Creed II somehow legitimises the most cartoonish (and admittedly/embarrassingly my favourite) Rocky movie - Rocky IV - and brings it into the grounded world of this new Creed franchise. It works.
Even when other things do not.
Steven Caple, Jr. takes over the reigns from the great Ryan Coogler, and while it’s nice and thematic to give a relative newbie to mainstream cinema another underdog shot, you can tell this isn’t quite Creed.
It is still very serviceable. The boxing is solid and the emotions hit you and the soundtrack rises inside you like all these movies have accomplished before.
Stallone has co-written a film that makes you sympathise with the logical conclusion for Ivan Drago after the events of Rocky IV, and it makes you feel for Adonis Creed’s uncertainty in where his life is even after the events of the first Creed movie.
What the film has problems with is its propulsion. It hits so many beats it needs to hit - from the matches to the human drama to the montages - but the way in which it does it doesn’t quite snatch you.
You can predict the way the narrative is going to go, but the characters themselves don’t feel like they know why it’s all happening. Creed is so caught up in his confusion that he doesn’t really know why he’s doing things, Rocky is a bit muddled on his choices, Tessa Thompson’s Bianca has her own problems with her hearing and the threat of their child inheriting their condition, and even Ivan Drago and his one-dimensional son don’t quite know what they’re fighting for after they’ve achieved it.
The arcs all work themselves out, but through most of the film you don’t quite feel anything that strongly. You don’t quite feel Rocky facing his inner demons in the death of his friend to Ivan Drago being brought up to the surface, you don’t quite feel Adonis’ frustration or motivation towards choosing to fight Drago, you don’t quite feel what’s supposed to happen to the Dragos in Russia after playing their first hand. Viktor Drago feels like such a wasted opportunity - instead a puppet for his father’s failing and losses after fighting Rocky - one just wished he was more than a powerful boxing machine. He’s just an obstacle to overcome and a tough one at that.
Everything just feels like it’s coasting and a bit more subdued here. Coogler made probably the best Rocky franchise movie not called Rocky (or only to me, IV), but Caple, Jr. plays it way too safe. There aren’t as many risks, there aren’t as many powerful awards worthy performances (well, none to Stallone’s one in Creed), and criminally...Creed doesn’t come out to James
Brown’s “Living in America”.
Creed II will get you pumped, and it might make you want to go to the gym or box. It’s never going to blow your mind, and it’s not the bigger and better sequel you were hoping it to be. It’s a shame Black Panther took Coogler away from this sequel (albeit to make a solid and important Marvel Studios Movie), but Creed II still does the job.
Just not as well as the previous outing.
So like Rocky II. History keeps on repeating itself.