suffered and inflicting it upon their offspring. That’s not at all where I expected this characters storyline to go and it’s a turn that Dolph Lundgren plays with notable levels of commitment and serves as a real surprising shake-up in a movie that too often plays it safe.
Even if the story is a mixed bag though, it’s still easy to get invested in the main characters of the Creed series thanks to the performances of Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson, who continue to give their all to these roles and it pays off nicely. Each of these two have shown numerous times in their careers that they have endless amounts of charisma and talent that Creed II makes good use of. Also working well this go-around is the direction of new director Steven Caple Jr., he knows how to film the various boxing sequences well and he actually figures out a way to use color grading well (scenes with the two Drago’s have a distinct blue hue to them), a tool that too many modern movies just use all willy-nilly like.
He also knows how to execute a good training montage, we get a great sequence of Creed training out in a remote outpost in the desert that’s maybe the best scene in the movie. More of Creed II’s familiar elements needed the distinctive execution that goes into this training montage because too much of the overall film just feels like leftovers from prior films in this genre. But at least, even at it’s worst, it’s usually competently filmed and acted leftovers that deliver what you want (a cool training montage, really good performances, a few effective lump-in-your-throat moments) and leave you reasonably satisfied, even if it is disappointing how Creed II never really delivers beyond just being what you’d expect.