Updated: Jan 20, 2019
A very common phrase that is uttered in athletic journalism is that you are only as strong as your weakest member. When applying this logic to Creed II, the sequel to the revered 2015 reboot of the Rocky franchise, it’s hard to deter the truth of it. The film is directed with finesse from director Steven Caple Jr. and features some stunning performances from its two captivating leads, Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, both actors being at the top of their acting abilities here. And yet, Creed II sometimes stumbles under its own weight with a screenplay that features the landmark issues of any blockbuster sequel. It’s predictable, overly simplistic, and effectively a bland collision of sequences mixed with a surprisingly light amount of action in the ring. And while director Steven Caple Jr. and company execute the ideas of the film’s story with heart and passion, resulting in a masterfully produced experience, Creed II is still standing on rocky ground due to its bland screenplay that constantly threatens to destroy the entire experience.
Starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone as its primary leads, Creed II continues from its 2015 predecessor, depicting its lead protagonist, Adonis Creed at the very peak of the boxing world, having just achieved a legendary title. But a renowned competitor to his family’s history, the Dragos, re-emerge, leading Creed to take part in the most important fight of his entire life. Creed II’s screenplay has some of the most renowned issues known to film, namely predictability. The first of which is the most notable. Every beat to the plot is visible from the very beginning, with the first trailer essentially giving everything the audience member needs to dissect and formulate the entire plot of the film. For a film that attempts to hammer in its protagonist the theme of creating your own legacy, it seems that that is the one lesson Creed II also fails to learn. Having an experience that lacks bold, innovative flavor, it ultimately leads to an experience that is simply bland. The high-staked production and budget that went into each scene becomes irrelevant and falls to the side as the audience isn’t engaged with the story being told.
This is not to say that there aren’t salvageable elements to be enjoyed. Smartly placing more focus on the antagonists of the story, Ivan Drago and his son Viktor Drago, Creed II attempts to shed more sympathy from the audience onto the primary villain(s), a feat that no other film in this franchise has accomplished. And while the choice fails to satisfy due to a disappointing and mildly pathetic resolution, it mostly retains its purpose throughout the film, creating an impressive dynamic in the final battle as the audience is emotionally resonant with both characters.
In addition, Creed II features only three primary action sequences, all of which never feeling like the integral part of the story. More than anything, Creed II plays like a drama and that is where it excels the most. I was both surprised and delighted by how the film explores more of Creed’s personal life and presenting him with new, family-related challenges that would be unexpected in a film like this. It develops the stakes and the narrative consequences that drive the tension of the film’s climactic final battle in the ring.
And with such a dense focus on Adonis Creed’s personal life, Michael B. Jordan takes this challenge with relatively ease, delivering a performance that is modest and tempered, yet cunning and witty. It’s clear that screenwriters Sylvester Stallone and Juel Taylor don’t have the dialogue to match the quality of this stunning performance and it constantly persuades the film throughout. Rather than long sequences of dialogue, Jordan uses the absences of words to show to true range he has an actor and the emotional turmoil his character is facing.
Moving onto Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, he brings a performance that rivals his original, Academy-Award nominated role in the 2015 predecessor. And while it’s unlikely he will attain that same awards buzz for the sequel, he is still captivating and stirring, leading to an emotional resonance that ponders with every scene he is on screen. It’s one of his best performances in recent memory, only topped by his performance in the original Creed. As for Tessa Thompson, retaining the same electric chemistry, she does remarkably well, even if some of the more interesting attributes of her character as mishandled and almost entirely dropped for the film’s climax.
As a whole, Creed II has stunning action sequences and thrilling moments, thanks to a high-budgeted promotion directed from the helm of Steven Caple Jr. But even as such, the film often fails to bring new content and purpose to this franchise, delivering an installment that is exciting and fun to behold, but is lacking in bold and new flavors. And for a franchise that seems to be quickly running out of original ideas, Creed II may spell the beginnings of the end for Rocky Balboa and company.
Score: 6.8 out of 10
In 1985, Russian boxer Ivan Drago killed former U.S. champion Apollo Creed in a tragic match that stunned the world. Against the wishes of trainer Rocky Balboa, Apollo's son Adonis Johnson accepts a challenge from Drago's son -- another dangerous fighter. Under guidance from Rocky, Adonis trains for the showdown of his life -- a date with destiny that soon becomes his obsession. Now, Johnson and Balboa must confront their shared legacy as the past comes back to haunt each man.
CREED II hits theaters on November 21st, 2018.