Creed II, 2018.
Directed by Steven Caple Jr.
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Florian Munteanu, Phylicia Rashad, Russell Hornsby, Dolph Lundgren, Wood Harris, Robbie Johns, Andre Ward, Brigitte Nielsen, and Milo Ventimiglia.
Under the tutelage of Rocky Balboa, light heavyweight contender Adonis Creed faces off against Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago.
“It needed more Dolph Lundgren,” hasn’t been muttered since deep into the 80s, and it’s something that should have really stayed dormant. So upon leaving Creed II, Steven Cabpe Jr.’s sequel to Rocky spin-off/sequel Creed, I found myself quietly muttering of a need for more Dolph, more gruff to placate Stallone’s similar alpha murmurs.
The Rocky franchise has always been built upon the fragility of the alpha male; chiseled abs and biceps the size of thighs, men hitting one another until unconsciousness but fundamentally emotionally broken. It’s what worked so well with Creed, and even Rocky IV, which in all its garish glory, succeeds in conveying real emotion following the death of Apollo.
Creed II wants to do all of those things, but struggles to find the necessary focus. We know what makes Adonis tick; that need to live up to his father’s name whilst carving out his own success and in this film, becoming the father he wish he had.
There’s a feeling that the focus should have been on Lundgren’s Ivan Drago and his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu). The film opens on the Dragos, now living a desolate life in a grim tower block in Kiev. Brigitte Nielsen’s Ludmilla left them years back following Ivan’s humiliating fight to Rocky, a loss that has left them both scarred.
Creed however is living it up. His relationship with Bianca is thriving – even as her convenient deafness begins to affect their wider lives – and he finds himself Heavyweight Champion of the World with Rocky manning his corner. This as a promoter plants the seed of a fight between Drago and Creed.
It’s a film built on clichés, and it wears them proudly on its sleeves with no stone gone unturned. Every moment seems taken directly from the boxing film playbook: the rise and fall (both figuratively and literally), a pregnancy that adds unwanted pressure, a yearning for revenge – it’s all covered.
Which is why it’s such a shame for the Dragos to be relegated to the sidelines. We know of Creed and Rocky’s shared redemption, so to see Ivan struggling with his past and Viktor grappling with the sins of his father feels like something that needed to be further explored.
Like its predecessor, the fights are impeccably put together. Caple Jr. shoots close, showing every punch in all its brutality, and of course Michael B. Jordan is terrific as ever. Munteanu too is brilliant. He’s almost twice the size of Jordan, and his physicality is something to be beholden and gives way to a genuine moment of emotional clarity late on which hints at something more interesting.
For all its qualms, Creed II still manages to entertain and those fight scenes are cheek clenching, white-knuckle stuff. The central relationship of Thompson and Jordan almost feels too familiar and well-worn – which is to the films credit – it’s just a shame it’s all played rather safe.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★