The first Creed was one of the biggest surprises of the last few years. After Rocky Balboa, the Rocky series was believed to be dead, but Ryan Coogler brought new energy and life into the franchise, crafting my personal favourite film in the series. For Creed 2, whilst the story was always obvious, it was always going to involve Ivan Drago in some form, I had a few doubts when it was announced that, due to commitments with Black Panther, Coogler would not be coming back for the sequel. Whilst hiring Steven Caple Jr as director was a smart call, there were further reservations with Sylvester Stallone writing the script. These reservations were justified. Whilst Creed 2 is not a bad film, it is much more of a formulaic Rocky sequel, lacking the power of Creed.
The film picks up with Adonis Creed, three years after the events of the first Creed, winning a fight to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World. Off the back of this, Creed gets challenged by Victor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago who killed Apollo Creed in Rocky 4, to a fight. However, whilst Adonis wants the fight, Rocky Balboa does not want to train him, fearing for Adonis and showing that he’s still not recovered from when he fought Ivan Drago. Due to this Adonis, along with his girlfriend (later fiancee) Bianca, move to Los Angeles for Adonis to train, with this leaving Adonis vulnerable and making it more of a risk for him to fight Drago. Now whilst the plot of the film is what I would expect from a sequel to Creed, this is really more of a sequel to Rocky 4 than Creed. It feels like a lot of the character development that Adonis went through in the first film, in him coming to terms with his legacy and learning to be his own man, has been ignored, with him acting the same way he did in the first half of Creed. This also means that we don’t really get much character development for Rocky. Sure, there’s a sub-plot bringing Rocky’s distant relationship with his son more to the surface, but it doesn’t have the same weight as his illness in the first film. There’s also an issue with pacing in how Adonis and Rocky interact in the film, with what should have been a big moment between the two placed way too early in the narrative, robbing a later moment of its power.
Going back to how this feels more like a sequel to Rocky 4, in terms of how the plot is structured, there are points where it is structured almost identically to Rocky 4, even down to the methods of the training montage and the fact that the climactic fight between Adonis and Drago is in Russia. The whole thing feels like a step back from what Ryan Coogler established in Creed. That’s not to say it’s bad, but it’s clear Stallone had more control and he used it to make a formulaic Rocky movie.
The cast though help to sell the film. Michael B Jordan does a great job at selling the anger felt by Adonis over the fight with Drago and his disconnect from Rocky, showing the need to prove himself and how he feels trapped by the Creed legacy. Sylvester Stallone can probably play Rocky in his sleep now, him and the character are one and the same, and he shows all the weight Rocky feels is on him through his lack of a relationship with his son and how he fears losing Adonis too, along with his justified fear of Adonis falling into the same trap as Apollo. Tessa Thompson as Bianca meanwhile is solid, her character is not quite as interesting as the first one, falling more into the supportive girlfriend role, but her big moments in the film work, especially one near the end, and the chemistry she has with Jordan is still excellent, mainly in a subplot of Bianca becoming pregnant and having some fear over her kid being born deaf due to her hearing condition. The big surprise is Dolph Lundgren who turns a character who was a virtual cartoon in Rocky 4 into someone with real pain in him, showing how damaged he has become following his defeat in Rocky 4 and how he’s willing to do anything to reclaim his honour, even if it means virtually torturing his son (played effectively by Florian Muneanu), with his character development being the most effective in the film (although I wanted there to be a scene with a face to face conversation between Adonis and Ivan). Solid work is also done by Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris and Russell Hornsby, even if they aren’t utilised that often in the film.
On a technical level, the film is fine. The fight scenes are well staged and the music is as effective as it was in the first film. However, it doesn’t have the same power that Ryan Coogler, Maryse Alberti, Michael P Shawver and Claudia Castello brought to Creed. There isn’t anything as dynamic as the one take fight from Creed and the editing of the training montage is not as well executed as in Creed. In Creed, the training montage had so much weight behind it through cross cutting between Adonis’ fight training and Rocky in the hospital, along with utilising circular motion to reflect the new cycle of Rocky and Adonis. Here, the editing in the training montage is fine, but there isn’t really any depth to it aside from showing Adonis training to handle more pain. It’s also clear in how the scene involving the art museum steps is handled. In Creed, the final scene of Rocky and Adonis walking up the steps is shot and edited virtually identically to the way Rocky ran up the steps in Rocky. Here, we just see Ivan and Victor Drago on top of the steps, and it doesn’t really carry any weight, since the steps don’t really hold significance to them.
Overall, whilst Creed 2 is not a bad film, it is a disappointment. It is a fine, bog standard Rocky film, but considering what Creed brought to the table, this is a step down. Sure, the acting is solid and there is good character work, but it doesn’t feel as fresh or powerful this time around, and ultimately I didn’t really feel any tension or excitement, when I was on the edge of my seat in Creed. Again, this is a good film, but it could have been so much better.
My Rating: 3/5