In 2015 an unknown, yet fearless director decided to breathe new life to the derelict Rocky-Franchise. This director was Ryan Coogler, and his movie Creed quickly became beloved amongst both Rocky-fans and a newer, younger audience. Three years and one Wakandan Superhero film later, Coogler has handed the reins of the franchise to Indie-filmmaker Steven Caple Jr. The result is Creed II, a sequel that shamelessly retells a decades-old story, yet feels fresh and unexpectedly powerful; in other words, a perfect sequel.
On the first release, Creed was praised for bringing the Rocky-trope of the will-powered underdog to the new story of aspiring boxer Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan). It paid homage to the ancestry Rocky-franchise, while simultaneously expressing individuality through a new lead character. It took an unexpected new direction and, walking into the cinema, I wondered if Creed II would find its own, exciting new path. Long story short; it does and it leads back to the Rocky formula.
Creed II is a structural reflection of Rocky II, III and IV. It opens with Adonis becoming the World Heavyweight Champion and trying to start a family with girlfriend Bianca Taylor (Tessa Thompson), as suddenly a dangerous new challenge emerges; one that is as deathly as it is personal. This new/old threat is the Drago family, consisting of the monstrosity of a boxer, Viktor (Florian “Big Nasty” Munteau), and his father Ivan (Dolph Lundgren), the former boxer who killed Adonis’ father. Both Bianca and mentor Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) fear for his safety, but Adonis is driven by daddy issues and this is a fight he can’t back down from. Most themes of the film’s narrative can be recognized from Rocky-movies. There’s the struggle of handling fame, family and the passion for boxing (Rocky II), defending the Champion-title (Rocky III) and the personal responsibility to fight a monstrous enemy (Rocky IV). Where Creed II exceeds is by using these many familiar story elements and still making them feel fresh and original. Unapologetically, it retells Rocky's story; and within the repetition of the plot, with all new characters, we recognize who and what Creed really is.
Creed II is a movie about human characters whose history stretches back into the lives of a former generation. To these characters, it's about more than just winning a fight. It's about recognizing your legacy and from there on defining your future. Adonis is tortured by the thought that, just like his father, he can't survive the fight with Drago; Rocky fears he'd fail Adonis the way he failed his family in the past; and Viktor, just like his father, fears that his life is worthless if he can't win the fight. The movie also creates the franchise's most empathetic villain through the Dragos. While Rocky IV presented Ivan Drago as a cheesy and demonic metaphor of the threatening Soviet Union, Creed II deeply humanizes him. After losing to Rocky, his wife abandoned both him and his son. Both believe the only way to bring her back is through finishing Ivan's job of becoming World Champion. As Adonis and Viktor step into the ring, we do root for Adonis, but still, sympathise with Viktor and know what he has to lose. The story gains a powerful human quality; one never felt before within the series.
If there have been any doubts before, Creed II finally proves that Michael B. Jordan is an all-pervading superstar sensation. After giving a heartful (and Oscar-worthy) performance in Black Panther, he returns to the role of Adonis; one that he seemingly lives and breathes and one has mastered so well, even as the film’s story hits a slow middle, we can’t stop from being glued to every glimpse of this powerfully nuanced performance. While Bianca’s narrative slightly dies down towards the film’s ending, the chemistry between Tessa Thomson and Jordan is undeniably gripping. Sylvester Stallone, who also wrote the screenplay to the film, has decided to retire from the role of Rocky and gives one last emotional performance as the fedora-wearing hero; one last inspiring speech before sending both Adonis and generations of inspired fans on their way.
I had my doubts about unknown Indie-filmmaker Steven Caple Jr. replacing ‘tour de force’ Ryan Coogler in the director’s chair, but I left the cinema being pleasantly surprised about the capable hands of this newcomer. All of Creed II, especially the style in which the fight scenes were shot, lacks the confident energy and innovation of Coogler’s Creed. However, it manages to mirror the fight scenes from the Rocky franchise while simultaneously injecting an original layer of intimacy through the characters; letting us care about both fighters and thereby making every punch they receive appear ten times harder. I saw Creed II in a crowded cinema and highly recommend you doing so too, as not many films manage to captivate an audience like a good Rocky/Creed movie. As Adonis gets hit in the face, I wasn’t sure whether the gasps came from the film’s diegetic boxing audience or whether they were coming from my fellow viewers. I ended up cheering and applauding with alongside moviegoers of several age groups, as if we were at an actual boxing match; making Creed II one of those amazing treats that transports you to a different time and place, transcending cinema on the way.