“Creed II” – An RTF Review
I’m happy to report that as far as Rocky sequels go, Creed II is one of the more impressive of the canon. In 2015, Ryan Coogler’s Creed knocked out the competition and proved itself to be a heavyweight. But a heavyweight is sometimes only as good as their legacy, and this knockout sequel more than holds up that legacy.
Strictly speaking, Creed II is a step down from the first one. Where the first lovingly paid tribute to the Rocky films, it still felt divorced from those films stylistically and tonally. It was first and foremost, Adonis’s journey, and the craft of the picture reflected that. So it feels strange that this new, grittier, journey is reminding us of arguably the campiest entry in the series. But an argument can be made that it is in this area where the film finds its greatest strength. It mines some of the silly history for its humanity and honesty. It steps backwards into the past and forces Adonis to confront head-on the legacy of a father he’s never met, an emotional journey that was never truly resolved in the first one. Its oddly therapeutic, and feels almost necessary for the series to continue forging its own path.
The real knockouts here are the cast. Tessa Thompson exudes a quiet dignity as Bianca, who accepts her obstacles with love and realistic optimism. Dolph Lundgren gives a genuinely nuanced performance as Ivan Drago, hinting at the heartbreak of the man who last that mythic fight without betraying the coldness of the villain we loved to hate in 1985. Sylvester Stallone still pulls at your heartstrings as Rocky. And of course, Michael B. Jordan is electric as Adonis Creed, and finds new layers to a character that was already a deep well of pathos in the first film.
The craft of the film is equally impressive. Director Steven Caple Jr. does quite well carrying over the tone and aesthetic Ryan Coogler established in the last installment, even if the final result isn’t quite as polished. The fight scenes in particular don’t quite have the same cinematic flair as the first film, but the brutality of the fight choreography more than makes up for it. The sequences are among the most brutal of the entire Rocky franchise.
Like the best of the Rocky films, it uses the grandiose setting of the boxing world to tell stories that are achingly human. This film takes those themes a step further, and weaves a tale of legacy, forgiveness and family. It may not be a knockout, but it goes the distance with flair and wins by unanimous decision.