‘Creed II’ is a knockout hit

Story by Grant Dillard, Staff writer

“Creed II,” the sequel to the “Rocky” spinoff “Creed,” was a fantastic addition to the series. The Ryan Coogler-directed film managed to breathe new life into the “Rocky” franchise after Sylvester Stallone put a nice cap on it back in 2006 with “Rocky Balboa.” With that level of gravitas, “Creed II” certainly had some big shoes to fill and thankfully, it does the job with flying colors.

Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is now the World Heavyweight Champion of boxing, and also gets engaged to his girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson.) Things seem to be on top of the world for Creed; that changes when he is challenged by Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Creed’s father in the ring years ago.  

In terms of plot, “Creed II” thankfully feels like a natural continuation of the story from the previous film, instead of a rehash of its plot. Focusing on the Drago family and the history they have with Rocky and Adonis’ father, Apollo Creed, makes perfect sense as that was a plot point that hadn’t been focused on in the last film. It’s interesting seeing Drago back decades after “Rocky IV,” as well as what he’s had to deal with throughout the years since that film’s events.

The main criticism that a lot of reviewers have been giving this film is that it’s “formulaic,” meaning that it follows the same basic formula that previous “Rocky” films, and many other sports movies,  have followed. That is true, as some of the story beats used in this film are very similar to those used in previous installments in the series; specifically “Rocky II,” “Rocky III,” and especially “Rocky IV.” But while those story elements are reused, “Creed II” still manages to feel fresh and new, mainly because the film combines those past elements into one, rather than just going with one by itself.

What helps in making the film’s plot more engaging is its characters. The first “Creed,” while ultimately the story of Adonis Creed, did give a large focus on Rocky Balboa and the struggles he was facing. Here, much more focus is given to Creed and the new problems in his life that he has to deal with. Jordan is given more opportunities to shine as an actor, and a few emotional moments he has in this film are even more powerful than ones he had in the first film. Bianca is also given a bigger storyline in this film, and the chemistry Thompson has with her male co-star is wonderful. Stallone continues to do good work as Balboa, although he doesn’t exactly have any big dramatic moments like in the last film.

What’s perhaps the most surprising about the film is how it handles the villains, particularly Drago. In “Rocky IV,” Drago, while an intimidating force to be reckoned with, was also a one-note bad guy with little to no personality. Here, Drago is a more fleshed-out character and is given a more interesting storyline; he wants to make a comeback in the boxing world through his son after losing his country’s respect. Even with him not throwing any punches this time around, Drago still manages to be absolutely terrifying and menacing, in what has to be Dolph Lundgren’s best performance on screen. Drago’s son Viktor, while not as interesting a character as his father, is more or less a victim of circumstance; he’s been trained mercilessly for all his life to be as dangerous in the ring as possible. Of course, audiences will want Creed to win in the end, but they can still identify with where the villains are coming from.

Thanks to its engaging story and believable characters, “Creed II” is an A+ sequel. It may not have the same level of gravitas as its predecessor, but it’s still a fantastic continuation of it and a nice follow-up to “Rocky IV.” Whether or not the series will continue after this is uncertain, as this film does wrap things up nicely without leaving any possible loose ends or cliffhangers. “Creed II” is a highly recommended watch.

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